Friday, September 28, 2012

3 4 Friday: The timeless magic of the Brothers Grimm - recollected, reimagined and reloaded

It's all 'Grimm' this week, what with a change in the weather and all, so why not snuggle up with a hot drink and a duvet and get into these particularly Grimm tales:

Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
After Elizabeth's teacher recommends her for a job at 'The Library' she is thrilled when she passes the interview but surprised when she finds that they do not lend books. Instead, they lend objects like Marie Antoinette's wig and chocolate pots. The repository is home to many collections but it is the magical objects from Grimm's stories that someone is overly interested in . . . and are they being stolen?

A fun adventure story with magic and mystery, a little bit of romance and enough thrills to keep teens reading from start to finish.

Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
A fabulously gorgeous Grimm fairy tales collection, you can't fault Penguin's presentation, with fantastic illustrations and a cloth bound cover. They've got lots of illustrators, from Quentin Blake and Axel Scheffler to Oliver Jeffers and Helen Oxenbury to illustrate their own favourite fairytale in their individual styles, making for a unique treasury that everyone will enjoy and cherish for years to come.

Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman
In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and retells them in his unique and brilliant voice.

From the quests and romance of classics such as Rapunzel and Cinderella, to the danger and wit of lesser-known tales such as The Three Snake Leaves and Hans-my-Hedgehog, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore. Each is followed by a brief but fascinating commentary on the story's background and history.

In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. This new version shows the adventures at their most engaging. Pullman's Grimm Tales of wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come. Perfect for young and old - or even for Chr*stm*s presents if you're starting early!

Not out yet, but eagerly anticipated by all of us in the shop are two more Grimm Tales Treasuries: Templar's 'The Brothers Grimm Folk Tales' illustrated by Michael Foreman brings together 31 of the best-known tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, staying faithful to the dark tone of the original stories whilst the beautiful illustrations by Michael Foreman capture their mystery and beauty. Also due out before Christmas is a just-as-equally handsome edition of a collection of eleven of these popular stories illustrated by Lisbeth Zerweger and published by this space!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Clarissa explains it all: Clarissa Dickson Wright and Clarissa's Abingdon

The importance of the English countryside, a love of country sports and farmers markets, the joys of British produce, a mistrust of supermarkets and some forthright political view were all subjects covered at an evening talk in Abingdon on September 26 as Clarissa Dickson Wright was in town to talk about her book ‘Clarissa’s England’.

‘Clarissa’s England’ celebrates a love of England county by county, delving not only into regional haunts and habits, in her own inimitable style, but rejoicing in the differences, both cultural and culinary that can be discovered across the country.
Clarissa spoke at Our Lady’s in Abingdon, first reminiscing about the strange people you meet in the world of television and how her own television career started.
She first became a household name when she was part of the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ with Jennifer Paterson – a pioneering television cookery programme with two very unexpected cookery presenters, so much so that when it was first suggested to Clarissa her first reaction was ‘Don’t be so ridiculous, the BBC will never commission that.’

But the joie de vivre of Clarissa and Jennifer meant the programme was quickly taken to the nation’s heart and went on to became a worldwide hit.
More recently Clarissa has been known for championing the role of farmers and people who live and work in the countryside. She spoke robustly against legislation that allows for people to be misled about just how British something labelled as a British product is, the methods and low prices forced on farmers by supermarkets and urged everyone to keep up the pressure for people to be better informed about where their food comes from.

She was one of the original movers behind setting up farmers markets as places not only where food miles are reduced and fair prices paid straight to the farmer, but also where town people are able to talk directly to farmers (based on the movement she saw when she visited America in the early 90s).

‘The last thing I wish for in my life is to see a time when 85-90 per cent of British food is produced in this country and we are only importing the things we can’t grow here.’
After the talk, Clarissa met fans and signed books for over an hour.
And we also introduced her to a special 'guest': Boris the Badger, who came along presumably to learn more about Clarissa's views on badgers following recent press coverage...

Huge thanks to Our Lady's School, for hosting the event with such style, and to Clarissa for travelling up to Abingdon. We do feature in 'Clarissa's England' - mostly as a result of a most unlikely Abingdonian who ended up as a hair-shirted Archbishop of Canterbury. But we trust that after an excellent evening with us, she can include a larger section in her next book...

Friday, September 21, 2012

3 4 Friday: Eat, Drink and be Merivel

At this time of year so many heavyweight authors are flying out of the publishing houses that it can be difficult to keep track. A look around our main table is a who's who of the biggest names in fiction: Rushdie, Faulks, McEwan, Tremain, Auster, Rowling (next week), Follett, Herbert and Pratchett. Add in children's authors such as Michael Morpurgo, David Walliams and Charlie Higson and this is a battle royale to see who tops the fiction charts between now and the end of the year.

And don't even get us started on non-fiction...

So for the next few Fridays, we're going to look at different areas of the shop - and recommend three new titles for your #FridayReads.

First stop is the front fiction table - and 'John Saturnall's Feast' by Lawrence Norfolk.

There are some cracking books in which the joy of food and themes of culinary pleasure come to the fore - many of them set in France: the Vianne Rocher novels of Joanne Harris for example, and a little known classic from Emile Zola is The Belly of Paris, where politics and food combine in a way that could only happen in Paris. One of our favourites is John Lanchester’s ‘Debt to Pleasure’ a darkly humorous book whose impressive scholarship on food slowly gives way to the actions of a deranged psychopath...

'John Saturnall’s Feast' however is a worthy, and English-set, addition to this company, a lavish novel from a remarkable author, one who's last book was published twelve years ago. As in his previous books (Lemprière's Dictionary, The Pope's Rhinoceros) the book is firmly rooted in history, with a complex story, rich characters (and language)  but it's the theme of food (and its complex connections to memory) which makes this book so enjoyable.

We follow the fortunes of John Saturnall, born to a women accused of witchcraft but who carries within her the memory of a forgotten pagan culture, including the knowledge of a great feast. She passes these memories to her son, and when his mastery of taste and smell comes to the attention of the head chef at Buckland Manor, he has the opportunity to rise through the ranks in the kitchen to become one of the finest cooks of the age.

But this is England in the years before the civil war, and at the point where John serves a remarkable dish to Charles I at the Manor, war breaks out. The consequences of the tasting of the dish - and of the rapid chaos of war that ensues - are played out in the second half of the book, as the household struggles to cope with the grim realities of war, religious turmoil, the breakdown of society: most seriously the lack of food and the reality of hunger. It has a rather neat (and happy) ending, but this is a book to luxuriate in - and it's not just for foodies...there's a rather excellent review here by Gaskella if your appetite has, that's too cheesy a pun!

We move from Charles I to II in Rose Tremain's sort-of sequel to 'Restoration'. In 'Merivel' Tremain's wonderful creation Sir Robert Merivel returns fifteen years after the end of the first book. Now facing middle-age, and increasingly looking out of place as the gaiety of the Restoration period fades, Merivel ends up - via fun and games at Versailles - back at his Manor in Norfolk, pondering on whether his attempts to keep up his roguish activities and adventures is really appropriate, or what he wants. In turns delightful and melancholy, this is a worthy sequel to Tremain's breakthrough novel - but we recommend reading Restoration first!

Finally, a very wry take on books, publishing, writers and book reviews is wrapped up in Howard Jacobson's trademark comic humour and male angst in 'Zoo Time'.

It opens in the aftermath of an excruciating encounter by author Guy Ableman at a bookgroup, and Guy is an author who finds himself increasingly out of sync with the modern world of publishing - and his own marriage. When it appears his wife is writing her own novel, things start to unravel. Jacobson does divide opinion, not least the barely-concealed and 'robust' views on all aspects of modern life. But it's extremely funny, and it's also fun spotting where Ableman stops and Jacobson starts...

Friday, September 14, 2012

So what exactly *is* a Young Adult? The launch of Strange Chemistry

If you’ve ever heard of ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Twilight’ you may have already caught on to the fact that many titles published originally for children are also rather enjoyed by a tremendous number of adults. These 'crossover titles' have become something of a holy grail for the publishing industry in recent years, but just publishing a YA 'list' is no guarantee of success in what is a fiercely competitive arena...

Well, a new UK publishing imprint Strange Chemistry launched this month, hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of the most successful titles of recent years and is focused solely on finding and publishing new reads for teenagers.
We were delighted to be invited to the launch of Strange Chemistry at the British Library in August, to see first-hand what this homegrown UK-based publisher had to offer. What is particularly exciting for us is that Strange Chemistry are part of Angry Robot, who have - in a very short space of time - developed a formidable reputation for contemporary science fiction and fantasy.

Can they repeat it for Young Adult?

Here's Strange Chemistry editor Amanda Rutter with launch authors Kim Curran, Laura Lam and Jonathan L Howard (thanks to Katie Allen at The Bookseller for this photo).

Being part of Angry Robot means they are also part of the Clonefiles initiative. This means anyone buying Strange Chemistry titles from us get the eBook for free. Discover more about Clonefiles here.

We were pleased to track down Amanda who very kindly has give us the low-down on what Strange Chemistry is all about..

MB. At the launch of Strange Chemistry you said how important you think books for young adults are and we wondered what you were reading at that age and what your favourites were that influenced you when you were a teenager?

AR. I was reading a combination of what we now call YA (but used to be shelved in a 12+ section rather than an explicit Young Adult shelf) and adult novels. Tamora Pierce was a very early favourite, but I would also find myself dipping into adult novels a great deal. I was sixteen when I read my first Charles de Lint book, and he has remained an absolute favourite author right up until today. I also tackled Wilbur Smith, Alistair MacLean and Jean M Auel, so I definitely was not worried about more challenging novels. I think my absolute favourite books during my teen years were 'Room 13' by Robert Swindells (I would fervently encourage any teen to pick this up, even now – it’s chilling and funny by turns) and 'The Silver Kiss' by Annette Curtis Klause.

MB. At a time when many publishers appear cautious and we are seeing lots of
US imports and series fiction, it's very refreshing to see the launch of an
imprint that seems to be thinking differently. Has it been your objective to
nurture some home-grown talent and debut authors?

AR. I was watching Angry Robot emerge over the last couple of years and I have been a great fan of the fact that they bring us exciting new authors (Lauren Beukes and Adam Christopher, to name but two) and also give us standalone novels. It seemed like such a good way of doing business, since you could pick up most of their books without having to worry about reading eight previous entries into a series! So I confess that I very much modelled Strange Chemistry on this idea. One of the things that can be a little annoying about YA fiction is that everything does seem to come in at least a trilogy, so I was delighted to know that 'Blackwood' was an absolute standalone. I have also experimented with the duology format, where there has been too much story for just one novel but the author would like to complete it over two.
Taking on debut authors is an absolute delight (both US and UK-based). It is fantastic to be able to offer an author their first chance, and some of my debuts are like old hands when it comes to promotion and chatting to teens, which has been brilliant to see.

MB. Teenagers in our shop can be interested in reading everyone from Cormac McCarthy to JK Rowling. Is it possible to define the perfect teen book?

AR. I don’t think it is! As I say, when I was a teen I read adult literature as well. I know that, if I were a teen today – with all the books available to me I could wish to read on the YA shelves – I would still be sneaking a look at adult books.

What I will say is that teens do not want to be talked down to or have it assumed that they prefer a simpler novel just because of their age. This is one of the reasons that I have pursued challenging, brave and intelligent fiction. 

MB. You are part of Angry Robot, which specialises in sci-fi and fantasy, but is going to be adding a new crime list. Is there a chance that Strange Chemistry will follow suit and extend its list for teens beyond science fiction and fantasy?

AR. Actually *ahem* we’ve started to make tentative plans in that direction. YA fiction is such a terrific opportunity to put out stories across all genres, since it is more of a category, and I certainly enjoy seeing thrillers shelved alongside contemporary romance alongside SF. Imagine how much more fun the adult section would be if it’s only categorisation was the author surname! So, yes, I will be opening up the list a little, but it won’t be for a couple of years and, since my first love is SF and fantasy, those will definitely not be sidelined by introducing other types of novel.

MB. What is the best thing about launching a new imprint? And the worst??

AR. The best thing has been watching the list take shape and introducing new authors to the world. That has *definitely* been the best part! Hearing people say that they want to read ALL the books you have on your list is a real highlight. The worst? Probably the amount of work I’ve had to put in during the first nine months – sixteen hour days and weekend work has not been unusual! It’s settling down some now!
We now have our dedicated Clonefiles page up for the two book launch titles - including Nicki's review of 'Blackwood' - find out more here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Being Billy in Carterton - the launch of the CartertonCC Book Club with Phil Earle

This evening we were very privileged to be invited to the launch of a fantastic (and marvelously ambitious) new book club based at Carterton Community College, in the company of the author selected as its first read, the mighty Phil Earle (author of Being Billy).
Calling it a 'book club' doesn't really do the scope and ambition of this project justice. The idea of its founder Chris Davies, an English Teacher at the school, is to use the school's brand new library to act as a community hub, encouraging as many people to borrow, read and discuss the current book as possible. Carterton has some unique challenges - and opportunities - as a town and books (particularly the right kind of books) can bring people together from all walks of life.

(There is a brilliant write-up and interview with Chris in the Oxford Mail which explains a bit more about the background).

Author Phil Earle is an inspired choice for the first book, and he spent an intense day talking to students before explaining at the launch about his life as a writer, and his unusual route to becoming one. Phil was a reluctant reader in his childhood, preferring comics and graphic novels, and even now no-one buys him a book because he's "dead picky...they know I probably won't read it".

Appropriately for a town closely involved with military repatriations from nearby Brize Norton, Phil's next book 'Heroics' focuses on the story of two brothers, one of whom is posted to Afghanistan, and Phil did a reading from the book, due to be published in April of next year.

The club is an inspired undertaking, and Mostly Books is extremely proud to be involved. We will be racking our collective brains over the coming weeks and months to suggest books and possibly authors who might be able to get involved. In the meantime, we would definitely urge people to get involved - whether they live in Carterton or not - to read the book, and post comments to the CartertonCC Book Club Twitter feed here. The next club meets on 24 October at the library...

Of course, we took the opportunity to ask Phil a few questions about his writing life...and some surprising and very different answers he gave too...

Five Questions with...Phil Earle's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently working on 'Heroic' due out in April. It's a story of two brothers, inspired partly by the repatriations at Wootton Bassett, but also partly from SE Hinton's 'The Outsiders'. I guess at its heart is the theme of brotherhood, 'what wouldn't you do for your brother?'.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

Love your main character, but be horrible to them. It sounds cruel, but the more mean and nasty you are, the more your reader will love them!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The absolutely best thing is school events. You get to meet children, speak to them - I love doing them. You spend months and months writing the book by yourself, it's great to finally get a response.

The worst (Phil thinks hard at this point). I think it's if the opposite happens, that people aren't reading it, if you know the book isn't reaching the audience it should.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work?

The Bus. In fact, a bus - the X68. I do most of my writing on the bus, at home it just doesn't seem to flow the same way!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

It was the moment I got Billy's voice. Four chapters or so in, without a plan. To me that's the special joy of writing, I'm not a planner. Well, I write a synopsis at the beginning, which I then don't look at again or destroy. But no, once I knew that Billy's story was going to be told, and turn out the way I wanted it - that was my breakthrough.

Friday, September 07, 2012

3 4 Friday: Back to School!

Our focus this week is unsurprisingly ‘back to school’. It is, after all, that time of year. So here are three school-related items for your Friday reading pleasure - and a giveaway at the bottom!

Firstly, and as we get asked a lot about our services for schools, we've put together a special page called "What Mostly Books can do for your school" that details all our main services.

Secondly, even if you don't have a budget for books at the moment, one of our most popular services is a book fair. This is the perfect time of year for us to come into your school to showcase all the year’s best books to keep children reading – and to raise funds for your school at the same time. More details on the link above - or email us for more details.

And finally (talking of schools) brings us to our first event of the Autumn, an evening with legendary speaker, chef and all-round Englishwoman Clarissa Dickson Wright. As someone who is a big supporter of independent bookshops, a first-class writer and even an ex-bookseller (amongst many other things) Clarissa has a reputation for being an extremely entertaining and memorable speaker – and we have been working for about three years to lure her to Abingdon.

We are hosting the event at Our Lady’s School, Abingdon – forming part of their annual book week – and tickets are now on sale in the shop. The event takes place on Wed Sep 26 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £7 and includes a glass of wine (or soft drink) with £5 redeemable against a purchase of her latest book “Clarissa’s England” – a delightful romp through the country of her birth.

We have a pair of tickets up for grabs in our prize draw – to enter, you need to visit our event page and email us the answer to the following question: 

"Lincolnshire has the world’s second largest coriander crop, but which country has the first?"

All answers received by 5pm next Thursday (Sep 13) goes into the draw to win (and if you have already purchased tickets, as many of you have, don’t worry – you can still enter and we’ll refund you what you paid.).

Good luck!