Friday, April 27, 2007

Taking stock

On Sunday it's our first stocktake - which, let's face it, is dull, dull, dull and no amount of honeyed blogging words are going to make it sound anything other than it is - a systematic recording of everything currently residing in our shop. However, it will give us our first definite confirmation that we have been woefully ill-disciplined in allowing our stock to increase dramatically past what we originally planned for in the business plan. Ah well. I've asked Brenda to post an event report following the visit of Tim Pears on Wednesday. All I'll say is, thanks to Tim for coming along (and particularly for his very kind comments about the shop), and thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a great evening. I am also grateful to Andrew Ffrench (a.k.a The Page Turner at the Oxford Mail) for coming along, and then writing this terrific report on the event the next day. Andrew lives in Abingdon, and he and his son Luke have been great supporters since we've opened. I'm going to blog about this at the start of May (when I shall be posting our April bestseller list) - but Andrew's particularly keen to hear about your top five books (either recently, or of all time) - so go post yours on his blog. It's great to see so many blogs springing up, but big corporates may have some way to go before they fully realise the potential (and dangers) of allowing unfettered feedback. The Orange Prize (sorry, Orange Broadband Prize, - ack, ack - why can't people leave these prize titles alone?) has set up the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction Forum (hey, hey). All I'll say is that you don't want to be posting open-ended questions like "What Do You Think about The Prize?" - it's just inviting abuse...I'm sure a sharp-eyed Orange Broadband employee will remove those recent comments shortly...oh dear. And talking of prizes, one of our customers asked us if we could recommend one of the Carnegie Prize shortlist for his 13 year old boy. There doesn't seem to be an age guide as far as the Carnegie medals go (and of course it's practically impossible to place an age range on a children's book) but reading through the list, I was struggling to find something suitable...I'm veering between "Road of Bones" and "My Swordhand is Singing", but any other recommendations out there? (BTW, this year's list - and I can't claim to be an expert on previous years' lists - struck me as particularly grim. The phrase 'a tough read' gets mentioned several times in the judges comments...maybe it's a reaction against wizards and magic?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tim Pears

Next Wednesday (April 25th) we welcome Tim Pears to mostly books, an event I've been looking forward to for some time. I won't bang on about how good his novels are (you can learn more here). Suffice to say that this critically-acclaimed author is (IMHO) one of our finest novelists in terms of characterisation, and the way he relentlessly, uncomfortably nails down in prose the essence of 'the way we live now' in all its paradoxical glories and shamefulness. So that's my colours nailed to the mast... His latest book, Blenheim Orchard, is no exception, and set in Oxford where he now lives. The main part of his talk will be why, after living in Oxford for almost 30 years, this is the first novel he's set there. As usual, we extend our invitation to anyone reading our blog. The evening should be a special one indeed, with a chance to get up close and personal with the author over a glass (or two) of wine...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Embargoed titles

We almost made a big boo-boo this morning - "The Tenth Circle" by Jodi Picoult arrived, but I didn't immediately appreciate that it was embargoed until the 19th April. It did go on the table, but was whipped off before anyone could purchase it. We don't have a lot of embargoed titles in the shop - but the embargo list on the BA website says that publishers can enact sanctions against booksellers if they stick titles out too early. Phew. Having said that - and not wishing to act like a school sneak here - I did notice that a large and very famous Large Online Retailer (or L.O.R., who shall remain nameless) is claiming to be able to deliver Ms Picoult's latest book by 1pm Wednesday, April 18 - so presumably because they send stuff through the post, embargoes don't count (sorry, I am acting exactly like a school sneak aren't I? Mind you, I can't see Hodder being too annoyed about a book currently sitting at #43 in L.O.R's current chart...)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Indies rule

David Cameron came to Abingdon yesterday, ostensibly to meet the local Conservative party members and candidates standing in the council election. However, thanks to the tireless machinations of the local Chamber of Commerce (under the auspices of our very dynamic president Jill Carver) a deputation (if that's the right word) of us retailers met David (sorry - 'Dave') and the Conservative Council members, to discuss some of the pressing issues facing our businesses in the town. Most of the discussion was on traffic, taxes, red tape, etc. but the value of small, independent businesses to the biodiversity and sustainability of town centres was also on the agenda (mmm, I wonder who slipped that one in there?) After the meeting, David asked about the shop (I can't pretend he came in), we discussed an awful New Labour book that's been stuck on the shelves since we opened (Unfinished Revolution - firm sale sadly) transpired that he grew up a few miles from Wantage, and asked after the independent bookshop he used to visit in the town. Unfortunately, the Wantage Bookshop sadly closed in February, so I was able to make the point about the tough times facing small independent booksellers. So expect questions in parliament soon (maybe not). Just doing my bit to raise awareness of independents ahead of the London Bookfair (ahem). And...talking of striking a blow for independents - see this article in today's Grauniad from those bookselling revolutionaries and Waterstones' gadflies (and soon to be film stars) Adam and Matthew at Crockatt & Powell. Splendid stuff chaps. And I would suggest required reading for anyone involved in bookselling, because its a succinct round-up of the current state of play in bookselling in the UK. I won't be going to London (due to recent family events - plus the fact that Alex now has chickenpox) so I'll have to go next year instead. Still, I'm expecting a succinct report from the C&P boys after the event for those of us not able to go!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

David Melling: drawing the crowds in Abingdon

Today we held out first "interactive" children's author event. By interactive, we mean - getting the kids involved (ah, Internet jargon, I love it).

David Melling is a star children's illustrator and author or several critically-acclaimed children's books including Jack Frost, The Kiss That Missed and the Fidget and Quilly books. He also happens to live in Abingdon, so hits pretty much all our targets in terms of our perfect author.

We laid on copious amounts of pens, pencils, crayons, paper and some splendid original artwork provided by David for everyone to colour in.

David was a bit nervous, he'd only done this type of gig in schools, and this was his first bookshop. I was also nervous and twitchy (big author, had I taken too many bookings, plus ever so slightly sleep-deprived after recent momentous events). But...David was a big hit and everyone had a great deal of fun.

David started off reading from The Kiss That Missed - and talking about where his ideas come from. He sketched along the way.

Here's an excerpt:

At one point he invited audience participation...drawing around hands and even heads... create a new character.

(not sure what the young chap thinks of the result).

We're getting a good feel for how events work best, and having a formal/informal split to proceedings is working really well. It lets us have a initial, scheduled and well-planned format, which we can run for 30 minutes to an hour, then people who need to go can slip away, and others can stay and chat to the author during the informal bit.

In this case, David was a complete star and spent some time with the kids who were busy creating their own masterpieces:

And we also had a question and answer session as well.

This evening I brought home a (signed) copy of David's new book - Two By Two and a Half - for some user feedback (Alex, aged 3). It was a big hit. As an illustrator, David has an uncanny knack of communicating movement and dynamism into his work, and Alex particularly liked the bit where the bear rips up the tree and starts chasing Miss Moo Hoo and the animals:
More signed copies in the shop of course...

Our thanks to David for giving up his time, I know he put a lot of effort into the event (and thanks for the great artwork too). Thanks to everyone who came along and made the event so much fun. We'll definitely be doing this again...

Our next events include an evening with Tim Pears (April 25th) and the return of storyteller Peter Hearn (May 5th - see what happened when he came last time). More in our next newsletter...but for now, watch our for those raggamuffins...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Some bookshop magic

About two weeks before we opened mostly books, Nicki, Alex and I made a pilgrimage to Much Wenlock in Shropshire, the home of Wenlock Books. Amongst many things we learned from the marvellous Anna Dreda, two comments she made stick in the mind. The first is that "selling books is a privilege" (something the former owner used to remind her of regularly) - and we've had cause to be reminded of this ourselves this week (more below on that). The second was that "magic sometimes happens in a bookshop".

We've had quite a bit of magic in the last couple of weeks - and we thought we'd share some with you.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady came into the bookshop (heavily pregnant) asking for a baby-book recommendation for her husband. After a few suggestions, she decided to take "Fatherhood: The Truth" by Marcus Berkmann (a personal favourite of mine). She decided to vet it before giving it to her husband, however, and laughed so much she went into labour. Both her, husband and baby Lawrence popped in last week to tell us the story - and ordered "Rain Men" by the same author.

(If anyone knows Mr Berkmann, please do pass on this story to him!)

We're known as "Story Town" by at least one little girl who regularly comes in (what a poppet). And this week several people have popped in "on the off chance" that some event or storytelling might be going on. Well, Thursday sees the triumphant return of the wonderful Miss Markey of Long Furlong School for our regular storytime, next Thursday sees a drawing session with local children's author David Melling, and May 5th sees the return of master storyteller (and banjo player) Peter Hearn.

Some of our visitors don't even wait for a storytelling event - they just camp out on the steps. This is Thomas and Hugh - I hope that's Thomas on the left (post a comment on the blog guys if I get this wrong!).

Hugh seems to have read more classic sci-fi novels than me, and it was a treat to have a big discussion about Greg Bear with a fellow devotee last Saturday...

One way to hedge against the precarious financials of running a bookshop in this day and age is to get family members helping out for free. Alex is almost ready for the job:

Typically, the first customer order he handled was "Reprint Under Consideration". Always a tricky one to sort out...however, the entire backlist of Ian Rankin was far more straightforward and had him smiling again:

It's difficult to appreciate that we still haven't made it through one year yet, so our anticipation (and planning) of Easter has been as stab-in-the-dark as Christmas, and we still aren't sure what to expect. However, our new staff member Anu decided to pop into Abingdon and put together a few Easter chicks, rabbits, yellow tissue paper, and - voila - one Easter display.

Both Brenda and Anu have been doing a sterling job of running the shop ahead of our impending family arrival - isn't it great when you hire people who are actually better than you running a bookshop :-)

OK - tomorrow's the big day, so I'd better get some sleep. But...back to that "privilege" comment. A couple of weeks ago a lady called Linda came into the shop. She was very nervous, and it transpired that she had never been into a bookshop before, and, in fact, couldn't read. As we've got to know Linda a bit more over the last few weeks, it turns out that she has embarked on a very intense adult literacy course - and Channel 4 are making a fly-on-the-wall documentary about her experiences.

As part of the deal, she has someone to read books to her, and so she asked us to recommend some 'classic' reads to her. Anu and myself felt a little intimidated by this (and also the weight of several hundred years of English Literature weighing down upon our shoulders). We've done our best so far, but - we've agreed with Linda to put the question out onto the blog.

It is quite a challenge. To have someone for whom books have never been part of her life, to want to know where to 'begin'. I feel perhaps it is an unanswerable question - but if you were in our position, what would you recommend?

I'll keep you updated over the next few weeks on her progress...