Friday, September 27, 2013

3-4-Friday: They Might Be Giants this Autumn

My oh my, but doesn't the book trade half love a 'Super Thursday' or two...

Super Thursdays, incidentally, are those Thursdays in late September and early October when loads of big-hitting authors are published on the same day. All jolly exciting - and a real challenge for booksellers. The books are often embargoed, so they all arrive within a few days (hours?) or each other, and staff often have trouble getting anything else done as boxes are opened with much oohing and aahing. There is sneaky flick-throughs. Customers are faced by over-excited booksellers brandishing gorgeous hardbacks

Blimey, this job is tough at times...

To the conspiracy-minded, all this stuff can look a bit suspicious (you can imagine the US Justice Dept: "What? Publishers working together?") but when, across so many publishers, you have literally thousands of 'lead' titles published in the September and October window, all jostling for the Ch*stm*s market, inevitably many will be published on the same day. Why not bunch them up a bit, and generate a bit of buzz? Simples.

Many of the titles that get released at this time have not been available as advance proofs either, so they arrive to us as unknown quantities. All of this is a heady brew, so for the last couple of days we've all been falling on the books and furiously reading them through...

So … Robert Harris, William Boyd, Mary Berry, Bill Bryson, David Walliams, Nigel Slater, Jacqueline Wilson, Bernard Cornwell, Pam Ayres, Cressida Cowell, Kate Adie – that was just a few, and just yesterday. So for today's 3 4 Friday #fridayreads we've picked three that we've particularly enjoyed watching come in.

A new title by Robert Harris is always a reason for celebration, and one of our finest exponents of ‘The Literary Thriller’ is back with a fictionalised account of one of history’s most notorious political scandals and injustices: ‘The Dreyfus Affair’.

In 'An Officer and A Spy' Harris tells the events through the eyes of Colonel Georges Picquart, the head of the then French counter-espionage section. The pace is fast, and Harris – as he did with ‘Pompeii’ and ‘Lustrum’ – draws subtle parallels with our own times, a warning from history and the heady mix of racial hatred, political manipulation and the role of the press...

Two years ago, Mostly Books was extremely proud to host one of the only UK events for the new James Bond novel written by Jeffery Deaver (at the risk of being 'infatuated by past glories' read about the event here). A new Bond novel is thus something we're always up for here in the shop...

Two years on, and now William Boyd has taken up the challenge of following in the steps of Ian Fleming. Boyd has set his novel ‘Solo’ in 1969, which sees Bond sent on a mission to a fictional African country, encountering a particularly nasty villain, escaping death and then setting off on a revenge mission - against orders.

Boyd knows a thing or two about spy novels, and writing about post-colonial Africa made his name as a young novelist. It seems a match made in heaven, and early reviews are very good.

Finally, Bill Bryson is an American writer that we Brits have adopted (and a big favourite of ours). His latest book ‘One Summer’ is another fabulously entertaining adventure, this time examining his native America through the lens of the iconic Summer of 1927 when America truly stepped out of the shadows of ‘old Europe’ to take its place amongst the world’s great nations.

The birth of talking pictures, television, a biblical flood, Al Capone, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh. All are given the Bryson treatment, and it’s witty, energetic and eye-opening.

What’s more, we have signed first editions in the shop now, so please let us know if we can reserve one for you...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Axes, Antlers and 101 Uses for a Dead Hare: Michelle Paver in Abingdon

Note to other other authors - here's how to immediately get and hold the interest of 300 children: hold up a cute, cuddly rabbit, and them to imagine you live 3,000 years ago, then ask for ways to use said rabbit parts after you've killed it...

Michelle Paver - author of 'Wolf Bother' her latest series 'Gods and Warriors' - visited Our Lady's Abingdon this week. Children from six other local schools came too, and discovered the thrilling and sometimes gruesome world of 'The Outsiders' and the second book in the series 'The Burning Shadow'.

Pupils from Cheney School, John Mason, Larkmead, Chandlings, Thomas Reade and St Edmunds joined OLA pupils in a fantastic event. And the question of 'what to do with a dead rabbit' was strangely compelling. 

Or, more accurately, a dead hare. Rabbits weren't around in Bronze Age Crete of course. Accuracy is important, because Michelle does a huge amount of research for her books. It's this in-depth knowledge and instinctive feeling of the period is just one of the reasons that her books conjure up such a vivid world in which children love to spend time. 

Michelle is best-known for her 'Chronicles of Ancient Darkness' series, set during the Stone Age. 'Gods and Warriors' is set later, around the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age, and involves the adventures of Hylas, a twelve year boy, who finds himself on the run from some nasty and extremely tenacious people, who want something back that he is stolen...

One of the delights of the series is the varying viewpoint from which the story is told: Hylas, Pirra (a young girl fleeing an arranged marriage), and (in the first book) a dolphin, giving the perspective of an intelligent creature in the vast space of the ocean. Michelle's love of animals really shone through as she told the children about her experience with bears, wolves and swimming with dolphins - again captured magnificently in the writing.

Michelle answered some really great questions from the audience; would mythical creatures be appearing in later books? What inspired her to write? Would there be a seventh book in the 'Wolf Brother' series (no!).

The children were extremely patient as she signed and chatted for over an hour, handing over a deer antler and a real bronze-age axe for the children to hold. 
Michelle sat for pictures with fans, and even a slightly chaotic signing queue, as well as an accident with a glass of water at the start, couldn't dampen (no pun intended) what was an extremely entertaining and inspiring event.

Thanks very much to Puffin for making it happen, and Our Lady's Abingdon for being such great hosts. Michelle had a great time  and really appreciated some imaginative questions from the children in the audience (which we put down to the thriving local book scene!). Naturally, we couldn't let Michelle leave Abingdon without asking her one or two questions...

Five questions with . . . Michelle Paver's writing life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on book 3 of 'Gods and Warriors' entitled ' The Eye of the Falcon', due out in August 2014.

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

(Things very hard for a bit). You know, I don't think I have never been given a writing tip...

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

The best thing is that rare time when a scene becomes real in my head, when I can see a wolf, for example, or Hylas says something, is in a scene, and it's like I'm there. The worst thing is, with some of my overseas publishers, arguments over awful cover designs!

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

When I go off on research trips, I take 'Bat'. He's a small, plastic bat that was given to me by my sister. As long as bat is there, he usually never fails me. He sits on my computer at home too when I'm writing.

(Interestingly, we discovered, Michelle does not have an Internet connection at home...).

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

It was 'Wolf Brother'. Up until then there hadn't been any books set in the stone age (well, apart from Jean Auel, but not for children). So I had no idea if there would be interest. The writing thing wasn't planned, and I didn't know what to expect, but Wolf Brother become a bestseller.

Friday, September 13, 2013

3 4 Friday - Patrick Leigh Fermor, Max Hastings and Books Are My Bag

Tough to choose three titles this week, as several of the biggest books of the year arrived at the shop - many of which we've been eagerly awaiting. Good job too, because this weekend sees the launch of the massive 'Books Are My Bag' campaign to celebrate bookselling on the high street.

You may notice that our window has a distinctly orange hue:
We'll be doing our own launch next week, as well as introduce you to a few of our favourites. But for today's 3-4-Friday #FridayReads we've a couple of special signed editions - and the publication of an unfinished masterpiece...
Patrick Leigh Fermor's 'The Broken Road' is the final volume in the trilogy of travel writing which describes the amazing walk he undertook at age 18 from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople back in the 1930s.

'The Broken Road' follows on from 'A Time Of Gifts' and 'Between The Woods and The Water'. Although Leigh Fermor never finished the manuscript, it's based on diaries, notes and an early draft which he wrote in the 1960s. Fermor died in 2011 and - as befits someone who has often been described as possibly our greatest ever travel writer - this has been edited by Artemis Cooper, Fermor's brilliant biographer, and Colin Thubron, author of The Silk Road and To A Mountain In Tibet. The book is in hardback at £25.

In life, he was once described as a cross between 'Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene' and since his death, interest in Patrick Leigh Fermor and his remarkable life and adventures have only increased. This is definitely a book to transport and inspire.

Author and journalist Sir Max Hastings called Mr. Leigh Fermor “perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist of his time, wearing his literacy light as wings, brimming over with laughter.” so it's fitting that our next book is by him.

'Catastophe' is a magisterial chronicle of the calamity that befell Europe in 1914 as the continent shifted from the glamour of the Edwardian era to the tragedy of total war.

On the eve of its centenary, Max Hastings seeks to explain both how the conflict came about and what befell millions of men and women during the first months of strife. His narrative of the early battles will astonish those whose images of the war are simply of mud, wire, trenches and steel helmets. Hastings describes how the French Army marched into action amid virgin rural landscapes, in uniforms of red and blue, led by mounted officers, with flags flying and bands playing. The bloodiest day of the entire Western war fell on 22 August 1914, when the French lost 27,000 dead.

While what followed was a vast tragedy, Hastings argues passionately against the 'poets' view', that the war was not worth winning.

We have a very limited stock of signed copies - plus £5 off the cover price of £30 - two very good reasons to ask for an early copy of this to be put aside...

Talking of signed copies (because they are usually not around for very long) if you are a fan of the world's greatest skeleton detective, we have signed copies of Derek Landy's 'Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men' at £14.99.

This consistently brilliant and inventive series is now in its eighth instalment, and perfect for boys and girls 9+. We think it's the biggest, funniest, most thrilling comedy-horror-adventure series in the universe. But come in and take a look for yourself...

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Ann Cleeves returns to Abingdon

Last August, we welcomed crime writer Ann Cleeves to Abingdon for a very special event at the bookshop. With 'Vera' currently back on television, and the BBC's recent announcement of a six-part second series of 'Shetland', we're delighted to welcome Ann back to Abingdon for another event.

Ann will be at Abingdon Library on Thursday 26 September at 2pm - she'll be talking about the whirlwind year she's had, including her induction into the Crime Thriller Hall of Fame last October - alongside such all-time greats as Colin Dexter, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Ann has written over 25 crime novels, and in 2006 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.

Filmed by the BBC in 2012, the 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 with the added delight of the island setting, with its rich history and eccentric characters.

Ann was a delight to listen to last time - with incredible tales of her route to becoming a writer, and the unlikely story of how Vera became a television series.

Tickets are £3, and include refreshments during the event. To reserve your tickets, pop into Mostly Books or email