Friday, March 11, 2016

The Enid Blyton of Murder! Tanya Landman at the Abingdon Joint Author Event

Tanya Landman started off receiving some fantastic career's advice at her school - nurturing, inspirational - which can be summed up as 'if you don't know what you want to do in life, you're doomed!". Luckily for her - and us - she wasn't too freaked out by this mentoring-from-hell experience, and after working in a bookshop, Arts Centre, Bristol Zoo and travelling performer - she became an author.

Her breakthrough book was 'Apache' - shortlisted for the 2008 Carnegie Medal - and the seed of an idea from that book grew, several years later, into 'Buffalo Soldier' which won last year's Carnegie Medal and, quite rightly, elevated Tanya to the Pantheon of contemporary children's authors. It was a huge coup to get her to come to Abingdon, and groups from eight schools in Abingdon came to visit over three sessions.

Tanya is funny, wise and inspirational - and (with the help of a large globe) gave the children a crash course in geo-politics and the history of colonialism in North American. She shared her own journey of understanding of American history, from facts gleaned from the pages of 'Gone with the Wind' and watching Westerns, to the stories of remarkable native americans - and the freed slaves who fought against these brave warriors in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

In her own words she felt that these hidden stories of the American Deep South were "a piece of the jigsaw dropped down the back of the sofa of history" and felt compelled to tell that story.

Along the way, we discovered the real reason Tanya started writing murder mysteries for kids (no spoilers here, but we will say that this story is worth asking Tanya to come to your school all on its own), the inspiration behind the children - and dog - in her Sam Swann books, and why you wouldn't want to be up against her at an award's ceremony...

Tanya enjoys writing about murder (possibly a little too much, according to her publisher). In ‘Mondays are Murder’, her child sleuth Poppy Fields goes on an activity holiday to a remote Scottish island. She is looking forward to a week of climbing, hill-walking and horse riding. But things take a bad turn when their instructor has what appears to be a fatal abseiling accident. When Poppy discovers that his rope was cut, and more of the instructors start to have "accidents", she and best friend Graham suspect foul play and decide to investigate...
Tanya's crash-course in colonialism and
'places not to go if you are
a sailor in the 15th century'...

There are now ten books in the series, so the description of her as the 'Enid Blyton of Murder' may not be too far-fetched...

Tanya also talked about her latest book ‘Hell and High Water’. This is a fantastic book for teens, a thrilling adventure story set against the backdrop of smuggling and conspiracy, and based on research Landman did around the notorious villain Thomas Benson, owner of Lundy Island, corrupt merchant and MP for Barnstaple in the 18th century.

When a body washes up on a beach, Caleb Chappell finds himself involved in a dastardly plot: a plot that places him and his family in mortal danger. With his father falsely accused, it is up to Caleb to save him.

Drawing parallels with modern political corruption, this tells a gripping tale with plot twists galore and strong, believable characters that stay in the memory.

In between sessions, we asked Tanya to tell us a little bit about her writing life...

Five Questions with...Tanya Landman's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Not telling you!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Daydream! Get it all started in your head first, before putting pen to paper. Writing it out is just technique, but you need to get the idea ready in your head. It needs to get you excited – it’s why I didn’t want to tell you about what I’m working on at the moment actually, because I feel if you talk about it too soon when it’s still in your head, you ‘deflate the cake’!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Getting out to schools, book events, or the Carnegie Shadowing. It’s incredible how much energy and enthusiasm you encounter. The worst thing? Every author has days when, what you are writing, isn’t just the worst thing you’ve ever written, but the worst rubbish any author has ever written, ever. You have to write through it of course – but those days are really tough.

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

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
With Apache, it was really the moment when an idea was triggered in my head, and my fingers started twitching, and I had an image in my head. This had never really happened before, and was very different to things I had written before.


The Abingdon Joint Author Event has seen some fantastic authors over the years - Caroline LawrenceAlan GibbonsJulia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick - and yesterday's event with Tanya was a splendid addition to this tradition.

As always there is an incredible amount of hard work behind the scenes from the Abingdon school librarians and teachers who accompanied children to and from the event - we honoured to be asked to get involved. We know just how much time, effort and planning goes in to taking children off timetable - but hopefully listening to an inspiring, award-winning author is worth all the effort!

Thanks also to the awesome help from Jo and Sally, and finally, thanks to Tanya for being such an amazingly inspiring speaker, writer (and incidentally passing the Mostly Books "authors-you'd-most-want-to-go-down-the-pub-with' test!)

To discover more about Tanya, come into Mostly Books to discover what she has written - or visit her website to learn more about her writing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This is how the world will end: The Trees with Ali Shaw

In 2009, Atlantic Books published a remarkable debut novel, 'The Girl with Glass Feet', and we instantly fell in love with it in the shop. Realising the author Ali Shaw lived in Oxford, we got in touch - and our first event of 2010 found us listening as Ali describing how that book came to be written.

We weren't the only ones whose hearts and imaginations were captured: it was shortlisted for the Costa first novel award, and finally rewarded with the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction in 2010. We were first in the queue to get Ali to Abingdon again when his second novel 'The Man Who Rained' was published - and we are delighted that he will be returning to Mostly Books again to discuss his third novel 'The Trees'.


'The Trees' is another remarkable feat of imagination, a story of the power and brutality of nature, and our relationship with it - and each other.

It follows Adrien Thomas, not much of a hero, faced with an overnight transformation of the world which is as brutal and terrifying as it is unexpected. Setting off to reach his wife who is across the sea in Ireland, he is joined by green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. 

Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

The book is already receiving some fantastic reviews:

"The Trees is a stunning and vivid examination of the relationship between humans and the environment in which they live. Violent, beautiful, devastating and utterly enchanting, it's a complete triumph for Shaw, who masterfully brings every detail of the book to life. A wonderfully imaginative story, but also a compelling social commentary, The Trees is a rarity and an absolute must-read." - Graeme Smith, The Herald Scotland

Ali will be in conversation with Mark Thornton, and the event takes place at Mostly Books on Wednesday, March 16 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £4, to include a glass of wine.

Email us to reserve a place for what we know will be a captivating evening with this talented and special author.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Elementary, In Trouble - and Off The Leash: Our Mother's Day Book Selection 2016

At Mostly Books, we try to resist stereotypes, and let's face it, 'Mother's Day' can be full of them: cue lots of images of immaculately dressed elegance, 1950s throwbacks and Von Trapp-style children. But where's the frazzled, barely holding-things-together, 'technically-it's-not-drinking-alone-if-the-kids-are-in-the-house' reality?

Still, we reckon that buying Mum a book is a good bet whatever the reality.

Buying a book as a gift conjures up the promise of unplugging from the world (at least for a while) and opening a door onto a wider world. These things go down extremely well (along with the flowers, chocolates, cups of tea and inexpertly-made breakfasts in bed of course). And reading is officially very good for you.

We're here to help you give Mum the day she deserves - so here is this year's Mostly Books Mother's Day recommends from everyone at the shop (several of whom are mothers themselves, and hence know about these sort of things).

'How It Works: The Mum' is another brilliantly-written, subversive spoof Ladybird title from the team behind 'How It Works: The Wife' and 'How It Works: The Husband'.

With the genius combination of nostalgic original artwork from the genuine Ladybird books, and sardonic observations on modern life that worked in earlier titles, this is definitely going to generate a laugh or two on Mother's Day, and will tide you over until the eagerly-awaited 'How It Works: The Student' is published this Autumn...

Continuing on the subversive, satirical theme, 'The Trouble with Women' by Jacky Fleming is an illustrated gem of a book that tells an alternative history of the ‘women history wrote out’. From 'Fallen Woman' (those that strayed outside their Domestic Bubble) to the men who have proved womens ‘puny’ intelligence, this is subversive, genuinely eye-opening, and very funny with plenty of historically-significant mothers (many with tell-tale ‘genius hair’...).

There's loads of new fiction out at the moment, and here are a few of our favourites which we think make extra-special Mother's Day choices.

One of Nicki's favourite children's authors, Meg Rosoff, has written her first book for adults - 'Jonathan Unleashed' - and it's a total joy.

New Yorker Jonathan has got a job, an apartment, a girlfriend - what more could he want? But when suddenly he also has two dogs, his life starts to painfully and hilariously unravel. Jonathan starts to see his life differently and feels perhaps there should be more...

A smart, funny book and beautifully written book about modern relationships (and dogs). For anyone who loved the quirky humour of 'The Rosie Project', it's a book that will surprise and go straight to the heart.

Mrs Hudson’s role in the Sherlock Holmes books was always being the woman whose main role in life was bringing Sherlock Holmes tea. Well, what if she is secretly covering up another brilliant mind, listening in to all Sherlock’s cases and longing to be a detective herself? That's the premise behind 'The House At Baker Street' by Michelle Birkby.

When Holmes dismisses a case of blackmail, Mrs Hudson, with the help of Mary Watson leaps in, determined to finally fulfil her dream and solve a case of her own. There is plenty of Sherlock-inspired fiction at the moment, but this is a triumph of imagination, exciting and thoroughly satisfying as a mystery in its own right.

Like Meg Rosoff, Lissa Evans made the leap from children's to adult books, although she was already an accomplished television director and producer. 'Crooked Heart' is a delightfully quirky story about the relationship between a struggling wartime widow and the evacuee she doesn't really want.

Vee reckons everyone is doing well out of the War, but she just keeps getting caught out. She takes in evacuee Noel, feeling there are opportunities to exploit his limp. They form a deep and touching relationship that survives both treachery and bombings in this heart-warming drama infused with both charm and moments of laugh-out-loud comedy.

In 'A Year of Marvellous Ways', 89 year old Marvellous Ways is waiting. She’s not entirely sure what she’s waiting for - but she knows it’s coming. Then Francis Drake arrives, a soldier fresh from war, and she sets out to use the power of stories to help him heal his past. Sarah Winman's tale is full of magical realism which gives the book a hint of ‘fairytaleness’. All in all it’s a book that will definitely whisk the reader away.

A good book cries out for a associated beverage, and if it's a lovely cup of tea then why not consider one of our range of mugs? Our bookish range from Scribbelicious have books on one side and quotes on the other.

It’s the perfect way to sink into a drink. And a book.

Some people may not agree with them being relaxing, but we have a collection of jigsaws at the moment (see 'Mother and Child' at left). What better to make, either alone, or with the ‘help’ of a son or daughter?

And do take a look at our pop-up 'flower' cards - the perfect way to send flowers through the post when you can't send flowers through the post!

A perfect present from a child? Try the following:

In 'My Mum is a Supermum' a wonderful, imaginative story celebrates mothers everywhere, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by 'Claude' author and illustrator Alex T Smith

Does your mother have eyes in the back of her head? How about X-ray vision? Milo’s definitely does, since how else would she always know what he was doing?

There’s also 'Just Like My Mum' (now available in a board book as well as paperback). It's an extremely cute story all about a little lion cub and how he wants to be just like her - all drawn with the warmth and charm of Hugless Douglas creator David Melling.

Whoever you are buying for, just come into the shop and let us find the perfect gift!