Time to catch my breath…

Well it is now 11th July and the Bradford Literature Festival has been and gone. The Festival Hub (aka the ‘tent’ or the ‘bouncy book castle’) has been deflated, we’ve waved goodbye to our coffee cart (leaky drip-tray and all) and the tactical paddling pool outside the back in the shade and moved all the blue crates of books back to the store. Where they are now being made into a big, blue fort as is traditional…There will be a lot more work to do before everything is back to normal but, in the meantime, here are a few of the events I managed to get pictures of.

First up was A A Dhand’s book launch for City of Sinners. I’ve already reviewed the book so here is a shot of the crowd (I didn’t get one of the moment where Amit’s young son crawled onto his lap during a description of a body hanging from our lovely roof ) and one of the chocolates he left us to give away with signed copies over the rest of the weekend. We’ve done launch events for all three books now and each one just gets better.

On the first Saturday I did a bookstall at the University for an event with David Starkey – a very interesting and well-attended talk on Henry VIII as the first Brexiteer. Sunday was spent in the store where we had a variety of children’s events. They featured dinosaurs and astronauts but our favourite, as you can see, was The Wilbies go to the Moon because we got to meet Minnie Winnie – the heroine of the story. She may be a wonder of science, being Britain’s first cloned dog, but she also loved cuddles and was wonderful with the children as well as with booksellers…

Sadly our main event on Monday was cancelled since the author had been unable to board a flight from Canada. I had planned to do a bookstall on Tuesday too – for the splendid Suzi Quatro – but she had her own merchandiser with her (after all, she’s been touring for years…) so I was able to get home and watch the football. From between my fingers but I still watched it! I had a couple of days off so missed a great CND event in the shop on Wednesday – jazz band and all!

20180707_113431The second Saturday was a combination of ‘Under the Sea’ day in City Park (which probably explains the giant lobster) and Brontës in the Midland Hotel. I was at the Midland but didn’t get inside the events until the evening when I totally failed to get any photos of Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Jeanette Winterson and Michael Stewart talking about the Brontë Stones Project. Far too busy trying to keep up with demand for book sales – what did I expect with that line-up!


Finally, on the last day we had another round of children’s authors in the shop – featuring a monster who was afraid of a scary story, some puffins called Steve, a Fairytale Hairdresser and a spider called Sarah. But we finished off with the excellent Matty Long in the Super Happy Magic Forest. Or, in my case, a Super Happy Magic Literature Festival!

It was all brilliant and, once we’ve all had a rest, we’ll start looking forward to next year…




F*** You Very Much – Danny Wallace

I first became aware of Danny Wallace as the flatmate who challenged Dave Gorman to find fifty-four namesakes. Of course at that point I was reading Dave Gorman and just knew him as ‘flatmate called Danny’ but later on I read both his novels and some of his non-fiction. He is someone I would categorise (if you made me do categorising) as ‘funny, good-mannered, slightly confused about the modern world’. A bit like my brother-in-law but with more swearing*. And this is a very good thing as my b-i-l is great (and should really write a book about his experiences as an Essex postman…)

39978517This book is an investigation of rudeness: is there more of it these days? (spoiler alert – yes), how it can affect us mentally and physically and what we can try to do to counteract it. The tone is generally light but Wallace does talk to lots of experts (psychologists, neuroscientists and politicians) so this is not just one man’s opinion. Although it is largely concerned with the views of one man (Wallace) on a rather surly member of staff who failed, spectacularly, to serve him with a hot dog – the incident which led to these ruminations on rudeness. As always I was amused by Wallace but felt that I was left with a strong urge to do something: in this case to look carefully at whether I am sometimes a bit rude (spoiler alert – yes, a bit…) and if I could react differently to perceived impoliteness in others. Don’t be put off by the asterisked out cursing of the title – this a very British call for a return to courtesy, good humour and good manners (even if some of the examples given are from China, Russia and Colombia – if only the latter had been applied to the national football team…)



*No, honestly, my brother-in-law doesn’t swear. He was on Facebook during the England game last Tuesday and said nothing stronger than ‘cheating Colombian so-and-sos’….

The Quanderhorn Xperimentation – Rob Grant & Andrew Marshall

Modern life isn’t easy. The economy, climate change, bad news everywhere – sometimes I just need something to take my mind off the real world. Of course, for me that something is almost always a book and, at the moment, what I really need is something deeply, deeply silly. Luckily a new book by Rob Grant and Andrew Marshall arrived for me and my silliness quota was filled…Rob Grant is half of the writers of Red Dwarf and Andrew Marshall is a sitcom writer who was, apparently, the inspiration for Marvin the Paranoid Android – my hopes were very high!  I was not disappointed.

39801235The year is 1952. So was last year. And the year before. In fact, it has been 1952 for over sixty years and this isn’t the strangest thing that has happened. There have been a number of Martian invasions, attacks by Mole People and Troglodytes from under the sea and much of this unusual activity revolves around one man: Professor Quanderhorn. Even the government (led by Churchill, of course, it is 1952) is scared of him – and who wouldn’t be afraid of a man with a fleet of lorries driven by monkeys, a Dangerous Giant Space Laser and a dark secret in his cellar? We follow Quanderhorn’s team of top operatives – the beautiful scientist Dr Gemini Janusson, Martian captive Guuurk, Troy Quanderhorn (the Professor’s ‘son’ – or possibly a very dim but physically perfect human-insect hybrid) and Brian Nylon (a test pilot and spy for, well, everyone if only his amnesia would clear up…). The plot begins with a giant broccoli-woman trying to climb Big Ben, moves behind the Post Office (where a giant asteroid is glowing) and out to space. It all makes the same kind of sense that Red Dwarf and Hitch-Hiker’s Guide do (i.e. not much until all the strands get brought together at the end) but is a gloriously silly ride. In a spaceship. Driven by a Martian in tennis whites and impersonating Leslie Phillips and containing a man stupid enough to try and open external doors mid-flight. Completely daft and as British as drinking a cup of tea and saying ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

If you need a bit of a humorous pick-me-up or are just a fan of Douglas Adams or Toby Frost give this a try. And check out the Radio 4 show too – it’s where all the cool comedy sci-fi series start out…


Illumination of Ursula Flight – Anna-Marie Crowhurst

Reading historical fiction can help to give insights into lives in other times in ways that straight history can’t. History itself needs to be true to reality (even if it is an individual historian’s view of what is real) but fiction can help us to see what it would be like to not just read about the 17th century but to actually live it. The non-fiction gives us an interpretation of primary source documents and other record but the fiction, which is usually equally well researched, can give us an idea of how it would feel to be there when those documents were being written. I love reading both but I have a particular weakness for good historical fiction. The Illumination of Ursula Flight, opening with the titular heroine’s birth just as a comet heralds the Restoration of Charles II, looked like just my cup of (newly fashionable in the C17th) tea.

9781760632014Ursula is an interesting character – she adores her father, wants to love her rather distracted mother, is fascinated by plays and the theatre and is the centre of a small group of local children for whom she writes a series of short dramatic pieces. Her education and rebellious nature make her seem very modern so it would be easy to think that she isn’t very typical of her age – but this was the age of Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish and Lady Mary Wortley Montague so not every girl was confined to sewing and childbirth. There is plenty to disturb Ursula’s happy life – a spoilt brother, a lost youthful romance and then, more seriously, the death of her father and an arranged marriage to an older man. The marriage isn’t happy – mostly because of her husband’s slightly odd sexual needs and a fraught relationship with her mother-in-law – and the religious differences which arose during the age of Cromwell continue to cause problems within even within the happiest of families. Eventually Ursula breaks with convention completely, runs away and tries her luck in the London theatre world.

I enjoyed this book. The historical period is one I’ve only read a few books about so I found it quite educational but it was also a good story. Ursula was an engaging character and I cared about what happened to her – I really loved the way that she turned key events in her life into short plays. And her plays were really rather funny too… This is a good read if you enjoy strong female leads and a historical setting.




Natives – Akala

It’s coming up to that time of year again: Bradford Literature Festival will be starting in a week. Which means ten days of authors (500 of the clever little chaps and chapesses), events (400, because authors are pretty social and like to do events in little groups sometimes) and books (don’t ask – not every event or author has a book which we can get hold of and some have multiples: let’s just say the stock deliveries will be vast and we will all be putting our manual handling training to good use). Exhausting but so much fun! Of course part of the fun is reading some of the books beforehand and getting to try lots of new and new to me writers. It is a great festival because the audience and authors are hugely diverse – it covers politics, religion, race and sport as well as a wide range of fiction and children’s events. This year we are being treated to everything from 1970’s rock-chick Suzi Quatro to David Starkey talking about Henry VIII. Like I said, diverse…Of course the demographic I form part of – white, middle-aged, female – is represented but I wanted to read about the experience of people who are ‘not-me’. Akala’s book, on race and class, seemed to fit the bill.

9781473661219Akala is a musician and poet who has won MOBO awards and founded the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company. He was born in the 1980s into a world where casual (and institutional) racism was common – bananas thrown at black footballers, the National Front had just spawned the BNP, and the British Nationality Act 1981 decreed that people from our former colonies, including the Windrush generation, became Commonwealth citizens rather than British subjects. While my white contemporaries were singing about Feeding the World Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned in a South Africa built on apartheid and parts of Britain experienced riots in predominantly black areas – life was not as fair as it seemed to me. In this book Akala talks about what life was like growing up in multicultural Camden in a single-parent family – the good as well as the bad. He witnessed violence and prejudice but was also supported by the wider Afro-Carribean community. He was an intelligent, enquiring child (a fact which often seemed to disturb some teachers – which was, oddly, the part which I found the most upsetting) and is now an intelligent writer. This is not just an account of Akala’s own life but also that of that wider community – the history of British Imperialism, the Commonwealth and worldwide racial issues – and it doesn’t just look at attitudes to race. Akala is mixed race – his mother is Scottish – and is now part of the middle classes but he had a working class upbringing. His assertion seems to be that while there is some sense of ‘otherness’ about people of different races racism is not innate. But this otherness is often used by those in positions of power (either real or assumed) to focus the fears of those who have no power.

This book is a powerfully argued plea for a fairer world. One where nobody is judged by the circumstances of their birth – either by class, race, religion or skin colour – and everyone has a chance to realise their potential. I was, once again, reminded of the privileges I enjoy but was never made to feel that I didn’t have the right to make the most of them. What I was left with was a desire to work with and for those who are less fortunate and the reminder that what that work should involve isn’t my decision to make. Now I’m just looking forward to finding out which events at the Literature Festival I will be doing bookstalls for – Akala’s is one I’d be very keen to be able to attend…



City of Sinners – A A Dhand

I’ve never had an urge to be famous. I enjoyed acting when I was at school and university but the whole idea of being recognised wherever I went sounds horrid, to be honest. I’m happy that my friends, family and colleagues know who I am and, maybe, that the posts I do for my place of work’s social media (under the store name, not mine) make people laugh, think or want to read a particular book: anything more would be a bit much. But, when a local author opens his latest crime thriller with a body discovered in my actual place of work and asks if it is okay to call the bookseller who discover the body ‘Jane’ then, of course, it would be rude not to say ‘yes’….

36634147City of Sinners is the third outing for unconventional Bradford detective Harry Virdee. He’s used to dealing with murders but this time there are some very odd things about the body – how did a young female bookseller end up hanging from the rafters of a bookshop set in a Victorian wool trading hall, who killed her and why are her eyes both sewn closed and yet still moving….Soon there are more bodies (all female) and Harry can’t work out how they are linked. But when a young student goes missing it soon becomes apparent that she is not yet dead because she is the daughter of the Home Secretary. Harry’s boss needs to transfer the case to a specialist unit but the killer declares he will only deal with Harry: it seems that this case is very, very personal.

This is Bradford Noir at its best. With a real sting in the tail and twistier than barbed wire – don’t miss it (even if just for the cameo role by a real live bookseller….).


P.S. If you want to meet the creator of Harry Virdee the book will be launched as part of Bradford Literature Festival on Friday 29th June. If you are very good maybe I’ll sign the book for you too – after all, I’m famous now…


Eve of Man – Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

Nobody wants to be typecast but it is really hard not to get a bit blinkered. Rowan Atkinson, for example, has played so many classic comic characters that it would be very hard to see him play a romantic lead. He could be, indeed probably would be, great but it was take more effort on our part than his to make it work. There are some authors like that – a gritty noir novel by Barbara Cartland or a YA romance from Dan Brown would be equally unlikely. Of course some writers do cross genres – I love Hugh Howey’s thoughtful science fiction but he has also written romance. This hasn’t gone down well with all his readers, however, as some feel he should stick to the dystopias he excels at. Other authors manage to write across genres by using alternative names (even if it is just sticking an extra initial in there, I’m looking at you Iain Banks…): everyone now knows that Robert Galbraith’s crime novels are written by J K Rowling. But how about if two authors, a husband and wife team, write a novel (the first in a series) which is a new departure for both of them? Giovanna Fletcher has made her name writing contemporary women’s fiction and Tom writes for children. How will the authors of Billy and Me and The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas collaborate to create a dystopian novel suitable for teens (and adults)?

38467635In a dystopian future (where lots of my favourite books are set…) humankind has a big problem. For fifty years only male babies have been born: girls are, occasionally, conceived but are never carried to term. Gradually the population becomes skewed and women of childbearing age are fading fast until, at last, one girl-child, Eve, is born. Despite the care given to her by the best medical teams available the mother dies after delivering her baby and Eve and her father are moved into a vast tower block. After a while Eve’s father is sent away – for her safety, we are told – and Eve is raised by a group of older women, called Mothers, overseen by a rather sinister woman called Vivian and her only friend is a hologram called Holly*. Holly herself is guided by a small group of young men and, although Eve is never told about the different pilots used, she has a favourite. This is Bram, the son of the man who developed the technology behind Holly (who is a downright nasty piece of work too…), and when the two meet, during a set of very unusual circumstances since Eve is meant to be totally isolated from all men, they fall in love. These circumstances revolve around the fact that Eve is now sixteen and the time has come for her to begin the attempt to repopulate the planet with girls with one of three carefully chosen male candidates.

I began to book by trying to work out which passages or ideas were the work of which of the two authors but I was quickly too caught up in the story to care. The world surrounding Eve, which she is never allowed to see, is a bleak place where the remaining population have damaged the environment so badly it is hard to see what kind of world it would be to bring any kind of child into. Although she has always been protected Eve is beginning to question her future – she is a lot feistier than the average princess in an ivory tower – and this is just as well since we soon begin to realise that it would not be a pleasant one. I had one or two quibbles – in particular the way that Eve is dressed up, made up and presented as the epitome of young feminine beauty to meet the first of her prospective mates. Why should it matter – it is not as if they have to choose between her and other, less attractive girls? Some might complain about the fact that the story does develop into a romance of sorts but, given that humans will die out completely if repopulation doesn’t happen, that is fairly forgivable. The science side of the story is fairly standard – cryogenics, holograms and lots of meddling with human biology – but is made nicely sinister in contrast to Eve and Bram’s gently growing romance.

All in all this is an interesting addition to the YA dystopian genre. While the prospect of the way that Eve will be trapped into breeding the new generation – treated as nothing more than a brood mare – means that this is probably not suitable for younger teens it will be of interest to those who are interested in gender politics alongside their post-apocalypse. It isn’t quite The Handmaid’s Tale but would lead a reader there quite easily.



*I did pretty well at suppressing the urge to think of Holly from Red Dwarf when I saw this name. Although the change from female to male made me smile….