Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Past Times and Parallel Universes: The BBC Oxford Book Club

Aha! I'm a bit more organised today, hence able to get this post out on the same day as the next Afternoon Book Club. Click here if you want to listen to Wednesday's show on the iplayer console, and as usual, fast-forward to about 1 hour 6 minutes to listen to the show. A big focus on children's book this month, what with World Book Day next week and everything. The books discussed today are:
  • Get Ahead Fred by Daisy Dawes (Picture book, PB, £5.99) - a cautionary and tragic tale of hubris, involving hats, cats...and the Queen. A delightful (and subversive) picture book by Daisy Dawes, published by Maverick Children's Books.
  • Lob by Linda Newbery (Fiction, HB, £10.99) - a poetic and magical story inspired by the myths and legends of the 'green man', who seems to inhabit the garden of Lucy's grandfather. But is Lob real, or an imaginary game? For 7+. Linda is published by Oxford's David Fickling books. Linda Newbery will be at Mostly Books tomorrow at 4pm, and also at Long Furlong School in Abingdon earlier in the afternoon.
  • Zombie by Tommy Donbavand (Fiction 9-12, reading age 8, PB, £4.99) - When Nathan and his sister visit their grandfather's grave the last thing they expect is to be accosted by a zombie. A zombie looking for some lemonade. For a party. Can they help him? Tommy Donbavand was a clown, and is now a highly successful children's author and screenwriter. Published by Barrington Stoke - for more about them, see our Can't Read, Won't Read event on Monday 1st March.
  • Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne (PB, £7.99) - based partly on her early life in Sri Lanka, Roma Tearne has written a moving and powerful story which explores themes of immigration, identity and the reality of upheaval in the face of war. Roma will be coming to talk to our Wednesday evening bookgroup on March 10th. This book is being discussed this weekend on the TV Bookclub incidentally.
  • In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin (HB, £20) - John Gribbin is the master of popular science writing, and in this tour de force he takes us on a highly readable journey into one of the more startling ideas of modern physics - that our universe is only one of many alternates. So if you are not a bestselling author in this universe, you might just be in the next...John Gribbin is appearing in the Abingdon Guildhall as part of the Abingdon Arts Festival on March 11th.
Really enjoyed the show today. I think I'm getting over the 'gosh, I'm on the radio' gushyness of previous shows, calming down a bit, and talking about the books...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hardball in Abingdon: Sara Paretsky

A fantastic evening on Friday - Sara was as good and engaging speaker as other people had told me, was by turns funny, erudite and wonderfully engaging. Gaskella has written a fantastic summary of what Sara talked about - I'll simply let Tony Presland's excellent photos tell the story - and I'll post more up here once I've worked out where I put the camera at the end of the event on Friday night... We had a full Roysse Room for the event...Sara stayed behind to sign books and talk to fans - both old and new - it was a great evening, and thanks to both Sara and her publisher Hodder for making it happen. Sara has a few more dates on her current UK tour - check her website if you'd like to catch her before she returns to the US...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Operation Macintyre

We had a tremendous evening on Thursday, with Times journalist - and author of the acclaimed Agent ZigZag - at Abingdon School to talk about his latest book Operation Mincemeat, currently hovering around the top of the bestseller charts since it's publication back in January. Ben talks as well as he writes, and he took us on a whistle-stop tour through the story of this incredible wartime deception, focusing (as the book does) on the cast of unlikely characters who helped make it happen. Many of them have fabulous-sounding typically British names such as Charles Cholmondeley (pronounced 'chumly'), Bentley Purchase and Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Operation Mincemeat was a deception played for the highest stakes, and it's success influenced the outcome of key battles on both the Eastern and Western front in Europe during WWII. What at times seems an outlandish, almost comical, series of events had deadly serious repercussions, and Ben's triumph with the book is to take such a complex and murky subject, and turn it into a book as gripping as any crime thriller, as well as - with the help of recently declassified documents - set it firmly in the historical context of that crucial part of the conflict. Ben is an old boy of the school, and we took advantage of their splendid hospitality suite at the top of the new sports centre. It was pretty much a full house as well. My thanks to the school - and in particular Jan Glover who organised everything from their side - and of course to Ben for making it such a great event. The chap behind us on the big TV screen by the way is one of the architects of Operation Mincemeat, old Charles Cholmondeley himself, sporting a splendid RAF moustache. A character from a bygone age, he - and many other brave individuals - deserve to be better known, and Ben's book my just do that...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

It's vampires...but not what you think

On Thursday we were honoured to run the bookstall for the annual Abingdon Schools Joint Author visit - a fab initiative between most of the schools in Abingdon where they pool their resources, and get a great children's author in for a number of sessions throughout the day. This year, Marcus Sedgwick came along and alternatively gripped and repulsed the kids with talks of vampires, ghosts and things that go bump in the night - not to mention a terrifying image of a kitten that the children who witnessed it will never forget. Marcus writes the Raven Series for younger children - but I got to sit in on his talk for the older readers, which centred on his vampire series beginning with My Swordhand is Singing and continuing with The Kiss of Death. I love watching authors talking to kids - it's the toughest of gigs, and the potential to die a death on stage is ever present. But there were no worries on that score, as Marcus went into the background to his books, the research he had done traipsing around gloomy and spooky locations in Romania, and the customs and stories he had come across. I was particularly taken by the "death bride" custom, where the tragic death of a young man is commemorated by 'marrying' the most eligible girl in the village during the funeral ceremony. That's a picture of Vlad the Impaler on the screen there. I also am very grateful to Marcus for introducing me to Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Apparently it's a well-know fact that George Lucas was heavily influenced by this book when writing Star Wars, and Marcus himself recognised the debt he owed to the book in Writing Swordhand. A bit of judicious googling during the afternoon session (whilst minding the stall) and I reckon I may have to order a copy of that book in...if only for me to read. Here's me holding a copy of Revolver - which, together with The Kiss of Death - are the two titles he has on the impossibly strong Carnegie Longlist this year. I have a sneaky suspicion that Revolver might make the cut, we have had some very strong feedback on the book from one of two customers in the shop that I hold in the highest regard... Major kudos to the school librarians who organised the event (I won't mention them, because they'll get embarrassed) but the logistics of co-ordinating nine school groups from all over Abingdon went effortlessly... (Update 15/02: Additional reports for this event here and here)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Breaking News...Nick Thorpe at Mostly Books

Tomorrow (Tuesday Feb 2nd) - and at short notice - the BBC's Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe will be popping in to Mostly Books tomorrow at 11am to sign copies of his book "'89: The Unfinished Revolution". Now I know what you're thinking. BBC, recent radio connections - but no, Nick has family in Abingdon and is talking at a couple of the local schools, so we asked him to pop in and do an impromptu signing. Nick has witnessed first-hand some of the most tumultuous events of the past twenty-five years in eastern Europe: the Velvet Revolution in Prague; the bloody uprising in Romania; the bombing of Belgrade; and the economic crash of 2008. His book "'89: The Unfinished Revolution" is both an energising and important account of history in the making. If you are in Abingdon tomorrow, you would be most welcome to come along and meet Nick, who will be in the shop from 11am. If anyone would like a signed copy of "'89: The Unfinished Revolution", please do let us know, and we can reserve you a copy...