Monday, 27 June 2011

Great book blogs to visit

This week I'm saving my planned post for another time, in order to re-direct you to a couple of other book blogs well worth a visit.

A good place to start is the excellent Notes from the Slushpilefor the first instalment of their That'll be the Debut feature – an interview by Candy Gourlay with Edge authors Bryony Pearce, Katie Dale and I. The piece took the form of a conversation between the four of us, about our experiences of being debut authors. It was great fun to be involved and makes for an interesting read.

On The Edge blog itself, Katie Dale asks why so few teen books from other countries make it onto UK bookshelves and considers cultural reference points that are somehow Lost in Translation.

As part of Fluttering Butterflies Awesome Women series, Keren David talks about the women who inspired her life and her writing.

And yet another Edge author, Paula Rawsthorne is this week's debut author on the brilliant Tall Tales & Short Stories blog.

Then there are the fascinating Writing Room Revelations running on Nicky Schmidt's Absolute Vanilla, featuring Meg Rosoff, Nicola Morgan, Keren David, Jon Mayhew and Miriam Halahmy to name just a few.

Finally, it's always worth stopping off to see what Nick Cross has to say at Who Ate My Brain. This week Nick poses the question of re-readability.

Thanks and happy browsing …

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Independent Booksellers' Week

Today sees the start of Independent Booksellers' Week. Throughout the next seven days, independent book shops all over the UK will be holding special events involving authors, readers and booksellers. The initiative is part of the IndieBound campaign to promote independent bookshops and the role they play in developing strong reading communities, as well as the idea of shopping locally and sustainably.

I was at an event recently where the an indie bookshop owner described how they try to buy books that reflect their local area. They get to know their readers' tastes and see themselves very much as serving the community. Of course there are certain bestselling titles they have to stock, but they will consider any book, however niche or unusual, if they think it has merit and will appeal to their customers. This for me has always been the beauty of the indie shops – they are places to browse and talk to the staff, and their shelves are filled with potential gems.

Imagine a world with no bookshops – a climate where publishers refused to take a risk on new talent unless they could guarantee bestseller status. How many great stories would we lose as a result?

So in the spirit of Independent Bookseller Week, why not buy a book from your local bookshop this week. Visit the Indiebound indie bookstore locator to find your nearest shop hosting an IBW event. Or the Booksellers Association to search for all booksellers in your local area by postcode.

Here are a few of my favourites (send me links to yours):
Victoria Park Books, Hackney
The Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town
The Lion & Unicorn, Richmond
Tales On Moon Lane, Herne Hill

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tell me a story

In the past fifteen days I’ve read a total of eight novels, two poetry collections and a short story anthology … or rather, I’ve had them read to me. (I realize some people do actually read that fast, but I’m a slow reader; two novels a month is about average for me.) I’d like to tell you that Anton Lesser himself popped round to read me Geraldine McCaughrean’s brilliant Death Defying Pepper Roux, but hearing him read the audio book was almost as good and great deal more portable.

I can still quote large chunks of these stories off by heart
When I first discovered story tapes they came on cassette and vinyl. As a kid, I spent many happy afternoons in my bedroom, constructing Airfix models while listening to James Herriot read from his series of vet books. Looking back, I realize that the glue and paint fumes probably helped provide a slightly psychedelic Alice in Wonderland twist to my experience of Herriot’s Yorkshire, which the subsequent TV series never quite matched.

By the time I returned to audio books years later, I found they were now unabridged and available on CD – a perfect distraction for the kids on long car journeys and wet holidays. (There is an area around the Llyn Peninsula in Wales that I will always associate with Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.)

Story CDs also provided a less daunting introduction to new books for the kids, particularly the boys. Our copy of Alan Bennet reading Wind in the Willows was passed between all three of them and became a regular – and I mean, regular – feature on the car stereo. When it was eventually retired from active duty, the youngest had graduated to Alex Ryder and Artemis Fowl – first on CD, borrowed from the library, and then the books themselves.

Old Skool Rare Paddington Bear vinyl (B4 he went electric)
For me, audio books mean I can read more than I would otherwise have time to. I will also try things I wouldn’t have picked up in printed form, knowing that my bookcase of unread books is already over-flowing. I can listen on my walk to work, at home in the kitchen, in the car. I still read – there’s nothing quite like holding a book in your hand – but I know I’d have missed out on some great stories if I hadn’t been able to borrow them on CD. This is one of the many reasons I’d be very sad to see my local library close, because audio books are expensive, but you can borrow them from the library for free – which still amazes me. Prices are coming down though and increasingly books are available for download from Amazon and specialist sites like Audible.

My debut novel 15 Days without a Head will be published in January. I can’t wait to be able to walk into a book shop and pick a copy of the shelf. But, without wishing to be greedy, I do fantasize that one day somebody might want to make it into an audio book. I know I shouldn’t admit to this, but I’ve already decided who I’d like to read it!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Moveable Feast

Writers have long held associations with cafés – Ernest Hemingway meticulously documented his time writing in Parisian coffee shops and bars in the 1920s, while it is well known that JK Rowling wrote much of the Harry Potter books in The Elephant House café in Edinburgh. 

Somewhere warm and dry for JK to create her magic
But what is it that attracts authors to cafés? Is it simply that they offer somewhere warm and dry to sit and write for the small price of a cuppa? I know some writers who need to get out of the house to work, and find the bustle of the local coffee shop helps to focus their attention, while at the same time removing them from the temptation of Facebook or the lure of daytime TV ‘research’. The fact that cafés are frequently found actually inside bookshops these days, would suggest that books and a warm beverage somehow belong together. After all, there is something almost decadent about settling down with a brew and a good book - whether it’s already written or not! 

Like most writers I take any opportunity I can to write or read or do a bit of editing. When travelling I'll find myself seeking out the nearest café if I have time to spare between trains or events. It was while walking round one particular city in the rain, tired and hungry, on a fruitless search for a café, when it occurred to me it would be useful if there was a writers' guide to cafés – especially those sympathetic to a scribbler nursing the same skinny latté for an hour or so. As far as I know, no such guide exists, so I thought we could create one here. 

Here's one in Barmouth, Wales, to get us going …
Therefore I’m asking for your café recommendations. It can be somewhere local or a place you stumbled upon in your travels, it doesn't matter. Just let me know the name and address – a picture would be great if you have one – and I’ll compile a list online. Then, the next time you're in Brecon or Belfast, Brechin or Birmingham, with time to spare and words to scribe, you'll know where to go for a good brew and a quiet corner to be inspired. 

I'll be posting a few of my own classic coffee shops over the next few months, so watch this space.