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...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sam Enthoven - genius

This was so good, I've posted it both here and on the Amazing Blog for Boys...more on Sam Enthoven's website... Less than 24 hours now - and this is the biggest event we've ever done. Fingernails have been somewhat chewed over the past few days, but everything is in place for a truly amazing afternoon. We will have tickets available on the day - so come along!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

3 days to go...

It's three days to go until our Amazing Books for Boys event, and I'm extremely nervous. It's not just because it's the biggest event we've ever done, it's just that there are some extremely intimidating authors coming to Abingdon on Saturday, and I'm sure that between them Robert Muchamore (ex-private investigator and now mega-selling CHERUB author), Chris Bradford (black belt samurai-swordsman) and the six authors from Trapped By Monsters could make life unpleasant for me if I screw up. Having said all that, I think we've got all our bases covered. He said confidently... There's more author interviews and videos over on the Amazing Blog for Boys - and for anyone in Oxfordshire on Saturday afternoon, we should still have tickets available on the door for any of the events - but do call the shop on 01235 525880 to check (alternatively email us at books@mostly-books.co.uk). In other news, we had a great day on Saturday with the Young Enterprise teams, and on Monday we did two school's events with Matthew Skelton...who risked life and limb in front of 100 school children when he dared to mention he wasn't entirely enamoured with 'Twilight' (he did get pelted with stuff, it wasn't pretty). Pictures to follow...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Young Enterprise Day at Mostly Books

Tomorrow (Saturday) we have three local schools' Young Enterprise teams in Mostly Books from 10am onwards, demonstrating their products and talking about their innovations. Team eclectic have produced a collection of Short Stories entitled Frideswide The Owl, the multilingual story of a loveable (if slightly arrogant) Oxfordian Owl, who travels round the world, making new friends and learning about different cultures and languages. Between them, eclectic speak 8 languages - the starting point for how the book was produced, and in May they won the title of Best Company at the Young Enterprise county finals held at the Said Business School, Oxford. Silhouette - who won an award for best use of publicity at the same awards - will be here demonstrating an innovative self-standing cookbook for young people. And team Artemis have a very innovative product to get children eating healthily. Come and meet the teams from 10am at Mostly Books all day on Saturday...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Busy shop

Lots going on at the moment - our latest newsletter is now up and online. We have an interview with Jimmy Coates author Joe Craig over on the Amazing Blog for Boys. It's 11 days until our Amazing Books for Boys event. I am now officially nervous. And, for some reason, the theme tune to The Hair Bear Bunch is going round my head...which is worrying...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Jodi Picoult - Handle With Care

Gosh - can it be a month gone by already? In our defence, we've been mad busy with events throughout May - and it certainly started off with a bang right at the start of the month with a visit on May 1st from the ethical dilemma-meister herself, Jodi Picoult. The sign was out, working its chalky magic again, and by 5.30pm there was a fair old queue stretching back down Stert Street. The fact that it was the Friday before the bank holiday weekend hadn't deterred her die-hard fans... Jodi arrived hot-foot from prior engagements in Bath and Swindow, to a fair amount of excitement. We ushered her into the shop, and - as a little bird had told us that she was a big fan of cake - we ensured she had a couple of our stalwarts (choc brownie and lemon drizzle) on hand to keep her going whilst she was here. We took a fair few fan pics to email to various people afterwards - here's a selection from the afternoon:
All that remained was for the oligatory photo with happy booksellers (both Nicki and I managed to be at the shop thanks to some judicious babysitting) and she was gone!
Jodi was utterly charming (not to mention very complimentary about the cake...and the shop) and thanks to her and everyone at Hodder for helping everything run so smoothly...


Big congratulations to Emma and Alex of the The Hungerford Bookshop, Independent Bookshop of the Year. They are probably nursing slight hangovers this morning after (hopefully) a whirlwind night...and for everyone else, place it on your map for a holiday visit this Summer if you are into a bit of bookshop tourism!