Sunday, July 28, 2013

All These Worlds Are Yours: Ben Jeapes and Jonathan Oliver launch 'Phoenicia's Worlds'

One moment it was the perfect summer’s evening, sat in the courtyard of Mostly Books and enjoying a glass of wine. The next moment we were transported to another time, aboard a spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere of an unknown world, our short-term memory shot, struggling to understand what was going on...
In fact, we were celebrating the publication of Phoenicia's Worlds’, the latest novel by Abingdon sci-fi writer, Ben Jeapes. Reading an extract from the book, he was then joined in discussion by his editor at publisher Solaris, Jonathan Oliver. Together they discussed Ben's writing, his influences - and over a glass of wine, discussed the question: ‘What makes good science fiction?’
Phoenicia's Worlds’ is about humankind's first attempt to colonise another world – an Earth-type planet caught in the grip of an Ice Age. Tragedy strikes the colony, and to save it from starvation and collapse Alex Mateo must reluctantly entrust himself to the only starship in existence to make the long, slower-than-light journey back to Earth.

Given the interest in recent discoveries of Earth-like planets that may be orbiting nearby stars, Ben's setting and theme seems to be extremely timely. Ben explained that the seeds of the book were actually sown many years before, with themes closer to home influenced by world events and Ben's sometimes pessimistic view of human nature... 

Ben has published science fiction for both children and adults, and has recently had a collection of his short stories published. He explained that one of the real pleasures of writing science fiction for him is the thinking up and describing of appropriate technology for the stories.

He explained that the idea for his first book - His Majesty's Starship - was driven in part by a desire to correct some of the problems in the way spaceflight was portrayed in the Star Trek universe. Being thrown off seats in a space battle? How about seat belts. And when one considers that a modern jetliner can take off from Heathrow and land in New York with little of no direct involvement from the pilot - the idea of sitting at consoles actively controlling the ship might be considered a little, well, antiquated.

Jonathan quizzed Ben as to his SF influences, and Ben cited Arthur C Clarke and Asimov, to Alastair Reynolds, Iain Banks and Stephen Baxter.

His book published for children ‘New World Order’ is a time travelling story that returns to the English Civil War, but for ‘Phoenicia's Worlds’ he has gone forward in time, and it is full of well-imagined detail of what it might be like in the future to actually travel on a spaceship between star systems.

Trying to get to the heart of what makes good science fiction, Jonathan said he liked Ben’s writing because it celebrates the strong traditions of the genre, while also looking to the future – and also that it has good characterisation and characters he cared about. Good SF was, he said, primarily good writing. A big idea is not enough.

Jon also explained a little about the process of publication at Solaris and Abaddon Books. Speaking about the differences between large and small publishers, he said: ‘The best thing about being an indie publisher is that you can move really quickly. You can trust your initiative and publish the books you love publishing and you don’t have to convince a whole load of people because they trust my taste (on the whole!)’

There were discussions on cover designs - Solaris have some very talented designers, even if there are some last-minute revisions to cover designs. We have to agree - Phoenicia's Worlds has a stunning - and subtly appropriate - cover.

Ben also talked about his experiences of writing as a ghostwriter on a number of projects - and the challenges and opportunities this affords in terms of (almost) being a full-time fiction writer.
It was our first science fiction event at Mostly Books, and also the first time we've had a discussion between editor and author. We'll definitely be doing both again.

A big thank you to both Jonathan and Ben for making it a lively summer’s evening event. Phoenicia's Worlds deserves to do extremely well - and of course we have signed copies at Mostly Books...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Old Bear guest stars at Teddy Bear’s Picnic

We were delighted to have a real VIP visitor on Tuesday, when one of the most loved bears visited in person as guest of honour at our teddy bear’s picnic.
Our courtyard garden was packed out with picnickers - and their bears - who came along in the sunshine to listen to Old Bear stories and to meet some very famous bears indeed.

Author and illustrator, Jane Hissey, explained that Old Bear was the original inspiration and features in most of her books, which have been loved by children around the world for over 25 years.

In fact, Old Bear is now so old he very rarely makes a guest appearance, so Mostly Books felt particularly honoured that such a venerable bear made such a very long journey from Jane’s home in Sussex (and also very grateful to Jane for making such a long journey and bringing us all her delightful characters).

Old Bear was her very own bear. She had studied on an illustration and design course and worked as a teacher, but started drawing Old Bear when she had free moments after she started a family. She finally found a publisher who was interested in publishing her stories and quickly found readers who loved the books.

Old Bear was quickly joined by other characters – Hoot the owl, Little Bear – and her most recent creations – Ruby, Blue and Blanket. In the eighties the characters featured on everything from jigsaws to china figures.

Our audience featured lots of children and plenty of mums who had loved the books when they were young, as well as some new fans. And lots of sandwiches, cake and much-loved teds.

It was a glorious day and we were extremely lucky as a torrential downpour in the morning had flooded the garden and threatened our plans to be outside. We spent a good hour trying to clear all the water! But luckily the sun shone again and the weather was perfect by the time the picnic started.

Jane brought along all the original characters for us to meet and all of them had their own story of where they had all come from and how they ended up with starring roles in her books.

The stories would make a book in themselves.

It was as delightful a way to spend an hour as you could possibly have.

Her books are popular the world over and were made into an animated television series and they have been praised not only for their charming stories and colourful pictures, but also use of texture and perspective.

It was great that Jane also gave us an insight into how the books come to life.

She explained how she first writes the stories and then uses the characters to set up the scenes that will appear alongside the text, sometimes using pins, hooks and threads if the characters need to be in action or flying.

It was a unique insight into the meticulous attention to detail that goes into producing children’s book. It really gave an idea of how much work goes into the books, but also why they seem so full of life and texture. There are really no other books like them.
She also says she only uses coloured pencils to draw with and brought some of the original drawings for us to see.

With an audience from babes in arms, they appeal to a great range of ages. Now celebrating twenty-five years since being published, the Old Bear stories will now be delighting a whole new generation of children.

A tremendous thank you to Jane for such a delightful hour of insight and stories and for being generous enough to share them with us. We had a lovely time.

(Want to get a parent's view on the event - visit Child-Led Chaos's report on the day, and also visit Jane Hissey's own website for much more on the story behind Old Bear)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Conversation: Ben Jeapes and Jonathan Oliver

To celebrate the launch of his book 'Phoenicia's Worlds', Abingdon science fiction author Ben Jeapes will be joined in conversation by Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of indie SF, fantasy and horror publishers Solaris and Abaddon Books.

Thanks to the work of exoplanet hunters and the Kepler telescope, we are becoming used to hearing about other planets - possibly Earth-like worlds - being discovered around other stars.

The setting of Phoenicia's Worlds is therefore both timely and intriguing - set on mankind's sole colony outside of our solar system. La Nueva Temporada is an Earth-type planet - albeit one caught in the grip of a very Earth-type Ice Age.
Alex Mateo wants nothing more than to stay and contribute to the terraforming of his homeworld. But tragedy strikes the colony, and to save it from starvation and collapse, Alex must reluctantly entrust himself to the Phoenicia, the only starship in existence, to make the long slower-than-light journey back to Earth.

But it is his brother Quin, who loathes La Nueva Temporada and all the people on it, who must watch his world collapse around him and become its saviour…while everyone watches the skies for the return of the Phoenicia...

Born in Belfast in 1965, Ben Jeapes began writing science fiction at the age of 18, and has published five novels under his own name. He has also had a lot more published as a ghostwriter for hire in a variety of genres.

Jonathan Oliver is the editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon Books and is also the author of 'Twilight of Kerberos: The Call of Kerberos'. He has an MA in science fiction, has worked in publishing for 10 years and also lives in Abingdon.

Ben and Jon will be discussing Phoenicia's Worlds, taking questions about his writing and asking the question: just what makes a good science fiction novel?

Science fiction has a long and proud history of extrapolating the present to predict the future, so come along and join in the discussion - whether you consider yourself a fan of science fiction or not. 

The event takes place at Mostly Books on Thurs 25 July at 7.30pmTickets are £3, redeemable against a purchase on the night, and includes a glass (or two) of wine courtesy of Solaris Books.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

3 4 Friday - Poetry, Planets and Teddy Bear's Picnics

After two cracking events for Independent Booksellers Week, today's '3 4 Friday' sees three more events coming up in the next few weeks, including some poetry in the garden (if this weather lasts) our first ever science fiction event, and a teddy bear’s picnic...

On Tuesday, July 23 we are inviting young children to bring their teddy bears to meet Jane Hissey and the original 'Old Bear' at a ‘Teddy Bear's Picnic’ in our courtyard garden. There are two sessions – midday and 3pm – so please let us know if you would like to come along (tickets are £3 per child). We’ll be providing cake – so you just need to bring a cushion, a blanket, some picnic items – and a favourite cuddly for Jane to judge in the 'best loved bear' contest.

On Thursday evening (25 July, 7.30pm) we have a fantastic - and very different - event in the shop. To celebrate the launch of his latest book, 'Phoenicia's Worlds', Abingdon SF author Ben Jeapes will be joined by 'Solaris' editor-in-chief Jonathan Oliver to ask 'Just what makes a good science fiction novel?". It is the first time we have ever had an editor and author in discussion and we look forward to some fascinating insights. Discover more about the event here
Tickets are £3.
Finally, for anyone who enjoyed watching John Hegley in our garden two years ago, don’t miss the brilliant George Chopping who will be performing in the garden on Weds Aug 7 at 7.30pm. George is a poet who works in a pub and lives on a boat with his wife and cat. He makes wry observations on life through poetry – as well as making us laugh. He is best-known as a performance poet and appears and hosts poetry events in Oxford. He published his debut collection, ‘Smoking With Crohn's’ in August of last year. Tickets are £3 – George was a fantastic hit at the Radley 5x15 event earlier this year - don't miss this!

This weekend, slop on the suncream, slap on the hat and slip into a good book!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hoover, Hollywood and a Californian Conspiracy - Andrew Rosenheim and The Informant

Andrew Rosenheim's ‘Fear Itself’ – easily my favourite thriller from 2011 – was a slow-burning, tension-ratchetting what-if conspiracy thriller, rich with period detail about pre-war America, reminiscent of both Robert Harris and Frederick Forsyth.

So I've been eagerly awaiting the sequel. The Informant was published earlier this month - and hasn't disappointed. The bulk of the action switches from the East to West Coast as FBI agent Jimmy Nessheim finds himself - on the recommendation of J Edgar Hoover - as an ‘adviser’ to a Hollywood film studio, which is churning out dubious gumshoe flicks giving a positive spin to Hoover's fledgling FBI.

But the young, brash Hollywood is rife with petty rivalries, shallow self-promotion and - given it's 1941 - is a hotbed of communist sympathies and anti-Japanese paranoia…

Andrew came into Mostly Books this week and we got the low-down on Jimmy, J Edgar and the gathering storm of war...

Andrew, thanks for agreeing to be interrogated for the blog! We left Jimmy at the end of ‘Fear Itself’ having foiled a high-level assassination plot designed to keep the US out of the war. What has happened to Jimmy since then, and where does The Informant start? 

'The Informant' begins with Nessheim in Hollywood in autumn 1941. He feels he’s spinning his wheels. He tried to enlist in the army, but was turned down on medical grounds. Now the rest of the world is at war and America seems on the brink of joining in; yet all Nessheim’s doing is acting as a ‘technical adviser’ on pro-FBI movies made by a low-rent studio.

Then a Japanese-American informant named Billy Osaka goes missing, right after sending Nessheim a message saying he needs to see the FBI man urgently. Almost simultaneously, Nessheim’s boss Harry Guttman is approached by a State Department diplomat who claims the Russians want him to spy for them. When the diplomat is murdered, a California connection emerges, and suddenly Nessheim finds he’s busy on all sorts of fronts.

Jimmy is not your average G-man – as he says himself, he’s an ‘accidental Agent’ who entered the Bureau by chance and feels very ambivalent about his job. He’s protected to some extent by his immediate boss, Harry Guttmann, but both increasingly go out on a limb in their hunt for Billy, and to a large extent are at the mercy of the whims of J Edgar Hoover and his cronies. Hoover is a much bigger – and more conflicted – character in this book, and I wondered what your views on him are having spent some time getting inside his head for the book?

I think Hoover as a young man was an upright, ambitious and highly intelligent man who brought a much-needed professionalism to the FBI. Unfortunately, his extraordinary early success went to his head, and he began to run the Bureau as a fiefdom, in which his image and the FBI’s were conflated, in which even the mildest criticism was seen as a personal attack. He became prone both to delusions of grandeur and almost limitless vanity (the two go hand in hand), yet he remained extremely cunning, and showed great savvy in manipulating the powers  in Washington who might challenge his supremacy – from Congressmen to Presidents. Yet as I hope THE INFORMANT demonstrates, he allowed his egotism and his prejudices (which were deep and wide-ranging) to affect his judgement, sometimes to America’s cost. 

Much of the action takes place in California, amongst the Japanese immigrant community and Hollywood. I found a lot of the detail surprising in terms of the pro-Soviet feeling, and the close ties the Japanese immigrants still had with the mother country. What kind of research did you have to do for the book, and were there things you learned that surprised you?

I like doing research, though I try not to like it too much – I think some historical novelists overegg the research sometimes, at the expense of their story. For this novel I read a lot about the politics of the time, about Hollywood in the ‘20s and during the War, and about the Japanese-American community in Southern California. I also had help from individuals, including my uncle, who probably knows more about the history of American transport than anyone in the world, and from a Japanese-American historian who now teaches in Kyoto but who grew up in and has written extensively about Los Angeles. 

Like ‘Fear Itself’, I really loved ‘The Informant’. I may be biased, as the period in which they are both set – the years leading up to America’s entry into the Second World War – is one that I find particularly fascinating. Is this why you chose to set your books in that time period?

I find the period fascinating, especially for America. It was still a young and young-acting country, soon to be thrust into a new role as a leading power. It’s the mix of innocence and unfettered might that fascinates me, as well as the ethnic and racial diversity of the country, and its multiple kinds of climate and terrain. 

I’m also intrigued by how a nation changed in such a short period of time, emerging as a superpower in spite of the huge social pressures on it given its immigrant make-up. In ‘Fear Itself’ you explored some of these pressures through ‘The Bund’ and Jimmy’s German heritage, but there were very different social dynamics in the Japanese immigrant community – how were you able to explore these?

Well, in many ways the Japanese and German communities in America were similar in that both contained very different views of their former homelands, ranging from young second or even third-generation members (such as Billy Osaka or Nessheim himself) who wanted to be fully American, to older members who often had strong residual loyalties to the Emperor or Fuehrer. It’s the mixed nature of their allegiances that made me initially interested in both the German-Americans and the Japanese-Americans. 

Without giving anything away, there are some wonderful moments in ‘The Informant’ involving British Intelligence (particularly one hugely satisfying plot twist about halfway through the book!). As an American who came to the UK, ‘went native’, and raised your family here I’m bound to ask - did that have any influence on the way the British are portrayed in the book? (I have to say, as a Brit, these bits were hugely enjoyable to read!)

J Edgar Hoover, 1940
(Harris & Ewing)
I suppose I have gone native to a degree, though my accent certainly hasn’t. I’ve always enjoyed British spy fiction, and I’ve always been interested in British Intelligence. It was far better established in the era I’m writing about than American Intelligence (which didn’t even exist overseas), and had a lot to teach the FBI. Not that Hoover in my book is willing to listen -- but my character Harry Guttman is.

There’s great evocation of place too, particularly in California. There’s a wonderful description of Jimmy driving up to a ranch for a weekend party, and cresting over a hill to view a lush, green valley in the heart of the wine-growing region. I could easily imagine this was a real place you visited. Did you have to – reluctantly (!) – do any research by visiting these areas?

I worked one summer many years ago in Santa Barbara and have clear memories of the town and its surrounding countryside. I also used Ronald Reagan’s ranch as a hazy kind of model for the ranch in The Informant. I actually didn’t go to LA for the book, however, since the LA of 1941 is pretty hard to find there today. One source which proved invaluable was a guidebook to Los Angeles published in 1939, composed by a bunch of writers who had jobs with the Work projects Administration (WPA), a government agency which employed them during the Depression. To discover such a detailed source from the actual period I was writing was a tremendous find. 

Your description of the clothes various characters wear seems an important theme in the book – the suits, shirts and shoes seem to act as a shorthand to define class and cultural differences, or the difference between the agents of the law and the people under investigation. It really adds to the sense of paranoia and mood-setting, and I wanted to know if that was deliberate?

Los Angeles City Hall 1930s
(Wikimedia Commons)
I think this kind of detail is crucial in establishing an atmosphere and making the overt historicism of the book seem authentic, as well as revealing the distinctions between characters. As I say, you don’t want to overdo it, or else describing the stripes on a bow tie and giving the brand of someone’s shoes followed by the shirt’s manufacturer’s name can get in the way of the characters you are creating.

Jimmy seems to be on the verge of leaving the FBI at the end of the book, but is given some tantalising information and a new challenge that suggests another book. What – if anything – can you reveal about what Jimmy is going to do next?

Nessheim will be in the Midwest of America in autumn 1942, where a top-secret project is underway at the University of Chicago to create the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, under the leadership of the famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Even Hoover doesn’t know about the Manhattan Project (as it came to be called) during this early stage, but Nessheim’s boss Harry Guttman does, and enlists Nessheim to protect the secrecy of the project.


Thanks very much to Andrew for coming into the shop. We have a signed, first edition of 'The Informant' courtesy of Andrew and publisher Hutchinson. To win a copy, email with your name and address - or leave a comment on the blog, telling us what intrigues you about this momentous period in US history...

(The Informant is out now, £18.99 from Hutchinson - and copies available from Mostly Books)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Miss Vickers' Angel: Salley Vickers and her journey to Chartres

Last Thursday, in a sultry, packed Roysse Room in Abingdon's Guildhall, we welcomed novelist Salley Vickers to what was a very special event.
The evening started with a conversation about bookselling. This might have been because Mark was on stage putting the questions to Salley, but mainly it was because - in the long and eclectic list of jobs that Salley had before becoming a full-time writer - she had once been a bookseller, at an independent bookshop in Richmond.

And although her CV lists far more glamorous career choices, including a university teacher and a psychoanalyst, she’s very aware of the difference independent booksellers have made to her, since she became a novelist.
Her first book was ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’, a book published when she was 50 and knew nothing about the book trade. It became a word-of-mouth bestseller.

‘My publisher said it was a “quiet” book, which I now know means a book on which they didn't spend any money. But...I use that word often when I review books myself, because I often think quiet books are the books I like best.’

It may have started out quietly, with none of the chains agreeing to take it, and with a initial print run of just 1,000 copies. But Salley said she knew it had taken off when eight months after that initial print run and several reprintings, her publisher had to rush out a final reprint of the hardback in time for Christmas.
That book has gone on to sell more than 350,000 copies. Salley is very clear how important independent booksellers were during those early days.

Salley was keen to explain how ideas for books seem to come from collisions of experiences past and present. In the case of 'Miss Garnet's Angel', the seeds were sown with a trip to Italy when she was very young and steeled to think Venice over-hyped and too touristy. Wandering off the beaten track she came to a dilapidated church and stumbled across a series of wonderful paintings.

Years later she did the very same thing, stumbling accidentally on the very same church, but had recently been teaching the story of 'Tobias and the Angel' on a continuing education course in Oxford. When she recognised that this was the story those paintings told, she went back to her hotel room, and started to write what she initially believed would be a short story - but became ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’. 

But the importance of place is often the very first thing that gives her the start of the idea that will grow into a novel.

Her latest book ‘The Cleaner of Chartres’ came about from a similar mix of experiences. Having originally been taken round the cathedral when young, when travelling through France she decided to take a detour to see the cathedral again. And after a long night involving an accident and a visit to a hospital, she found herself - unable to sleep - in the cathedral very early in the morning when it was being cleaned.

‘I thought that a cleaner will know things about the cathedral that no-one else will know and have access to different parts. Thus the character of Agnes emerged, although at that time I didn’t even know what her history was.’

Salley gave insights into more than just the inspiration for her novels, but also how her ideas and characters grow.

She likes to write first thing in the morning, as it is the best time to tap directly into her unconscious mind. And although she loves books with good plots and stories, she doesn’t really plot, but instead does a lot of 'mulling and pondering' - and then writes very, very fast. 
She also likes to put in a character who is not like her, but to whom she gives her own views and opinions.

It is details like this which probably help to explain the huge popularity of her books and manage to be both fun and page-turning whilst at the same time allowing shadows and darkness to intrude.

Mark confessed to worrying a lot about Agnes (actually, he declared himself 'smitten'), concerned that the main character in 'The Cleaner of Chartres' would manage to have a happy ending herself, despite being a catalyst in improving the lives of the people around her.

It is that ability to draw readers into her world that many people care deeply about in her stories. Many people who have read 'Miss Garnet's Angel' have managed to take a detour while in Venice to visit the places mentioned in the book, and book groups have even visited expressly for that purpose.

Salley said it was a privilege to write books that she knows make a difference to people. She even heard from the owner of the cafe mentioned in 'Miss Garnet's Angel' who told her he had been about to close down when she wrote the book - and has recently expanded. Now that's a very tangible difference indeed. How many authors can say that?

We have a list of thank yous as long as our arm - but briefly - the team at Abingdon's Guildhall for looking after us splendidly, to some emergency staging supplied by Thomas Reade Primary School, a huge thank you must go to Penguin for making it all happen as part of Independent Bookseller's Week. But mostly to Salley herself for a wonderful evening - thank you.

Monday, July 08, 2013

They volunteered, they sold, they even managed the credit card machine

You ask most business people if they’d hand the keys to their company over to three authors for a day and I think you’d get a fairly nervous laugh in response.
"Now, the door can stick a bit, you may need to give it a kick"
But independent booksellers are generally a bunch keen to embrace different, mad event ideas.

And keen for anything that cements the relationship between authors, publishers and bookshops – three elements that should have the same goal, but don’t always work together as well as they might.

As we do dozens of school events every year we know children’s authors are regularly encouraged to go out and meet potential readers, we were fairly confident that the three authors, Paula Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters, would make a pretty good job of stepping into our shoes and being booksellers for the day.
"Why thank you, madam. And can we interest you in a Nosy Crow goodie bag?"
Even so, we regularly take on work experience children from local schools and know that the person with the least experience is always the person who gets approached with the ‘I need a present for an uncle who lived in India and has now taken up bird-watching’ type of customer enquiry. The credit card that is refused. The person who wants to buy six mugs and wants them all wrapped and can she pay with a book token?

So we batted around a few ideas of what our customers and our authors might really want to get out of the day (cake seemed to be the main response), so we hit upon also doing a couple of informal tea party meet-the-author sessions, in case they needed a break from the till and the questions in the afternoon.
Cake anyone?
Of course you can have a basic plan, but when you do a totally different event it is impossible to know how it’s all going to go, so the main aim of the day was to stay flexible and to go along with what our guest authors felt most comfortable with.

Best laid plans: the schedule at the start of the day...
we didn't actually show this to the authors in case they freaked out... 
But we just fell in love with the idea that three authors were interested enough to want to see behind the scenes at a bookshop that they offered to volunteer their services for the day.

We discovered we’d picked an incredibly hot day, so thanks to Sally Poyton for the impromptu gazebo. Our courtyard garden suddenly felt a bit like a place to regally take tiffin (see, we really did need all that cake).
Temperatures in the garden were 'centre court' level...
As well as bringing cake, all of our authors worked extremely hard in the heat for the whole day - and let's no forget driving to and from the shop on the day as well (discovering local traffic and parking 'quirks' and taking those in their stride). First step was hand-writing recommend wrappers on their favourite books:

Some fine selections - both classic and contemporary...
Paula Harrison got down to some tiara and animal-mask making workshops, Helen Peters was dragged off for an author interview. Fleur Hitchcock stepped up to do first stint on the till.

And it was Fleur Hitchcock in particular who really won her bookselling spurs on Saturday. Honestly, you’d think she’d been doing it all her life. That ability to tune into every customer is crucial. For every hundred people who come through the door, you will get a hundred different requests and need to be able to find an answer for every one.

One of the skills of being a bookseller is definitely being able to listen as well as expertly recommend. One person’s ideal ‘nothing too light’ will be more Philippa Gregory than Hilary Mantel and you have to be able to tune in.

We know what people come to independent traders for – mostly for expert advice. And Fleur was just brilliant with those ‘my son is a huge reader and he has read everything – where do I go next’ queries and turning despair into a new pile of exciting reading opportunities.

Bravo Fleur - the job is yours.

Independent Booksellers Week is a terrific initiative for everyone to go ‘Strictly Come Bookselling’ and volunteer to help out in your local bookshop for a day.
"The best way to approach the till is to think 'Star Trek Console'
whilst under attack by Klingons..."
What a great way to promote goodwill and understanding between authors and the people who sell their books. Selling books on the high street is tough. There is no getting away from it.

We daily get author requests for help to sell their book. For any author who has phoned up for an event request and we respond with less cheer and more 'it can be difficult to get an audience' and then says: ‘but you just stick up a poster in the window’ – I now have my suggestion – go and do Strictly Come Bookselling at your local bookshop. And hopefully it will be interesting, informative and fun. Dig behind the scenes and discover what bookselling is all about.

What did we learn from having guest booksellers for the day? I definitely took away that I can probably hand-sell more classics. We tend to be focused on the new: we read, read, read everything new that comes out, analysing debut authors, making sure we stock enough to satisfy demand for current trends and making sure we know about the books that everyone is talking about – as well as hand-selling and championing the ones we love.

I hope the authors enjoyed their chance and felt they got a good look behind the scenes. I hope they loved the chance to listen and talk to the sort of queries and problems our customers come to every day, because talking to customers about books is one of the best things about the job. 
Tiara making in extreme temperatures
And if we get several people coming in asking us for ‘less fantasy, more reality', then that’s what we tend to seek out to stock. Like any small shop with limited shelf space, every book has to earn its place - but there are still gaps where we know we could sell more more more.

There was the moment in the afternoon. A lull. And the authors all breathed a sigh of relief. That, of course, is the moment the booksellers go into overdrive, checking no urgent customer orders have come in on email or by phone, or attending to any queries you parked earlier because you didn’t have the time.

All your orders are ready to go so that the one that absolutely has to come in next day is placed with the supplier most likely to fulfil the order. And if stock levels at the supplier were over 30 at the beginning of the day and are now zero, you have to move enough of the day’s order over to the supplier that still has stock - otherwise you won’t be able to trigger your next-day delivery. And you will create that dreaded disappointment in your customers.
So, will that be cash, cheque, credit card, book token,
mostly books token, bookstart voucher,
Mostly Books Loyalty Card redemption...
or should we just invoice you? 
And you do it all watching the clock because you are sure that just as you think you might be able to take a breather, you have to find a smile and a welcome for the inevitable end of day rush. When everyone who has been out doing Saturday things suddenly remembers they need to do some urgent shopping and the shop will be packed out again until gone five. After which you can eventually close and then tidy and clean everything and make it ready for the next day before finally, finally, finally going home, looking forward to your one day off. (Except if you open Sundays that is. We are always sooo grateful we don't. We were particularly grateful this Sunday!)

Thank you so much to all three of our authors who gave their time for our customers and made them feel very special and welcome. And stayed right until the end of the day to make sure all those people who were keen to meet them but couldn’t make it earlier weren’t disappointed.
No, they hadn't collapsed by the end of the day...

Thanks for bringing all the cakes! The day was over before I knew it and I didn't manage to find the time to sample any, but they looked delicious. 

Thank you also for finding time to do author interviews in between all the work on the till. We’ve already had great feedback from those who came along and the relaxed format of being able to meet an author informally in the shop worked really well and was really appreciated.
Nosy Books?

Thanks also to Nosy Crow for all their support, including Editorial Director Camilla Reid, who brought along our two youngest members of the Nosy Crow takeover day – her two daughters, who turned out to be experts on the till.

And finally, to another young helper, Beatriz Poyton, who did everything from blowing up the balloons to helping on the till and was a real bookseller for the whole day. Only a few more years before she can start to do work experience for us, and - believe me - she's down on the list already!

(For more about the event, take a look at The Abingdon Blog and also our Live Blog on the day!)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

An evening with Salley Vickers

(This event took place in 2013 - you can read what happened when Salley came to Abingdon here)

On Thursday, July 11 2013 we are delighted to welcome acclaimed novelist - and Mostly Books favourite - Salley Vickers to Abingdon's historic Guildhall, for an evening of bookish delight as she discussed her writing life and latest novel, 'The Cleaner of Chartres'.

There is something rare and special about Vickers as a novelist. In exploring the connections between faith and imagination, art and redemption, religion and science in an intelligent, unusual but very readable way, she manages to touch something buried deep in all of us. It gives her work a quietly compelling quality.’ - Peter Stanford, Independent

Salley was born in Liverpool and grew up as the child of parents in the British Communist Party. She read English at Newnham College Cambridge. She has worked, variously, as a cleaner, a dancer, an artist’s model, a teacher of children with special needs, a university teacher of literature and a psychoanalyst.

Her first novel, ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’, became an international word-of-mouth bestseller and a favourite among book clubs and reading groups. She now writes full time and lectures widely on many subjects, particularly the connections between, art, literature, psychology and religion.

In 'The Cleaner of Chartres', the ancient cathedral, with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained glass and strange labyrinth, is a strange and special place. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning...

No one quite knows where she came from - and yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she has touched their lives in subtly transformative ways, even though they couldn't quite say how.

But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès' past returns, provoking malicious speculation from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the rumours grow more ugly, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds. 

"Salley Vickers is a novelist whose imaginative journey always promises magic and mystery. The Cleaner of Chartres shows her on top form in a rich weave of loss and redemption spiked with Ms Vickers' irrepressible wit." - Robert McCrum, Book of the Year 2012, The Observer

The Cleaner of Chartres is a compelling story of darkness and light; of traumatic loss and second chances. Infused throughout with deeper truths, it speaks of the power of love and mercy to transform the tragedies of the past.

Salley Vickers will be talking about the book, her writing life and signing copies of her books in the Roysse Room, Abingdon's Guildhall on Thursday, July 11. Tickets are £7, to include a glass of wine on arrival, and a special discount on Salley's book on the evening.

We hope you can join us for what should be a very special evening. Reserve your ticket for the event by calling 01235 525880, email, tweet to @MostlyReading - or simply call into the shop.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Nosy Crow Takeover LIVE!

Nosy Crow have taken over Mostly Books!We'll be live-blogging all day from the shop...

With great trepidation we handed over the keys first thing this morning...
...and then it was straight on to some till training... young customers offering to be a test subject, and not at all staged for a photo shoot, oh no...

So far we have had tiara-making workshops:
The authors all bought CAKE!
...and the whole shop may have one or two signs that Nosy Crow have indeed taken over...
...just the odd understated poster here and there...
...and one or two copies of their books. The authors have written their own recommend wrappers for a few displays...
UPDATE 14.02:

There have already been some one-to-one author interviews and mini-meets in the courtyard garden...

There is still time to come along and meet an author, be served at the till and ask for special recommendations. Come along!

Alternatively the authors themselves - Paul Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters - have taken over the Mostly Books Twitter feed - why not tweet them a question or post a question on the blog?

UPDATE 3.45pm:

Not a busting lot for the regular bookshop staff to do today:

(the irony being of course that we were trying to pose for this photo since 9.30am this morning but it's been too busy!)

Update 5.55pm

Tired but happy. Everyone's off home...