Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blast! Sold it!

One of the rules of selling used books is that if you fancy reading one of your books in stock someone buys it. In fact the best way to get a sale is to start reading a book and get really engrossed then, about 50 pages from the end, you'll sell it.

The book in question here was neither rare nor expensive and will no doubt come my way again but I really did fancy reading A Passionate Sisterhood: The Sisters, Wives and Daughters of the Lake Poets by Kathleen Jones. Generally I am not fond of multi-person biographies, as I think reading three biographies on three inter-related people gives a more interesting picture than one book trying to turn in too many directions at once. For example the Ted Hughes - Sylvia Plath - Assia Wevill triangle is better represented by Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson (Plath), Ted Hughes by Elaine Feinstein and A Lover of Unreason by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negrev (Wevill), than it would be any one biography trying to deal with all three complex personalities at the same time. If you're wondering if it gets boring reading biographies of such close subjects one after the other, well actually I don't think it does. You get such a different perspective. Earlier this year I read Mrs Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte and I have just finished The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne Du Maurier. I feared it would be more of the same, but actually it throws Branwell into much sharper relief, gave me a new perspective on Charlotte and made me want to acquire a separate biography of Anne Bronte too.

Back to the book I have just sold, A Passionate Sisterhood is a look at the lives of the women of the Romantic poets: Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The women are sisters, cousins, friends and in-laws: Sarah, Mary and Edith Fricker who married the friends Coleridge, Robert Lovell and Southey, Dorothy Wordsworth, Sarah and Mary Hutchinson (Mary was later Mrs Wordsworth) and the children of these relationships. The Romantics did live such interwoven lives: in and out of each other's houses (often living in the same house actually), partners in art and thought, as well as relations suffering the trials of mixed financial fortunes, drug addicted spouses and more. A combined look at the 'sisterhood' seemed such a good premise for a book. But it has gone, though no doubt to a good home, and next time I have it in stock I will get onto it quicker!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

And the winner is ...

Thank for your entries everyone. Using the traditional drawing of paper out of a hat we have a winner for the draw ...


Please get in touch and I will send you the book.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BAFAB Week Competition

It is Buy a Friend a Book week time again. I am giving away a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood: Dancing Girls. It is a 1980s paperback with the rather jolly Sally Geeve designed cover.

To enter the draw for Dancing Girls just leave a comment below but not anonymously please else it it is a bit difficult to do the draw! You have until the end of Wednesday 8th October UK time to enter.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The perils of holiday reading - especially if you are a book

Setting off on the train to Italy this summer obviously required some reading matter to while away the tedium of all those lovely views. So having enjoyed Penelope Lively's Spiderweb earlier this year, I decided to take another PL novel, The Photograph, to keep me entertained.

The train services all ran to time, all four of them, all the way from Yorkshire to Lombardy. Unbelievable! There was no sitting around on stations and actually I was too busy looking out of the window to open my book, or even to get it out of my rucksack.

In the luxury that is the Stendhal sleeper train you are presented with a complimentary bottle of mineral water. Between the four of us we had consumed three but had one left unopened. After living in Yorkshire for over a decade the local habit of thrift has been caught so as we left I grabbed the bottle and shoved it into my rucksack.

Two hours later, husband having successfully negotiated the trauma of car hire, and the actually-not-so-bad driving in Italian traffic, we arrived at our holiday destination. I unpacked rucksack, bottle still intact but … pushing it into the rucksack had rolled the edge of the paper label up depositing horrible thick strong glue, melted in the Italian heat, all over the front of my paperback Penelope Lively. Horror of horrors, and me, abroad, without a suitable solvent to my name. I tried kitchen fixes of oil and alcohol but the glue wouldn't budge, and I realised that, even though unread, my poor book need me to have the guts to do the decent thing. Unfortunately I don't have the guts, so husband was called to put it out of its misery.

He emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later with this:

Would you like that in close-up? Not for the faint-hearted, please look away if feeling weak…

"The glue's off", he said. Well true, but I could now read the blurb on the first prelim without actually turning the cover. I weakly enquired how he had managed it, "Brillo pad", was the reply.

You'll be pleased to know that back home I have all the usual tried, tested and book-friendly materials in the bookdealer's armoury for removing sticky stuff, and brillo pads never cross the bookroom threshold.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Booker Prize Nominees

The short list for the Man Booker Prize has now been announced:

Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant: The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher: The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz: A Fraction of the Whole

Now the Booker is something on which I am spectacularly ill-qualified to comment. Whilst I could tell you in detail about the "difficult" horse stories of Helen Griffiths, or the non-appearance in bibliographies of the Junior Country Life Library, when it comes to modern literature of the more challenging kind, I am floundering. Actually, "floundering" implies that I've made an attempt at something with which to flounder, and I haven't.

So, I'm sorry that this post is me-me-me rather than an intelligent discussion of the Booker nominees, but I have a challenge for the blog's readers. Vote for the one book on the Booker shortlist that you think I should read, and I promise, faithfully, that I will read it. I might even go to Simon French for a glossy first, though I think it might feel a little uneasy amongst my fine collection of pony books: but read it I will, despite any nervous shying and refusing to be caught it might indulge in, aghast at the company I am forcing it to keep.

Friday, September 12, 2008

John Moore of Tewkesbury

If you live in the Tewkesbury area you may have heard of John Moore - there is a museum in his name in the town, but it's tucked away so you could easily miss it. There is even a John Moore society but only a very few of the forty books he wrote are still in print and he has been unfairly neglected for a long while. Which is a shame, because he was one of the earliest writers to draw attention to conservation issues, and in a relatively short life (he died at the age of 60 in 1967 of cancer) he packed in an awful lot; as well as writing many novels he founded the Tewkesbury Festival of Plays and the Cheltenham Literary festival, covered the Spanish Civil War as a journalist on the Republican side, worked his passage on a tramp steamer and hitchhiked round Europe, flew in the Fleet Air Arm and worked for the War Office during the war, wrote a couple of plays, was chairman of the Society of Authors, collected (and wrote knowledgeably about) moths and butterflies, broadcast regularly on the BBC, wrote any amount of articles for various publications, as well as a weekly column in the Birmingham Evening Mail, tried his hand at every country pursuit imaginable and generally managed to stay one step ahead of his creditors - he always believed in the principle that if you've got it, spend it!

If you've never read a John Moore book and would like to know why I rate him so highly then I'd recommend you start with 'Portrait of Elmbury', a thinly disguised look at Tewkesbury, and the book that made his name when it was first published in 1945. It was the first part of a trilogy and this and the second and third parts ('Brensham village' and 'The blue field') formed the basis of a BBC serial 'Brensham People' which starred Michael Hordern and was very well received when broadcast in the late 1970's. The Brensham trilogy books are fairly easy to get hold of as all three books have been reprinted several times. If you like the Brensham books then you will also like his books of country pieces - 'The season of the year', 'Come rain, come shine', 'Man and bird and beast' and 'The year of the pigeons'.

If you don't like reading about country matters you might instead try 'You English words' which is one of the best books on the delights of the English language you'll ever read, and, although long out of print, still not too difficult to find.

John Moore has finally had his biography written ('John Moore, true countryman' by David Cole) and a fine effort it is too, a 'warts and all' portrait of a fascinating character.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize

Booktrust have just announced the shortlist for their new prize: The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. A brilliant idea, I think. The things that made you laugh as a child tend to stick with you.

What struck me as I looked at the shortlists was that amongst the Georgia Nicholsons (whom I do like, a lot) and Julia Donaldsons, there was good old Paddington. To be precise, Paddington Here and Now.

When I was young, there was a bear divide in our household. My sister was a big Paddington fan, but Gwynedd Rae's Mary Plain was the bear for me. I loved Mary and the Bear Pit at Bern (deeply politically uncorrect now, I'm sure), and the Twins and Frisca. Paddington made me smile, but Mary made me laugh.

Is there a William/Jennings divide as well as a bear one, I wonder? William never did much for me - always something of the thug about William, I felt, but I loved Jennings and Darbishire. It was a source of great grief to my OH and me that neither of our children showed the remotest spark of attraction to Jennings; nor even Willans and Searle's Molesworth.

I don't think it can be the difference in types of school which gets them: I went to a 1960s built grammar school, not a private school like St Custard's - but for them it simply doesn't click. I even went through a period of writing sub-Molesworth stuff for the school magazine (which the sixth form editors loved, but my English teacher loathed. "Jane must learn to curb her eccentricity," she wrote on my report. Bearing in mind I now specialise in pony books I think you can see that I failed to take much notice of that - died in the wool bolshiness which failed to win me the school deportment girdle, let alone The Mrs Joyful Prize for Raffia Work.)

I can still quote reams of Down With Skool (chiz, chiz), and was completely bowled over by this wonderful updating of Molesworth by the utterly brilliant Alice Dryden.

So, who makes you laugh? Should I give William another try?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Amazon eats the bookselling world

Nearly all of us here at Ibooknet also list our books on Abe (Advanced Book Exchange). This is one of the largest bookselling sites, and is regarded by most of us as a necessary evil. It is hard to maintain your independence as a bookseller these days: whether we like it or not, most of us rely on Amazon, Abe or both for some of our income.

Some of us have our own websites: many of which are run by a firm called Chrislands. Abe recently bought Chrislands. And now Abe have been bought by Amazon. So, as well as Amazon trying to corner the POD (print on demand) market, they will now have a very large slice indeed of the secondhand book market.

Is this a good thing? It depends, I suppose. At best, Amazon will leave Abe alone. Abe, I presume, have a big enough income stream to make them of interest to Amazon. I tend to sell my better books via Abe, not Amazon, so I wonder if the market for the more esoteric book, described in more detail than Amazon currently allows, is the market Amazon is aiming for. If it is, in some ways this is not such a bad thing. If Amazon removes from Abe the megalisters, who list hundreds of thousands of titles they do not actually have but print on demand, and remove the megasellers who use a generic description for every single book they sell: "Good Book!" for example, which when used for every single book you possess displays a remarkable lack of critical acuity if nothing else; and leave the sellers who describe books they actually own, then Abe would return to its beginnings as a good site for the bookseller and buyer.

Abe's email to its booksellers told us:

We expect this change to allow AbeBooks to expand its offerings and introduce new features and services to enhance the book buying and selling experience.

which frankly could mean anything. If Abe is going to sell new books in the same way that Amazon does will that increase Amazon/Abe's market share of the new book market overall? Or just confuse the market?

Here at Ibooknet we have plenty of opinions:

James, of The Glass Key, said:

"Always look on the bright side....

Being a Monty Python fan I might think two depressing factors in a bookseller's life had now become one so the hydra has one less head. I think the world looks clearer."

Graeme, of Magpie Books said:
"I just keep back to thinking about bibliofind who amazon bought years and
years ago:

type into a browser
and you'll see what I mean. "

Chris, of Diaskari Books said:

"Bezos is smart. Can't see that he would simply want to collapse Abe into Amazon - they are slightly different buyer markets with different buying practices and that is presumably what it wants to acquire - some form of synergy not just putting a competitor out of business only.

Maybe work to bring the Abe and the Marketplace buyer and seller community together. [Marketplace is Amazon's mechanism for allowing private individuals and booksellers to sell via its site.] Perhaps even bring some discipline into marketplace which is riddled with bibliographic nonsense - all of Amazon's making.

Don't know - proof of pudding etc but I wouldn't necessarily assume it's going to be all bad for us short term (although end result inevitably will be about reduction of choice in selling venues but possibly also more power to the alternative sites). "

So, we wait to see. In the meantime, we're working on making the Ibooknet site better, and are always open to suggestions for what you think we can do better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

David Butcher - Lowestoft 1550-1750

Boydell & Brewer of Woodbridge has just published Lowestoft (Suffolk) author David Butcher's latest book, a 354 page hardback entitled 'Lowestoft, 1550 - 1750 : Development and Change in a Suffolk Coastal Town', with 24 in text half tone illustrations and six line maps, the book is priced at $US 95.00 or £50.00.

Lowestoft has grown from a small urban community to become Suffolk’s second largest town; and this book provides a vivid picture of the town and its inhabitants during the early modern period. Making full use of surviving documentation, in particular the parish registers, it begins with an overview of Lowestoft’s medieval history, then proceeds to investigate topographical development, demographic features, occupational structure, social geography, house-building and interior décor, wealth and inheritance, maritime pursuits, agriculture, local government, education and literacy, religious affiliation, and urban identity. Wherever possible, the town is set into a national and European context, and its maritime nature fully brought out.

David Butcher is a retired Lowestoft schoolteacher and is a lecturer in Local History topics for the Continuing Studies Department at the University of East Anglia.

His other published works have included:
1975 - Waveney Valley (East Anglian Magazine, Ipswich)
1979 - The Driftermen (Tops'l Books, Reading)
1980 - The Trawlermen (Tops'l Books, Reading)
1982 - Living from the Sea (Tops'l Books, Reading)
1987 - Following the Fishing (Tops'l Books, London)
1995 - The Ocean's Gift (Centre of East Anglian Studies, UEA, Norwich)

A quick trot around Ibooknet

Ibooknet is a co-operative with dealers from all over the UK and Ireland. As a group we have many and varied specialities, from music, languages and linguistics, through to modern firsts and fine bindings, but nearly all of us have a stock of books relating to the areas we live in.

This post provides a quick gallop through the highlights of a few of our members' stock. Karen Millward, who is based in West Cork, Ireland, has in stock Hidden Gold, a record of people's experiences in a rural community in West Cork. It was produced in 1998 by The Coomhola Borlin Community Development Association, and is a social history with something of interest for everyone. For the visitor, it includes maps and local legends, while for local residents it has verbatim accounts of local history and personal photographs and anecdotes. It gives an insight into a way of life which is fast disappearing.

Catherine Hawley is based in Yorkshire, and has the wonderfully florid volume below in stock. I particularly like this supremely confident style of Victorian decoration. Skipton, and indeed the book's author, have plenty of which to be proud, it says. The History of Skipton is by W. Harbutt Dawson, and was published in London by Simpkin, Marshall & Co. and Edmondson & Co. in 1882. This is a very good tight copy: it has blue boards with a gilt illustration to the front and gilt titles to the spine. The endpapers are lightly browned, and there is a hint of wear to the points. It is priced at £60.00.

Based near Peterborough, Peakirk Books specialise in children's books, but also have a good stock on the Northamptonshire poet John Clare, as well as a facsimile of a book originally published by Richard Chiswell, London in 1686: The History of the Church of Peterburgh, by Symon Gunton. This edition was published by Clay, Tyas, Watkins and Clay in 1990, and has an introductory essay by Canon Jack Higham of Peterborough Cathedral. Both book and dustjacket are very good indeed throughout. This copy is the numbered limited subscriber's edition bound in bottle green cloth, and is no. 86 out of 200 copies produced. It costs £50.00.

The flatlands of the Fens inspire some and make others desperate to leave. Without man, they would not exist in the form they are today. Dorothy Summers wrote The Great Level: a history of drainage and land reclamation in the Fens: specifically the Bedford Level. Peakirk have a copy of this for sale for £50.00. This book, a first edition, was published in London by David & Charles in 1976. illustrated with plates, maps and diagrams, both book and jacket are near fine.

If you are interested in any of these books, you can either find and order them via this page, or contact the dealers direct.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Books are Alive

You would think that being a bookseller was a pretty tame occupation, one that exercised the brain a bit, perhaps, as you searched through obscure bibliographies to find an obscure title you have just bought, or compiled your catalogue, or researched the lesser known aspects of an author's life.
What few booksellers ever admit is that books have a strange life all of their own; and dealing with the odd habits of the species can take many painful hours.

They breed.

They do.

And they move.

Many well-run households make the justifiable mistake of supposing that books should be corralled on bookshelves; neatly ordered - at least all facing the same way.

This, alas, is akin to assuming your Exmoor pony is happiest living in a stable all day and all night. He is not. It is not fair; and it is not fair to books either. Many of my books have to be firmly corralled, but all, when they come into the house, are free range. They live in the book's natural habitat: the heap. Books enjoy that closeness and feeling of pressure that you cannot get from the average bookshelf (unless horribly overstuffed; and that allows no room for movement, about which more anon). To replicate this habitat in your own home, I would suggest you cultivate your own heaps: beside the bed or a sofa are good and useful places which most books enjoy.

Hardbacks enjoy larger piles - paperbacks, being frailer creatures, prefer smaller heaps. Both types however, prefer some air space around each pile. This facilitates movement. I have seen this in the wild; my study. Heaps I have carefully arranged, with close attention to stability, will suddenly subside, pony book mingling with text book, and children's illustrated with modern first edition. I like to think of this as an illustration of the sociable, herd instinct of the book, and its natural attraction to chaos. Heaps arranged hurriedly, with scant attention to stabilty; progressing at strange angles are very unlikely to subside.

I try in my own study to aim for a compromise between my desire to maintain a vague idea of where a book is, and its own longing for chaos. It all comes down to careful herd management.

Careless herd management; with too much movement, seems to lead to breeding. When building piles up again, it is surprising how many books will emerge you never knew you had. The genetics of book production would provide an interesting study for someone.

Unfortunately for my books, natural herd management has to be curtailed after their early life with me; free to explore the floor, and the neighbouring piles. Although they might spend some weeks; in some lucky cases even months in this state of freedom, they eventually have to be broken in to a life of docility in the bookcase or storage box. Although I, like most bookdealers, try and manage this process carefully; treating the book gently at all times there are alas a few titles I fail with. The book appears just like its other herd members: docile, easy to handle - but beneath the covers its wild soul still rages.

An order comes in. I know I have not sold the book. The book is not where it was..... inadequately broken, and still longing for the freedom of its earlier experiences it has moved off in search of less ordered pastures. Like a careful shepherd losing its sheep, this worries the bookdealer, not least because of the awful prospect of having to write a grovelling letter to the orderee admitting you have lost the book, which is gadding about you know not where. Not all clients appreciate the volatile nature of the creatures we have to deal with.

And so, we spend hours (sometimes days) searching for the lost soul.
So sympathise with your bookdealing friends. Behind closed doors, they are dealing with much, much more than you ever thought possible.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Books of Local Interest

This heading covers quite a wide area and, on reflection, those books that could be considered 'of local interest' fall into a number of categories. Off the top of my head I can think of:

  • Books by local authors, not necessarily on any local matter, but collected because of the authors connection with the area.
  • Travel guides describing aspects of the local area as a tourist destination.
  • Tourist souvenirs, usually packed with beautiful colour photographs of the area, taken on sunny days with smiling sheep (countryside) or with yellow lines air-brushed out (towns).
  • Early accounts (pre 20th Century) of the local area.
  • Local ephemera - local newspapers, parish magazines, event programmes, local authority publications, etc.
  • Illustrated (mainly 20th Century and later) and usually photographic accounts of the local area 'in days gone by'.
  • Memoirs/reminiscences/diaries of local characters/dignitaries.
  • Scholarly modern histories of aspects of the history and development of the area.

I'll expand on these in the same order but I think I need first to establish that my local area is centred on Lowestoft, which is in North-east Suffolk close to the border with South-east Norfolk.

There is bound to be some cross-over between some of the above categories. The writer Adrian Bell, for example, could be included in at least two. His work is read as a literary author on country matters but much of his writing is about Suffolk, where he lived and worked for many years, and so the incidents related tell of our social history. George Borrow and H. Rider Haggard both lived in the area but I don't think either could be said to be generally collected because of their local connections, except in this area.

Travel Guides and tourist souvenirs can also overlap but the guides are probably of more interest to the general collector of local books. Those that appear regularly, such as the Ward Lock Red Guides, which first appeared in that format in the 1890's, form an account of the development of the area in their own right.

Early accounts are interesting but can be quite expensive. Because of high production costs and the limited nature of their appeal many were published by subscription and so are relatively few in number. Edmund Gillingwater's 'An Historical Account of the Ancient Town of Lowestoft.....' published in 1793 is one such but one has to be wary of the accuracy of some of the content. Gillingwater lived in Norwich and (it is understood) one of his researchers for material was his brother, a barber living in Lowestoft, who heard many stories of local interest whilst plying his trade and which were passed on to his brother!

I'll come back to ephemera. Local historians are lucky to have visual records of many aspects of their area from the mid 19th Century onwards. The collections of some early local and travelling photographers have been preserved and form the basis of modern publications providing pictorial records of local areas. Memoirs, reminiscences and diaries form another useful source of local history, the last being the most reliable. Memoirs and reminiscences are, by definition, written in later life and facts can be distorted over time.

Modern histories range from large published books to papers privately circulated amongst members of an archaeological or local history society, on periods from the earliest times to the present, but they are nearly always the product of specialists in particular aspects of local history. You are likely to note printed acknowledgements to university research departments, local libraries and county record offices but those bodies are equally likely to refer to the authors on other occasions for their specialised knowledge.

Coming back to ephemera, most useful collections will usually, because of the volume and indexing involved, be found in libraries and record offices but ephemera forms a very useful source for the local historian. Many relatively insignificant events go unrecorded in any permanent way but ephemera relating to it can provide information and help put facts and events into context.

Finally, a plea. In this digital and ephemeral age it is essential to ensure continuity of source material for future generations of writers about local history. One picks up talk of 'downsizing' and 'de-cluttering' by those in later life and if younger family members have no interest in your history please don't just shred old records and mementos. Remember your local library or record office and offer the material to them. If they are not interested think of your local bookseller!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

And the winner is ...

Thank you very much to everyone for entering, and to those of you who linked back here too. A swirl of little bits of paper in the hat and I drew out...

Oxford Reader!

If you let me have your address, Oxford Reader, I will pop the book into the post for you -

Thank you again to everyone for entering.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Birth of the NHS, or a Family Guide to the National Insurance Scheme

5th July 1948

Tomorrow is the 60th birthday of the NHS. Not that I would usually mark such events in my diary, but today an item came into the shop to remind me of this diamond jubilee, and that must surely have pride of place in the window.

It's a small pamphlet of 32 pages 138 x 110 mm. (or five and three eights by four and a quarter inches in old money), prepared by the Central Office of Information for the Ministry of National Insurance, and published by His Majesty's Stationery Office.

A real little piece of history, it explains how much everyone has to pay, and what the benefits are (I doubt we'd get such a concise document today).

Perhaps my favourite part, is the last two lines of the forward by The Rt. Hon. James Griffith M.P., Minister of National Insurance. "This scheme is, therefore, more than an Act of Parliament; it is an act of faith in the British people. That faith I know is not misplaced."

60 years. Happy Birthday. Let's hope she's not yet looking to retire.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

BAFAB Week Competition

It is Buy a Friend a Book Week again and I am offering a small prize here as a gift. The book is a recent paperback novel, gently used. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at the end of this post before the end of Saturday 5th July (UK time). The draw will be on 6th July. If you are a blogger you don't have to link back to here to enter, but it would be much appreciated if you did. Of course you've very welcome to enter whether you blog or not!

Good luck.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ted Hughes Birth Place

The late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd, near Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The Elmet Trust, named after Hughes' work The Remains of Elmet (Elmet being the name of the ancient kingdom that once spanned this part of the Pennines), is a relatively new literary society dedicated to preserving the poet's work in the context of his formative landscape.

The Elmet Trust have secured the patronage of fellow Pennine poet Simon Armitage and this weekend Armitage opened 1, Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, Hughes' former home. The house, which is a small traditional Yorkshire stone terrace, will be let as a retreat for writers and as an occasional holiday home, in turn a useful means of raising funds for the trust. The house will be open to the public during the Hughes festival in October this year. For a new festival the Trust have gathered an impressive number of literary figures including present Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Hughes and Plath's daughter Freida who is a poet in her own right, Anne Stevenson the poet and Plath biographer, and Keith Sagar who is Hughes' bibliographer. Events planned include poetry readings and literary talks, guided walks of the landscape, a play based on Hughes' work, a children's opera based on the Iron Man and more.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CWA Shortlists Announced

Shortlists for the 2008 CWA / Duncan Lawrie Daggers have been announced by the Crime Writers' Association. The CWA have a range of awards including their prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger (previously the Gold Dagger) which with its award of £20,000 is the world's largest prize for a crime novel.

The Duncan Lawrie Dagger shortlist is dominated by the publisher Orion. You can debate the shortlist on the Duncan Lawrie Dagger forum. The line-up is as follows:

James Lee Burke The Tin Roof Blowdown Orion
Colin Cotterill Coroner's Lunch Quercus

Frances Fyfield Blood From Stone Sphere (Little, Brown)

Steve Hamilton Night Work Orion

Laura Lippman What the Dead Know Orion

RN Morris A Vengeful Longing Faber & Faber

And the run down for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger is:

Andrea Camilleri (Italy) The Patience of the Spider (Picador, Macmillan) Translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Stieg Larsson (Sweden) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (MacLehose Press, Quercus) Translated by Reg Keeland

Dominique Manotti (France) Lorraine Connection (EuroCrime, Arcadia Books) Translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz

Martin Suter (Germany) A Deal with the Devil ( EuroCrime, Arcadia Books) Translated by Peter Millar

Fred Vargas (France) This Night's Foul Work (Harvill Secker, Random House) Translated by Sîan Reynolds

If you are interested in the international award and live in the north east of England then you might be interested in the event in Newcastle where the Lit & Phil is hosting three of the translators (Ros Schwarz, Stephen Sartarelli and Peter Millar) in conversation with Ann Cleeves at 7:30pm on Tuesday 8th July.

The CWA winners will be announced at a dinner on Thursday 10th July.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Favourite authors

I’ve been tagged to answer the following questions by Catherine Hawley

1. Who’s your all-time favourite author, and why?

Probably Wilkie Collins. He was a friend of Dickens’, & was as interested in social reform as his friend was, just in different areas. He was particularly concerned about the status of women (mind you, he did maintain what the Victorians called an irregular household). His thrilling or exciting stories are neither thrilling nor exciting to modern readers, but all his books* and stories are well-written, I enjoy his use of language, and the depictions of the society of the day.

*I exclude Ioláni; or, Tahiti as it was. A Romance’, which was his first novel & never published in his lifetime (indeed, it was only published in 1999) because it wasn’t very good. I’ve tried reading it more than once, telling myself perhaps I’ll get on with it better each time, but only ever get so far.

2. Who was your first favourite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favourites?

First one I can remember (and almost certainly was the first as I used to like Noddy) was Enid Blyton. I progressed through her books up to the Famous Five, and then moved on to Malcolm Saville. My children have all read Blyton & enjoyed her, and in fact I have reread many of them as I have read them to my children (I have read the entire Five Find Outers (and Dog) series out loud to my youngest daughter and it became an awful chore). The lack of more than about three different plots make them hard going, especially when read together. My two youngest children have taken to Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine stories, they belong the the Malcolm Saville Society, and I have taken them to Rye & to Shropshire to visit some of the settings. Their enthusiasm has led me to reread the books and I must say they stand up very well; he has been criticized for his poor characterization, but I thought the children were quite well drawn (his villains are somewhat of the cardboard cut-out variety though).

As a teenager, I read all Michael Moorcock’s prolific fantasy outpourings of the late 60s & early 70s, and I still enjoy his writing – although mainly his non-fantasy stuff now, Mother London, the Pyat quartet, although I have just read The Metatemporal Detective (which is a sequence of short stories) and enjoyed it very much. My first favourite adult author would have been, I think, Mervyn Peake.

3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favourite authors, and why?

It’s a while since I’ve been able to add an author to my list of favourites – partly because I’ve not been impressed enough with the writing, partly because the majority of what I read is non-fiction. Long before the film was around I read and very much enjoyed The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez, and was very disappointed to find that at the time it was the only one of his books that had been translated into English. My eldest daughter, in all seriousness, suggested I learned Spanish in order to read the others.

4. If someone asked you who your favourite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

Wilkie Collins, Robertson Davies, Iain Banks, Mervyn Peake, Michael Moorcock, Gladys Mitchell, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, John Buchan, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Freeman Wills Crofts, Kazuo Ishiguro, Beverley Nichols, Eden Philpotts, Emile Zola, Bill Bryson, Michael Innes, C H B Kitchin, Nikolaus Pevsner, R Austin Freeman, Iain Sinclair [the further down the list they get the more reflection was required]

And so I tag

Jane Badger and

Vanessa Robertson

Friday, June 6, 2008


On Wednesday I went to a lecture at the Royal Institution by Heston Blumenthal. I probably wouldn’t have gone except I took my wife who is a food technology teacher, although I did have a vague interest to hear him & see how he came over as a speaker. The lectures last an hour, with a half hour after for questions. Unfortunately Heston’s hour consisted of playing a recording of one of his TV programmes (the Christmas one), pausing it & commenting on it. I hadn’t seen he programme before, but even so found the whole thing a bit of a disappointment, and something of a cop-out by Blumenthal; although it was a novelty to taste frankincense I could have done with a lot more talking (his presentation lacked polish & rehearsal, too). My wife saw his main development chef talk at Reading and thought he was far better as a speaker (and probably does most of the work at the Fat Duck, too).

Far better than this was the RI lecture I went to on Monday, Feast: why humans share food by Martin Jones. Admittedly the speaker, Martin Jones, is the first George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Cambridge, and presumably has had not a little practice at lecturing, and has given this talk on earlier occasions.

The subject was why humans, unlike other mammals, use meal times as a social activity, and used various disciplines within arachaeology (including palaeoanthropology, archaeobotany, archaeogenetics, & the archaeology of food) to provide some answers and a lot more questions. He explained how, at Boxgrove, the flint scatters from knapping can be plotted in three dimensions to the extent that it can be determined where the knappers sat, how their legs were arranged and at what point they got up to stretch their legs & sat down again. The subject was brought right up to date, and was followed by an extremely interesting Q&A session - the audience for this lecture asked much more intelligent questions than at Blumenthal’s (“why can’t I get a table at the Fat Duck?” was an example there).

At last we get round to the book connection: following the talk I bought Jones’ book, also called ‘Feast: why humans share food’ (Oxford University Press); although I’ve only had time to get about a third the way through, I’m enjoying it very much too, as much as the lecture but in a different way. I find when I read a book by someone I have heard speaking I hear their voice in the text – people usually seem to write in the style in which they speak. And I’ve also bought his earlier book ‘The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Hunt for Ancient DNA’ (Penguin), which I have put aside for later in the year.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Rabbit

The world of new books online has been dominated by Amazon for so long that is hard to remember a time when you couldn't over-indulge your bookcase with one-click ordering. However there are many reasons why it is not a good idea to have the market place dominated by one player (see Jane's post on the POD saga for example), but there are alternatives. You can obviously support your high street independent bookshop on the use-it-or loose-it principle (if for no other reason) but if you must buy new books online, or your budget demands deep discounts then a new site hopped onto the new books scene last month.

Book Rabbit is a combined social networking and book buying site. Before the anti-networking site feelings raise their heads, please keep watching, as this site is really rather different. Firstly you needn't network at all if you don't want to. You can just buy books with free postage (no minimum order) and a guarantee that they'll beat Amazon's price on the top selling 100,000 titles. Not bad for starters. But if you want to network, it is not about posting your parents' address online so their house gets trashed, oh no, what you do is you network your bookcases. Honestly. You have to have an account as yourself, so there is no hiding under pseudonyms, and on your profile, if you want to join in, you can post pictures of your bookshelves. There is some kind of intelligent tagging mechanism so that you can separate and tag parts of the picture to identify which book is which. You can also claim books as your own just by searching and clicking add to my books. You can then become "friends" with people whose bookcases suggest similar interests.

From a blogger's point of view you can also link your blog to your profile and the rss feed appears there. Very useful for increasing traffic. I was pointed to Book Rabbit by a post Juliet at Musings from a Muddy Island, and bless her she has become my first friend on there. Within five minutes I had also bumped into the author Sarah Bower amongst the bookshelves too. There is also a Book Rabbit blog, and discussion boards. As Juliet says, I think Book Rabbit might be rather fun. Sadly, fun for UK buyers only at the moment.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

New regular venue for the Golden Books Group

We have just started displaying 200-400 antiquarian books at the Barnstaple Barnstaple Pannier Market. The market has been established in the center of Barnstaple since 1855 and is very popular with locals and tourists. We exibit weekly on the Wednesday (Antiques & collectibles day) with four further booksellers who specialise in:
1. Childrens Books (500-600 books)
2. Local interest, Biggles, etc. (300 books)
3. Art books, General (500-700 books)
4. New paperbacks (500 books)

The market starts at about 8am and ends between 2 and 3pm. Please contact us on (01271) 883204 if you would like further information.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Long Reach of Amazon

Sheppards publish a directory in which most book dealers appear. We get a weekly newsletter from them about the latest shenanigans in the book dealing world, and this little nugget appeared in the latest edition:

News came in tonight that The Long Riders' Guild Press, publisher of Horse Travel Books, the largest treasure-trove of equestrian exploration wisdom ever seen has some 300 titles in print. The royalties from many titles are donated to worthy causes and the company is proud to be a pioneer with the new Print-On-Demand (POD) technology. A few weeks ago The Long Riders' Guild Press became one of the victims of an unprecedented bid to seize control by Amazon. The Long Riders' Guild Press is determined to fight this as Amazon's move may well cause many publishers to disappear.
You might wonder what on earth Amazon could possibly want with a niche publisher - after all, Amazon sell the books on their site anyway, don't they? There are hundreds of small, niche, publishers out there using POD technology - are Amazon after them all?

It seems that they are. Amazon have their eye on the POD market. Well, rather more than their eye. They are making active efforts to make sure as much as possible is theirs. Previously, all POD titles had a Buy It Now button on their books on Amazon's site, but now Amazon have demanded that unless they are published through Amazon's own POD operation, BookSurge, the Buy It Now button for the title on the Amazon site will be disabled. This means the books will no longer be available directly via amazon, but only via re-sellers. To publishers, that Buy It Now button really matters.

There's a very clear exposition here. More info here, and a lot more here. POD publishers are small. Their reach is nowhere close to that of Amazon. Like many of us, they need Amazon as Amazon provides sales, hence the iniquity of the Amazon tactic. Booklocker say:

By forcing publishers to sign their extraordinarily oppressive contract, Amazon
gains the power to charge publishers whatever printing and distribution costs it
desires, as well as controlling the retail, discount and wholesale prices of the
books it prints, and, through this contract, automatically positions itself to
control the market.
Amazon have published an open letter here. Our only motive, they seem to say, is to speed things up for our customers, and publishers can always use the Advantage programme (there are considerable cost implications for anyone wanting to do this - there are, of course, for anyone who uses BookSurge, but it's worse if you use Advantage.)

Small publishers like The Long Riders' Guild are far more than a publisher. Websites and operations like theirs don't just happen: it needs the money from its publishing arm to make the research viable.

I hope that Amazon has mis-read its customers. I am prepared to wait for quality (Booksurge has known quality issues), and most of all I'm prepared to wait for a book if that means that small publishers can continue to seek out the excellent and the peculiar with passion. Amazon is driving this one from the wrong end.
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