Friday, August 31, 2012

3 4 Friday: Louise Levene, James Long and Alison Mercer

At Mostly Books, we always have a slightly different vibe to the year than occurs in the mainstream retail world. That's not to say we're completely out of step with the mainstream, but at this time of year - when the big high street and Internet retailers have swept away their Summer reads, and are even sneaking in Hallowe'en products onto the shelves, we know that there are in fact plenty of people still to take their Summer break.

So, if you're about to take your summer break, you are just in time to take away three of our favourite summer reads if you’re fancying a bit of an escapist yet quality read.

Ghastly Business’ by Louise Levene portrays 1920s London and the grim fascination of the public and press with brutal murders. Ghastly is the word, with ‘juicy’ details of deaths which are lingered over by the reporters as they try to rewrite them in acceptably dry and euphemistic words for their readers. Doctor’s daughter, Dora, is thrilled with her job in assisting with these grisly post-mortems and the eminent Dr Kemble himself.

A riveting story which is a fantastically readable with a bit of grit to it! There are some truly great characters including the snobbish landlady and the frosty Hubbard.

Ferney’ by James Long is an enduringly popular love story and a huge a word-of-mouth success from 1998. It is reissued just before the long-awaited sequel and is the story of newlywed couple who moved into a derelict cottage with plans to turn it into the perfect home. Only Gally starts to know more about the house than she should and befriends a neighbour who seems ready to believe her  and may even be able to help.

Rich in emotion and landscape, it is praised for its perfect balance between historical facts and imagination as the story unfolds.

'Stop the Clock' by Alison Mercer follows the fortunes of three friends who have weathered university, career choices and remained firm friends. But the certainties they had when they were younger are under threat as the things they didn't plan for start looming on the horizon. Reality bites in the shape of motherhood, divorce, and parents falling ill.

It's a well-written and well-observed story, an honest portrayal of modern life and one many women will relate to. An exceptionally assured debut - and we have signed copies in stock.

Friday, August 24, 2012

3 4 Friday: Ian McEwan, Pat Barker and a modern Finnish gem

August and early September sees several of our biggest authors release books, so for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads we've looked at three 'heavyweight' hardback fiction titles currently in the shop (no Booker nominees however - we're saving those for a few weeks time, when the shortlist is announced on September 11).

All three books are heavyweight only in terms of the themes and gravitas of the writers themselves - they are refreshingly light in terms of length, and we feel all three books would make excellent bookgroup picks in the months ahead.

In Pat Barker's latest book, 'Toby's Room', she returns to the First World War and, whilst not a sequel, it re-introduces the reader to some of her characters from her previous book 'Life Class' which followed the fictional artists at the Slade School of Fine Art. A dark and compelling story of human desire, wartime horror and the power of friendship, Barker's writing is as insightful and powerful as ever. There are three interlocking subjects explored in Toby's Room: the death of a beloved brother, what art can or should do with the horrors of war and how to treat and look at the faces of the wounded veterans - something that, sadly, has very strong contemporary resonance.

The personal stories however, are what give the book such a strong storyline and narrative drive - from the victimisation in wartime of Germans in England, as well as pacifists and homosexuals. Barker is skilled at describing squalor, death and decay and at times her prose is beautifully and startlingly written.

This is a thought-provoking read about art and identity, love and loyalty, intolerence and discrimination and the brutal and far reaching consequences of war and doesn't fail to deliver a typical Barker tough/deep/complex/heavyweight story that has you facing plain truths and the history of our world.

At first glance Ian McEwan's 'Sweet Tooth' seems to be many things - a tale of forbidden love, a spy thriller, a portrait of 70s Britain and its suffocating Cold War anxieties. Serena Frome, beautiful and intelligent, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. On her first mission though, code-named 'Sweet Tooth', she finds her training and the ultimate rule of a spy challenged - to trust no-one - when she meets Tom Haley. A budding writer, his work appeals to her first love of literature and reading, and she falls first for his stories, then for the man himself. The real espionage tale however is not 'Sweet Tooth' (the mission) but 'Sweet Tooth' (the novel) whose narrative is littered throughout with clues...

Beautifully written with a startling final twist at the end, McEwan can't help but be compelling and perhaps his greatest strength is not that he combines these themes perfectly - spy thriller and romance in 70s Britain - but that there is this something else unique going on as well, an espionage tale within a piece of espionage. Oh, and we also have this at £3 off in the shop at the moment...

And finally, 'The Human Part' by Kari Hotakainen is a calmly but powerfully written examination of all that's wrong in modern society, which stays the right side of a diatribe against the worst excesses of capitalism and its dehumanising influences. Set in the grim landscape of Finland’s economic downturn, the story focuses on elderly matriarch Salme, who begins by 'selling' her life story to an author with writer's block. Salme isn't so much an unreliable narrator, as one whose life spills out in a jumble of remembrances that we must, with the author, piece together. To help us though, we are privy to the lives of her three adult children, and it soon becomes clear that all of them have problems to which Salme may (or may not) have the key to solving.

The Human Part won won the Runeberg Prize in its native Finland, and France's Prix de Courrier International. It is newly translated and published by MacLehose.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stop The Clock: Alison Mercer starts her writing career

Last night we were very pleased to host a launch event for local author Alison Mercer and her debut novel  'Stop The Clock'. The weather had thwarted our best-laid plans for a pleasant Summer evening event in the garden, so instead we had a bustling throng in the shop:
It's always very exciting to be there at the start of an author's writing career, and we have hosted a few launches since we opened six years ago. What was particularly nice about this one was the atmosphere, and the tremendous support Alison has, not just from friends, family and colleagues - but also from a publisher so obviously 100% behind a book - and an author - they believe in. 
Alison's editor gave a heartfelt and superb speech about how the book came to be published...
 ..., and Alison herself was able to thank those people who had helped her on her writing journey.

Many of those people were in the shop last night, some travelling a long way to be there: 

Having made sure we kept in the background most of the night, we took our opportunity to have our picture taken with the proud author right at the end:
Published by Black Swan, 'Stop The Clock' is a story of three friends: the plans they had for their futures at the turn of the century, how those plans don't always work out, and even when they do - the results are not what was expected.

It is already garnering some excellent reviews (it pains me to say this, but...ack...go take a look on *that* website), as well as some excellent reviews in the mainstream media. A five-star review in Closer magazine says "Effortlessly readable and sharply realistic, this is grown-up chick-lit at its very best.".

Of course, we are very pleased to have signed copies in the shop - so come in and discover an author who we believe is destined for big things...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something in the atmosphere: Ann Cleeves at Mostly Books

It can be a long journey to becoming a household name as a writer. But for Ann Cleeves, who has been writing about a book a year since she was first published in 1986, it also involved a thirteen-hour rough ferry crossing from Aberdeen to the Shetland Islands and a lot of cooking for birdwatchers.

It was finally ‘Raven Black’ the first of her stories set in the Shetland Islands that became her ‘breakthrough novel’ – earning her a Gold Dagger (the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger) from the Crime Writers’ Association.

As well as describing the inspiration behind many of her books at an event at Mostly Books on Wednesday evening, she described the amazingly rapid speed with which her Vera Stanhope series came to the television. It all hapened so fast, once the decision was made, that she thinks of the woman who made it all happen as her fairy godmother.

Not content with having one of her detectives brought to life on the small screen, she now has two - with her Jimmy Perez 'Shetland' Quartet to be televised in November.

So what is it about Ann Cleeve’s books that have made them the ‘must have’ for small screen detective dramas?
Ann told the Mostly Books audience she thought a lot of it was actually down to an error.
‘My publisher made an error with the first Vera Stanhope story ‘Crow Trap’, which meant it never made it into the publisher’s catalogue so not many people were ever aware of it. Many of the books made their way to remainder shops, which was where a scriptwriter bought one to take for a holiday read when she was looking for a book to adapt for television which had a strong female police detective.’
We think there might be a lot more to it than that as Ann Cleeves is definitely one of those authors worth discovering if you like a proper whodunit. 

As well as being able to weave a first-rate mystery, her cast of characters are well-drawn, and, as with both the Vera Stanhope series set in Northumberland and the Shetland series, the sense of place is strong.
Just about the only thing Ann insisted on when she was involved with the television production was that they actually visit Northumberland and many of the places that feature in the stories.

Some of the Shetland-set series was also filmed on the islands, with great support from the Shetland Islands Council. Of course it remains to be seen if the series makes people also want to visit the place, but we have it from Ann that the boat crossing these days is a breeze.

Friday, August 17, 2012

3 4 Friday: Summer crime and thrillers: Ann Cleeves, Camilla Läckberg and Stella Rimington

We had a fantastic evening with crime writer Ann Cleeves at Mostly Books on Wednesday (report coming, honest) - and we thought - after a wonderful exploration of crime fiction, here are three of our current favourite crime fiction titles for our 3 4 Friday #FridayReads.

Naturally we will be starting with Ann, and if you don't know her writing, she is one of those authors well worth discovering if you like a proper whodunit. There are four books in her ‘Shetland series’, and although most people will probably want to start logically with the first ‘Raven Black, ‘Red Bones’ is our favourite. Archaeology students discover bones they think confirm their theory about ancient trading patterns in the Shetlands, but this is Ann Cleeves’ territory, and it isn’t long before they realise it is murder they have uncovered...

This is what Nicki has to say about Ann Cleeves: "As well as being able to weave a first-rate mystery, her cast of characters are well-drawn. My favourite series is definitely the Shetland series, because the sense of place is so strong. The atmosphere of somewhere that is so claustrophobic, so remote, often cut off, and where families know so much about each other’s secrets that don’t die even with one generation. It is a great spin on the more traditional closed  ‘country house murder’, and works on a number of levels. But at the heart these are great for anyone who loves a solid mystery plot with lashings of atmosphere."

In honour of Ann's passion for translated crime fiction (which she communicated very effectively to the audience on Wednesday) we've chosen a book by Camilla Läckberg - and translated particularly well by Steven Murray. Here's what Ellie has to say about the first in her crime series, 'The Ice Princess'.

"Set in a small fishing village in Sweden (Fjällbacka), the finding of the body of local woman Alex is the start of a series of events that threaten to uncover some dark secrets not only in her past, but in those of some other residents who would prefer them to remain buried. The small community is well depicted with their 'twitching curtains' and it was an enjoyable light crime story with very satisfying twists and turns, bringing the reader to a surprising end. It's a great start to the series, and for Scandi-crime fans -  Läckberg is a good choice for those looking for something less gory than Larson or Nesbo but love the atmospheric settings of these stories."

Camilla's latest 'The Drowning' is now out in paperback...

Finally we've selected Stella Rimington's 'Rip Tide'. Rimington writes a powerful story of covert spy operations with great attention to the details of present day intelligence work. Exploring the issues of piracy off the Horn of Africa as well as the global spread of Muslim extremism, the story moves along at great pace with Rimington's protagonist Liz Carlyle involved in some serious spy action.

This is the sixth book in the series, you get the feeling that Rimington is getting very comfortable and confident with her heroine. As with all her books (coming from the ex-head of MI5) you do find yourself pondering 'what's real, what's fiction?' and this adds an extra domension to a book that we feel has everything you'd want from a contemporary spy thriller - a gripping read for the remains of the Summer...

Monday, August 13, 2012

David Melling LIVE!

This is the David Melling LIVE! event page coming from Mostly Books on Monday August 13. From 10.30am David will be drawing, giving advice and answering questions - and we will be keeping track of everything here.

David created a unique Hugless Douglas piece of artwork during the event. Anyone purchasing a copy of any David's books before Friday 17 August will be entered into a prize draw to win it! 

Two videos from the event - in the first, David explains how long it takes to produce a Hugless Douglas single-page spread and picture book...

and in this special time-lapse video watch David add details to the artwork (zoom up to full screen to get maximum effect!):

14.00 - Time to bring the event to an end. Some final photographs before we upload the video. Here is David with the Hugless art created during the event...

and a close-up...

and finally, a little girl presented me her own personalised Hugless Douglas which I am chuffed to bits with. Thanks Beatriz...and watch out Mr Melling in a few years time...

13.37 - OK, time to wrap up now. Some more questions: "What's next for Hugless Douglas?" - "The next Hugless comes out in January, and is called 'We Love You Hugless', and Douglas will have his own website shortly. There will be a Hugless Douglas puppet book, but not until later next year. Oh, and then another Hugless picture book at some point after that. Plenty to keep me going!"

12:52 - some questions: "How long does it take to create a Hugless Douglas spread?" - "It depends, but usually about a day to sketch out, then maybe another day or so to colour and complete. You might then think 'oh, a few day's then for a picture book' but actually it can take 3 months!"

12.48 - we are doing some filming as David Melling creates a unique piece of Hugless art which will be raffled at the end of the week. Details of how to win coming shortly...

12.20 - (this must be what the BBC Olympic text update people feel like!) Right, another picture from some young fans in the shop this morning...

11.54 - another action shot from the mobile-making activity...

11.46 - I've just had a hug from one of the children. Believe me, I needed one...

11.33 - some photos from this morning. Two families have made the most fantastic David Melling facemasks...

11.00 - utter mayhem in the shop as about 20 kids attempt to make a Hugless Douglas mobile using straws, string and paperclips...

10.35 - and we're off - we have a shop full of keen children, and the easel is up!

10.20 - here's where it will all be happening:

10.05 - if you haven't visited David Melling's official website, now is your chance.

09.11 - for anyone dropping in to the event this morning, we start at 10.30am but you can drop in at any time once the event starts. We have activities set up for children, and a chance of joining in and making your own illustration creations!

08:56 - just opening the shop - high hopes of using the garden dashed by weather - but we can just get cosy inside the shop. We have never done an event quite like this before...and neither has David. To whet your appetite, take a look at the interview we did with David Melling back before last Christmas to get some idea of how he became an illustrator...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An evening with Bethan Roberts and ‘My Policeman’

Welcoming rising literary star, Bethan Roberts, to a Mostly Books evening to discuss her book ‘My Policeman’ was very much a celebration as well as a literary event, as she was born and brought up in Abingdon.

It was for the second of our Abingdon ‘Big Reads’, when book groups and others are invited to read the book in advance if they want to and come along and discuss it with the author. As well as a good turn out of book group members, it was fantastic to see so many of her family and old school friends in Abingdon Library on Thursday August 9, delighted to share in her success.
‘My Policeman’ is the story of two people in love with the same man and was inspired by novelist EM Forster’s relationship with a married policeman. Bethan has translated the story to 1950s Brighton and made it a much darker story.

Forster ended his days being nursed by the wife of his long-time lover, and this was what particularly drew Bethan to the story.

‘She was the one who was holding his hand when he died and that’s the scene I wanted to earn in the novel,’ she said.

The book has a dual narrative, that of Marian, the woman who has been in love with the gorgeous Tom her whole life and triumphantly marries him against the odds. But there is already a shadow in the long-term relationship in Tom’s life, and we also see the events unfolding from Patrick’s point of view.

It is mostly an utterly absorbing, doomed love story - but it’s also a dramatic portrait of the era and has a great rising tension through the whole story as the consequences of not facing up to reality begin to unfold.

It is the third of Bethan Roberts’ books, all of which have been inspired by real-life events.

‘The Good Plain Cook’ was set in the 1930s – and was inspired by a period in which Peggy Guggenheim lived in Sussex. In her first book ‘The Pools’ set in the 1980s, the action was a little closer to home, in a town not dissimilar to Abingdon. It is based on a murder that happened when Bethan was growing up and the influence and impact remained in her memory.

Having an historical setting helps her in imagining the story, she says, and ‘takes away the terrible fear of the blank page’.

‘I don’t actually think of myself as a historical writer,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t write about Medieval times, for instance, because I don’t feel a connection to them. But the fifties were my parents’ era and it’s a period I feel I know through family stories. It’s a case of it being an era mysterious to me, but familiar to people I know.’

‘My Policeman’ has just been nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker’ (for notable books that didn’t make it to the 13 on the Booker Prize Longlist). It builds on her already growing reputation as a young novelist to watch.

‘The Good Plain Cook’ was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. ‘My Policeman’, set in Brighton, where Bethan now lives, has been picked as the summer ‘City Read’ in the city – where it will be celebrated across the city. Local people won’t just read the book and meet up to discuss it, but will hold events such as recreating scenes from the book and vintage make-up parties.
With such a show of support from family and friends, there were plenty of questions about how she became a writer in the first place and what a writer's life is like.

Bethan said: 'I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But felt like it was a bit like saying I wanted to be an astronaut. I didn't know any writers and I felt it was an impossible thing to be. I thought it was beyond me and it wasn't until I was 30 I started writing seriously. I did a Creative Writing MA in Chichester and took a day off a week from work. I found the course very supportive. They give you readers and a support network and I thought maybe I can do it. I was very lucky. I won an awards scheme which was basically to win a mentor who helped me finish my first novel. So it was a combination of determination, luck and courses that got me there.’

'What is the best thing about being a writer?' she was asked.

'It's a bit like being a reader, but more intense. As a reader you imagine worlds in your head. You get lost in a novel and live their experiences. All of these things happen to writers, but you are in control of it. It makes life quite rich as you have real life and an imaginary life. I also like signing books.

'But the worst day is when you are at your desk and cannot think what to write. That happens and then writing seems a slog. It is a lot of hard work and some days you think you are rubbish.’

Her ambitions, she said, don’t tend to get ahead of worrying if the sentence she just wrote is good enough or whether her next book is likely to be taken.

With now three critically acclaimed books to her name and the amount of comments from the audience of how much they loved the book and are recommending it to friends (including a great review here from Gaskella), the view from here is definitely that we’re all awaiting that next book...

Huge thanks to Bethan for coming to Abingdon, for such an absorbing event, and also to Lynne and the team at Abingdon Library for such a brilliant 'Big Read' event.

Friday, August 10, 2012

3 4 Friday: Bears, Baddies and Book Launches!

We have three superb events for young and old coming up over the next fortnight - including an innovative way for you to join in an event even if you can't be there in person (something we've never done before), we're hosting an evening with one of the UK's most up-and-coming crime fiction writers - and we're holding a book launch!

This coming Monday, August 13, we welcome Abingdon author and illustrator David Melling, author of 'The Kiss That Missed', the Goblins books and most recently the phenomenally successful 'Hugless Douglas'. It's been quite a year for David and Hugless. Hugless Douglas has become an absolute favourite children's character  - immortalised both as a cuddly plush, and one of the most downloaded iPhone Apps!

David will be at Mostly Books from 10.30am as part of "David Melling LIVE!" - an interactive event online. We will be broadcasting the event live on the blog, Twitter and Facebook, taking questions and allowing everyone to get the chance to see David drawing. In the shop, children can drop in during the morning, take part in Hugless Douglas activities and pick up drawing tips from David himself. David will be producing a drawing during the event, and anyone making a purchase of one of his books - both on or offline - will enter a prize draw to win the drawing! Click here to learn more.

Ann Cleeves is one of the UK's most talented crime writers, with her Vera Stanhope novels dramatized by ITV with Blenda Blethyn in the starring role. This autumn the BBC will be dramatizing her 'Shetland Quartet' novels, with detective Jimmy Perez to be played by Douglas Henshall. The first book in the series, 'Raven Black', won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger award, the richest prize in crime fiction writing, and we are thrilled that she will be at Mostly Books to talk about her writing and introducing people to the books before you see the televised versions.

Ann has done a bit of everything in her life - child care officer, women's refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard and trained as a probation officer. She is a passionate campaigner for libraries and has set up reading groups in prisons with the Literacy Trust. It promises to be a fascinating evening.

Ann will be at Mostly Books on Wednesday August 15 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £4, and includes a glass of wine. The event takes place in the shop - so space is limited, please let us know if you can attend or find out more here.

Finally, we are delighted to be the venue for the launch of 'Stop The Clock', the debut novel by local author Alison Mercer

Published by Black Swan, 'Stop The Clock' follows the lives of three friends as they negotiate what is often the most life-changing thing that can happen – starting a family. We meet the three as recent graduates, finding love and establishing careers, and watch how they fall apart and come back together again. It’s a rich, well-observed novel of three very different women, and three very different journeys.

The launch takes place at 7.30pm at Mostly Books on Tuesday, August 21. Find out more here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Procession of princesses greet author Paula Harrison

There was a glorious turnout of glamour at Mostly Books on August 7 as a procession of princesses enjoyed a very regal time-out from their official duties to attend a party.

Guest author, Paula Harrison, introduced her new fab series of books for young readers the ‘Rescue Princesses’ in which a group of brave and intrepid princess friends find time among their royal duties to rescue animals in distress.

Paula took everyone through a quiz to help identify which princess our guests thought they were most like, before leading everyone to a search in our courtyard garden to see if anyone could find any animals that needed saving.

The animals had to be tracked only from their footprints, and even their best dresses didn’t deter our guests from proving they were just as resourceful as the fictional ‘Rescue Princesses’ and all the animals were safely found.

Everyone then got busy with crowns and jewels to make a fantastic tiara to take away.

Thanks to all our princesses for looking so marvellous and working so hard at the activities. Thanks to all the mums and other helpers who made everything such fun for everyone. 

And well done to Celeste McCauley for being awarded a prize for ‘best dressed princess’. 

And thanks to Paula for leading such right royal activities in the shop.

Five questions with . . . Paula Harrison’s writing life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 
A middle-grade fantasy series with magic and mayhem.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Not to give up because it’s not an easy road to becoming a writer and there are no short cuts and you have to just carry on and find your own path.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is having fun with your stories and also meeting your audience and entering into their world. I love being able to relive all those feelings you had when you were young. The worst thing? . . .  I seem to be running very short on tiaras.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I do rely heavily on cups of tea. But also, to get into the right frame of mind, I have to find a song that I associate with a scene or character. I try to find the right song for each character and it can take a while to find the right one, but then when I play that music I can get straight into a particular character.  It can be classical music or a pop song that fits a particular character. Then if I find my mind is trying to focus on the laundry or the fact that the floors haven’t been cleaned, I can get right into the frame of mind I need to be in to do some writing.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Having my first Rescue Princess story spotted by Nosy Crow. They spoke to me and wanted to work with me before signing me for the first four books.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Crime writer Ann Cleeves at Mostly Books

Ann Cleeves looks poised to be the latest big name in crime fiction and we are pleased that she will be visiting us at Mostly Books.

Her successful Vera Stanhope series is fast making Ann Cleeves a household name since being televised with the fantastic Brenda Blethyn in the title role and in September Ann Cleeves's Shetland series will be making its television debut, giving her two detective series both running in the autumn. 

In 2006 Ann Cleeves was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers' Association for 'Raven Black', the first volume of her Shetland Quartet.

This new murder-mystery series is set against the stunning Scottish backdrop of the Shetland Isles and centres on Detective Jimmy Perez (played by Douglas Henshall).

Perez is recently widowed, a native Shetlander who has returned home after a long period away. His dry sense of humour and his desire to protect his beloved Shetland Isles from the changes he sees happening make him a compelling character.

The stories are classic murder mysteries and together with the island setting, with its rich history and eccentric characters, means this is definitely one to watch when it hits the small screen.

If you want to discover these books before seeing them on the television, come along and meet Ann, who has twice been short listed for a CWA Dagger Award and for the Dagger in the Library award.

Ann Cleeves, Weds 15th
7.30pm at Mostly Books
Price £4 (includes wine)