Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Future of the Book with Mark Forsyth and IBW2014

Is it 'time up' for books and bookshops?
Photo credit: Scott Wishart
During Independent Booksellers Week (#IBW2014 from 28th June – 5th July) author and self-confessed ur-wordgeek Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool and author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon and The Elements of Eloquence) will be touring an independent bookshop every day to lead discussions about the importance of books and bookshops. Bookshops on the tour include Foyles in London, Red Lion Books in Colchester, JaffĂ© and Neale in Chipping Norton - and Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Mark will be in conversation with the other Mark, owner of Mostly Books, to talk fittingly enough about 'The Future of the Book'. The event takes place on Thursday July 3 at 7.30pm at Mostly Books.

As well as having exclusive early copies of the paperback of Mark's brilliantly subversive book on the rules of rhetoric 'The Elements of Eloquence', Mark has also written this year's exclusive essay for IBW entitled "The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted".

'The Unknown Unknown' will be available as a pamphlet from independent bookshops from 28th June. It will explore important questions such as why Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy would never have met online, as well as the pleasure of leafing through a dictionary and "why only a bookshop can give you what you never knew you were looking for”.

Mark explains why 'Bond, James Bond'
is far more memorable than
'My Name Is James Bond'...
Mark Forsyth said: “I firmly believe that the bookshop is alive and well with a long life ahead of it, and I intend to explain my reasoning on the night. [And] these being talks in bookshops – places that specialise in providing you with something you didn’t know you were looking for – I may also talk about something that you never knew you were interested in."

Come and listen to the two Marks and join in the discussion about the future of the book.

Tickets £3 which includes a glass of wine. Places will be limited - so please reserve your tickets by email, or call in at the shop...

(Find out more about the whole #IBW2014 tour with Icon Books here. And Mark is no stranger to Abingdon as you'll find here).

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Makes A Good Bookgroup Book? IBW event with Kate Clanchy and Louise Millar

What makes a good bookclub book? Is it a chance to read an author you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered? To provoke or to entertain? To divide opinion – or help to unite it?

On Wednesday 25 June at 7.30pm – as part of celebrations for Independent Booksellers Week – we’ve invited two dynamic, and very different, authors to Mostly Books to help us find out.

Louise Millar writes psychological thrillers, and Kate Clanchy is a poet and Costa-shortlisted author. Together they are going to debate the qualities that make a book that gets book-groups talking.

Louise Millar has published three novels and is making a name for herself as a writer who puts her characters in almost unbelievable situations – but also ones we can all imagine happening to us.

She began her journalism career in mainly music and film magazines, working as a sub-editor for Kerrang!, Smash Hits, the NME and Empire. She later moved into features, working as a commissioning editor at Marie Claire. Her books ‘The Playdate’ and ‘Accidents Happen’ have won huge critical acclaim for her combination of family drama and slow-building psychological suspense.

Her latest novel 'The Hidden Girl' is another taut, psychological thriller in which wife Hannah Riley and her musician husband move to Suffolk, and an idyllic life threatens to unravel - but are the increasingly sinister events Hannah is witnessing simply in her head?

Kate Clanchy was born and grew up in Scotland and now lives in Oxford. Her poetry collections have brought her many literary awards, she is the author of the much acclaimed Antigona and Me, and was the 2009 winner of the BBC Short Story Award. She has also written extensively for Radio 4. In 2011 she was appointed as the first Oxford City Poet to encourage the reading and writing of poetry in Oxford and the region.

Her Costa-shortlisted debut novel ‘Meeting the English’ is about a group of characters living in that quintessentially English borough of Hampstead, but whose backgrounds could not be more different. It’s a richly conceived, original and very entertaining social comedy about the lies we tell to fit in.

The two authors will be debating what makes a good bookgroup book – as well as talking about their own writing.

Even if you are not a member of a bookgroup, we promise an evening of lively discussion – and a celebration of a good read in the company of two writing talents. The event takes place at Mostly Books at 7.30pm, on Wednesday 25 June. Tickets are £3, to include a glass of wine.

Places will be limited – so please email to reserve your tickets, or call in at the shop.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A three-wheel problem: Five questions with Dave Lowe and Jasper Stinkybottom

On Thursday, June 19, children's author Dave Lowe - author of the awesomely funny Stinky and Jinks books - flew halfway round the world to meet children at two Abingdon Primary Schools.
OK, that's not strictly true. Dave was born in Dudley in the West Midlands and grew up in England, so when we found out he was back in the country for two weeks visiting family, and given how we LOVE his books - including 'My Hamster Is A Genius' and 'My Hamster's Got Talent' - we convinced the publisher to get Dave to interrupt his family holiday, which he duly did...

Cue lots of hamster hilarity at Thomas Reade Primary and Carswell Primary Schools, as Dave explained how his own experience with pets (notably begging for a pet, and getting a baby brother instead) informed some of the ideas behind his books...

As a child, David did eventually get a hamster (after guinea pigs and various canaries with imaginative names) but of course Jasper Stinkybottom - the grumpy, brilliant hamster in Dave's books - is a fantasy of a child's perfect pet: a hamster who helps his owner Ben out of various maths-generated difficulties with his nemesis, teacher Beardy McCreedy. They are fun, funny and extremely well written - and Dave explained some of the secrets behind his writing style.

As Dave explained, writing a book is a doddle. He tends to get a first draft down pretty quickly (in fact, when asked how he writes, Dave explained that he just sits there with a pen and paper each day until *something* is written). The real problems come with the editing - working hard to polish, revise and find the right words. He will do 15-20 re-writes to make it more readable and funny, and it's very, very hard work.

As well as stories of his own pets, children were challenged on their own knowledge of animals, and whether they were "Smarter than a Hamster". We learned some incredible facts about whether or not tigers have striped skin, things you can tell about a whale involving earwax, and why you should never keep a penguin in a fridge...

The children were full of some great questions: what's the best thing about living in Australia (the weather) and to weight a whale, do you *really* use a 'Whale Weigh Station'?

Thanks very much to the amazing teachers at Carswell and particularly at Thomas Reade where classes had been reading the Stinky and Jinks books. Thanks to Dave - including his young family who must know the most about Abingdon for any Australian having spent a whole day in the town. And special thanks to Olivia from Templar who used her experience as a bookseller to keep the children entertained in the queue...

It was a fun, inspiring event - and of course we whisked Dave back to the shop to ask him a few more questions about his writing inspiration...

Five questions with . . . Dave Lowe's writing life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a book for an older age-group at the moment, a fantasy-type of book for ages 8-11, a sort of Narnia type of book, which I'm about halfway through. But I'm also writing text for some children's picture books, so I'm sort of going older and younger from the Stinky and Jinks books!

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

(thinks hard) Well, if you are a budding writer, don't think of yourself as a budding writer, but instead as a *writer*. I always thought of myself as a writer, just one who had never been published. You work for years and years, getting better, so that when you are published there's a lot of 'back pay' for the work you already did! You payment is in the future, but there is no difference in terms of the product you produce - your writing.

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

The best thing is children's imaginations, they have amazing imaginations. And that means you don't have to pile adjectives and adverbs on top of each other, your reader will do the job for you, it all comes out of their brains. this doesn't work for adults, they need extra help - but for kids, they do the work for you, you just need to tell the story.

The worst thing is, once I've spent some time in a child's world, I find it quite hard to get back into the adult world. If you've just spent five hours with stupid jokes about pirates, it's kind of tough (and a bit of a shock) to have to, I don't know, go into a shop and talk to other adults.

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

Well, I drink a lot of tea! I also write on very narrow, lined paper for my first draft. I'll then edit this, and usually write it out again entirely in longhand. After that, I'll get it onto computer. I always write out a draft at least once by hand - it takes ages! But for me, I feel that getting it onto computer feels like the book is in its final stage, so if I have stuff on the computer - and it's rubbish - I get very annoyed.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

I wrote a book before the Stinky and Jinks books, and it was about a boy who discovered a book of his dead grandfathers's inventions, and he tries to replicate them. The joke was of course that his grandfather was a terrible inventor, and most of the inventions didn't work or ended up doing something totally opposite. That book didn't get published, but an agent took the time to write me a proper letter rather than a standard rejection (which I'd been getting up until that point). For me, it was a turning point, because although I wasn't taken on, it gave me encouragement that I was on the right path.

So I wrote another book, sent it out to ten UK agents, I get 3 or 4 really strong responses and one agent loved it. That was Madeline, my current agent, who is amazing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Something weird in your neighbourhood? You better call Tigerman. Or possibly just Nick Harkaway

What is the connection between Twitter, the CIA, Graham Greene, crowdsourced space elevators and superheroes with secret identities?

The answer is author Nick Harkaway, who was a guest in Abingdon on Wednesday, and who took us on a prodigiously entertaining journey between how all these links led up to his latest book ‘Tigerman’.

The evening felt like being taken on rollercoaster of thoughts and ideas, but then so does reading his books.

‘Tigerman’ is an impressively intelligent novel of big thinking, search for purpose, international shenaningans, multiple identities, fatherhood and explosive action.

It is the story of burnt-out soldier Lester Ferris, sent to the ends of the earth and the island of Mancreu, who may possibly oversee the end of the world.

Nick was a screenwriter for ten years before becoming a novelist – and the restriction of screenwriting led almost directly to the delight of him being able to give full reign to his imagination in writing in a medium where nothing is impossible to film or to find a budget for.

Perhaps no surprise then that his first two books were packed full of breakneck plotting, shadow worlds, ninjas, mechanical bees and near-planetary destruction. He doesn't so much push the boundaries of genre, he kind of bends them to his will, moving between science fiction and literary fiction. In doing so, his novel ‘Angelmaker’ won him the Kitschies Red Tentacle award (which goes to books that "elevate the tone" of genre fiction) –  for the most intelligent, progressive and entertaining speculative novel of the year.

‘Tigerman’ is placed more firmly in reality, which, in a way, makes it more frightening. Set in a post-colonial world and an island on the verge of environmental collapse, Mancreu has become home to all the worst things in the world: the notorious, the powerful, the criminal – the natural home of everything from drug barons to extraordinary rendition and torture.

International forces agree that the best solution for Mancreu is obliteration, but when Lester teams up with a small local boy it becomes as much a novel about the need to humanise and our responsibilities to the next generation, as it does about power and the price of eternal vigilance.

It's a joyous rollercoaster for the reader, but - as Nick tells it - probably way more fun to write. ‘Tigerman’ is a seriously impressive novel. A sincere 'thank you' to Nick for making our evening just as seriously impressive - and a great deal of fun. As one of our audience said '"I fell like my brain has been given a massage - and I mean that in a good way".

During the evening we managed a big discussion about the joys - and horrors - of social media, particularly Twitter. Via plenty of commentary on technology - and his book 'The Blind Giant' - Nick explained his accessibility online, and his love of the micro-blogging world (the power of now - 'hey, let's crowdsource a space elevator'). We talked about power, its ludicrousness, and how Nick's experience of firing a handgun for the first time led him to think 'this is too easy to be this powerful and dangerous'. As we had a father's day theme, we touched very briefly on his famous father (and we were secretly delighted at how many of the audience didn't know) and ended up on a nice discussion about how he does a nice line in romance - and love - which runs subtly through all his writing.

This was our first event in the newly refurbished Crown and Thistle in Abingdon, and a huge thank you to them for looking after us brilliantly - we will definitely be doing more events here. It was a sublime venue for such a thrilling rollercoaster of an evening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Buy Dad A Real Book - the Mostly Books Father's Day Collection 2014

Sunday June 15 is indeed Father's Day, and once again we're suggesting you 'Buy Dad A Real Book'. Get him to switch off the gadgets, drop off the grid and rediscover the joy of reading.

(And if Dad is one of those people who needs solid research to provide motivation, you can point him to recent findings that show reading makes you smarter and reduces stress. So there.)

So today we unveil our 2014 Father's Day Collection, the fourth year we've done this, and when there are so many great books being published, it’s a hideous job trying to whittle it down to just a dozen books.

Who said bookselling was easy, eh?

Some of our favourite titles of the year already – such as ‘The Martian’ and Mick Herron’s ‘Dead Lions’ haven’t made the list below, because I think we’ve already pressed these books into everyone’s hands already – but here is our collection for 2014.

And what better book to start with than one that has a (sort-of) father-son relationship at its heart?
'Tigerman' by Nick Harkaway is the story of Lester Ferris, fragile army sergeant put in charge of winding down British interests in the colonial territory of Mancreu. The island is under UN control, because of a menacing industrial toxic legacy deemed to pose a global threat – in short, it’s scheduled for termination, an extreme form of ‘deep cleaning’ which means evacuation - and abandonment. Lester develops a strong bond with a mysterious street-kid, steeped in Internet jargon and comic-book philosophy, and – in the absence of any identifiable family – he fosters dreams of adoption, of becoming the father the boy doesn’t seem to have. But when dark forces threaten the boy, and the island threatens to go postal in the face of its imminent demise, Lester must - reluctantly, inevitably - take an heroic path, and the way he does this is unexpected, brilliantly realised and utterly thrilling.

Exploring the machinations of power, the possibilities (good and ill) of technology and the real responsibilities and challenges of parenthood - this is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.

(And we have signed first editions in the shop after our excellent event on June 11)

A genuine colossus next, and Stephen King’s long-time-coming sequel to The Shining. In ‘Dr Sleep’ (just out in paperback) Danny Torrance has grown up to be a drunk, using his addiction to alcohol to block his supernatural abilities. But then his life starts to change again when he is contacted by Abra, a young girl who has a very strong "shining". Enter the True Knot, a travelling band of vampire-like people who prolong their lives by feeding on "steam", a kind of life essence possessed by those who have the shining.

This is a fitting sequel to King’s original, with the master keeping you enthralled right to the very end. Julia’s verdict on this: ‘Unputdownable’.

If word-play is Dad’s thing, then we suggest Michael Rosen’s ‘Alphabetical’ – a sort of social history of the alphabet. Ever wondered about letters and the alphabet? Where they came from, where we came up with the spellings and 'rules'? (Q must always be seen next to U?). Why does ‘X’ mark the spot when it can be replaced by Z?

Everything and anything about letters can be found in this clever and funny book, written with the humour and word-play of one of our most talented authors and poets. A perfect gift for a wordsmith.

You could argue we are living in a golden age of nature writing at the moment, and for the second year running we include a gem of a book from Robert Macfarlane - 'Holloway'. In July 2005, Macfarlane and the late Roger Deakin walked the landscape of Southern Dorset, the ‘Hollow Ways’ where centuries of horses hooves, rain, footfall and wheel rubbing have carved out these sunken paths.

Macfarlane revisits his walk with artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards, and this book – with its haunting sketches – is both beautiful and poignant as Macfarlane revisits the earlier journey with his good friend.

In 1664, horticulturalist and diarist John Evelyn published 'Sylva', the first comprehensive study of British trees, and the first book ever published by the Royal Society, four years after the granting of its royal charter.

To celebrate its 'Sesquarcentennial' (that's a 350th anniversary in case you were wondering) Dr. Gabriel Hemery (forest scientist and author) and Sarah Simblet (tutor at The Ruskin School of Art and a lecturer at the National Gallery) have created 'The New Sylva', a sumptuously illustrated collection which seeks to explain and describe our most important trees, and what they really mean to us culturally, environmentally and economically.

If Dad likes the odd film (particularly a science fiction film) then Imogen recommends ‘Outer Limits’ by Howard Hughes. From ‘Star Trek’ To ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘The Matrix’ to ‘Moon’, this is the ultimate film guide for any science-fiction fan.

The perfect excuse to dig out a ‘classic’ film that you either missed, or feel deserves being watched again, or just because you enjoy experiencing aliens taking over the world. A top gift for Father’s Day...
Of course, if we did fend off those aliens, and had to rebuild society from scratch, how might we do it? Start with securing food, or finding weapons? Forging metals or building houses? In ‘The Knowledge’, Lewis Dartnell gets back-to-basics in this readable, enjoyable well thought-through look at how we might rebuild civilization (in a world where plenty of people start freaking out if their Internet fails). 

Described by Nature as the “Ultimate do-it-yourself guide to rebooting human civilization", Dad will be in a position to lead in the event of an asteroid strike, viral pandemic...or zombie apocalypse.

Food will be a big deal after any civilization collapse, and I think I’d want Tom Kerridge on my team to feed everyone. Tom is the only chef in Britain to gain two Michelin stars working on a pub, and ‘Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food’ collects together his best recipes to recreate that authentic – but high quality – gastopub experience.

If Dad likes to trash, (I mean, experiment in) the kitchen occasionally to wow the family, this book is packed with great ideas.

Action-packed, fast-moving thrillers don’t come much more satisfying than ‘I Am Pilgrim’, the debut novel by legendary screenwriter Terry Hayes (whose writing credits include the Mad Max movies and Dead Calm). ‘Pilgrim’ is the codename of Scott Murdoch, adopted son of a wealthy American couple, and member of the above-top-secret ‘The Department’ – which polices the actions of other US spies. Having anonymously written the ultimate book on forensic examination, he may have unwittingly allowed ‘the perfect murder’ to take place – and the NYPD need his help to solve it. But soon there are bigger, world-threatening activities taking place as a terrorist, known only as ‘The Saracen’, plans a frighteningly plausible attack on the United States.

If you like your techno-thrillers weighty (in every sense), fast-paced, densely plotted, and nerve-shreddingly plausible – this is the real deal.

One Summer’ by Bill Bryson was one of our favourite books of last year, and it’s just out in paperback. Bryson is an American writer that we Brits have adopted (and he us). ‘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.

It’s a heady concoction of the birth of talking pictures, a biblical flood, Henry Ford, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh – and work starting on Mount Rushmore. All are given the Bryson treatment – it’s witty, energetic and full of surprises.

In 1982, Simon Parkes (aged 23) paid £1 for a derelict building in Brixton, and over the next fifteen years turned it into Britain's most iconic music venue. Together with musician and author JS Rafaeli, he has written the definitive history of the venue in ‘Live At The Brixton Academy’.

This is everything you want from a memoir (the excess, the risks, the triumphs and disasters) but it’s also a riotous trip through 30 years of British music. Honestly, we think this is the best music book to have come out for years – if Dad has a secret gig-filled past, he’s going to love this book...

This was in last year’s collection, but John Le Carre’s latest book ‘A Delicate Truth’ is now out in paperback – and it’s a cracker. Operation Wildlife, a top-secret mission to the rock of Gibraltar, involving CIA, special forces, and a cast of spooks familiar to his regular readers goes horribly wrong. Three years later and one of the soldiers involved reveals that the government has buried the truth. Once the cat is out of the bag, the tempo and tone becomes progressively relentless and angry.

This is a tale of service and loyalty alongside deception and cover-up. A classic Le Carre novel that has you longing for the truth to be declared.

That's your twelve. But let's make it a round Baker's. Because if there is one book that captures the essence of a) being a Dad, b) thinking you have no time to read, c) the absurdities of modern working life, and d) the transformative, life-affirming and utterly amazing things that can happen when you rediscover reading, it is Andy Miller's heartwarming, irreverent and very funny memoir 'The Year of Reading Dangerously'.

One Dad, fifty books, a life transformed. Books can change (and save) your life - Andy Miller has the proof!

(Want more ideas? Come and ask us in the shop, or pop us an email for a recommendation. Takes a look how our recommends differered in 2013, 2012 and 2011. And we can thoroughly recommend heading over to ReadItDaddy for more Dad-powered inspiration to boot...)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tigers, Rats and Reading Dangerously - the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

The bookclub on Monday was unashamedly about Father's Day and the inevitable approach of THE SUMMER. There was also a book about the ownership of cheese, which was as subversive a children's picture book as you will ever read, by the brilliant Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz...

We talked about Andy Miller's riotously funny zero-tolerance approach to 'not having read the classics' in 'The Year of Reading Dangerously', Tom Moore's 'Gironimo' and duking it our with Suggs' book to be crowned 'finest music memoir of the year' is 'Live At The Brixton Academy' by Simon Parkes.

There is also a fine interview with Nick Harkaway ahead of our event with him on Wednesday June 11.

There was a few naughty moment and a lot more sniggering than usual (I have to say) during this particular show, and you can listen to it here until Monday June 16.

Fast forward to about 1 hour 8 minutes to listen to the show in its entirety - Nick Harkaway's interview is at 1 hour 35 minutes...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Tigerman: An Evening with Nick Harkaway

On Wednesday, June 11 at 7pm we are delighted to welcome author Nick Harkaway (author of Angelmaker and The Blind Giant) to a special evening event at The Crown and Thistle, Abingdon to talk about his new latest novel Tigerman.

We think it's going to be a fabulous evening, and you should definitely come along, and Mark is going to explain exactly why:

"As an indie bookseller, there are plenty of authors you discover, enjoy and recommend. But then there are those authors where readers rush back into the shop thanking you for helping them make a marvellous discovery. You want everyone to discover these authors, and tell their friends. These are the authors that remind you why you chose the path of being an indie bookseller in the first place, that caused your mother to weep, your bank manager to sorrowfully shake his head. The authors that get you up in the morning despite the tiredness and bad dreams (particularly that one of Jeff Bezos emerging from the sea off Toyko).

"Nick Harkaway is one of those authors. And I'm delighted he's coming to Abingdon for what promises to be a fantastic book event. And the fact that it's taking place in Abingdon's newest, most splendid venue where they serve good beer is an added bonus."

Nick will be in conversation with Mark, talking about his new novel Tigerman. Tickets cost £4, the entire ticket is redeemable against a purchase of Tigerman on the night, there will be a dedicated real-ale bar, you'll have a chance to meet Nick and get your book signed. It's four days before Father's Day, which is a fabulous excuse to be at The Crown and Thistle on a school night.

Here's a bit more stuff about the author:

Nick Harkaway is the author of two previous novels and a non-fiction book about technology and how it affects us. Tigerman is his third novel. He won the Oxfam Emerging Writer prize at the Hay Festival in 2012 for Angelmaker and The Blind Giant, and Angelmaker was recently awarded the Red Tentacle at the Kitschies (awarded for the most intelligent, progressive and entertaining novel); and was also shortlisted for the Clarke Award and the LA Times Book Prize.

This is what it says on his publisher's page:

He is a skier, a geek, a father and a husband, a failed martial artist (across a wide range of pugilistic disciplines), and wants to be like a cross between Stewart Brand and Jorge Luis Borges when he grows up. He is mildly noted for sartorial bravery and for his outrageous eyebrows.

He writes and commentates a lot about what technology means for us as humans (which are collected in his book 'The Blind Giant') and these themes permeate his novels, which feature ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, often up against powerful, unaccountable, shadowy organisations, sometimes involving kick-ass 90 year old female superspies...and ninjas.

'Tigerman' is the story of Lester Ferris, exhausted soldier, considered a safe pair of hands to wind down British interests in the post-colonial territory of Mancreu, with a frightening toxic industrial legacy, now under UN-control, ahead of its being wiped from the face of the Earth. But when Lester develops a strong bond with a mysterious street-kid, steeped in Internet jargon and comic-book ideas, and when dark forces threaten the boy, Lester must - reluctantly, inevitably - take a heroic path, and the way he does this is both unexpected and utterly thrilling.

Exploring the machinations of power, the possibilities (good and ill) of technology and the real responsibilities and challenges of parenthood - this is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.

So. Just to recap. Wednesday, June 11 at 7pm (for a 7.15pm start to let you get some drinks in). Nick Harkaway. The Crown and Thistle. Father's Day shennanigans. A fabulous evening. Be there. Tell your friends. Tweet them. Reserve your tickets here. Thank you.