Monday, March 24, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
The books were safely in the car, and the Amey Theatre - well, it wasn't far.
The show began at 7.45. So when, just after seven, James and I arrive, the assembled committee are looking worried. I took the hint - we hurried.
Got the books out of the car, and our bookselling paraphernali-ah.
At a quarter past, our books were out, impressive looking. The audience were arriving now, dressed smart (if slightly dripping).
Some pre-show interest, admiringly looks. Some flicking through the assembled books. Many were checking, and wanting to know: "Would Roger be signing after the show?"
Yes sir, yes madam - but over there. The smart black-felted table (and chair).
James goes off, my nerves rise a notch. Still, time to sneak in the back to watch. As soon as people start to clap, I'm out the door, and quickly back, to the book stand where I stand and wait, how many books do you reckon we'll sell, seven, eight?
Chaos. Pandemonium ensues. Floods of people, jostling queues. Everyone wants a book to sign, we're doing our best, but interval time...is ticking fast, the warning bell is rung. And suddenly - everyone's gone. Silence. Panting, we survey the devastation, wrought upon our bookselling station.
Right- sneak back in to watch the master. He's in full flow, effortless, faster than I want him to go, it's over before I know. But no time for whining, we need to set up the signing...
(With apologies to anyone of a poetic sensibility)
It seems to have been a great success this year - and everyone has plans for bigger and better things in 2009, us included.
On Saturday, we were back in the Roysse Room at the Abingdon Guildhall for our Baby Bookworms event - an interactive story session for parents with babies which sold out (our apologies for those that we had to turn away). Anu did a sterling job, running the event with baby-for-hire Timothy (his second Baby Bookworms event). Everyone had great fun, particularly the little people who could get up close and 'interactive' with the special books. We had one lovely email from a new mum saying how much she and her little girl "enjoyed the book-chewing event" on Saturday!
We then welcomed back Judith Blacklock for another floral design masterclass.
Knowing what to expect, and having watched her at the event we held at the shop back in November I was still completely mesmerised, and the whole event was a joy to watch. Judith is a natural educator, with a special combination of passion and excellence and a genuine desire to share her tips and skills.
We were particularly chuffed to have nearly 40 people attending, including a fair few experienced flower arrangers, as well as a number of beginners. No men though, so come on chaps, don't be shy...
I won't write too much about the event itself - apart from a comment that when I tried to being it to a premature close at about 1pm, there was a fairly vocal (and unequivocal) response which led to me sit down and shut up! I shall instead let the pictures from the afternoon tell their own story.
Here's Judith in the process of making one of her most striking displays:
To create this:
Here it is on display (in front of one of the Roysse Room's decorated windows):
In a little over 1 hour, Judith had created eight displays, each of which was admired by the assembled audience. Those buying copies of books after the event got to take home a display.
Thanks to Judith for again making the journey up from her flower school in London - and we wish her the very best of luck for the opening of her second school in New Covent Garden Flower Market. Thank you also to everyone who came, contributed questions and made the event such a success.
It remained for us to pack up our stand, get back to the shop, and prepare for Roger McGough in the evening...
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Thursday, March 06, 2008
The big event this week, however, was our Spread The Word: Books To Talk About event on Monday. Of the ten authors shortlisted for the £5,000 first prize (announced today), we were honoured and delighted to welcome two of them - Angela Young and Eliza Graham - to Abingdon for the evening.
It was a small triumph that - considering both are first-time authors - we were able to fill the shop on a Monday evening, testament to the success of the Books To Talk About competition, and the quality of the books themselves. Both Angela and Eliza are hugely erudite and entertaining speakers, by the way, and talk about their writing lives with a great deal of passion and honesty.
I'd pitched the event as a chance to hear two first-time authors talk about their experiences of getting published, and the impact of being shortlisted on their writing careers, as much as being about the books themselves. Both authors willingness to be extremely candid (!) together with plenty of interaction from the audience combined to create a great deal of energy throughout the evening, making it possibly the most enjoyable (and certainly the most satisfying) event we've ever run in the shop.
We also had at least three bloggers at the event (that I know about, and not including the authors!) and Simon Thomas has written a wonderful review of the event, which will probably put my ham-fisted, sleep-deprived prose to shame - but here goes.
I asked both authors to first give me an overview of their "route to the shortlist" - how they got published, how they got on the longlist, and the impact of being in with a shout of the prize on Thursday.
Eliza is now published by Pan, but she came up originally through Macmillan New Writing, Macmillan's groundbreaking publishing initiative once cruelly (and very inaccurately) dubbed the "Ryanair of publishing". In fact, her experiences very closely mirrored those of Jonathan Drapes, another MNW author, who we had at Mostly Books last year: wonderful support, excellent editing, a publisher using revolutionary 21st century technology, such as email submission of manuscripts - fancy that!
Having had "mixed" experiences of an agent previously, Eliza appreciates the straight dealing with Macmillan. As you'd expect from one of publishing's aristocrats, they were very smart in marketing her book. It narrowly missed being on the Richard & Judy list, and was then submitted for the Spread The Word 100 Books To Talk About.
(BTW, the *original* list of entries was actually 500 long - I wonder what that's called, a longlonglist? - which was whittled down with the help of agents, authors, librarians and readers. Be interesting to know how this process was organised, and who was involved.)
Angela on the other hand has been published by Beautiful Books, a tiny independent publisher based in London. Her route to the shortlist couldn't have been more different - and it's very revealing in what it says about the realities of an author getting their book noticed even after it's been published. Authors (even those who have achieved some success) are increasingly expected to market (and sometimes even sell) their own books. Angela's experiences show what you can do by getting creative if - crucially - you have a quality book, and you have belief in it.
Angela originally googled "small, independent publishers" and chose seven from the search results. One of them happened to be just around the corner from where she lived, they loved her book, and it was published in hardback midway through last year.
Angela also searched for resources on marketing her book - including all the awards available to first time authors - and worked very closely with her publisher on submissions to several awards she thought the book was best suited to. One very strong element for Angela is the cover design - in fact, Waterstone's admitted that (prior to the shortlisting) the cover design was a huge factor in selecting her book.
(Some people might be appalled by this, but as a bookseller, it's a fact of life. Some books that deserve to do well don't because they have appalling covers. 'Don't judge a book by its cover' is great advice to follow yourself, but don't expect anyone else to do the same...)
Having got on the shortlist, life has become pretty hectic for the two authors. Eliza admitted that it's helped her internally within Macmillan, being summoned to a few more marketing meetings with the reps. For Angela, the effect of being shortlisted is a huge vote of confidence for a book whose journey has taken several years. And of course all the publicity should ensure healthy sales - nothing less than both of them deserve.
(Both admitted to an obsessive checking of the comments on the Spread The Word website - and the obligatory checking of Amazon rankings. Well, just for the record, on Thursday evening both books are currently in the mid 1,000s on Amazon sales list, which is highly respectable, and I'm intrigued that both books have been paired as perfect partners...)
Both writers also admitted cheerfully to innovative (but ethical!) techniques to maximise their chances of winning. The feeling was that this aspect of the competition - what is essentially a "Pop Idol" of books - has some weaknesses and does leave the award open to criticism (Candi Miller recently blogged about this for the Guardian). Both had suggestions of ways the competition could improve next year, and if you think about it, changes might need to be made. Next year everyone will be in on the secret and looking to 'game the system'.
Having discussed how the books got on the list, I thought it best if we found out some more about the books themselves - here are both authors reading extracts, courtesy of YouTube.
First Eliza read from Playing with the Moon. Here Military Police quiz one of the characters in the hunt for a missing black GI during World War II:
Then Angela read from Speaking Of Love. She reads the opening of Redhead, a story told by one of the main characters, Iris:
After more questions, we did what we always do at Mostly Books events and break the formal part of the evening, allowing people to talk directly with the authors, refill their wine glasses and get books signed. I was particularly pleased to be able to introduce various people who, before Monday evening, had only swapped comments on blogs. The Internet can be a heady experience for authors, but it is always nice to be able to step out of the sometimes ephemeral and transitory world of blogs, websites and emails, get to the know real people and make proper connections in the flesh - John Naisbitt's "high touch" against the "high tech".
It really was a great evening, and I'd like to thank everyone who came and contributed. Everyone was very complimentary about the shop and the way the event was run, so it was unfortunate that I completely forgot to ask either author to sign books for the shop at the end of evening. Thanks to Angela for coming back in the next day to remedy this (Eliza will be coming back Saturday morning). Room for improvement there I feel.
This morning Jonathan Trigell's Boy A was announced as The Book To Talk About 2008, but you know, I don't think it's going to matter too much to the other authors on the list. The shortlisting itself has given all of the authors a chance to set out on extremely successful writing careers, and both Angela and Eliza have earned their opportunity through sheer talent and merit. I hope they enjoy the ride.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
The start of the day saw artists descend on the Guildhall for the Bigging Up Holbein event (more on that later). They were upstairs in the Abbey Room - we were downstairs in the Roysse Room - a wonderful old schoolroom at the bottom of the building.
It was very fitting that first up was children's author and illustrator (and Abingdonian!) David Melling. He gave children and adults alike a master class in drawing some of the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit his books, including the cabbage-smelling, oily-skinned characters which feature in his latest collection of books: Goblins!
Whilst this was going on, the ladies of Dunmore Pre-school started setting up all kinds of crafty items on tables at the back, and we effortlessly (!) segued into our "make-a-card for mother's day" event.
This was a supervised card-making glueing and sticking extravanganza, which was fantastically planned by Lindsay and the team, with plenty of things to make a vastly superior Mother's Day Card - stick on shapes, coloured card, poems and even vouchers for things like tidy bedrooms, washing up and hugs - rounded off with a camoflaged bag to smuggle the final creation past Mum and into the house for the big day.
There was a fair old amount of clearing up to do - before getting the room ready for our final event: an audience with Barbara Trapido.
James single-handedly held the fort in the shop, so Nicki and I could both watch the event as well. We welcomed Barbara and over 50 guests to the Roysse Room for what turned out to be everything we hoped for when Barbara originally agreed to appear at the Festival back in November.
Some authors are very slick when appearing at events, whilst with other authors you know this isn't their forte and they would much rather be at home writing. But with Barbara, you have someone who is by turns laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, painful honest - but utterly compelling.
We heard about her torturous writing regime, the characters that inhabit her books, her writing life and experience with publishers. Best of all, we were treated to extracts from her next book - and she generously stayed to talk to the audience, sign books - and then came back with us to the shop.James and Simon helped pack up, then were able to leg it upstairs to watch the piecing together of Holbein's "The Ambassadors" which took place at 4pm (much more of this over on the Abingdon Blog - but here's our picture of the artists in front of the finished picture:
We drove back to the shop, decanted all our event detritus, and helped to finish what had been a very busy day back at 36 Stert Street. Abingdon definitely had a feeling of a place buzzing...
As with many of our events, it was a lot of work, but well worth it. I'd like to thank David, the Dunmore Pre-school team and Barbara for giving up their time and helping to make a very special day - and also, to Alison, James, Maurice and Simon who worked very hard throughout the day - both at the Guildhall and in the shop.
Next up tomorrow night (Monday evening) we welcome Spread The Word-shortlisted authors Angela Young and Eliza Graham to Mostly Books at 7.30pm. We predict a big future for these two first-time authors, and both are in with a good chance of taking the Book To Talk About Award for 2008. It should be a very exciting event.