Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BBC Oxford Book Club

As of this afternoon, I am the new resident book 'expert' on BBC Radio Oxford's afternoon show, for Jo Thoenes' Book Club. If you'd like to hear how it went, it's on BBC iplayer - fast-forward to about 1 hour 7 minutes. Not sure it'll stay on there longer than a week of course... It was a lot of fun - very laid back, and I was made to feel very welcome by the team there. Bringing along some superb cupcakes for everyone to try (courtesy of Ali - who is a star and insanely talented at these things) definitely helped make a good impression - though I'm sure no-one could follow what I was saying on air thanks to a combination of nerves + my usual arm-waving rapid fire talking in these situations (obviously being on air the arm-waving effect was mostly lost). For the record - my five top recommends for this month are:
  • Ali Shaw's remarkable debut novel The Girl With Glass Feet - Gaskella has a wonderful - and spot-on - review over on her blog, but I must just say hats off to publisher Atlantic who have done the book justice in terms of the physical book itself. Ali is up for the Costa First Novel Award in January AND he happens to live and work in Oxford AND we have him coming to the shop in January 18th...
  • Neal Stephenson's Anathem. A fine example of all that is good about science fiction by a towering writer who can hold his own against the best in any genre. When a society is in danger of collapse, how best to ensure that knowledge survives?
  • Cupcakes From the Primrose Bakery by Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas. We tasted them live on air and they tasted GOOD. These two mumpreneurs started in their own kitchen, and eventually opened their own bakery...
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius by Graham Farmelo. Science biographies don't get much better than this, with the long-overdue life story of arguably the finest scientist Britain has produced since Isaac Newton. A man who used his grounding in engineering, and arcane branches of geometry to translate between the old and new physics - and even look ahead to the birth of string theory. Full of literary references, English history and even Cary Grant, this is a tour de force - and has rightly been shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award.
  • And finally, the Bedtime Collection: Stories, Rhymes and Pictures for the Very Young compiled by Wendy Cooling. A wonderful bedtime collection of illustrated stories from a veritable whos-who of children's writers and illustrators (it would be easier to list who isn't in the book, which I'm obviously not going to do because that would be mean). With all proceeds going to Bookstart, this is a great way (and at £7.99 great value) to discover a whole load of new authors you may never have come across.
The next show goes out 2pm 27th January. So I'll be on the lookout for my next five books. Oh, and aside from Ali Shaw we'll be letting you know about an event we are doing with Sara Paretsky and a few other 2010 events very soon as well...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Susan Hill is in the Roysse Room

When we first opened Mostly Books we had a tremendous amount of support from the blogosphere - not just from casual readers, but other booksellers (both here and abroad), other Abingdonians...and authors. And none more supportive than the author Susan Hill. At the time we were slightly overwhelmed that an author of her stature would take an interest in two neophytes just starting out, but as, over the years, we have kept in touch, got to know her better - it shouldn't have come as a big surprise. Susan is simply madly passionate about books, in a way that has meant her involvement in just about every aspect of their existence. And thus anyone who goes into this crazy business with even a scintilla of the same passion must (in Susan's view) must be on the side of the angels. Well that's my theory anyway... So when we spotted earlier this year in the publishing schedules that Susan had a book out this Autumn, and when we subsequently understood that it was a book 'about books themselves' we invited Susan to Abingdon, kept our fingers crossed, and were delighted when she accepted and we were able to welcome her to Abingdon on Friday. It was well worth three years' wait. It is not hyperbole to say that Susan Hill is a literary giant, having won a clutch of our most distinguished awards, and having been at the very heart of cultural life in this country for decades. She knows, has known or interviewed a genuine who's-who of writers over the past 40 years. She reads, writes, edits, publishes, promotes and judges books. And she is at her most animated, passionate and uncompromising when it comes to their defence. Susan began Friday's event with a defence against what she sees as a descent into a digital 'dark age', where the traditional book slowly, quietly - a la the fax machine - disappears from our lives almost by accident, with the attendant disappearance of much of the publishing industry. Her plea was no luddite call to resist e-books - quite the contrary - but to renew our appreciation of everything that is wonderful about the printed word, and not sleepwalk into a situation where global economics makes the production of books non-viable - and thus obsolete. The plea to rediscover books was a perfect introduction to Susan's main talk of the evening, her book Howard's End is On The Landing. The book is in essence a memoir - a very personal one - of someone doing just that, going through her house, and using the books that she rediscovered as a structure on which to hang her thoughts, views and experiences in the realm of books and publishing. If it had been anyone else, a personal trip down memory lane might be diverting at best, but the sheer wealth of literary experience that Susan has means this book verges on nothing less than a biography of modern literature and the culture of literature. In it questions are asked as to why the popularity of certain authors thrive - and why others seem to disappear without trace. Along the way - and Susan read a few during the evening - we are entertained with illuminating anecdotes of authors such as Roald Dahl and Iris Murdoch. There have, apparently, been grumblings from some quarters of the publishing world that Susan advocates 'not buying books' (which she didn't do for a year whilst writing the book. She also, incidentally, used the experience to wean herself off the Internet, something that benefitted her concentration and sanity). If this is true, then it's a classic case of missing the point. What Susan has done in producing this book is to take a pause, marshal her thoughts, look back (probably with the tiniest nudges from thoughts of mortality and legacy) and consider what is worth reading and why. I think if more people did this, then book sales generally might indeed decline, but I'd love to see what the bestseller lists would look like. Accompanying her at the event was her daughter Jessica, and she was able to give her own version of what it was like growing up in the house described in the book. As usual, several other bloggers have covered our event faster and far better than we could, and I suggest you take a look at the impressions of Gaskella, The Poet Laura-eate, Stuck-in-a-Book and Books Please. I reckon if you read all of these reviews, you'll have a much better idea of the power of Susan's talk - and the impact it made. My sincere thanks to Susan and Jessica for making it a very memorable evening, and closing a circle for Nicki and I that began before we even opened. My thanks also to members of the Mostly Booklovers - Julia, Patricia and Annabel - who helped out on the evening with tickets, booksales and refreshments. We've had a lot of people coming into the shop to say how much they enjoyed the event, and I know there were others who wanted to come but couldn't get a ticket. Whilst I can't honestly in my heart of hearts urge you to do something as drastic as stop buying books, I can urge you to read through HEIOTL (even if you borrow a copy), and I can definitely recommend that you take a moment to consider what you read, why you read it - and consider what different books and authors you might choose to give you a few different answers in your life. Naturally, we can help with you that if you pop in to the shop...

Friday, September 25, 2009

The original 'SrAlan'

A favourite quote from my success literature-reading days is "if someone gives you a million dollars, best you become a millionaire so you get to keep the money". It goes to the core of the nature of wealth, being about the mindset rather than the actual dollars and cents. I imagine it's much the same with celebrity and fame. Whether it happens overnight, or over the long-term - you need to have the right mental attitude to handle it when it arrives. This quote came to mind last week as I was reading Alan Titchmarsh's memoir "Knave of Spades" in the run up to our wonderful book event last Friday with the man himself. As I've already fessed up to the fact that I'm a fan, I think we'll take it as read that he was a wonderful guest, and I felt very privileged to be able to welcome him to Abingdon on the night. Courteous, genuine, with a rare sort of humility - Alan is someone who handles fame very well indeed. In an era of 'instant fame' it is interesting to discover just how long Alan's apprenticeship was, not just in terms of becoming a world-renowned gardener, but also in achieving the fame and regard large swathes of this country hold him in. He left school at 15, with one O-level in Art, and started at the very bottom: apprentice gardener for the Ilkley Urban District Council. The quintessential elements of success were all there at the start though: a combination of 'doing what you love', hard work, a hunger to learn, and some key mentors who helped guide him on a trajectory that was to take him to college, then Kew Gardens and eventually on to the BBC. We had a lot of fun on the evening. After an hour regaling us with stories and anecdotes, we then ushered him out to the signing table to meet and sign books. Cue lots of banter, the odd saucy comment - and a few well-meant harangues to 'get back on the telly doing gardening programmes'... As usual, Gaskella has done a much better (and more timely) job of reporting on the event itself - but one of the undoubted highlights of the evening was when ur-fan Edna presented Alan with two 2-foot high knitted dolls to coincide with his 60th birthday. We'd been a bit worried when she'd called the shop a few days before, warning us that she would be presenting them to him on the night. Her use of the phrase "and one of them is fully clothed" did cause some alarm bells to ring. But she was a delight:
Thanks to St Helen & St Katharine for making their wonderful Yolande Patterson Hall available to us at short notice, for the Mostly Booklovers who turned out to help 'marshal' the event, to everyone who turned up to make it a special evening - and of course to Alan himself for coming down to Abingdon after a gruelling week on the road.
(P.S. About the title. I know he's an MBE, but it's surely just a matter of time...)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Alan Titchmarsh at Mostly Books

This Friday we'll be welcoming Alan Titchmarsh to Abingdon - and I have to say, I'm a bit nervous. Not because it's a big event for us (it is), and not just because I've got to introduce him (because, between you and me, I love doing that sort of thing). No, it's because I'm a fan, and - like most fans - there's always that risk of behaving like an idiot when coming face-to-face with your heroes. I have a signed copy of How To Be A Gardener, I watched quite a bit of Gardener's World whenever it was on - but it was Ground Force that I was totally hooked on. Don't ask me what it was about that programme: was it the conflicts, the jeopardy, the ludicrous deadlines and the over-ambitious garden plans? Or perhaps it was just that you were kidding yourself that - given a whole weekend - you might just be able to transform your poor excuse of a garden into something amazing. Dream on... Anyway, for me, the absolute zenith for Ground Force was the makeover the team performed on Nelson Mandela's garden in South Africa. Broadcast (from memory) about 3 days into the new millennium (boy, does that seem a long time ago) the genius was in taking the quintessentially British GF format (complete with banter, the ludicrous deadlines, etc) and transplanting it to a completely different country - and involving a man who was arguably the world's most famous individual at the time (Mandela that is, not Titchmarsh). I couldn't find any clips on YouTube to include here (although I did find an old BBC website story here) but from memory, when Nelson eventually returns to see the garden, and gets over his surprise, he queries whether or not it is the BBC behind the transformation. Up to then, everything has been very light and easy-going (typical GF) until Mandela has his question confirmed. When he discovers it is indeed the Beeb, he suddenly becomes all serious. "Do you know how important an organisation the BBC is?" asks Nelson, intensely. Quick as a flash, Alan - probably intuitively, knowing there isn't the chance of a retake, realising the need to keep the tone light for the end of the show - replies in equally serious tones "we do indeed sir, it pays our wages.". And cuts to the end of the show. It was a masterstroke. And showed the touch of a consummate broadcaster, not just a master gardener. Anyway, I'm sure for those of you who can take or leave Mr Titchmarsh, this'll all seem a bit gushing. I'll try not to babble like an idiot when I introduce him on Friday. More about the event here. It takes place at the School of St Helen & St Katherine (the marvellous venue we hosted Joanna Trollope at back in January) and there are still tickets if you get in touch with us at the shop...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Well, that was embarrassing

It was a genuine mistake. Honestly. I was vaguely aware that it was out this week. But our delivery didn't turn up yesterday, and what with our upcoming event with Alan Titchmarsh a week Friday, and a few other events that we are putting into place I must admit I lost track... So when someone came in this morning at about 10am keen to have a look at the latest Dan Brown, there were a few seconds of embarrassed silence behind the counter. "Ah. Dan Brown. Yes. I think we're expecting it this morning..." This wasn't some independent bookselling act of militancy BTW. Just a bit of a screw-up... Anyhoo, apart from that and not having a single copy of Pride & Prejudice in the shop this morning ("call yourself a bookshop?)" we feel firmly back in the saddle after our almost two-week break once we'd waved Griff off back in the middle of August. Since our return it's been Ch*stm*s planning and ordering, catching up with all the news from our customers, playing admin catch-up and feverishly putting our Autumn schedule together ready for our next newsletter - which might be out as early as next week (with a following wind). Ooh, loads of events which are *almost* finalised and we're bursting to tell you about...but it'll have to wait (aside from Alan of course - did I mention him?) Anyway - what's been happening to us over the last few weeks? Well, we've been a bit remiss in keeping up with the wider bookselling world (see start of post) but I feel particularly bad that the opening of a new independent went by without a comment from us. Not just any old bookshop, of course, but the new Edinburgh Bookshop opened by bookselling supremos Vanessa and Malcolm - doubling their bookselling empire. Go take a look at the photos of the new shop because it is gorgeous. And are those some Persephone books I see in that bottom photo? I think so... The independent world needs good news like this because I was really shocked to discover that Crockatt & Powell closed their doors sadly over the Summer. I knew that were under the cosh a little following their expansion into Chelsea - but even so, I was really shocked by the news. I can't think of anything more traumatic than having to close your shop. Matthew and Adam were the punk rockers of indie bookselling, often controversial, never dull. They have helped us out over the years with a tonne of useful advice. I'll miss their blog, and Lower Marsh must be a quieter, sadder place if you are a booklover. Hurry back soon chaps...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Griff Rhys Jones and Rivers

Just before we opened Mostly Books three years ago we took a holiday abroad (assuming it would be the last one we would take for some time, which turned out to be very accurate) and whilst waiting to fly out, I spotted someone sitting in one of the waiting lounge cafes who looked remarkably like Griff Rhys Jones. "Ooh look" I said to Nicki "it's Griff Rhys Jones. Should I go and ask him if he'll do an event?". Nicki looked totally mortified and said "No". Me being me, however, I bimbled up to him, told him about our about-to-open new bookshop, and asked him if he'd like to do an event. He probably thought I was a harmless nutter (and even if he thought I *wasn't* a harmless nutter, he probably wondered how successful I would be as a bookseller if my primary strategy for booking authors was going up to them cold in airports). Given all that, he couldn't have been nicer and more generous, giving me the contact of his publisher, and wishing me luck. And that was that. In the melee of setting up the shop, and the dawning realisation of what organising an event really meant, I never followed this up. Fast forward three and a bit years to this Thursday, and luckily Griff had no recollection of this embarrassing incident as I greeted him and his wife Jo at Abingdon's Guildhall for what was a fantastic evening in front of a sell-out crowd.
Griff was here to talk about Rivers. Not just the eponymous book that ties-in to the TV series, but rivers in general and how wonderful, important, magnificent they are to our culture, heritage and lifestyle. Sadly (for any dog-lovers who has been watching the series) his dog Cadbury hadn't come along, but Griff more than made up for this omission with a truly vituoso performance of history, anecdote, passion and humour. And he signed some books too... As always, we are very lucky to have several bloggers coming along on Thursday, please read Gaskella's report, BooksPlease - and of course the Abingdon Blog. Obligatory shot with booksellers. I don't know why I'm looking so intense, it was a very enjoyable evening... Nicki and I are taking the boys to the seaside tomorrow for a week, on a much-needed holiday (yippee!) leaving the shop in the hands of our brilliant staff (check out the free craft activities we're running every Tuesday for kids in the shop BTW). A big thank you to the Mostly Booklovers who helped make the event happen, to those members who helped out on the night and to everyone who came along on Thursday night to make it a great - and very Abingdon - evening...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Exciting news

As of this morning (Wednesday) we can confirm that we have Griff Rhys Jones coming on August 13th to talk about his new book and television series "Rivers". This is obviously jolly exciting. Mr Rhys Jones is very famous, so much so that he's even on the cover of the Radio Times next week. As far as my Mum is concerned, it doesn't get much bigger than that. (In addition, and with a bit of luck, he'll have forgotten the incident three years ago when I accosted him in Stansted airport asking him if he'd like to do an event before we'd even opened) Of course, we now have a little over three weeks to sell tickets to the event. But we like a challenge. And we've booked a nice big venue in the centre of Abingdon (the Guildhall) for Griff. It's close to the bookshop - and not too far from the river. It should be a fantastic event - Griff is a highly entertaining speaker, and I have to say the book is gorgeous. Also, Griff has a bit of 'previous' with Abingdon, having visited St Helen's church during filming of "Three Men & A Boat" - so it will nice to welcome him back. Tickets are £5 - and you can redeem the whole lot against a purchase of the book on the night. How exciting is that? Tickets available from Mostly Books - more details on the event, and how to book, here. P.S. Nicki and I are off up to Harrogate tomorrow - for four whole days - to visit the Theakstons crime fiction festival. Sounds like a busman's holiday, but it is an event we've wanted to visit for some time. Expect some piccies and a blog entry at some point...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Small Is Beautiful: the Oxford Writer's Group

You might be forgiven for thinking that with all our 'big' events we've been doing of late, we might have got a bit too big for our boots (or at least the shop) when it comes to events, but (hopefully) that's not the case. In fact, it was a real treat - now that the miriad of cardboard boxes containing event books have largely disappeared - to shift the old tables around, crack open a few bottles of wine, and host a nice, intimate event in the shop again. On Thursday night, we held a Mostly Booklovers event with the Oxford Writers' Group, a remarkable group of novelists, poets, performers and writers - both published and unpublished - who are the driving force behind two very successful anthologies of short stories: The Sixpenny Debt, and The Lost College. We've wanted to do a writers evening for a long time, and - with OWG member Mary Cavanagh a good friend of the shop, and a member of the Mostly Booklovers herself, we asked her to arrange the evening - which she duly did, inviting fellow members down to the shop and helping us structure the evening. We took the opportunity to invite members of other writing groups along as well, and were delighted to welcome members of the White Horse Scribblers, as well as Robin and Birte of the Turl Street Writers (who have together recently published their own very successful anthology Turl Street Tales). With so many other writers, would-be authors and book-lovers together in such a small venue, there was plenty of networking going on - with one very important outcome (more on that below). The evening format was ostensibly a roundtable discussion on the challenges and opportunities of writing in and around Oxford. We'd dubbed the event "In the Footsteps of Pullman and Tolkien" but once questions started coming in from the audience, the discussion went off in a number of fascinating directions, ranging from the importance of writers' groups generally, essential editing tips, the Oxford Literary Festival and top tips on staging events. It was standing room only - literally. I'd miscalculated on the number of chairs, forgetting that we had nine writers to seat for starters, so even pressing the counter stools into service we were still several short. Apologies to the late arrivers, and thanks to those who nobly gave up their seats when we played musical chairs after half an hour... The OWG are - from left to right: Mary Cavanagh (author of The Crowded Bed and A Man Like Any Other), the redoubtable Radmila May (the editing supremo behind The Sixpenny Debt), Ekaterinburg author Helen Rappaport (who we did a wonderful garden event with almost exactly a year ago), journalist and writer Sylvia Vetta, Proper Family Christmas author Jane Gordon-Cumming, Angela Cecil-Reid, Margaret Pelling, Laura King (aka The Poet Laura-eate) and finally Gina Claye, author of Don't Let Them Tell You How To Grieve (and for a wonderful review of that book, read Dovegreyreader's thoughts here). A very diverse group of writers, but the support they provide each other, and the obvious fun they have in their various endeavours was a massive advert for joining a writers group - or starting one yourself. And several of the audience did just that. As a result of the event on Thursday, I'm proud to be the first person to announce the creation of the (as yet working-titled) Abingdon Writers' Group. Anyone reading this who lives in or around Abingdon, and would like to join - please get in touch and I will pass your name on to the founding members. It's all jolly exciting - and for anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that this is the kind of thing that we love getting involved in - and makes all the incredibly hard work of running our little shop worthwhile. We have a number of extremely talented writers and authors who live in Abingdon, who it's been a privilege to have gotten to know since opening the shop, and this is the first step on a very exciting journey to something big.
Thanks to Mary - and the members of the OWG - for an energising and buzzy evening, and as the lady said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
P.S. This coming Monday (July 13, 7.30pm) we will be welcoming well-known local food writer and enthusiast of all things country pub + dog, Helen Peacocke, as she talks about her book Paws Under The Table, a collection of 40 dog-friendly pub walks around Oxfordshire...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Event videos

We had a fab new writers event last night with the Oxford Writers' Group - so whilst I busily write up that event (and there's a lot to cram in) I thought you might enjoy some videos from some of our events in June (what a long time ago that now seems...). Firstly, Chris Bradford has released an 'official' launch video from the Amazing Books for Boys launch event for Way of the Warrior. Splendid stuff: And whilst you are recovering from that, here's some (slightly) more sedate few videos from the Children's Food Festival. Firt up is Alex Mackay, one of the undoubted stars of the weekend - he is an incredibly passionate, larger-than-life New Zealander who has made his home in Oxfordshire, and who has this amazing rapport with kids. He set up the Raymond Blanc Cookery School, but that's only the start of his talents - find out more here. Here he is getting the kids all fired up about dough - and it's a shame I didn't get any footage of the huge queue of children holding the world's longest piece of pasta... On the Sunday, it was a great privilege to finally meet "the teenage chef" Sam Stern - we have been huge fans of Sam in the shop since we opened, we've recommended his books to loads of kids - and some of them came on Sunday, bringing their sauce-flecked copies for signing. Although (now 18) he'll lose his 'teenage' moniker shortly, it was a real pleasure to meet Sam and have him signing in the tent. Here - with a willing assistant - he prepares some homemade burgers: And finally, I didn't manage to get any footage of Sophie Grigson whilst demonstrating on either of the two days, but she's an fantastic performer and like Alex she really gets children excited about cooking (it's perhaps no coincidence that both these chefs are heavily involved with the Kids' Cookery School in Acton). Here she is giving some sage advice on the importance of children learning to cook with - and respect - sharp knives in the kitchen (under close supervision of course): Signed copies from Sam, Sophie and Alex in the shop... This Monday (July 13) we welcome Helen Peacocke in the shop, talking about her new book "Paws Under the Table", a guide to dog-friendly pup walks in Oxfordshire. Helen is a well-known local writer, and she is passionate about dogs, walking - but also about 'using or losing' our wonderful country pubs...tickets available in the shop or email us to reserve a place...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Now We Are Three

It's our third birthday tomorrow. We haven't got anything special planned, but Nicki and I will be in the shop together (now a regular Wednesday event) and our Wednesday evening bookgroup meets, well, in the evening. We started our first bookgroup almost as soon as we opened, and for me it's still one of the highlights. To be honest, we're pretty shattered, coming down off a rather ambitious events programme over the past few weeks, so a nice quiet Wednesday doing some admin and talking about books with customers will be very enjoyable. Whilst the economic climate couldn't be more different, the actual weather tomorrow will be pretty similar to when we opened. And I do love selling books in my shorts... I think it's worth saying that Nicki and I continue to love running the shop, we are so grateful for the continued support of everyone in the town, and we've lots of plans for events and activities in the coming months and years. A heartfelt and sincere thank you to everyone who supports us, and allows us to continue doing what we do. So - have a slice of birthday cake on us wherever you are, and in the meantime, please enjoy some pictures from our Alice in Wonderland party held in the shop today. Alison was very hot in those ears, and apparently that's a Mutant Ninja (Mock) Turtle. Thanks to Esther for the pics...and for the use of her children!
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here." (With thank to Roy H Williams and his timely memo...)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Food, fun and sun

Boy, was it hot today. The forecast thunderstorms failed to materialise (although we did see an impressive one in the distance late in the day) but the crowds did. I spent the day either sweltering under the tent, or wandering around meeting and greeting in the hot sun, and consequently look this evening as if I've just returned from a week in Ibiza...I am completely exhausted, and should be getting some sleep rather than writing this of course. We have great fun today - the venue (The Northmoor Trust) works better than Abingdon Airfield two years ago, there are some great tents, activities and healthy eating all over the site, and everyone I spoke to was having a blast making pancakes, tasting chocolate, getting cooking and having fun - congrats to the organisers because this is a very special event now esconced in the calendar. We did a few signings throughout the day:
Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, signing copies of the Good Granny Cookbook...
The brilliant and lovely Sophie Grigson, patron of the festival, who worked like a trojan all day compering the event as well as demonstrating herself...
Raymond of course - who followed his star turn two years ago with another performance that had kids crowding around the stage and getting terrifically excited about cooking...
There was a big egg running around, pursued by an angry-looking chef and lots of excited kids...
In the pink corner, kids cooking supremo Annabel Karmel, and in the green corner...
...Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett - authors of Baby-led Weaning (we had them and Annabel signing at the same time, which some Mums out there might consider a bit mischievous)...
And finally the utterly brilliant Stefan Gates, with a strong claim to be star of the show - and a nice guy to boot. His Gastronuts performance had kids clamouring to eat insects, jellyfish, locusts and sheeps testicles. Broccoli should be a doddle after all that... Stefan performs tomorrow (Sunday) and we're welcoming Sam Stern as well as Alex Mackay amongst others. It'll be another hot day, in all senses of the word...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Children's Food Festival

This Saturday and Sunday we'll be running all the celebrity signings at the Children's Food Festival. We did the inaugural one two years ago - and this time it will be at the Northmoor Trust next to the Wittenham Clumps. Described (by me at least) as the "Glastonbury of Food" it should be an inspiring and entertaining two days. This year there's some great new things happening - including an under 5s area - so if you are coming to the festival this year, pop over and say 'hello' as we'll be running around like mad things, and will welcome a familiar face...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Carnegie and Greenaway winners

My predictive powers on Tuesday fell short again - and of course it is not possible to wish Siobhan Dowd congratulations after her untimely death in 2007, but "Bog Child" is a very worthy winner. Big congratulations must also go to Catherine Rayner who won this year's Greenaway with the fabulous Harris Find His Feet. We did an event with Catherine back in May, and both her and her work are vibrant and infectiously wonderful, and again - a very worthy winner.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Random thoughts: Abingdon Carnegie Forum 2009

Last year, I was very honoured to be invited to be a judge at the Abingdon Schools' Carnegie Forum. It was a fantastic day, I enjoyed myself immensely, and was delighted to be invited back for this year's event. Last year the event was hosted by Abingdon School, this year - under the auspices of the hosts Our Lady's - the event took place in the Guildhall. The big difference this year was the format of the presentations. Last year, the shadowing groups - made up of a mix of students from each of the six secondary schools participating - made presentations at the end of the day which were felt to be a bit stilted. This year, the focus was on a more dramatic 4 minute presentation, with a choice of formats. Most groups chose to dramatise scenes from the book, or deliver a "reduced shakespeare" type delivery of the whole book. It was a lot of fun - and there was some great performances for the seven books on the shortlist. Upon arriving at the Guildhall, we were greeted by the following fabulous Carnegie cake, made locally by Sue Russell.
As you know, I have strong views on books + cake, so the sight of this hugely impressive confection bucked me tremendously. I wasn't the only one:

Anyway - there was serious business at hand - namely, for us (the judges) to read through a whole series of book reviews from the shadowing schools, whilst the students themselves decided what they were going to do for the presentations. We were welcomed by Mrs Renwick, Headmistress of Our Lady's (left) who then passed over proceedings to Our Lady's librarian Barbara Hickford (incidentally, I learned that Barbara set up a wiki for her shadowing group at the school, to enable pupils in the group to update reviews and feedback from the books).

Mrs Renwick gave us an overview of the Carnegie Medal itself, its history and just how many students (an estimated 90,000) are involved in the shadowing scheme. This is, BTW, the 10th annual Abingdon Carnegie Forum. The students got into groups, spread out through the Guildhall:

As judges, we had a wander around to observe the presentations coming together, before retiring to our smoke-filled room for plenty of heated debate over the reviews (actually, it wasn't that heated, and the place is smoke-free, but you get the idea). As last year, I took a sneaky photo of the assembled schools and facilitators towards the end:

...before prizes were given for the winners of the reviews for each book. A couple of observations struck me about the reviews this year:

  • the use of the word 'random'. I guess when you are 'down with the kids', random is a compliment. Several uses cropped up in the reviews, typically "this book was good, but a bit random". I'm guessing that this means the book was unexpected, didn't conform to expectations. I'd suggest, if you're a children's author, you'd want that kind of response from you readers.
  • several of the reviewers found it 'weird' when the book was in the third person. In fact, one of the reviewers went as far as to say that they found it so weird they had to re-read several passages. Now, in my opinion, I still find first-person books a bit weird. Not so long ago, writing in the first-person was something that was incredibly difficult to pull off. I guess styles in literature have completely changed - I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing - but 3rd person doesn't seem to be very in at the moment. Perhaps it's that celebrity culture thing creeping in again?

Anyway - here's a good article to read if you want to know more about the background to Carnegie Shadowing:

If your eyesight isn't very good, the article can be found online here. I appreciate that I have only been involved in this event for two years, but I am so impressed by the high level of commitment, organisation and excitement from all involved. As a bookshop, we are dead chuffed to be involved in the Forum. As a change from selling books, I found the whole day energising in terms of re-discovering people who just get excited about books. The Knife of Never Letting Go was voted the favourite book at the end of the Forum. Last year my predictions of the eventual winner were a bit off. For what it's worth, I reckon the Forum will get it spot on this year when the winner of the Carnegie Award 2009 is announced this Thursday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An Amazing Day

Our "Amazing Books for Boys" event took place on Saturday - and an amazing day it was too. We'll write up the individual events in more detail over on the Amazing Blog for Boys shortly, but for now here are some highlights. First up was Trapped By Monsters:
From left, Sam Enthoven, Joe Craig, David Melling, Tommy Donbavand, Andy Briggs and Ali Sparkes. Hard to believe that at least two of these authors had never met before - their show was superb:
The strain of having been locked for the past weeks in a cave was really showing. The authors were under a great deal of stress - forced to compete in a nightmare gameshow to avoid being eaten. Kids were selected at random from the audience for to take part in unspeakably awful activities. Here we see children turned into mummies using specially re-used toilet paper... ...whilst at the back a frightening monster took form as the event progressed. Finally, released from the horrific spectacle, the authors were allowed into the main foyer of the theatre to sign books!
There were Trapped By Monsters trading cards - and even Trapped By Monsters cakes! No sooner had they departed, the stage was transformed into a dojo ready for the appearance of Young Samurai author Chris Bradford and Team Taurus - the brilliant Oxford School of Martial Arts Display Team. Fog crept out onto the stage, and the packed audience was treated to an incredible display of carefully choreographed martial arts, readings and audio-visual displays: Chris doesn't just do readings - he brings them to life, acting out the fight sequences from the Young Samurai books: This was the official launch event for Way of The Sword, the sequel to the award-winning Young Samurai.
After the performance, Chris signed copies and had pictures taken with young fans.
Finally, Robert Muchamore came onto the stage, and talked about CHERUB, Henderson's Boys - including the latest Eagle Day. Robert had fans travel from as far afield as Reading and Milton Keynes to hear him speak. He talked about how he started writing, how the books have developed - and took many questions from fans who had a scary amount of knowledge about his books. It was a great performance - and a storming end to the event. Robert then signed books, chatted to fans and patiently had photographs taken by everyone - including the event organisers. Thanks to everyone who helped out on the day (including Yaxkis and Will above), everyone who came to be entertained - but mostly thanks to all the authors and performers who made it such a memorable day. We have a week to recover - and then this Saturday it's the return of the Children's Food Festival for us...