Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Festive fun

This evening Abingdon switched on its Christmas lights, with some fantastic new eco-friendly lights in the market square taking centre stage. The Abingdon Blogger has already got his early report up. As it was a Victorian Evening theme, he makes the comment that "Dick Van Dyke could walk around unnoticed" and I can only say...guilty m'lud. It's amazing what a bit of boot polish and a flat cap can do... Anyway, outside the shop the parade came past, including stilt-walkers... ...and of course Father Christmas himself: Inside the shop it was bustling - due in part (no doubt) to our free hot punch and Christmas biscuits, which went down a storm on what was a particular chilly evening. The Mayor and his entourage took advantage when they popped in:
Alex and Timothy enjoyed their first Abingdon Extravaganza - and the whole evening seemed to go extremely well. Now I just need to go and wipe that polish off my face...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Amazing Monsieur Blanc

Last Summer, we had the great good fortune (although at the time it didn't feel like it) to agree to be the bookseller at the UK's First Children's Food Festival, a monumental undertaking that saw us haul a transit van full of cookbooks, two marquees and assorted furniture/ tarpaulins, etc. to the middle of a muddy field near Abingdon over two days. The experience was incredible, but at the time it nearly killed us. Two very good things came out of that experience. One: we learned an awful lot about planning future book events, and two: we met the amazing Raymond Blanc. Raymond was the undoubted star of the event. His ability to inspire and communicate passion about food to both young and old was a joy to observe. At the time, he mentioned his planned autobiography for the following year, so we asked him if he would come and do a signing in the shop when it was published. He agreed, and sixteen months later - true to his word - he made the journey to Abingdon. We anticipated a lot of interest. In this part of Oxfordshire - 12 miles or so from Le Manoir - everyone is tremendously proud and possessive of Raymond Blanc, looking upon him very much as a local hero/favoured son. However, one last marketing push couldn't do any harm. So, given the success of the chalkboard eight day's earlier, I stuck to the kind of no-nonsense marketing messages that had performed so well for Martin Clunes:
This time I'm not sure we needed it. By 1.30pm we had too many people in the shop, and I had to request the start of an orderly queue outside the shop:
Nicki and I have watched both series of The Restaurant religiously. Several of the wannabe restaurateurs have been married couples, so there are some great insights and lessons to be grabbed (even if it sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing). One of Raymond's key messages is attention to detail - and Nicki had spotted the obvious mistake in our window display earlier in the week, replacing the bottle of Chilean Merlot for French Shiraz:
By 2pm, the queue was halfway up Stert Street and the traffic was slowing down:
I started chatting to the front of the queue. One couple had travelled up from Dorset. I started to panic that we wouldn't have enough books. I had arranged to meet Raymond in the car park and escort him to the shop. En route we were accosted by a lady who shrieked when she realised who the famous chef next to me was. Having missed the final episode of The Restaurant, she asked him who had won - clearly overwhelmed at getting the result from the great man himself. We hurried round the corner into Stert Street.
Obviously I'm biased, and I'm a big fan. But really, the guy is incredible. He sat for over three hours, talking, signing, having his picture taken with everyone who asked - and always being nothing but sincere, genuine and passionate. He took time to give advice to budding chefs. These guys (Tom and Matthew) were seriously buzzing when they left the shop:
Adam is another budding chef - I have a suspicion he received an invite to come and look around the kitchens at Le Manoir.
As at the Food Festival, he really connected with the kids: Here are the Webbs from Dorset: Having arrived at 2pm, we didn't expect him to still be around at 5pm. He didn't bat an eyelid when we asked him to sign pre-orders with personalised dedications.
He even tried some cake. Obviously we'd never reveal what he thought, but if you've never been in for one of Alison's chocolate brownies you might now want to give them a go: It was a really incredible day. A big thank you must go to Leanda and Tracey at Le Manoir for setting everything up. And of course to Alison and Cailin who worked almost as hard as Raymond all day in the shop. But mostly we owe a big thank you to Monsieur Blanc for going above and beyond the call of duty for a book signing. He could have showed up, signed a few books, and that would have been great. Instead he turned it into one of the most special events we've ever had in the shop - and an unforgettable day for the people who came to meet him.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Martin Clunes - woof woof!

We do a lot of sophisticated marketing for our events. We've built up relationships with local journalists, businesses, schools and reading groups. We do targeted PR, we have our own newsletter and mailing list, and we do a whole lot of other promotional activities, and co-ordinated stock display in the shop and the window. But sometimes, on the day of a big event, you just have to get out the big box of coloured chalk and go for something straight out of the John Wanamaker school-of-advertising-handbook:
I knew locating the shop on a busy main road would pay dividends eventually. And today was that day. People were pulling into the loading bay opposite all morning, rushing in and asking "Can it be true? Is Martin Clunes really here today at 4pm?". Several people asked "how long have you been here?". At least two people declared excitedly "this kind of thing never happens in Abingdon!" Oh yes it does. It was a really great event. Martin was hot-footing it from an event in Oxford at lunchtime to an event at Windsor in the evening, and I'm sure Martin's publishers were a little nervous about a big name like him coming to our little shop. But it coped admirably, and he stayed for nearly an hour and a half. In the build up to Friday, several people had reserved books saying they 'hoped he'd be really nice' (seeing as that was how he came across on the telly), but I was very confident he would be, having read his book "A Dog's Life". Martin really is potty about dogs, and whenever people write about their passion - and share it with others - you can't help but get swept up in the enthusiasm of it all. I spent most of Friday in a bit of a nervous state. Luckily we have a) a brilliant team at Mostly Books now, and b) they all know what I get like when I have too much caffeine before a big event, and that my frantic pacing around the shop is easily dissipated by getting me to do various menial tasks such as sweeping, updating the posters in the window, dusting, making tea - and in this case making sure the shop was dog-friendly (we had asked people to bring their dogs):
Martin arrived 10 minutes early - so we plonked him down at his table, rustled up a strong cup of tea, and he started to chat to the already substantial queue of people and signed books and was utterly charming - and very generous with his time. Anyone who bought their dog though did get special treatment:
And one local dog who has his own blog got some quality time with Martin - and has blogged about it here. Not a great deal more to say about the event really. A lot of fun, nerves vanished, obligatory shots with chuffed bookseller:
And plenty of happy fans by the end of the day: Hope Martin made it safely to Windsor on a rainy Friday evening. What a gent. We will quickly get over our celebrity moment, and do the whole thing again this Saturday (November 15th) when Raymond Blanc will be here at 2pm. I feel more incisive chalkboard advertising antics may be in order...

Peter Pan in Scarlet

On Saturday 1st November, we were delighted to welcome children's author Geraldine McCaughrean to a very special afternoon storytime at Mostly Books. Geraldine is the author of Peter Pan in Scarlet, the authorised follow-up to Peter Pan. The book launched to much critical acclaim back in 2006, but in October the publisher OUP launched an illustrated version of the book for younger children: (If you don't know the story of Peter Pan, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and how Geraldine was chosen to write the official sequel, it's well worth finding out here) This is a very shrewd move. The original Peter Pan was never intended for very young children, but - thanks to Walt Disney - many 5 and 6 year olds know all about Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys way before they might ordinarily have read the book. Geraldine took on the task of rewriting the book for younger readers, and David Wyatt (who did the cover illustration for her original book) has produced beautiful artwork for the illustrated edition. The book is utterly gorgeous (we're biased of course, but it is), and we were really thrilled to have Geraldine in the shop so soon after the book's launch. We were dealing with Peter Pan of course, so there needed to be a bit of magic. The shop was transformed into Neverland for the afternoon, the staff wore Scarlet, Geraldine herself was resplendent in a remarkable scarlet coat, and we encouraged all the children to come dressed as characters from Peter Pan. We had plenty of pirates and tinkerbells (and one Wendy):
Geraldine read several extracts from Peter Pan in Scarlet, as well as from several of her other books. Prizes were given for the best fancy dress, and all the children had treats to take home.
It was a really fun afternoon, and Geraldine was a complete superstar, posing for the oligatory 'picture with grinning bookshop owner' at the end. Geraldine is a storyteller of rare skill - in both writing and telling - and you really do need to take a look at this book, it really is magical...