Thursday, April 10, 2014

From page to pane: creating a bookshop window, with a little help from Suzanne Barton, The Dawn Chorus, and Peep

Ah Spring. Season of new life and fresh starts, so when we were offered the chance of a window make-over by a talented new author and illustrator by publisher Bloomsbury - we jumped at the chance.

So on Tuesday, we welcomed Suzanne Barton (and just a few family and friends 'helpers'!) who set out to transform the shop...

Suzanne Barton is an Oxford-based author and illustrator, who began making picture books after finishing an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.

Her first picture book is the story of a small bird called Peep, and what happens when he endeavours to join the wonderful 'dawn chorus'...

Mark appeared on BBC Radio Oxford on Monday talking about the book with broadcasting legend Sybil Ruscoe as part of the Afternoon Bookclub - click on the link and fast-forward to 1 hour 10 minutes to get a feel for the how special the book is.

We wanted to involve as many of our customers as possible, so for the past few weeks, we'd been handing out some custom-made bird templates for children to decorate - and on Tuesday, children brought them in or made them in the shop... 

They were able to meet the author and get copies signed...

...whilst all the time we were adding their creations to an impressive growing flock in the window:

The finished result is - we have to say - breathtaking and delightful...

Huge thanks to Suzanne - and her team - for working incredibly hard the whole day on Tuesday.

Thanks also to Bloomsbury for making it happen - and being so supportive throughout the day.

We took the opportunity to ask Suzanne a few quick questions about her writing life. So we'll leave you with these, and a few more stunning pictures...

Five questions with...Suzanne Barton's Writing (and Drawing) Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on my next book for Bloomsbury. (on being pressed for more details) Can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it might feature another bird character…

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

Can I do an illustration tip? When I first started out as an illustrator, I thought ‘I can’t be an illustrator because I can’t draw everything from memory’. And then I learned that to draw things you need to observe things from real-life, you need to absorb information and get inspiration from things around you to be able to get your ‘version’ of whatever it is you are drawing. And that version may not bear any resemblance to the things you’ve seen. I learned that you need to put something in to get something out – does that make sense?

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

The best thing is doing what I love. I can't believe I get to do a job where you stick and draw. The worst thing? Nope, can't think of one...

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

My cat! She’s usually there, drinking out of the water, often sitting in a drawer. Once she’s there, I can begin work!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

Doing my MA in children’s illustration at Cambridge – lots of breakthroughs came after that. Then it was having my first book at Bologna. 

Discover much more about Suzanne, the book - and have a chance of winning one of her drawings - over on the Space On The Bookshelf blog...

Friday, April 04, 2014

Help create a 'Dawn Chorus' window at Mostly Books

We reckon it’s about time our window had a make-over – so we’ve asked artist, children’s author and illustrator Suzanne Barton – author of the beautiful new picture book ‘The Dawn Chorus’ – to design a 'Dawn Chorus' window – and she needs some help!

The 'Dawn Chorus' is a wonderful debut by Oxford-based Suzanne. It's the story of Peep, desperate to find out where the beautiful song is coming from one morning. The illustrations just make this book particularly special.

If you’d like one of your creations to feature in our stunning window display for ‘the Dawn Chorus’ call in to pick up a bird template – decorate it and bring it back to us for a chance to win a prize. Or call in on the day – Tuesday April 8 – as we’ll all be making bird collages to hang in our window.

See the finished results at the end of the day – and meet the author herself!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

"Books can help us remember what we have in common" - Five Questions with Deborah Ellis

On March 20, we were involved in a series of events with author and peace activist Deborah Ellis.

Deborah was on a UK tour from her home in Ontario, Canada - and if there is a single word which comes to mind about the visit, it's 'privileged' - because it was a word we have heard a lot from those that met her and heard her speak. Privileged and inspired to listen to this humble, softly spoken but powerful individual talk about her books and her life.

Deborah has written over twenty books, and is probably best-known for her international bestseller The Breadwinner, as well as many other works of fiction and non-fiction about children all over the world. She has won numerous book awards, including Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (for promoting peace and social justice).

Deborah first visited Didcot Girl's School, where she spoke to the girls about some of the themes which she weaves into her books. The Breadwinner is the story of Pervana, a girl in Afghanistan forced to pretend to be a boy in order to earn money to help her family survive when her father is taken away by Taliban soldiers.

The story was inspired by conversations that she had had with girls whilst visiting Afghan refugee camps, and she was very careful to explain to the girls in the audience about these themes: of suffering, inequality and cruelty of course - but most of all courage that she encountered, the thing that most inspires her.

In her most recent book, 'My Name Is Parvana', Parvana her self is now fifteen and dealing with the consequences of foreign soldiers in her country. When she is taken away by American soldiers and accused of terrorism, everything that Parvana has worked for in building a new life for her and her family threatens to come crashing down...

Her talk was genuinely inspirational, if difficult at times to listen to - particularly when she was reading from another of her most recent books, based on interviews with 'Kids of Kabul' and the daily realities of struggling to go to school in the face of uncertainty and the economic hardships they face. 

Deborah is above all an advocate for the disenfranchised and oppressed, talking calmly but passionately about the capacity money and power have to make people's lives better - or much, much worse. She donates much of her royalties to charities such as UNICEF and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (more than a million dollars in royalties from her Breadwinner books alone).

After speaking at Didcot, and answering lots of questions about how she writes, and the children she has met, we brought her to Abingdon (where she spent some time exploring the town), and from there she spoke to children at Our Lady's Senior School, and the Oxford Children's Book Group in the evening.

We are extremely grateful to OUP for offering us the chance to be part of Deborah's tour, and huge thanks to Deborah for spending time talking to children around Oxfordshire.

Whilst at Mostly Books, we got the chance to ask Deborah a few questions about her writing life...

Five questions with...Deborah Ellis' Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

"The Cat At The Wall" due for publication in the Autumn. It's a book set in Israel's West Bank.

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

If you really want to do it, keep doing it, don't give up, even if people tell you what you are writing is 'crap'.

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

The best thing about writing is getting to meet kids from all over the world. There is no bad thing about writing for children (or nothing I would go 'on the record' for!)

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

No - just a pen and notebook.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

When I published my first book. It was called 'Looking for X' and published by OUP. This changed everything for me, because there is a whole universe of difference between being an unpublished and published writer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mother's Day 2014 - we recommend twelve top titles for a special Mum

Last year, our 'Baker's Dozen' of twelve titles for Mother's Day seemed to go down extremely well, so we've raised the bar again for Mum this year. All the staff have pitched in with suggestions for a special gift for Mum this Sunday, and as usual the selection is a mix of things you might expect, and quirky stuff that you get from an indie bookshop.

All you need to do is clear a decent amount of space in the diary for her to enjoy her we go...

In 'The Road to Middlemarch', writer Rebecca Mead writes passionately about her relationship to this remarkable, much-loved Victorian novel, and shows how we can live richer and more fulfilling lives through our profound engagement with great literary works. Investigating George Eliot's unconventional, inspiring life, Mead reflects on her own youth, relationships and marriage.

This is a gift for every lover of literature who cares about why we read books and how they read us.

You might think 'the last thing Mum needs is another cook book' but please take a look at 'The Ginger & White Cookbook' by food stylist Tonia George. A cookery writer for eight years, and former editor of Waitrose Food magazine, Tonia has taken inspiration from the famous Hampstead cafe, and you can now bring bring some Ginger & White magic into your own kitchen.

There are recipes for four puff pastry tarts, a range of modern cakes and lunches (lots of tasty gluten-free ideas as well - a real bonus). With 80 super-simple yet indulgent recipes for salads, soups, sandwiches, cakes and more, you can enjoy their Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Garlic Mayo on Potato Sourdough, famous Stem Ginger Loaf, and best-ever Lemon Polenta Drizzle Cake at home.

(No, we're not sure what a 'food stylist' is either, but it sounds a lot of fun, and Tonia George is extremely good at it!)

Journaling is gaining popularity around the world, as people seek to escape from the digitization of their lives, and instead document their thoughts and experiences (and express themselves artistically) through a journal. We stock the Moleskine 'Japanese Albums' which allow you to get artistic and creative, but Canadian author Keri Smith takes an altogether more extreme view with Wreck This Journal.

Described as an anarchist's 'Artist's Way', this books is for anyone who has ever wanted to journal, but had trouble keepping going (or starting, for that matter). It's a super-subversive collection of suggestions, and challenges readers to muster up their best mistakes, and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the book (and destroy them). Inspirational, mad and totally unique for the creative Mum.

A superb reimagining of 'Northanger Abbey' by top crime writer Val McDermid is our next pick. The wonderful McDermid ups the menace, suspense and the secrets in the second of 'The Austen Project' contemporary reworkings of Jane Austen's novels.

Unworldy Cat Morland is charmed by Henry Tilney and is thrilled to be invited to his gothic pile 'Northanger Abbey'. But are there secrets among the crumbling stonework and sinister empty rooms? Or is it simply Cat's imagination, sparked by too much romantic reading and a sheltered life? A great way into Jane Austen for teens, or simply a new way to enjoy the novels, it follows the successful 'Sense & Sensibility' by Joanna Trollope last year.

We already featured 'The Rosie Project' by Graeme Simpson in our Valentine's Day picks last month, but it's such a funny, original and uplifting read we've picked it again for Mother's Day.

Scientist Don thinks he can take a scientific approach to everything – from time management, calorie intake, work and exercise. He’s not so hot at the social skills, however, so he devises a Wife Questionnaire he thinks will help him find the perfect partner. But when Rosie (who would answer all the wrong questions) seeks his help, he’s thrust into a chaotic, madcap world. Will his world ever recover?  And will he find the perfect wife? Definitely the most fun rom-com of the year, and now out in paperback.

Good writing makes even the quirkiest subject matter a delight to read, and we reckon 'Love Nina' by Nina Stibbe deserves to be a modern classic. Stibbe was nanny to LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers's children in the 1980s. Her letters from Wilmers's house at 55 Gloucester Crescent - witty, irreverent and brilliantly observed - provide a fascinating glimpse into 80s literary London.

Frequent visitors included Alan Bennett, Michael Frayn, Jonathan Miller and Deborah Moggach (amongst many others) but it's the dialogue and interplay with the children that is this book's core delight - and laugh-out-loud-funny.

'Mary Berry at Home' featured on last year's list, but this year we're recommending her autobiography 'Recipe for Life' as an unashamed treat for any of her legion of fans.

Packed with photos, interspersed with recipes from a very British childhood, Berry's autobiography is the story of a life of juggling that working mums everywhere will recognise. It's a warm, engaging story, told honestly, and proving that you can be a style icon and at the pinnacle of your career in your 70s.

'Me and My Mummy' is a wonderful little box set of four picture books to share each one about the love between Mums and their children, ‘Little Bears Special Wish’, ‘My Mummy and Me’, ‘The Most Precious Thing’ and ‘Big Bear Little Bear’ in a nice little slipcase.. It also has a lovely Mothers Day card and some stickers to decorate it with so is overall a perfect gift for that special day (and a hint for anyone buying on behalf of a little one!)

We always try to get one 'business' book into the selection, and - admittedly - this isn't what might immediately spring to mind. But 'Toast and Marmalade' by Emma Bridgewater is both a celebration of her distinctive pottery and designs, and also a heartfelt and extremely moving story of how she came to be one of our best-loved designers.

Packed with photos and stories, this is one for both fans and anyone who appreciates the global success of this particularly English brand.

'Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase' by Louise Walters is a beautifully told tale with a dual-time narrative that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction who will also appreciate the modern storyline.

Working in a bookshop, Roberta discovers, among some donated books, a letter written by her grandfather. This contradicts the fact that he died in 1940 and Roberta, intrigued, sets about investigating. She uncovers a secret long buried by her grandmother, and its discovery will have ramifications in the present. It's a story of loss, missed chances and enduring love that is charmingly told – and there are wonderful descriptions of the joy of handling books.

'Americanah' is the latest novel (now out in paperback) by acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's the story of two Nigerian sweethearts: one goes to America, the other heads for Britain, in the search for opportunity. It’s an epic tale that takes in modern attitudes to race, and is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

This is Adichie's third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.

Letter writing seems to be seeing a resurgence (and not just ex-president Jimmy Carter who writes by hand 'to stop being spied on'). A hand-written note or a heartfelt letter can have a huge impact in our electronic, ephemeral age - and we have some beautiful Letter Sets now in stock by the fabulous Roger La Borde.

With a gorgeous butterfly design in a beautiful wallet, they are a lovely gift for just £6.99.

Finally - and yes, it's a baker's dozen again - if you are buying a gift for a gardening Mum, we can recommend 'Of Rhubarb and Roses', the Telegraph Book of the Garden.

Writer, historian and Telegraph columnist Tim Richardson has dug through the gardening archives of the newspaper to put together this eminently dip-in-and-out-able collection on subject as diverse as box hedges, foreign gardens, extreme weather and large vegetables. Contributors include Sarah Raven, Bunny Guinness, Sir Roy Strong and Germaine Greer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Our Favourite Books of 2013 Part 3: Imogen's Picks

In January, Nicki picked her favourite books of 2013. Last month if was the turn of Julia to select her favourites, and this month staff member Imogen rises to the challenge of selecting just a few of her favourites from 2013...

According to my list, I read over two hundred books in 2013. They ranged from fantasy, to historical, YA and adult, but what I can say about most of them is that I loved them. So when I was asked to choose a few to talk about, my brain stopped, and my only thought was: how could I choose? Luckily, there were a few that really stood out from the rest.

My first favourite book is the last one I read (having finished it on the 28th of December) but instantly, I knew it was the best Sci-fi I had read all year. ‘These Broken Stars’ by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman is a double narrative book, from the point of view of Tarver Merendsen, a war hero and officer, and Lilac LaRoux, the apparent stuck up daughter of a rich and famous man.

The story follows them as they meet on board a spaceship (with a bit of the usual fighting, arguing, hating each other) but then tragedy strikes, and the spaceship crashes in a strange world.

Trying to find help and other survivors, the pair start to travel this alien world - but everything is not what it seems. When they start to hear strange whispers and see strange visions, they begin to pull apart the stories they were told to get to the dark truth of what is really going on.

What is it about this book I like? Everything. The characters are so convincing, when you read it, they feel real, and (if you read it in the middle of the night like I did) you swear that the whispers you read about…you almost hear. It is an amazing YA book, and one that I am sure will turn out to be a brilliant series.

'The Universe Verses Alex Woods' by Gavin Extence was by far my favourite adult book. A book without magic or other worlds, even I would not have thought this would have made it to my list. But I loved it. From the very first sentence, I was hooked. Why on earth was this 17 year old boy coming back into the country with an urn, marijuana and seeming to be proud of it?

The story, filled with humour, friendship and unlikely heroes, is one that will make you smile and cry, and remind you of what friendship is.

I loved this book because of its simplicity- but also because it’s a story you want to be involved in…just to say ‘I knew a boy that was hit by a meteorite!’

And lastly, here is the fantasy that people would expect from me. ‘Crown of Midnight’ by Sarah J. Maas. I believe there is only one thing better than a fantastic first novel: an even better second one! This follows on from ‘Throne of Glass’ (my favourite book of 2012).

Celaena, as the newly appointed King's Champion, finds it hard to adjust to life killing the king's enemies, so she does everything she can to rebel against it without getting caught. With spies round every corner, and treachery lurking in the shadows of the castle, Celaena does not know who to trust - can she even trust the people in her heart?

A fantastic, fast paced fantasy that leaves you with the best cliff hanger (the kind that makes you scream and curse the author because of how amazing they are) as you close the last page: this book is what fantasy is all about.

So those are my three books of 2013, but I didn’t just read new books last year. My actual favourite one that tops absolutely everything else I read was ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ By John Green, which was technically published in 2012. This is a rollercoaster of a read - one that makes you laugh and cry…sometimes both at the same time (trust me, it’s possible). I think, sometimes, books are not read because they are labelled - for example, this is a 'Young Adult' book. But if there is any book that should be read by everyone, it’s this. Because being YA…it just means that its suitable for teenagers- it doesn’t mean only teens should read it.

This is a book that will really make you think, make you want to go back no matter how many tears you have to see through.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

World Book Day 2014 - David Melling at Mostly Books

It's World Book Day this Thursday (March 6) and we will be joining in the celebrations about books and reading for children that are taking place across the country.

Publishers produce special books that sell for just £1. Many children get a World Book Day voucher for £1. And booksellers give everyone £1 off a children's book if they have a voucher.

Result - happy children and the opportunity to get a free book. What could be better?

Well, how about meeting the author of one of the books on World Book Day itself?

This Thursday, our very exciting news is that author David Melling will be in the shop for anyone wanting to meet the creator of 'Hugless Douglas'.

David Melling and Hugless Douglas is a firm Mostly Books favourite, and this year he is one of the World Book Day authors. Loveable Hugless Douglas features in his own £1 adventure, 'Hello Hugless Douglas'.

We're delighted that David will be calling into Mostly Books from 2.45pm - and that if you use your voucher at Mostly Books on Thursday, we'll let you 'double-up' - use your voucher to get a copy of 'Hello Hugless Douglas' and still get another WBD title, or £1 off as well.

At 2pm, we are also inviting pre-schoolers to join us in Mostly Books at a special World Book Day storytime. No need to book - just turn up.

From 2.45pm, children can meet David, and get any books signed.

We love Hugless Douglas. They are great stories to share and read aloud about slightly clumsy Douglas, whose friendliness and enthusiasm sometimes get him into scrapes - but his friends are always around to help him out. an exclusive piece of David Melling artwork!

What book will you buy with your voucher? Will you try a new author? Or have you been saving up for a favourite book?

Until the end of March, if you tell us you what you think about a children's book you have bought at Mostly Books (it can be a couple of lines, or a full review) you will be in with a chance of winning an exclusive piece of David Melling artwork drawn specially for us on World Book Day.

Sound exciting? Then we hope to see you here on Thursday for what we hope will be a smashing, hug-filled day!

Want to know more about World Book Day? Mark talked about World Book Day on the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub this week. He also discusses books by Tracey Corderoy, Jo Cotterill and Christiane Dorion. Fast forward to 1 hour and 6 minutes...

Friday, February 28, 2014

Our Favourite Books of 2013 Part 2: Julia's Picks

Last month Nicki picked her favourite books of 2013. This month, Julia at Mostly Books looks back on her favourite books of 2013...

How do you pick just a few favourite books from 2013 when you have read so many? After much deliberation I decided to pick the ones that stuck in my mind the most - and no surprise, they are all sci-fi.

I like an exciting read, a book that draws you in and takes you to somewhere you have never been before and never will. Exotic planets, possible futures and post apocalyptic devastation seem to be my favourite, and teen read ‘Earth Girl’ by Janet Edwards definitely falls into these categories.

On a future Earth most of its inhabitants are throwbacks, people who cannot survive on other planets due to their inadequate immune system. At birth they are ‘ported’ to earth and then in 97% of cases they are abandoned by their parents, who wish only to escape the shame of birthing an ‘ape’ and are then brought up in government run facilities similar to group homes. These handicapped children will never be able to leave the planet. Jarra, who is turning eighteen, decides to study history at an off-world university, as he first year is studied on Earth, at the New York archaeological dig site with children from other planets.

This is a wonderful story that explores how prejudices can influence how people are perceived and how the lines between truth and lies can slowly blur together. And if you love this book, you will definitely want to read the sequel 'Earth Star' which is also out in paperback.

Another book I liked this year was ‘Dark Eden’ by Chris Beckett where John Redlantern lives in a world of perpetual darkness. Their light comes from the bioluminescent flora and fauna of Eden that grow in their small almost tropical enclosed valley that is surrounded on all sides by snow and ice.  Everyone who lives there is descended from Tommy and Angela, two astronauts who crashed on the planet 180 years ago.

John becomes unhappy with his life and wonders if there is anything outside their small valley and his determination to escape to a better place splits the Family apart, but how much is John's plan motivated by a desire for humanity to survive on Eden and how much to appease his own ego? This is a great exploration of a new society whose whole history all comes from the life and experiences of only two people, and how quickly a tight knit community like this can break down when resources dwindle and beliefs are challenged.

Chris is working on a sequel to Dark Eden (tentatively scheduled for later this year) entitled 'Mother of Eden'. It's currently being serialised Aethernet magazine, but the novelization may be slightly different.

My third choice although not published in 2013 was new to me and I think was possibly my favourite read of the year. ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion ticked all the boxes for me. It had everything: zombies, monsters, romance and a few surviving humans all set against a post apocalyptic landscape. When ‘R’ kills and eats a human called Perry he finds himself seeing parts of Perry's life through his own eyes and how this boy had loved a girl called Julie, a girl that is about to be killed and eaten by his fellow Zombies. For reasons he cannot understand he decides to save her. As they spend more time together he begins to realise he is slowly changing, not just internally but externally too.

I loved the zombie ‘R’ and his character just got better and better, as he fell for Julie and remembered what it means to be human. Profound and poetic with a touch of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ this is a novel for everyone. Totally gripping and sometimes wildly funny this is a great boy meets girl love story with a twist. Interestingly, Marion has written a prequel to this book 'The New Hunger' to coincide with the launch of the film. 

I was going to stick with three but had to include one more title, a picture book written by two band members of Mcfly called ‘The Dinosaur Who Pooped A Planet’ and with a title like this what more could you want. Danny and Dinosaur are best friends and when confronted with a choice of chores or space they choose space. They steal a rocket and head of into the great beyond. But after a while Dinosaur gets hungry and eats everything in sight.  When he realises that they can’t get home without their rocket he does the only thing he can to get it all back! In space, No one can smell your poop…