Thursday, July 21, 2011

BBC Oxford Afternoon Book Club - and a chat with Mark Billingham

With BBC Oxford Afternoon Book Club regular Patrick Neale whacked with some horrible bug (get well soon Patrick) I had the chance to do a slightly ad hoc set of book reviews on Wednesday afternoon - and the focus was very much on Summer reading.

During the show we also talked to crime writer Mark Billingham, who talked about his latest (and 11th) DI Tom Thorne crime novel Good As Dead. Mark is an exceptionally talented writer (and not just crime fiction), as well as a stand-up comedian, scriptwriter, actor - and all-round good guy. He MC'd the 2008 British Book Awards (so fond memories from us), but we also had a chance to see him talk at the Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival in 2009 (this year's festival begins today). One day we will get him to the shop for an event...this is a great interview, and as well as talking about the new novel, there's a chance to hear Mark's thoughts about DI Thorne on the telly, as well as details of a truly shocking incident that occurred to Mark early in his writing life, and which he drew on for elements of one of his books...

As always you can listen again for the next 6 days or so on BBC iPlayer (fast forward 12 minutes or so). The interview with Mark occurs after the main book reviews.

For the Summer reading recommends, here are the books discussed (anyone following the blog regularly will notice a few favourites from recent reviews creeping in):
  • "Inheritance", Nicholas Shakespeare (Vintage, PB, £7.99)
  • "Other People's Money", Justin Cartwright (Bloomsbury, PB, £12.99)
  • "House of the Hanged", Mark Mills (HarperCollins, PB, £7.99)
  • "Small Change for Stuart", Lissa Evans (£10.99, HB, Random House)
  • "Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy", Andy Briggs (Faber, £6.99)
All the books in the shop of course...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Goblins, pirates, pen and ink: learning to draw with Chris Mould and David Melling

One of the best things that happened last year was our first ever event at Abingdon Library. Keen to strengthen our ties further (and also very keen to take advantage of the recent stunning upgrade to the Library layout) last Saturday we held an illustration masterclass for about 30 children, aged between 7 and 12. Inspiring and captivating everyone throughout the afternoon were two very special illustrators: Chris Mould and David Melling.
David is very well know at Mostly Books (we had a lot of fun last year with the launch of Hugless Douglas), but this was the first event we had done with Chris - who travelled down from Leeds especially. And they complemented each other brilliantly: both Chris and David have a very understated, laid back approach to presenting in front of children, in which the drawings takes centre stage. Whilst I very much appreciate events we have done with some of the high-octane, 'whoops-I've-hit-myself-with-a-chicken' authors that we have had in the past, I think it's great to see that children can be rapt and captivated simply by the power of the drawings that emerge on a flip-chart.
David kicked off by giving an overview of how he draws, and what quickly emerged was a series of rapid-fire illustrations which acted as a metaphor for the creative process (it doesn't come out well in the photo below, but the Goblin figure at top left is equipped with a large pencil).
Chris then stepped in, using black paint to 'block' some space, out of which emerged a somewhat scary creature, appropriate for someone whose books (such as the Something Wickedly Weird series) are often filled with weird and scary creatures...
During the event, both authors emphasised the importance of 'just getting on with it'. getting stuff down on paper and trying not to get self-conscious about drawing. Chris in particular is very passionate about countering the phenomenon that kids stop drawing around 11 years old, which corresponds with the leap to secondary school. He tends to work only in black and white and never rubs out - "you kill your drawings if you do that!"
As the acryllic paint dried, and Chris inked in details for the character, he then used tippex to add elements over the black paint. It was mesmerising because it was all done at such speed...

Many of the older children had already got busy with the paper and pencils in front of them, but at this point David took over and we got all interactive. Here, David instructs everyone in a Goblin's 'masterclass'...
And you can't see much, but here were the results.

And here are a few Goblins close up:
Chris - referencing his next project, all about pirates - got everyone drawing a skull and crossbones, and then our hour was (officially) up. With the library closed, Chris and David signed books and answered questions for some time afterwards...

...before one final pose, and a nip round the corner to the shop for a cup of tea, despite the heat:
My thanks to both Chris and David for a really superb event, and one which we have received so much great feedback about. It was a real privilege to meet and listen to Chris for the first time, someone who communicates so strongly the joy of illustration simply putting pen (or pencil) to paper.

It also happened that July 9th was the launch of the national libraries Summer Reading Challenge. Based on the theme of 'Circus Stars' children are challenged to read six books over the Summer from their library, and get prizes for doing so. Go see the website to learn more. Very happy to report (via the head librarian) that several children signed up at the end of the event...including some children on their first ever visit to the library. Magic...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Awesome Andy Briggs

Andy Briggs uses the word "awesome" a lot. This is very appropriate. Andy hangs out a lot in Hollywood. He sometimes overtakes Beyoncé and walks past Steven Spielberg and on his way to work. He writes books, but he also writes for TV, films and scripts comic books. Stan Lee once phoned him up and offered him a job.
Andy Briggs IS awesome, and any one of the 300 hundred or so children at Larkmead and John Mason schools who spent an hour in his company yesterday during a series of incredible events would definitely agree. As one boy said on his way out at John Mason: "you sir are the most awesome author I have ever heard". 'Nuff said.

Andy was in town ostensibly to talk about his latest book "Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy". I was already bowled over by this book - but Andy's talk was so much more than what Tarzan is about and how it came to be written.
Andy talks with more passion that I have ever heared about writing. He asks the kids "who here likes films?", "who here watches movies?", "who listens to songs?". All written by people like him: writers. And why stop there: let's include soap operas, sports commentary, video games and the sides of cereal boxes. Advertising, most of the Internet...and, yes, books. No writers = nothing to read, watch or be entertained by.

And then he makes the link between where his audience is now, and where he was at their age: broke, bored, but with an idea in his head which eventually spilled out as writing. It was compelling stuff. Even I wanted to get out a pen and start writing...

Then we were onto Tarzan. Andy approached the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs with an idea to change Tarzan and bring him up-to-date. One trip to Burrough's preserved house (Tarzana, near Los Angeles) later, and Andy was the first person in 100 years to be given permission to change the origins of Tarzan.

As well as a précis of the story, he talked about preserving endangered species (via his work with EAZA's Great Ape campaign), gave a fantastic geography lesson on the sheer size of Africa (see how China and the US fit neatly in there, and look out for GB overlaying Madagascar)...
...before finishing up with an awesome jungle quiz to see how many people would survive - or more likely perish horribly - if forced to survive in the rainforest.
All that in under an hour, three times in a row, and signing books after as well. As I say...awesome.

(The only thing not quite so awesome was my lamentably bad photography, but hopefully you get the general idea).

Signed copies of Tarzan are now in Mostly Books, and I urge you to take a look. Written in a tradition of Rice Burroughs, Willard Price, Spiderman...and with a sprinkle of Hollywood glamour thrown in there as well, this is unashamed rip-roaring entertainment, and one written in the service of making a real difference to endangered species. As Andy says, soberingly, "there are 900 children in this school, but there are only 650 mountain gorillas left anywhere in the world. This is their last chance".

Monday, July 11, 2011

Me Bookseller, You Jane: the return of Abingdon

In the days before running a bookshop, I spent a bit of time at the other end of the ‘paper supply chain’ – timber production. And not just any old timber, but tropical hardwood. I helped develop a system (still going strong) which tracked timber from the forest, proving (amongst other things) that the patio set you just bought from your local garden centre did indeed start life as a legally felled log – and definitely not from a shady illegal operation.

So when (ahead of two school events with him tomorrow) I started reading Andy Briggs’ Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy I was - quickly, brutally, and in an utterly compelling way - plunged back into the world of illegal timber in the rainforests of Congo. Boy oh boy, is it an exciting's a picture of Andy at the recent launch of the book at Scotia Books.

We have been involved in one or two franchise ‘reboots’ this year, and it seems to be an increasingly attractive thing for publishers to do: this year there has been Deaver’s Bond, Lustbader's Bourne and forthcoming attractions include Cottrell-Boyce’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and Anthony Horrowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel “House of Silk”. But rebooting Tarzan? It wasn't clear to me that that bringing Edgar Bice Burrough's creation back to life would work.

2012 is the one hundredth anniversary of the original Tarzan, and – like many people my age – I grew up with the tail end of the black and white Tarzan on Saturday morning telly, with Cheetah and Jane. However, I would be hard-pressed to tell you much about the characters and the stories, aside from swinging through the trees, thumping his chest and uttering that well-known roar.

But Tarzan on TV bore little resemblance to the original book, and Andy Briggs has sensibly gone back to Rice Burrough’s original tale, a book of surprising emotional depth (it's a great love story), and one which sits well with other science fiction writing around that time. Instead of (say) War of the Worlds, which extrapolated modern developments in warfare, Tarzan worked with ideas of identity, race and civilisation that are still very much relevant today.

Briggs stays very close to Burrough's original premise: of a boy adopted by a gorilla, who grows up to become a 'white ape' and Lord of the Jungle. Taught about the outside world by the mysterious D'Arnot, we first meet Tarzan dispatching (in a suitably savage way) three very nasty poachers, against an all-to-realistic backdrop of civil war and environmental destruction.

The main action though begins in an illegal logging camp. Jane Porter is the daughter of one of the loggers, a man who has fled America after losing almost everything of value to him - and when the camp is attacked and Jane disappears, it seems as though he will lost his daughter too. Jane has already been removed from her previous life, cut off from the outside world, sending emails from her iPhone destinated never to arrive by dint of the utter remoteness of her situation in the camp. And when she disappears, a young boy in the camp, Robbie, sets off in hotheaded pursuit.

Thus begins a tense yet thrilling pursuit through the forest on the one hand, whilst on the other hand the relationship between Tarzan and Jane - and the slowly unfolding truth about who Tarzan is - begins to emerge. I particularly liked the nuanced portrayal of everyone - ape or human, father and daughter. No-one is entirely good or bad (Tarzan is certainly no angel) and the nice moral ambiguities work well within the the exciting plot (rip-roaring is an understatement).

Anyway - Andy has pulled off a remarkable book, I hugely enjoyed it, and everyone should take the opportunity to reaquaint themselves with Tarzan (but for fans of the films, a warning: there's no Cheetah!)

We have previously done an event with Andy during the Amazing Books for Boys event with Trapped By Monsters, but I am very much looking forward to taking him to Larkmead School and John Mason School in Abingdon tomorrow. If you are coming along to those events, we'l see you there...