Friday, October 26, 2012

3 4 Friday - three reasons to come and meet Mark Forsyth

OK - something a bit different for our 3 4 Friday #fridayreads today. If you’ve ever looked at our author event programme and thought “you know what, I’d love to go along to a Mostly Books event” but have never had the opportunity, then perhaps we can lure you along to our next event which we think is going to be a great evening. It's our big seasonal outing for the year, which is always a fun and lively get-together.

On Tuesday, November 13th at 7.30pm we will be welcoming Mark Forsyth to The Roysse Room, at Abingdon’s Guildhall, and we’d love to tell you three reasons why we hope you will make it a date in your diary - and we’ll see you there.

Firstly, Mark is the author of ‘The Etymologicon’, a wonderful book which tells the hidden stories behind the evolution of words in our language. After being the Radio 4 book of the week last year, it was an unexpected Sunday Times bestseller. This year he has written ‘The Horologicon’, which means 'a book of things appropriate to each hour'. It follows a day in the life of unusual, beautiful (and forgotten) English words. Mark’s passion for words, and his own skill as a wordsmith, ensures that this book is endlessly fascinating. 

Secondly, Mark himself is a wonderful speaker, and describes himself as a ‘passionate pedant’ when it comes to the English language. Born in London in 1977, he was given a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary as a christening present and ‘never quite recovered’. After studying English language and literature at Oxford University he worked as a freelance writer, proof reader and ghostwriter for ten years. In 2009 he started the Inky Fool blog, which contained daily articles on words, rhetoric, poetry, but most of all etymology and the strange and often ludicrous stories behind familiar words.

Despite his pedantry, a knowledge of history has given him a common-sense approach to its proper use. As he says:  “Reality changes words far more than words can ever change reality.”. He has spoken at the TED series of conferences, and has a reputation as a great speaker, so we know it will be a fascinating evening.

This is a fascinating six-minute talk on how reality changes the nature of words:

Finally, Mostly Books events are always fun, with a glass of wine on offer on the evening and  the chance to get up close and personal with an author right here in Abingdon. Tickets cost £8, and as well as refreshments, will include £3 off the cost of ‘The Horologicon’ on the night. And dare we say it is a beautifully produced book and a perfect Christmas gift for anyone who is interested in books, words and language.

Have we tempted you? If so, why not come along with a friend (!), reserve a ticket or two by emailing us at – and if you know anyone who might love a fun and stimulating evening on November 13th – share this link with them!

We really hope you will be able to join us.

Mark & Nicki

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Treasury of Delights - our top ten treasuries for 2012

A few weeks ago we selected three new collections of Grimm's Tales for our Friday picks, but - really - there have been so many rich and wonderful collections and treasuries in over the last few months that we could have selected many others.

We think the following make wonderful reading and perfect presents any time of the year, so after talking up the Grimm tales, here are our top ten of children's collections from this Autumn (particularly if a collection of grim 'Grimm' isn't really your cup of tea):

Arthur of Albion - John Matthews and Pavel Tatarnikov
Discover the myth and the magic in this beautifully produced, illustrated, part cloth bound hardback with a pull out map. A book that celebrates art and story, children will fall in love with the stories of King Arthur and this truly special book that will both inspire and be a treasure to keep.
Robin Hood - Nicky Raven, illustrations by Anne Yvonne Gilbert
A fresh interpretation of this legendary tale with modern pencil illustrations overlaid with ink in suitably subdued forest hues that aptly reflect the character and adventures of Robin Hood.
Greek Myths - Ann Turnbull
Out in hardback last year, it's now out in paperback but without losing anything in its presentation and uniqueness. Still a perfect gift (and one we really love in the shop) it has a gorgeous blue and gold cover with one of the Greek Heroes on the front that catches your attention immediately. Turnbull's retellings of the Greek Myths are as elegant and sensual as the illustrations themselves and she has gone back to the earlier versions of the myths when writing these accessible versions for children. A real work of art...

The Odyssey - Gillian Cross
We were very fortunate to meet Gillian at a school event recently, and this retelling of the Odyssey is a perfect companion to the above. Such a lot of effort has gone into creating this version of this epic tale (also by Walker Books), accompanied as it is by  lavish colour illustrations and exquisite black and white silhouettes. Homer's great story is told with beautiful simplicity and style, charting the ten year voyage of Odysseus and
all his adventures.

The Roald Dahl Treasury
Everyone should have a Roald Dahl Treasury (OK, we're biased) but take a look at this one. Bringing together some of the most dazzling moments in the work of this extraordinary writer, this collection sees Dahl in all his moods and shows why his writing has become an essential part of childhood. With four themed sections (Animals; Magic; Family, Friends and Foes; and Matters of Importance) the reader is taken on a journey into Roald Dahl's unique imagination. In each section you will find complete stories, extracts from longer fiction, rhymes and memoirs as well as come unpublished poetry and letters, with a host of Dahl's best-loved characters and featuring a large number of pictures by Quentin Blake, many of which have been drawn especially for this collection. Perfect for Roald Dahl fans - those who are and those who are yet to be.

The Quentin Blake Treasury
Collected here are Quentin Blake's best-loved characters, classic stories and marvellous rhymes - nine picture books together for the first time in a treasury to be shared and enjoyed by all. From his very first picture book to his most recent adventures, this collection spans and celebrates his astonishing career. There's inspiration, wit, wonder and jollity to be found on every page.

and for younger ones:

A First Book of Nature - Nicola Davies
A stunning gift book perfect for younger children that captures the simple loveliness of nature and is brought to life by the colourful and lively illustrations by Mark Herald.

The Alfie Treasury - Shirley Hughes
This doesn't need much of an introduction - Alfie is still a true classic and as popular today as ever, loved by childen and parents alike. Containing seven Alfie stories, this is a glossy hardback with the original colour illustrations. Every child will make a friend for life with Alfie and have fun with him on his adventures which vary from locking his mum out of the house to splashing about in puddles.

Old Bear Stories - Jane Hissey
A fabulous special collection of 5 Old Bear adventures, signed by the author, in hardback. A book to treasure, I remember these stories from when I was little and had a special affinity with bears (and the hundreds of soft toys I had in my room). This is gorgeously presented with the original illustrations which have been vividly re-produced and to a very high-quality, bringing the stories to life.

Old Bear - Jane Hissey

Also published in celebration of 25 years of Old Bear, this limited, special collectors, signed edition of Old Bear in hardback is also in.

Friday, October 19, 2012

3 4 Friday: disappearance, life lessons and psychic powers - terrific teen reads

This Friday, we've been drawn back to one of our favourite areas of the shop - teen fiction. We continue to be impressed at the great books coming out for teens - from paranormal fantasy to contemporary fiction able to cut it with the mainstream.

So for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads here are our favourite teen reads:

In 'Blackwood' author Gwenda Bond takes a real-life mystery and turns it into a paranormal mystery thriller that both teens and adults will enjoy. In an island community in the US the local theatre recreates for the tourists a performance all about how 114 of its residents - early settlers to the States - simply disappeared. Now it looks like history is about to repeat itself. Can a girl who thinks she was born with a curse and a boy who thinks he can hear the voices of the dead save the townsfolk from their strange fate? Miranda Blackwood who has always been shunned as an outsider must take on alchemy and witchcraft to put a stop to a curse that goes back hundreds of years. A gripping story that uses a real-life mystery to great effect to create an atmospheric explanation of a haunting mystery.

(‘Blackwood’ - published by Strange Chemistry - is part of the CloneFiles initiative. Buy the book, get the eBook free)

If your taste (or your teen child’s taste, ahem) is more for real life contemporary fiction, there have been a few stand-out titles recently. But one of our favourites, both for the moving subject it deals with (but not so much that it’s depressing!) and the fantastic writing is ‘How to Save a Life’ by Sara Zarr.

This is a beautiful story about what it means to be a family. Jill is struggling to deal both with the death of her father 10 months ago, and now the pregnant girl her mum has brought into the house whose baby she plans to adopt. Mandy feels lost and lonely and doesn't know what she should do with her life, or what's really right for her and the baby. Neither girl is sure of who they are anymore and how they fit in.

Ellie says "A terrifically moving story for teens as these two girls learn to let go and move on as their world's change dramatically around them. I read this in a day it was so compelling and it was beautifully done - nothing felt forced or unreal. A brilliant read.".

Our last title is ‘Raven Boys’ by Maggie Stiefvater, a book that falls between the paranormal and contemporary genres. There are psychics who can see things in the future, but their forecasts are sufficiently vague to still fit in with the real world and whilst the ‘quest’ of the main characters crosses the border to the paranormal, it’s roots are in an old legend (and legends and myths are a part of our history today).

When Blue, a psychic's daughter but with no powers herself, sees a spirit for the first time, it leads her to 4 boys from the local private school Aglionby. She's soon caught up in their quest to find Glendower - a lost ancient Welsh king who will grant supernatural favour to whoever finds him, and it is this mystery that is at the core of the book. But where will their quest lead them and what will be the consequences?

This was an excellent start to a series - the characterisation was really well done and the boys especially were particularly complex and layered characters that made them compelling parts of the story. The plot line was quite different and interesting and Stiefvater tells a fab story without the usual cliff-hanger at the end but with the story far from finished and more mysteries remaining...

Friday, October 12, 2012

3 4 Friday: Tempting treats, gorgeous grub, celebrity chefs!

Celebrity chefs certainly stir the passions at Mostly Books. Some people cannot stand the whole celebrity chef thing, and there's nothing like a new cookbook from one of the giants - Nigella, Gordon, Jamie or Hugh - to start people muttering furiously. At the same time, I know just how many people are huge fans of these chefs, and clutch their latest collection of recipes fondly to their chests as they exit the shop.

This isn't surprising. For anyone who cooks, favourite cookbooks and cookery writers are like old friends and trusted guides in the kitchen. The style of a particular cookery writer - informal v. prescriptive, everyday basics v. 'requires a vacuum oven' - can inspire or jar, and this is what drives people to revile one author and madly recommend another.

So, for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads we've tried to look past the obvious bestsellers, and instead picked three of our favourite cookbooks to have come into the shop in the last few months.

Some writers you can take to bed with you (not literally, you understand) and read at night as if it were fiction. If there is one cookery writer who we consistently love to sell in the shop, it has to be Nigel Slater. His writing and recipes match his moods, and he can take you from a wildly ambitious Summer dish made up of the freshest of ingredients, to a mid-winter 'bung it in the pan, I can't be bothered' 15 minute wonder. It's been five years since his original 'Kitchen Diaries' were published, an oasis of calm and a source of inspiration in the kitchen. If anything this second volume is even better, and 'Kitchen Diaries II' contains many of the recipes from his BBC2 series...a delight (and we have it at £5 off in the shop...)
Not many cookbooks have such a physical 'wow'- factor as the 'Vintage Tea Party Year': whichever bookshop you frequent, do take the opportunity to get your hands on it, because Mitchell Beazley have done a fantastic job. The beautiful cut out cover, with its individual, festive feel is just the start of this fantastic, unique book.

We say book because it is actually a lot more than a cookbook. It's full of retro recipes, styling tips and advice for round-the-year vintage tea-parties. Beautifully photographed and illustrated, this is a sumptuous book brimming with ideas, exciting recipes and projects for you to try that you can dip in and out of, or perhaps sit down with a notebook and be inspired for you own stylish evening party, using their tips on how to set the scene and dressing up, perhaps taking elements from each party and developing your own.

There's something for every occasion, from New Year's Eve and Christmas to a Gentleman's Tea Party (complete with invitations, recipes for asparagus cigars and even how to tie a bow-tie) or a coming-of-age party. There's everything you need to plan your own exciting gathering, even for Guy Fawkes night. A really beautiful book that's perfect for any stylish and creative person, or those who love their bit of vintage - no matter how old or young, there will be something in this book for them and it makes just the most fantastic gift.

Finally, 'The Little Paris Kitchen' is a book published earlier this year, but has become a word-of-mouth hit. A really gorgeous cookbook of classic French dishes from all over the country that Rachel Khoo has given her own modern twists. From casseroles and the classic Boeuf bourguignon to soufflés and crème brulees, Rachel shows how simple these dishes really are. The recipes range from vegetarian to meat-centric, from easy, everyday dishes like omelettes to special occasions like meals with friends and delicious desserts including classics like the Tarte tatin.

It's a book that celebrates the very best of French home-cooking in a modern and accessible way. Topped with some lovely pictures to get your mouth watering, the recipes are easy to do and truly inspiring so you can add your own little French culinary touch to your everyday life, wherever you are and however big your kitchen is. This is simple, rustic, authentic French cuisine that anyone can copy easily. A fabulous book.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oxfordshire Book Award 2012 - cake and five questions with Patrick Ness and Nadia Shireen

This year's Oxfordshire Book Award ceremony took place on October 4 at Abingdon School, and we were once again very honoured to be running the bookshop on the day. Here are the covers of the books from the three winners: Patrick Ness for 'A Monster Calls', Tony Ross illustrator of Gangsta Granny, and Nadia Shireen, author and illustrator of 'Good Little Wolf':
Hold on a second, those aren't books - that's CAKE! 

Yes, one of the great traditions of the Oxfordshire Book Award (as well as the Carnegie Shadowing Forum) is the most fantastic cakes produced - and eaten by children from the ten schools attending.

As usual, we set up whilst the ceremony was going on - and then authors and children piled into the hall, signing tables were hastily set up - and children got to meet the authors that attended.

Below you can see all the authors that attended - from the top, Patrick Ness, Nadia Shireen, Tony Ross, Katherine Langrish lurking behind Sally Nicholls and finally Jo Cotterill at the bottom:

Pupils pose with Patrick Ness...
...whilst students from Henry Box School show off their signed copies...
We grabbed a few minutes with two authors at the event - and in time-honoured tradition asked them five questions about their writing life...

Five questions with...Patrick Ness' Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
A bunch of short stories.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Write a book that you, yourself would like to read. You’ll be surprised that a lot of people don’t.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Best – as a children’s writer, you have the best readers in the world. The worst thing is not being to go to every school that requests you come.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I write a lot in the London library. I take my laptop and write there.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
'The Knife of Never Letting Go'. It was really when that book took off, which was a delightful surprise!

Next we talked with author and illustrator Nadia Shireen...

Five questions with...Nadia Shireen's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
My third picture book which is due out next year.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Keep plugging away, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. You should please yourself first, because if you are not enjoying it, you can tell in the drawings. But it can be hard!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Best: being paid to do what you love. Worst: there isn’t really a worst. I used to commute to a job, and now this is so much more enjoyable. I guess loneliness can be a problem, but you could work in a studio with other artists if that was a problem.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I always have music. Music is hugely important to me. It helps me relax, gets me in a drawing frame of mind.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Pure luck. I was spotted at a graduation show, people liked my work.

Friday, October 05, 2012

3 4 Friday: Grotesques, Gatekeepers and Grisly Tales, signed (but not in blood!)

Yesterday we took part in the annual Oxfordshire Book Award, one of the highlights of our year. A full report shortly - but at left is a sneaky pic of the attending authors signing books for pupils from the ten schools that attended.

That's Patrick Ness at the far end, then Nadia Shireen, Tony Ross, Katherine Langrish, Sally Nicholls and Jo Cotterill signing away.

Full blog post - involving author interviews and cake (!) - shortly, but for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads we thought telling you about some very special signed editions was very much in order...

Firstly, you would have to have been at the South Pole not to notice that there is a new David Walliams book out. 'Ratburger' is another gross, grotesque and very funny tale involving our hero Zoe, her pet rat, and a very nasty burger restaurant owner. Inspired (if that's the correct word) by a late-night trip to a burger van, the book contains fantastic illustration by Tony Ross.

And as we were very honoured to meet Tony Ross yesterday, we were extremely pleased to arrange things on the signed copy front. What this means is that - for a limited time only - we have copies of Ratburger signed by both David Walliams and Tony cool is that?

Of course, someone who has recently been to the South Pole (well, Antarctica) researching his latest book is 'Stormbreaker' and 'Power of Five' author Anthony Horowitz. To the many children (and some adults) who have been coming into Mostly Books since book four was published, we can now categorically confirm that book five 'Oblivion' is out...

We were lucky enough to meet Anthony Horowitz at an event in Abingdon last year, and we are even luckier to have a (very few) signed copies of 'Oblivion' in stock. The cover is a work of beauty, and the book will certainly not disappoint fans who have waited quite a while. Epic in its scope, with suitably apocalyptic battles and the same strong characterisation that has had fans chomping at the bit for its publication (and boy, do we know), it ensures the Power of Five series finishes on a definite high.

Finally, we have some beautiful, signed hard back editions of one of our favourite books of the year: 'Wolf Princess' by Cathryn Constable. In this beguiling tale, orphan Sophie dreams about ice and snow, dreams in which she is running away. Always fascinated by Russia, the chance of visiting on a school exchange is irresistible. But where they are staying isn’t quite what she and her schoolfriends expect. They find themselves in a winter palace, an atmospheric place mostly derelict, but with only a few very sumptuous rooms, where the few servants are badly treated in a bizarre mix of poverty and majesty, presided over by a wicked princess who tells them bloody stories of the last days of the Tsar. And when she starts to act particularly strangely towards Sophie, the girls realise their adventure is putting them in danger...

The atmosphere is fantastically created and it’s good to find a teen read that’s set in the present day, but with such a great historical context.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

From elephants to evil headmasters: Gillian Cross at Our Lady's Abingdon

For an author who said she'd never write about animals, Gillian Cross’s research has taken her not only to meet a friendly elephant, but to encounter a not-so-friendly pack of wolves.

But you have to be prepared to be adaptable if you want to be a writer and sometimes ideas can just take hold, the author told an audience of Abingdon school children at Our Lady's Abingdon on Thursday September 27 as part of the school’s week-long reading festival.

Her book ‘The Great Elephant Chase’ is an historical adventure when children run away and embark on an epic journey across America – trying to hide an elephant.

She had the idea for a long while but kept rejecting it as she didn’t think writing about animals was something she could do, but the idea grew and then she had to discover not only how to write about an elephant, but to write about a country she’d never visited and what it was like over a hundred years ago.

For her research she didn’t make a single trip to the USA, but relied on historical societies sending her photographs and details to work from.

But when it came to writing about the elephant she decided she really wanted to be able to see one up close and to touch it to be able describe what it looked and felt like. So she ended up in London Zoo.

‘My favourite thing about writing is when I might have started writing, and I think about the book and then suddenly it will take off and I think 'I can do this and that' and the whole thing slots together like a jigsaw puzzle. I always also learn something important when I write and that’s how you get to understand people when you are writing about them.’

Even the Demon Headmaster series, for which she is probably best known, came from an original idea from her daughter, who then badgered her to write the book. ‘I hate people telling me what to write, but she went on and on about it,’ said Gillian.

Her daughter wanted her to write about an evil headmaster, but at first Gillian couldn’t see how it could work. It was only when Gillian had the idea of him hypnotising his pupils that the idea really took hold.

The books, which are also about the rebellion by the few children he can’t hypnotise, was made into a television series and was also published in many different countries.

She showed the children how the cover has evolved since the book was first printed – with more than ten different editions, each having a different cover look and got them to vote on their favourites.

Her favourite book of the 51 she has written is ‘Where I Belong’ set partly in Somalia and partly in London. Again, it is an adventure story, with a backdrop of the fashion industry and a Somali girl who is spotted to be a model.

With such an interesting approach and experience of writing her novels, we were keen to ask Gillian a few question - and she obliged!

Five Questions With...Gillian Cross's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I am between books. ‘After Tomorrow’ comes out next year which is about a time of economic collapse and English families have to flee to France as refugees. It’s an adventure story, but it came about because I started wondering what it would be like if people in this country had to go to another country as refugees.

2.    What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Do not worry if it sounds silly, you can always go back and re-write, but when you first write something down it very often sounds stupid.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing about being a children’s writer is you are free to write what you want to write and not get tied to a particular thing. The worst thing is that many people think if you write for children you must write picture books, but I actually don’t think I could ever write a picture book.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I do go back to long hand if I get stuck – that and go back to where I thought the story was last working. That and drinking a lot of coffee.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough
Writing ‘Wolf’ because I really challenged myself and it was an experiment, but it made me feel I could really try different ways of telling stories.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling: an independent bookseller's view

I appeared on BBC Radio Oxford today giving an independent bookshop point of view of 'The Casual Vacancy' by JK Rowling - as well as talking about a few favourite titles that have also been published in the last few weeks.

I hadn't fully appreciated that it was the first show for new presenter Kat Orman, taking over from Jo Thoenes. It was a lot of fun, I was on for nearly an hour, and very honoured to be on the first show. I am definitely a fan now - Kat has a very wicked sense of humour...

Click to listen to the show on iPlayer - you'll need to forward to about 1 hour and 12 minutes for the discussion about 'The Casual Vacancy'...the show will be up on the BBC until October 8th.

(and that listener "Mrs Trellis" who phoned in to say she was listening. Mmm...I have a feeling she's quite famous elsewhere on the BBC...)