Monday, May 26, 2008

Resting on our Laurels

We wish.

After the Reading Quest Children's Party last Saturday, we had four events this week (not counting our regular storytime on Thursday afternoon). Even for us, this is a bit rediculous and, as you can imagine, we're really enjoying the luxury of having two days off in a row for the bank holiday.

On Tuesday we celebrated Kipper's Birthday with a big party in the shop and garden.

The children who filled the garden waited patiently, put on their Kipper Ears and waitied patiently through the games and stories...but let's face it, there was only one thing they were all waiting for:
Alison had baked one of her amazing cakes. And her reputation is spreading, so lots of eager little hands crowded round for a piece. Cake was to feature heavily later in the week (he said, cunningly foreshadowing this post...).

On Thursday, I went with local science fiction author Ben Jeapes for an event at John Mason School.
The event took the format of two workshops, and whilst I skulked around at the back ready to sell books, Ben got the kids imagining their own alternative worlds and bizarre lifeforms. The creative energy and ideas flung up during the day were impressive - and surprising. Ben has written a great post about the workshop over on his blog.

Friday night we had our first wine event at the shop. Richard Liwicki of our local award-winning Bothy Vineyard hosted a brilliant tasting session of Bothy wines:

We also welcomed David Harvey. He is a young, gifted new author who is incredibly passionate about British wine. He talked about and signed copies of his new book Grape Britain. I'll post about this seperately - it was a fantastic evening - but here's a shot of the author during the signing:
Once we'd cleared the shop up it was rather late - but no time to rest, because we were back in early on Saturday to prepare for a big party to say thank you to everyone in and around Abingdon who helped us win our award.

We served champagne all day. Our new mayor mayor (newly elected last week) Patrick Lonergan, came at 11am for the big event - cutting the cake - accompanied by the town crier.(Note the high-tech Blackberry with his speech on it - very impressive). Abingdon mayors have a tradition of having specific themes for their term, and Pat's is focused on town centre safety and vitality, which chimes nicely with small independent shops.

We toasted The Queen, Abingdon and Mostly Books. Again, all the children there were waiting patiently, but Ben here isn't fooling anyone (despite a pair of Kipper's Ears we found in the back of the shop):
He's waiting for the main event - the cake:

Thanks to everyone who came on Saturday to make it a very special day for Nicki and I. We collapsed Saturday night, exhausted but extremely happy. Thank you to everyone.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Independent Bookshop Buzz Centre of Gravity moves again...

...and boy, hasn't it been fair flying about of late. First it was the opening of Wood Green (who have just embarked on an exciting Murakami-hunt), then it swung up to Inkspot and Silverleaf in Bo'Ness (they celebrated their first month's anniversary yesterday). A new bookshop opened recently in Woodstock (called "The Woodstock Bookshop" appropriately enough - but do they have a website yet?) and then we had all the excitement of the awards last week in Abingdon and Bath. But today (apparently, trying to read between the lines of their blog) the buzz swings dramatically back to London as the new Crockatt & Powell opens on the Fulham Road. And it looks utterly gorgeous. This must be a very big deal for the boys, and I shudder to think about the effort, expense and nerve-jangling emotions that will have gone into the project - but they deserve to succeed big time. Go Adam and Matthew!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Reading Quest Giant Children's Party

On Saturday we took part in Reading Quest's Giant Children's Party at the South Oxford Community Centre. Reading Quest is a home-school literacy project. They go into schools, and work intensively with kids who are struggling with literacy, with the aim of increasing children’s confidence, knowledge and skills in reading and writing. They have an impressive track record - and once a year they hold a giant party, a celebration of reading and stories and attract some big name authors to help out.

This year the fantastic Korky Paul ran a drawing workshop. We obviously are biased, having had Korky at an event in the shop last Summer, but the man is a genius, and he gets kids fired up about drawing like nobody I've ever seen. He got everyone (parents included!) doing their own dinosaur portraits - and here are some of the results:

Local author Anne Pilling ran a poetry session, and staff from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre were giving some great theatrical story sessions of some of Roald Dahl's best stories (including his brilliant version of Little Red Riding Hood).

Geraldine McCaughrean gave a story session, reading from her book of Greek Myths, but also encouraging the kids themselves to invent their own heroic stories using props, characters and familiar elements of Greek stories.

This culminated in one child being made into a Greek God (the kids really went into the whole dressing up - great fun):
Geraldine then signed copies of her books - she is a very busy author, and was incredibly generous with her time:

(That's a horse in the middle!)

All in all a wonderful day - and a nice end to quite a week!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Come see our nibbie!

Having got back to the bookshop yesterday lunchtime, we entered triumphantly to balloons, banners and congratulations from Alison, Julia and Karen in the shop (thanks guys!) - and then it was back to work. The broadband and phone were out. So after spending an hour grovelling around under the counter fixing that, I was all set to write-up the blog yesterday evening but...on popping down to the shop, I found a full-scale ant invasion at the back of the shop and spent two hours sorting that out.

Obviously the bookselling gods were a little concerned that some hubris was setting in. I duly sacrificed a Jeffrey Archer paperback on a small altar in the courtyard garden, and things seem to be resolved on the connectivity/infestation front. It was certainly an effective way to be brought back down to earth after an incredible 24 hours.

It was bookgroup tonight. The Thursday evening group was the first one we started just after we opened, and amongst those discussing the current book (Sharon Dogar's Waves) were members who have been with us since the first meeting. It was particularly nice to pass the nibbie around to show them, because they are as much a part of the shop as we are. I'm sure many of our customers will feel that this award is partly theirs - and they'd be right.

So anyway, it has been some 48 hours. For everyone who has sent messages of congratulations, sorry we haven't been responding. Normal service resumes tomorrow (hopefully). Before that, and in response to requests for photos, here's a heavily edited version of what happened when we went down to Brighton.

We arrived early in the afternoon - I'd never been to Brighton before, but Nicki has a bit of 'previous' where Brighton is concerned, so we headed for The Lanes and the Bath Arms for a nice pint sitting outside. We genuinely didn't expect to win (this isn't just false modesty - we just thought Mr B's was the hot favourite, which actually proved to be spot on but for different reasons), so we were reasonably relaxed - at that point.

By the time we got to the awards, any relaxation had evaporated. The awards ceremony is *big* (well, the biggest thing I've ever been to) and the staging was immaculate. On the way up to the drinks reception, we spotted the nibbies in glass cabinets along the wall. Reckoning this was the closest we were going to get to them, Nicki took a quick photo:

Up on the balcony, the scale of the thing became apparent:

By now the nerves were well and truly jangling. It was only when I saw the award board that I started getting sweaty palms, and believing we were in with a shout.
We were sitting on a table with members of the Bookselling Association (BA), as well as Lyn and Mike, fellow shortlistees from Bookstór in Kinsale, Co. Cork. They were a total delight to chat to for the evening, we swapped loads of tips and stories, and Nicki and I sincerely hope we can make it over to what sounds a beautiful part of the West Coast of Ireland to see their shop. Thanks for the lovely comment you left on the blog yesterday as well.

I did take some pictures and video of the awards in the run-up to ours - but the quality was naff. Suffice to say that the tension was ratcheting up. All the award presentations had short films shown before them - here's the one for ours. I almost drop the camera at some point, just when we're announced, but you get the general idea:

The New Bookshop of the Year award was presented by Tracy Chevalier - remarkably at this point, I was still able to take a reasonably steady shot as she opened the envelope...

And we'd won. Shock, tears, an embarrassingly long trek to the front whilst being flimed, trying with only partial success to squeeze through all the chairs and tables blocking our way. What happened next was a bit of a blur as you can imagine. We made our way up to the podium, I thanked family and friends, our wonderful customers, and - sincerely - all the help and support we had received from the book trade since we opened, without which we wouldn't have received the award. I believe I singled out Anna Dreda at Wenlock Books and Matthew & Adam at Crockatt & Powell for special mention - difficult to remember exactly. Then we were whisked round the back for a photoshoot with Meryl Halls of the BA (who is completely lovely and, with the marvellous benefit of hindsight, chaperoned us brilliantly for the evening). You can see this photo here (I'm the one looking like an extra from a George Romero film).

I'm afraid for the rest of the evening - for obvious reasons - the picture taking went out of the window. I did, however, manage to get a picture of Emma from Snowbooks receiving her innovation award - she recollects her acceptance speech very well over on Snowblog.
We were also - finally - able to meet Nic, Juliette and Caroline - the illustrious team at Mr B's as they scooped Independent Bookshop of the Year.

Many, many thanks to Jane of Troubador/Matador who took this splendid picture of Nicki and I with our nibbie at the end of the evening:

We then spent the rest of the evening in a bit of a whirl, and I won't namedrop because a) it'll be tedious and a bit luvvy, but mostly because b) I can't remember everyone's names. Suffice to say that we had a wonderful evening in the company of some remarkable individuals, and we feel very embraced by all aspects of the book trade, which kind of proves the point I was trying to make in the speech...

When we got back to the shop we hastily placed the award in the shop window.

We'll try and improve its display in the next couple of days (we have three big events coming up in the next week) but until then - thanks to everyone who's sent congratulations, thanks to the judges for choosing us, thanks to our amazing customers for making the shop what it is. We are definitely having a big party - most likely Saturday week. We'll announce it in the Herald next week, but before that, to everyone in Abingdon, come in and see our nibbie 'cos it belong to you as much as us...

Mark & Nicki

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And the winner was...

OK - I'm a bit 'jaded' this morning, so this is a quick blog from the hotel lobby, but we won! It was an incredible evening, I did take lots of pictures - so expect a more complete blog once we're safely back in the shop. Can't remember too much about our acceptance speech, so I hope I didn't do a Halle Berry, but it was all a bit overwhelming. It was also geat to meet the wonderful people from Mr Bs (who won independent bookshop of the year - how cool is that?) and also Emma from Snowbooks (Innovation in the Book Industry Award). What a night - thanks for everyone's messages of support, and to everyone back in Abingdon - expect a party at the shop in the very near future...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Last minute nerves

Well, the big glitzy award ceremony is tomorrow evening. The mystery shopper reports will be in. The decision has been made. To everyone who has sent good luck messages since the shortlist was announced, our sincere thanks - we'll find out Tuesday night. Several people have popped in over the last few weeks to say that they will be there as well (I'm amazed at how many people in 'the biz' live in or around Abingdon!). If you are going, we'll be very easy to spot: the couple sitting at the table fidgeting with our hire outfits, looking ashen faced, and desperately trying not to barf up the prawn cocktail. Yep, we're a bit nervous... We've been in the papers a bit over the last couple of weeks - and I did a radio interview today on Jack FM (pop pickers). Ah, the corrosive nature of celebrity. Luckily it's bookgroup on Thursday which will allow the purifying power of books to purge me of my oversized head (I can't work out what's sadder, having to have my head deflated, or having it inflated from being on Jack FM...) Anyway, good luck to all the other people waiting on a nibbie nomination tomorrow night...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Greenaway Reading Club

Today was the second meeting of our Greenaway Reading Club - last time we reviewed Penguin by Polly Dunbar (very popular, a high benchmark was set) and today we did two books: Banana by Ed Vere and Monkey & Me by Emily Gravett.

The idea of the club is to give young children the chance to read and review books, just like the judges of the real Greenaway Awards (annual awards for children's picture books). This is a bit like the Shadowing groups run by schools, but ours is ghtly different in that a) it takes place in the , b) it can get a bit chaotic and c) real bananas were eaten at the end of the two stories.

Alison who runs the club gets the kids to consider all aspects of the book - the cover design, illustrations, use of colour, the emotions that the pictures can provoke. They then get a chance to draw in the style of the various illustrators, and vote on how much they liked the book. So far the voting has been high for all the books, although the 10 million' votes received by Ed Vere's book today might have to be statistically rounded down to 10 when we do the counting...

The club takes place on Monday after school, 4 until 5, and there are still places if anyone wants to join. Ages 7-12 welcome.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Product test: The London Children's Map

Being booksellers with a young family, we officially 'don't get out much' so it was nice this weekend, with the shop closed Monday (more on that below) to have the opportunity to take the boys on a big trip to London.

We have lots of activity books for kids in the shop, but we rarely get the chance to test them out. Last year we started stocking the brilliant London Children's Map from Guy Fox, and it's been a big hit with customers. Alex and I decided we were going to put it to the test - with a trip by train and underground to the Science Museum.

At the risk of this turning into a "what we did on our holiday" post, there were a number of firsts taking place during the trip: first trip on a train (Alex that is, not me), first trip to London (ditto), first trip on the Underground, and finally - first trip to the Science Museum (I'd last been there aged 7, as far as I could remember).

The London Children's Map is a simplified map of London, with all the major sites on both sides and (this is the big exciting bit) a sheet of stickers so that you can record all the fun things you did on any trip to London.

Here's Alex looking suitably excited on the train with his stickers:

And here's the map (Alex was in top demonstrator mode at this point - this didn't last once we arrived at Paddington):

Anyway, we had a fantastic time in London (despite me coming down with a healthy whack of man-flu as the day wore on which left me sniffling and grumpy the rest of the bank holiday).

Just in case there's any doubt, the Science Museum was utterly brilliant. It's debatable who had the more fun out of me, Alex and his Grandad (who was there as well).

They've got this water feature in the basement called "The Garden" for 3-6 year-olds which is great fun, and loads of hands-on stuff for youngsters throughout the building (I would like to shake the hand of the genius who designed the device that allows kids to fill baskets and ferris wheels with split-lentils and have the kids haul them up and drop them down chutes all over themselves to much screaming - excellent).

Here's what the map looked like once we'd stuck all the stickers on at the end of the day:

Before you ask, Guy Fox didn't pay us for this review - we just love the company and their products. But this is the opportunity to test the map - and it passed with flying colours!

I had this nagging thought the whole of the Bank Holiday that perhaps we should be opening on a Bank Holiday Monday, especially now that the weather is getting better. In fact, perhaps we should be opening on a Sunday too. I guess it comes down to whether or not we think we can offer something compelling on a Sunday (coffee and croissants?) which would make people seek us out. It's a tricky one - I know some independents open on a Sunday, but...what to do?