3 4 Friday - it's all happening in Abingdon!

Lots happening in Abingdon this week - so for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads three books related to events happening this week at Mostly Books - and around town.

We've had *a lot* of children take part in our Hugless Douglas hunt around Abingdon, and this Saturday we have a very special visitor at Mostly Books (well, TWO special visitors actually). Yes, Hugless Douglas - the loveable bear in need of a hug - will be appearing at Mostly Books IN PERSON - and his creator David Melling will also be appearing to sign books and make sure that Douglas behaves himself...

Douglas will be here at 2pm - and if you haven't yet taken part in our Hugless Douglas bear hunt around town, come in and pick up a sheet and start hunting. The hunt runs for another week after half-term in case you have been away, and there are prizes to be won, including a chance to win your own giant Hugless Douglas (currently welcoming visitors to the shop).

The following week we are delighted to be welcoming local author Prit Buttar to Mostly Books to talk about his latest book 'Between Giants'. Prit's first book 'Battleground Prussia' has become a classic in the military history genre, garnering widespread critical praise, and shining new light on the last days of the second world war on the eastern front.

Prit studied medicine at Oxford and London before joining the British Army as a doctor. After leaving the army, he has worked as a GP, first near Bristol and now in Abingdon. He is extensively involved in medical politics, both at local and national level, and serves on the GPs’ Committee of the British Medical Association.

'Between Giants' is his second book - and looks at how the Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - have been shaped by the fortunes, and misfortunes, of war. Based on the same mix of original research, interviews and analysis that made his first book so widely praised, Prit is an excellent speaker, and will talk about the stories he uncovered in the book - and the response he has had since publishing the book. 

The event takes place at Mostly Books on Thursday, June 6 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £3 (includes a glass of wine - and redeemable against a copy of the book on the evening). Space is limited, but tickets are still available - so do email to reserve a ticket if you would like to join us on the evening.
Finally, it's Usborne's 40th birthday celebrations this year, and we are doing the biggest 3-for-2 we've ever done on Usborne books in the shop - come in and take a look at our impressive display...and spot the keen new readers sitting in our shop window!

We like the impressive optimism of a book on Summer - but come in to discover titles from spotting things on the beach to stickering every king and queen of England!

So what else is happening in Abingdon this weekend? We think the annual 'Fun in the Park' event should definitely be on your list - pop along after you've met Douglas!

Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World

Title: Abbey Road:The Best Studio in the World
Author: Alistair Lawrence (Bloomsbury Publishing, HB, 2012)
Collectible status: One of 215 limited editions, sealed, boxed, signed by George Martin

So what's it all about? The Abbey Road recording studios have been at the heart of the music industry for 80 years and are an iconic symbol of British music. With their unique blend of vintage equipment and cutting-edge technology, they remain one of the most technically advanced recording, mixing and mastering facilities in the world.

It's written by freelance music journalist Alistair Lawrence with a foreword by Sir George Martin and published to coincide with the Abbey Road Studio’s 80th anniversary, the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles recording at the studios and the 40th anniversary of the recording of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (all in 2012).
From the original bill of sale for the property and classic landmark recordings to today’s sessions, Abbey Road takes the reader through the studio’s illustrious history.
Featuring interviews and a wealth of rare and never-before-seen photos collected from their archives, the book provides a fascinating insight into the creative home of many of the world’s celebrated artists.
Signed by Sir George Martin, this is a boxed, individually numbered, limited edition of only 215 copies.
The book comes presented in a beautiful red and grey box bearing the Abbey Road Studios logo and we are lucky enough to have copies of this exclusive - a highly collectible - book. For a music fan, a very special gift - or an investment for the future.

All copies of this book have now been sold. 

3 4 Friday - holiday reads, half-term fun and a homework masterclass

We have some big reads for this weeks 3 4 Friday #fridayreads - and a big thank-you to make to the wonderful Noel Janis Norton who did an amazing event with us on Wednesday.

Just out in paperback is the 'Cleaner of Chartres' by Salley Vickers. It's a stylish contemporary story about the cleaner who arrives unexpectedly in a French town and the lives she touches. But mild Agnes has a secret past and when she falls foul of the town's worst gossip, the life she had fought so long to leave behind her starts to catch her up.

Salley Vickers polishes her cast of characters to a rich patina, drawing in themes such as faith and love and produces a gripping and heartwarming story about good intentions gone wrong and second chances. Nicki absolutely loved this when she read the hardback last year.

The current book that Mark can't stop talking about in the shop is 'The Wall' by William Sutcliffe. He was completely blown away by this brilliantly told coming-of-age tale which will leave you with shredded nails but hope in your heart.

Josh lives in Amarias, an Israeli settlement in the West bank behind the 'Separation Fence' ('The Wall'). When Josh investigates a tunnel he discovers running under The Wall, he starts a chain of events that threaten lives on both sides of the fence, but might just get him killed. It is surprising, heartbreaking, yet beautifully told - and quite simply superb.

The book is appropriate for adults and teens - we wouldn't have been surprised to see it on the Carnegie list.

Although school's now out, a big thank you to Noel Janis-Norton for an inspiring talk to parents at Larkmead School in Abingdon this week, and her book 'Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework'.

Noel's experience, wisdom and tried-and-tested strategies can help our children become more confident, reduce stress and teach them all kinds of skills from thinking problems through to managing their time more effectively. We cannot recommend this book highly enough as both booksellers and parents!

Don't forget the monumental 'Where's Hugless' hunt for Hugless Douglas around Abingdon this week, with a big Hugless Douglas party taking place at Mostly Books at 2pm on Saturday June 1st. Meet author David Melling and Hugless Douglas himself!

This is your brain on writing: five questions with Fleur Hitchcock

There is currently a major European research project to investigate the furthest reaches of the human brain, involving thousands of researchers and millions of Euros. But I reckon researchers could save oodles of dosh, and do a lot worse than simply seeing Fleur Hitchcock in action:

This week - as part of a book week at St Swithun's School, Kennington - Fleur tried to get schoolchildren to visualise just what it was like inside her brain as she endeavoured to create stories.
The author of The Trouble With Mummies, Dear Scarlett and Shrunk! hauled up lots of volunteers, and lined them up with baskets of eggs, German war helmets, genuine bronze-age axe heads, replica Saxon armour - and she even had children mummifying each other.

The result was not-quite-chaos - and for the children who had already been doing lots of writing exercises, it was a remarkable insight into the writing process.

Fleur has always written, but at school - with undiagnosed dyslexia - she found no-one else could really read what she had written. Inspired by books such as The Silver Sword and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase she has quickly found herself with not one but two publishers in the eight months since her first book Shrunk! was published.

She plots out stories, not with a synopsis, but in storyboards drawn on the back of long rolls of wallpaper. In  response to children's questions, she compared the writing process to turning on the hot tap, and waiting for plenty of cold water to come up before the hot stuff.

(Trouble with mummies: pupil at left learns never to volunteer for a Fleur Hitchcock event)

Fleur signed copies for pupils afterwards...

...and St Swithun's definitely win the prize for 'best coffee offered to bookseller and author' award...

We managed to lure her back to the shop with the lure of more coffee...

...and the chance to find out more about Fleur's approach to writing.

Five Questions with...Fleur Hitchcock's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
So many things *clutches head*. But I am currently working on a book for Hot Key which involves time travel and yoghurt pots...

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Mmm. Difficult. I think it has to be 'Read as much as you can'. This one really counts. You cannot be a writer if you don't read.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is meeting the children: that lack of reverence, sometimes you find yourself sitting in primary schools, eating school dinners, talking about your book with children - who wouldn't love that, being asked all kinds of random questions! The worst thing is sometimes you have to modify your stories to get them past the gatekeepers. For example in 'Dear Scarlett' the gangsters are very tame, and believe me I wanted them to be much more scary than that but wasn't allowed to get away with it. Neil Gaiman gets away with it, but not me!

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I have to have a hot drink. I have to have the phone unplugged. I have to have the Internet turned off - definitely. Honestly, if you take all the tweets I've done it probably adds up to several books...

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Being picked as the Sunday Times 'book of the week' five days before publication of SHRUNK!  I think it made the biggest difference, and it made me go prickly all over. 

3 (for 2) for Friday - A Bear, A Boy and His Sister

It’s time to celebrate this week, because we have three jolly exciting events to tell you about for this week's 3 4 Friday #fridayreads. There are prizes, competitions and an eagerly awaited new book. All of them are worth finding out about, we hope you agree...

Dan Brown’s new book might have got people pretty excited on Tuesday, but next Tuesday is the one we’ve been eagerly awaiting – the new book from ‘The Kite Runner’ author Khaled Hosseini. We were very lucky to be able to read an advance copy of ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ hence the anticipation. It is another masterfully told story, spanning generations but still firmly rooted in Hosseini’s familiar themes of the bonds that tie families together in often extreme circumstances. The story of Abdullah and his sister Pari looks set to become another classic, and we would be delighted to reserve you a copy for £15.99 (£3 off the recommended price).

This year it is Usborne’s 40th anniversary, a very British publishing success story that now sees its books in over 150 countries worldwide. To celebrate, we have transformed our window – come and take a look at the group of very different readers with their noses in some great books. We also have a fabulous 3-for-2 on Usborne’s range of ‘see inside’ lift-the-flap books on topics as diverse as The Body, Ancient Rome and (our favourite) Outer Space - we think astronaut superstar Commander Hadfield would approve...

Perfect for inquisitive minds, and normally sold for £9.99, we think these books make wonderful gifts.

And finally – a very special visitor comes to Mostly Books on Saturday, June 1st at 2pm. Yes, Hugless Douglas – the loveable bear on the search for a hug – will be appearing IN PERSON at the end of half-term week – and his creator David Melling has very kindly agreed to be here to sign books.

So to celebrate we are staging a half-term ‘Where’s Douglas?’ hunt around Abingdon. Find Douglas in the shops and buildings around Abingdon and you could be in with a chance of winning a GIANT Hugless Douglas. The hunt starts next week so come and collect your sheets and start hunting!

More information here...

Just another Manic Monday (and Tuesday) - 48 hours in the life of a bookshop

Monday saw the BBC Oxford Book Afternoon Bookclub with Kat Orman - discussing The Great Gatsby, Chris Bradford's 'Bodyguard: Hostage' and Simon Rae's 'Keras' (Kat liked this book so much that she bought my copy during the show - now that was a first!).

Click here to listen to the show and fast forward to 1 hour 10 minutes (the link stays on iPlayer until May 20 - enjoy!).

Next was a trip to the Bookseller Industry Awards in London Monday night - we were there as a guest of Barefoot Books (shortlisted for Children's Independent Bookseller of the Year).
It was an extremely glamorous evening, and huge congratulations to fellow indies Lingham Booksellers (who won indie of the year) and newbie Octavia's Bookshop in Cirencester for children's Indie of the Year.

Yesterday Karen, Ellie and Julia transformed the window to celebrate Usborne's 40th birthday. 
Look very closely, you might a spot a few interesting readers in the window...

...and finally, last night we celebrated the launch of a new children's history book of Abingdon: 'Sixty spooky, strange and suprising stories about Abingdon'. Written by Brother Cedric, a 14th century monk who haunts Abingdon library (albeit ghost-written by local author Judy Stubley) we felt very honoured to host the launch party.

Judy is joined by the extremely talented young illustrator Molly Padbury, who did the illustrations for the book (and who also read an extract on the night). A proper write-up of the event to follow - but for now see what the Abingdon blog has to say about the event...

Chris Bradford's 'Bodyguard: Hostage': rejection karma and the art of the open box formation

Nearly five years ago, one of the first big school events we ever did was at Larkmead School in Abingdon. A young author thrilled kids with martial arts moves and samurai sword-wielding mayhem as he brought to life his action-packed debut 'The Way of the Warrior'. His name was Chris Bradford, it was the start of the Young Samurai series - and we were all hooked.

Two years later, and with the Young Samurai series garnering huge critical and commercial success, we put on a huge event for World Book Day: one of the highlights of our bookselling lives.

Chris Bradford is now one of the biggest children's authors there is - not just in the UK, but around the world. So how excited were we when we had the opportunity to take part in the launch of the first book in a hit new series from Chris - "Bodyguard: Hostage"?   

The action centres on fourteen year-old Connor Reeves, part of an elite teenage bodyguard team. Assigned to protect the daughter of the US President, what follows is a high-octane, action-packed tale that we have loved reading in the shop.

And the action gets as close to real life as you would wish. For the Young Samurai books, Chris trained in swordsmanship, karate and gained a black belt in Zen Kyu Shin Taijutsu. For 'Bodyguard' Chris trained to become a fully qualified professional bodyguard.

So what could be better in a school event than to impart crack bodyguard techniques to assembled school children? 
First stop was Henry Box School in Witney. Dressed in black, with essential wraparound shades, the event began explosively with Chris shielding the librarian against a potential hostile threat. With the help of volunteers, he went through some of the techniques of threat assessment, surveillance, anti-ambush exercises and unarmed combat.

Then it was back to Larkmead for a triumphant return to the venue of that first event five years previously. First, Chris met some visiting year 6 pupils from Marcham Primary School...
Then it was onstage at Larkmead for an explosive event - and more training...first the venue threat assessment...

 ...then some intel about the book itself...
Before some actual exercises involving the open-box formation that didn't exactly go to plan. Here fictional celebrity 'Justin Beaver' is left worryingly exposed...
The final test is the 'bullet-catcher'. Volunteers showed incredible bravery in the face of a real Nerf Gun...
Finally, Chris signed books and posters for children. Myself and librarian Ms Stott felt suitably prepared to adopt the bodyguard pose: 

Naturally we wanted to find out a bit about how Chris ticks as a writer. Taking advantage of a 'safe zone', and relaxing into a yellow 'combat awareness state' we asked Chris a few questions...

Five questions with...Chris Bradford's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently working on the second in the series 'Bodyguard: Ransom', but I'm also busy plotting the story-arc for the entire six books that are planned. There's an unfolding conspiracy - hinted at in the first book - but I don't want to go too much into that. I'm also editing the final book in the 'Ninja' trilogy for Barrington Stoke (the second book, Ninja: Death Touch, comes out in August).

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Read Stephen King's 'On Writing'. If you are writing fiction, it's a must-read. Aside from that, write the book you'd want to read!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best is when you talk to the parent of a child who has never read a book before, but loved your book. You've been involved in giving that child the gift of the love of reading - and that is the BEST. The worst is the actual, physical writing of the words. Ideas, research, plotting - that's all fun. But the sitting down, the writing (and rewriting) you have to do every single day. Writing is like a marathon.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, e.g. a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?I'm not as lucky as other writers who can write anywhere, anytime. I have an office (well shed) in the garden. I need complete silence to write. I need to get my focus. I compare my style as trying to get a butterfly to land on your hand; you need to wait an hour and not move a muscle to get it to land. One distraction, and it flutters off and you need to start again. That's what it's like for me.
5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
The breakthrough was the response I got to the initial manuscript. My agent had warned me that it might take weeks or months to get a response. It duly got sent off, and Puffin got in touch the next day. I think my agent's exact words were 'Chris, this is unusual'...

One of my theories is 'rejection karma'. Before I became a children's author I had 13 years as a musician, and believe me that was 13 years of taking many, many rejections. So it was like I had built up all this rejection karma, and when I submitted that manuscript... BANG. It all happened.

A Boy and His Unicorn: five questions with Simon Rae

On Thursday April 30 we took Simon Rae - author of Keras - to Cholsey School and Our Lady's Abingdon. At both schools he received a very enthusiastic welcome, and some of the best questions I think I've heard children ask an author.

Simon is a poet, broadcaster, biographer and playwright. His first novel - Unplayable - was a book about cricket, but Keras (published by David Fickling Books) is a very different beast altogether.

We've loved recommending the book in the shop. It's the story of a young boy, Jack, who discovers an incredible secret in the local landowner's woods - a unicorn. The story that unfolds is one that appeals equally to boys and girls, and is an exciting twist on the unicorn myth.
The book itself is a thing of beauty, a smaller-format hardback that just cries out to be read thanks to the wonderful artwork on the cover.

Simon's story as an author is one that started with a bookshop. As a boy, his parents ran a bookshop in Canterbury, so he grew up surrounded by books (and of course disappointed his parents by not following them into the business).

He started out reading two extracts from the book - and then settled in to answer a wide range of questions from the children: which books did he like as a child, does he base the characters on any real people, why did he become an author in the first place?

We then Whisked Simon back to Abingdon, where - unusually (because typically we're on a tight schedule) we were able to bring Simon to the shop and give him some lunch.

Cue shot of author proudly standing in front of bookshelf with book on display (partially obscured by author's elbow...)

Then on to Our Lady's Abingdon, where it transpired Simon might have become their English teacher four year's previously...
 ...before more storytelling and questions from the young audience...
 ...and a few very pleased purchases of Keras, signed by the author...

Inevitably we asked Simon a few questions before letting him return to north Oxfordshire.

Five questions with...Simon Rae's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

The next book for David Fickling called 'The Stone Butterfly'. I'm delivering it next week for publication in February.

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

Use as few adverbs as possible. (I pressed him on this, but why?). The advice of Stephen King, in his book 'On Writing' is that he likens them to dandelions on the lawn. They increase slowly until your lawn is covered with them...

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

I haven't found a bad thing about writing for children yet. The best thing is being able to write a novel and not have to include adult "stuff".

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


5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

Probably being born! I have had a number of career lurches, and time will tell whether this novel is the breakthrough... 

3 4 Friday - Crime Ancient and Modern

It's Bank Holiday on Monday, so today's 3 4 Friday #fridayreads is some gripping crime and thrilling reads if you are in the mood for a good book over the weekend...

Historical novelist Lindsey Davis is best known for her Falco detective series, and her latest book is the start of a new series featuring Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Alba.

In ‘The Ides of April’  Flavia walks the mean streets of ancient Rome with all the wise-cracking and nose for danger as Philip Marlow. It’s a gloriously fun read, so full of life it brings ancient Rome right into the room with you. We think this book will win Lindsey a whole new host of fans.

Accidents Happen’ by Louise Millar is the enjoyably sinister tale of Kate, who believes bad luck follows her around, but as her in-laws threaten to take away her son if she doesn’t get treatment from her damaging OCD behaviour, she fights to turn her life around. Just as normality seems within reach is bad luck about the strike again? 

Clever writing from shifting viewpoints means the reader is deliciously  a few steps  ahead, but there are still surprising twists and turns in this well-crafted suspense thriller. A compulsive tale that will appeal to fans of ‘Before I go to Sleep’.

Finally, a crime thriller with real depth is ‘The Good Father’ by Noah Hawley. When a young loner assassinates an American presidential candidate, the young man’s father initially struggles to come to terms with what his son is supposed to have done.

What follows is an increasingly taught decent into conspiracy and nightmare as the father tries to discover the truth about what happens, whilst analysing his own role in what his son may have become...

One final note - the all-conquering 'Bring Up The Bodies' is published in paperback next week. Copies in the shop from Tuesday May 7...

Attack of the Zombie Librarians

If you are going to take Charlie Higson into a school for a book event, you might be looking around for a few pointers as to whether or not he's going to receive a good welcome.

For example, some posters about the event, or perhaps a good display of his books. Perhaps some letters from pupils asking him to come?

Or how about this prominently displayed in the school library?

Yes, this was a school ready and eager for the undisputed 'King of Zombie culture' himself - Charlie Higson. Lord Williams School in Thame were waiting in nervous anticipation for the great man himself.

And to warm up, he showed them this:

Suitably traumatised, the author of 'The Enemy' series and Young Bond discussed his route to writing, and the power of the written word to inspire, amaze...and terrify.

We already knew what a fantastic writer and speaker Charlie is, during an event in 2011 at Abingdon School. There he gave a masterclass in dealing with the undead but 'The Enemy' series just keeps getting better...and gorier.

Charlie signed copies of both the Young Bond books and 'The Enemy' series - including copies of the latest book 'The Sacrifice' hot off the press in paperback.

There were worries beforehand that some of the children might be traumatised by some of the more gruesome aspects of the books. However, a healthy number of children knew all about zombies, how to kill them (destroy the brain) and some had even worked out their own zombie survival plan (Charlie happy to reassure them that zombies were 'not real' and such a plan was 'probably not needed').

Judging by the number of hands that shot up when Charlie asked how many of them had played age-restricted zombie computer games (particularly 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' - even I was shocked) we needn't have worred at all...

It's a busy year for Charlie, with the fifth in the series 'The Fallen' out in hardback this Autumn, and he was happy to report that as of Monday he would be starting the sixth book.

(Happy to report that on Monday, via his Twitter feed, we learned that Charlie has written 1604 words. So a good start made...)

With a computer game and three more books in the pipeline, we look forward to 'The Enemy' going from strength to strength. Start planning your zombie survival plan now...