Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday Summary: What is the use of a holiday without a bookshop or twenty?

I know, I've been terrible - both at updating the blog, and because of all the books I've bought and otherwise acquired this past month. But up to the end of September, I did pretty well, keeping to my "Read 3: buy 2" rule and getting my to-read shelf down, briefly, to under twenty books. And then I realised I didn't like having such a small selection of things to read (not counting rereads) and they were almost entirely sci-fi or fantasy. But not to fear: my birthday was in October, and I have lots of friends and relations who know me well, as is evident if you've read my birthday post a couple of weeks ago. Then, at the end of the month I had two weeks off from work, which included a trip with my friend Sharon to Hay-on-Wye, the town on the Welsh border that is famous for its quality and quantity of second-hand bookshops. The following weekend I met up with Bex and Laura, for my last book-splurge of 2015. Anything I see that I want, from now on, can go onto my Christmas wishlist.

So, with no further ado, let me present to you a gratuitous "Look at all the booooooooks!" (and bookshops) post.

The White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough

It was really nice to travel with a friend who drives; no stress about changing trains, worrying about who sits next to you, or carrying your luggage to the station. We took the car ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington, and driving through the New Forest the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. The trees were in bright shades of autumn colours - much more impressive than we have on the island. When the signs warned us to look out for animals on the road, I did not appreciate just how many times we would have to slow down to let ponies, donkeys, sheep and cows wander into our way without a care in the world. We stopped off for lunch at Marlborough, a decision that may or may not have been cemented by me noticing an independent bookshop called the White Horse, which stocked new titles across three storeys (although I think the basement was for art materials.) After a lunch at the Polly Tearooms, which was recommended by a passer-by overhearing us discussing where to eat, we spent a little time in the White Horse, which had a good range of fiction, a friendly bookseller, and two rooms upstairs for non-fiction: one for travel, and the other had a wide, cosy window seat if you want to spend lots of time browsing. I treated myself to The Bookshop that Floated Away.


We took a roundabout way to get into the town centre from our bed and breakfast, and it wasn't until I checked on the map app on my phone that I realised how close we were to the first bookshop - it was quite literally about two minutes' walk away. Our first stop was the Hay-on-Wye Booksellers, a proper, traditional second-hand bookshop with lots of rooms and corners, where you can get lost in L-Space and potentially find yourself in another city. The shop had only just opened, and one of the booksellers was still hoovering, but made us very welcome as she darted around the shop. The children's section was wonderful, full of the sorts of paperbacks that would have been for sale in the '80s and '90s. I spotted Adele Geras' The Tower Room - the first in a trilogy of fairy-tale retellings I remembered from middle school, before modern fairy-tales were the big thing they are now. I did not buy that one, but immediately broke my "one book per shop" rule and picked up a very jolly old school story called The Girls of the Rose Dormitory, and another called Jane's Adventures In and Out of the Book, about a little girl who finds a book in her family's castle which is a portal to many weird and wonderful worlds. Then, upstairs, where Sharon went in search of a book about fashion through the ages, and I buried myself in the little science fiction and fantasy nook (naturally!) I added Young Rissa to my pile, because second-hand bookshops are wonderful for cheesy old sci-fi.

Next up, we stopped at a gorgeous stationery shop, Bartrum's, where I told Sharon to keep me far away from notebooks - I have a bad habit. We sighed over fountain pens and every colour and brand of ink imaginable - except for the one I actually decided I wanted to buy. There were some really dinky little ink bottles for about two or three pounds, and I did end up with one of them in a gorgeous bright green (to make a change from my usual purple.) I also bought a red leather pen-case which fits two fountain pens and a crochet hook quite nicely, and is more convenient than a full-sized pencil case to keep in a handbag.

The handsomest bookshop...
But genre fiction is exiled to
the basement.
(I kind of loved that.)

Richard Booth's Bookshop was up next, which Sharon described as "the handsomest bookshop." It was a mixture of new and used, with fancy painted wooden signs above each section, and covered three floors. Upstairs was a Folio Society reading room, and on the ground floor was a cafe (although it was closed at the time, so alas no cake break. Naturally I went to the children's section to see how many editions of Anne of Green Gables there were - enough to be counted as a respectable bookstore. But I had a particular fondness for the basement. Yes, it was austere, somewhat gloomy, with very poor lighting in the clearance section, but there were rows upon rows just dedicated to the science fiction: pulpy paperbacks from decades past, TV-tie-in novels for Star Wars and Trek and sci-fi shows long since forgotten. Crime and romance were also down here. So, again, I found another cheap and cheerful, battered old book which could be really bad and could be a hidden gem. There were also some publishers' remainders going cheaply, and I was drawn to a book called Speak about an artificial inteligence being whose personality and memories were made up from different people over the years, unable to do anything but tell their story.

We could not find all the shops on the map, and suspect that some may have closed down or relocated. We went into two branches of Addyman's bookshop - three, if you count Murder and Mayhem, which appears to be a separate building for their true crime and crime fiction. We didn't spend very long in there. Sharon worked for the police from the age of sixteen up until a couple of years ago, and as such has little taste for reading about the worst of human nature in the name of entertainment. I like a good thriller, but have trouble knowing where to start when faced with an entire section, or shop, in the genre. The main Addyman's shop was a treat, sprawling and interestingly decorated - I think the walls came from the interior of a church somewhere, in blue and gold. The entrance of the science fiction room is guarded by a life-sized cardboard standee of Captain Kirk (opposite the Star Trek tie-in books, and a couple of cast autobiographies, but no Leonard Nimoy, I checked.)  Captain Picard stood at the centre of the room itself, giving an odd sensation of being watched if I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye. There were mostly second-hand books, but again, some well-discounted new; I saw stacks of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things collection, which I've already got, and I also saw a big hardback of The Art of Neil Gaiman, which I do not own, but I was getting towards the end of my day's budget. I did buy a copy of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, who I've long been meaning to read more from.

We must have gone into about ten bookshops during our day in Hay, returning to the B&B in the early afternoon to drop off our first batch of purchases, before heading out for more. Other notable mentions were Rose's Books, which specialises in collector's editions of classic children's books. There were a few Chalet School books in there, but well out of my price range. There is a huge cinema converted into a bookshop, and you could probably spend all day in that shop alone - and there were big cases outside, which a very eclectic selection, all going for a pound. I found myself dithering over one book, The Last of her Kind by Sigrid Nunez, before deciding that, if I keep on going back to a book, I'm clearly meant to have it. (I just hope it's good, after that.)

We also stopped off at Hereford on the way home. At the HMV
I bought another copy of Neverwhere - a lending copy, and How

The Marquis Got His Coat Back from the Waterstone's, which got

an approving look from the bookseller.

Bloggers' bookshop mini-crawl

You'd think a weekend in Hay-on-Wye would satisfy my book-buying urges, but if you think that, you obviously don't know me very well. The following Saturday, I met up with Bex and Laura in London, and had a practice run for Bex's planned bookshop crawl early next year. I met Bex first, at St Pancras, and, once she'd passed her children over to her mother's care, we wandered over to the British Library, where she'd seen some advertising for an Alice in Wonderland exhibition, but it turned out that wasn't due to open until later in November. We had a good look in the bookshop, however, where she bought a book and I added to my bookish tote bag collection. Well, I couldn't very well not!

Bex's "Not-Google" map app led us then to Housman's, a political bookshop (political as in passionate about issues, not as in biographies of shiny Etonians.) I kept on being drawn back to the graphic novels and graphic memoirs, and both Bex and I found ourselves making shortlists. I decided on Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, as I haven't been able to find it on the Isle of Wight and keep on nearly-buying it whenever I'm in London. A lack of communication meant that we were heading back to Waterloo station to meet Laura while she was coming to find us elsewhere - and when one tried to phone the other, they'd be on the Underground and without signal, of course. But we found each other eventually, and made for an all-you-can-eat buffet in Chinatown to catch up on all the news.

Our next stop was the big Waterstone's at Piccadilly, where Laura tried to put all her favourite books in our hands, but I was being very well-restrained, only buying books I really wanted and was too impatient to wait until Christmas. I came away with George by Alex Gino and Welcome to Night Vale, the novel tied in with the popular and surreal podcast (which I really need to catch up on. I think I'm only up to about episode 30.) Then, as book-shopping is exhausting work, we had our first cake break.


Then it was Hatchards' turn, with its many rooms and staircases, an awesome kids' books section, where, on learning that Laura was unfamiliar with I Want My Hat Back, I proceeded to read aloud to her. (It is a really great book.) Here, I also found a Folio Society edition of Anne of Green Gables which I kind of whimpered at, but did not buy, because any more than my three reading copies (which is a good number of reading copies, for every purpose) and I will have to go all out and start a proper collection, and I really don't have the space for that at the moment. But oh, it's so pretty. And illustrated. And pretty.

I did, however, buy Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, which is tied in to her novel Fangirl. It is sort of the Harry Potter-inspired fanfiction Cath writes in her book, but sort of evolved out of that into a stand-alone Simon Snow novel. Then it was time for another coffee-break, and then up to Forbidden Planet, to look longingly at all the movie and TV merchandise (Pop Vinyl figures of Firefly characters! I have only one Pop figure, of Spock, and would rather keep him as one special figurine, rather than being part of a collection. But on the other hand... Firefly figures! Kaylee! Wash! Jayne!) Downstairs, in the books section, I got very sad at the "In Memory Of" posters in the Discworld and Star Trek sections - I'm still not over it and will not be for a while. Laura and Bex bought various comics and graphic novels, and then it was time to go to our various homes or homes-of-relations.

I spend the next day with Hannah, one of my friends from university, and her husband Paul. I don't get to see much of them any more, and I wondered if their birthday present to me was meant as a subtle hint about writing more - a Harry Potter stationery set, with a journal, paperweight, letter paper and envelopes, and a proper seal and sealing wax. How awesome is that?! (Yes, Hannah, I will try to write more. Promise!) The Sunday was a quiet day at their home, and Monday Hannah was working from midday, but we drove out to Richmond Park for a short walk, although it was so foggy we couldn't see very much at all. But we had a wander around the Isabella Plantation, which I'd last seen back in February, so it was interesting to contrast it at the beginning of spring with the latter half of autumn.


Once I came home, I spent the rest of last week making a start on my NaNoWriMo project, before starting back at work this afternoon. My plan is to get into a habit of writing 2500 words on days when I'm not working, so that on the days when I am at work, I only need to write 1000, and that'll leave a bit of "wiggle-room" for emergencies. Yesterday I was struggling. I hit my personal word count, and beyond, and yet I had that familiar feeling of "this is rubbish, this story is going nowhere." So I decided to break out of the linear story-telling, and jump ahead a bit to where the plot really gets going, as well as introducing some different characters' perspectives with backstory and subplots. It seems to be successful; I'm feeling excited about the story again, and becoming unstuck in the places where I felt myself getting bogged down. So that's what I'll be doing for the rest of November. I hope to have some time still to read - and that I'll beat last year's grand total of four books in November, of which, if I remember correctly, two were children's stories. But I expect it'll remain pretty quiet on the blog for the next month.

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