Thursday, December 16, 2010

Toby, King of Shops

On Monday, someone turned up at our shop at lunchtime, asking if we needed any help. I'm always up for extra help at this time of year - particularly if the person doesn't need paying - so I heartily agreed. He also stated that he had some 'trade experience', so - after taking off his coat and accepting a cup of tea - he set to work.
The visitor, of course, was Toby Mundy of Atlantic Books, and we had 'won' him for the day courtesy of a brilliant initiative from the Faber Alliance entitled "Hire a CEO". So how did it work out?

Well, Toby was hard-working, friendly and - I have to say - a crackerjack salesman. We had what might euphemistically be termed a 'busy day' on Monday, and there were plenty of people seeking help for gift ideas - and Toby was very happy to help out.

It turns out that he comes from a family of retailers, which definitely showed itself in the easy way he assisted customers in their purchases.

Toby also kindly stayed around, and we ran an evening event in a packed shop. He talked about the origins of Atlantic, the ethos (and philosophy) of independent publishing, and the opportunities that now exist for indie publishers as an unexpected consequence of the end of the Net Book Agreement (amongst many other things). As always, Gaskella has written up a vastly superior account of the evening on her blog, which I would suggest should be essential reading for anyone interested in publishing, retailing, or indeed anyone 'in the biz' if only as a refresher for things you *think* you know already...

For me, however, the chance to spend a day in the company of someone with such experience and perspective in the books industry was both hugely enjoyable, instructional - and absolutely priceless. During the course of the day Toby had comments to make on different aspects of the shop, from merchanising and stock selection to the and potential directions for the business in the future. All of these were made obliquely, and offered up with a genuine desire to help us do better. Nicki and I have already made some changes to the shop, and these have been having an impact.

For us, it was a bit like having a visit from "Mary Queen of Shops", and I hope this marks the start of a lasting relationship between us and Atlantic...


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Extra staff in the shop this Monday...

We're very much in the thick of the Christmas season now, and a few early 'runners' have emerged during December in terms of our Christmas bestsellers. Here's a top 10 from the past 4 weeks or so:
  1. History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil Macgregor (and that's despite not being able to get hold of copies for a while at the start of the month)
  2. I Never Knew That About the River Thames by Christopher Winn (we're on the river here!)
  3. Help by Kathryn Stock (several local bookgroups have been reading this I believe)
  4. F in Exams by Richard Benson (the big stocking-filler hit of the year for us, and easily the book causing the most laughter from casual browsers...)
  5. Golden Acorn by Catherine Cooper (by dint of having done an event with her a few weeks ago)
  6. One Day - David Nicholls (mmm, can't imagine why that's there...)
  7. Four Tales - Philip Pullman (a gorgeous collection of four of his 'fairy tales' and a very Christmassy-looking book to boot)
  8. Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming - Stephen Cottrell (the third year running this has featured in our top ten!)
  9. Top Gear - the alternative highway code (I'm slightly ashamed to say)
  10. Steve Backshall's Deadly 60 (cometh the hour, cometh the 'wild' man...we waited almost two months for these to come in, and we're expecting big things of this title over the next couple of weeks...)
An interesting list, as always. Now, a bit further down (at about #17) is Anne Holt's 1222, one of our big crime recommends this Christmas. Published on Dec 1st, it promises to introduce Norway's biggest female crime writer - already huge in other European countries - to a wider UK audience.

But more interestingly, it's a title published by Atlantic Books, and - courtesy of a fantastic initiative from members of the Faber Alliance - we have Atlantic Books CEO Toby Mundy working in the shop tomorrow (Monday Dec 13) from lunchtime onwards, assisting customers as a Mostly Books staff member. It's going to be a great opportunity to come and get some (additional) expert advice from a hugely respected figure in the publishing world, so if you are in Abingdon tomorrow afternoon, do stop by.

Toby will be staying on in the evening to talk about his experience in publishing, and the books they publish. Officially, we are now full for that event, but there is a waiting list and we will try to squeeze you in. Tickets are £3, and include suitably festive refreshments into the bargain...more details here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Last Dragons, Rare Species and Priceless Objects: The Last BBC Oxford Bookclub

All good things must come to an end, and I am very sad to be giving up my monthly bookclub appearance on BBC Radio Oxford, which I have really enjoyed doing over the past year. However, the bookclub itself is in safe hands, as Patrick Neale of the wonderful Jaffe and Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton will be taking over later this month.

For the last show, I managed to pursuade Jo to pose for a shot inside the studio - she's holding a copy the marvellous Coconut Unlimited, one of the shortlisted Costa first novels:
Here are the six books we discussed on the show - which, as always, can be listened to on iPlayer for a week or so (fast forward 1hr 8minutes):

A History of the World in 100 Objects - Neil MacGregor (HB, Penguin, £30)
This is one of those books destined to become a household treasure, such is the thought, effort and care that has gone into this stunning book.
Following exactly the tone and style of the radio series, Neil MacGregor has put together this book of the objects from the British Museum that shows - in his opinion - the objects that best demonstrate how humans have shaped the world since the dawn of humans on Earth. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want Santa to bring them a copy!

1222 - Anne Holt  (HB, Corvis, £12.99)
1222 metres above sea level, a train careens off iced rails as the worst snowstorm in Norwegian history gathers force. Passengers know they will be trapped for days. They decamp to a centuries-old mountain hotel, but as dawn breaks one of them is found dead. With the storm showing no sign of abating, retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen investigates and tensions rise.
Anne Holt is huge in Scandinavia, Germany - and this book is set to make her a big name here. It's a taut mystery - with a subtle political message and a mischievous twist at the end.

Fifty - 50 years 50 species (HB, £17.95)Fifty of the most interesting wildlife species to be found throughout Berks, Bucks and Oxon are captured in photographs and text in this beautiful new book, which also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the local wildlife trust. With stunning and imaginative photographs, what better way to support your local trust, but also get to know the precious local wildlife in your area?

The Last Dragonslayer - Jasper Fforde  (HB, Hodder, £12)This is Jasper Fforde's first children's book, a wonderful creation of a magical world where magic is disappearing! Once magic was powerful, unregulated: sorceror's advised kings and brought down kingdoms. But after centuries of creeping regulation and restrictions, magicians work as plumbers and even magic carpets deliver pizza. Jennifer Strange is a 15-year-old acting as manager for an employment agency finding odd jobs for sorcerers and soothsayers, but everything changes when the death of the Last Dragon is predicted...a great morality tale, and just the merest hint of satire on our health and safety-obsessed world...

Four Tales - Phillip Pullman - £14.99 (HB, Doubleday, £14.99)
A beautiful collection of modern fairy tales, delightfully illustrated throughout. Bringing together for the first time four of Pullman's earlier classic stories - The Scarecrow and his Servant, Clockwork, I was a Rat! and The Firework Maker's Daughter. They are perfect examples of Pullman's unique imaginative talent and will delight and amuse readers of all ages. An absolute gem of a book, perfect for a cold winter's night!

The Iron Man - Ted Hughes  (HB, Faber / Walker, £15)An impressive and striking new edition of Ted Hughes' popular children's classic The Iron Man. Part modern fairy tale and part science fiction myth about the unexpected arrival in England of a mysterious metal giant.
Accompanying the text are stunning visual images. These dramatic and exciting illustrations lend themselves perfectly to the story. A stunning gift edition, perfect for Christmas.