Bookmark, marking a moment for Fair of Face

09 +00002017-10-23T21:04:28+00:0031 2012 § 1 Comment

Window on the world of Bookmark

Last Monday dawned squally.  As I drove to Spalding for the first signing session of Fair of Face, the leaves were being snatched from the trees, victims of whatever the latest Atlantic storm was called (I’ve lost track!).  As I approached Spalding, the rain arrived. (Lovers of pathetic fallacy, take note!)  However, once inside Bookmark, I was safe, as I knew I would be, enveloped by its usual high standard of hospitality, warmth and the provision of many interesting people to talk to.

Last year, when Rooted in Dishonour was launched – the staff at Bookmark have, magnificently, given me events for all my novels – the café was closed for refurbishment.  This year, I was delighted to find it open, with an enticing range of treats to choose from.  My husband, never behind the door when it comes to food, indulged in a farmer’s breakfast and, a few hours later, a massive slice of coffee and walnut cake. I confined myself to a cheese and tomato toastie (not as modest as it sounds: Spalding helpings are generous!).

I was there until 3 p.m., signing copies of Fair of Face.  Several old friends, readers I have met since In the Family was published in 2012, came in to see me.  I met new readers, too, some of whom wanted to buy all the DI Yates titles, starting with the first – though I made it clear to them, as I do to all new readers, that each novel is a standalone. As I’ve said before, I think it’s cheating to expect readers to have to read all the previous titles in order to make sense of the latest one.

On Tuesday, a radio programme followed the Bookmark signing session: Carla Green interviewed me on Radio Lincolnshire at lunchtime, asking some particularly searching questions about Fair of Face, and generously promoted the events at Spalding and Stamford (see below).

I was back in Bookmark on Thursday evening to give a talk and two readings to members of Bookmark’s reading group and some of its other customers, too.  An author’s dream audience, they were extremely lively and engaged and, if any of them is reading this post: Thank you very much indeed for a magnificent evening – you were brilliant in your response!  And huge thanks to Sam Buckley, Sarah Halgarth and all the rest of the staff at Bookmark for welcoming me again and working so hard to make great successes of both occasions there.

This coming week the wonderful Chris Hamilton-Emery, founder of Salt Publishing and the equally wonderful Emma Dowson, Salt’s PR Manager, have organised a blog tour for Fair of Face. Here’s the tour and I hope to ‘meet’ some of you there.  I’d like to thank all the bloggers who have so generously contributed their time and their oxygen to this.

There are several other events in the pipeline:

  • 4th November.  Signing session. Walkers Bookshop, Stamford.
  • 18th November.  Readings and workshop {‘Fair of Face but dark at heart’), Wakefield One.
  • Date tbc, February 2018.  Readings and workshop, Lincoln City Library.
  • 17th February 2018.  Readings and workshop, Spalding Library.
  • Dates tbc: Readings and workshop, University of Winchester

Review in Lincolnshire Life

There will be other events and reviews, too, which I’ll announce here when I have more details.  If anyone reading this is organising an event to which I could contribute, I should be very happy to hear from you.

Last but certainly not least, if you have bought Fair of Face, I should like to offer you my sincerest thanks: authors are not authors without readers and I want you to know that I feel greatly honoured knowing you have spent several hours of your precious time reading my book. I do hope that you enjoy it.

Stepping into Rickaro Books on Bookshop Day, 2017

09 +00002017-10-08T20:18:54+00:0031 2012 § 11 Comments

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Rickaro Books, Horbury

Yesterday was UK Bookshop Day, the annual event which celebrates the huge contribution made to civilised life by all British bookshops, especially independents.  It also marks the beginning of the current year’s ‘Books Are My Bag’ [BAMB] initiative for the run-up to Christmas and beyond.

The whole BAMB drive was conceived of and masterminded by the UK Booksellers Association, which now administers it.  Authors and readers alike are very fortunate to have, working on our behalf, this imaginative, dedicated, hard-working and amazingly small team of people led by Tim Godfray, its long-term CEO.  I was lucky enough to attend, on 11th September, the BA’s annual conference and there to get a sneak preview of some of this year’s BAMB marketing material, which includes beautiful mugs and book bags designed by Orla Kiely.

I always visit at least one bookshop on Bookshop Day.  Yesterday I headed for Rickaro Books in Horbury, one of my favourite bookshops, which is run by my (very) long-term friend and colleague, Richard Knowles.

Richard Knowles

Richard Knowles

Richard was my first boss after I left university – I won’t mention how many years ago! His bookshop, situated in a small Yorkshire town of great character, is a veritable jewel. As well as stocking new books (including all the Christina James titles – he has kindly agreed to distribute Fair of Face postcards and to supply copies of the book for purchase at my event in Wakefield One on 18th November), he is an accomplished antiquarian bookseller, with an enviable vintage stock. He provides a world-class service by selling antiquarian books on a limited range of topics and does indeed attract customers from all over the world.

Richard always engages in BAMB festivities. Yesterday, he had decorated his windows with promotional bunting and was offering discounts on new books. His dog Tilly

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Tilly

(the inspiration for the Tilly Club that Rickaro Books runs for children) entered into the spirit of the day by sporting a Books Are My Bag T-shirt.  Richard said that he’d suggest that Sophie, one of his booksellers, should wear the same T-shirt on Monday morning. I’m assuming that this was one of his lugubrious and slightly macabre jokes, but, just in case, I shall send the link to this post to Sophie!

Tilly T shirt

I bought three books, two for myself (The Greatest Knight, by Thomas Asbridge, and The Idea of North, by Peter Davidson) as well as, for a young person of my acquaintance, a book which I won’t describe here, as it’s intended to be a surprise.  Instead of the Orla Kiely bags, Richard had others featuring Christopher Robin – appropriate for a shop which is a magnet for child readers.  Several of them came in while I was there, including a screaming toddler whose tears turned to smiles as soon as she crossed the threshold.  Such is the power of a good bookshop!

One of the charms of Rickaro Books is that it doesn’t change very much from visit to visit.  However, as soon as I walked in yesterday, I was struck by a very significant new addition to the furnishings.  Richard has acquired the striking and quite famous portrait of Thomas Gent, the eminent eighteenth-century Yorkshire historian, poet and printer (and therefore, like all printers of the time, also a bookseller), painted by Nathan Drake in 1770, when Gent was seventy-seven.  (He lived for another eight years after this, dying in 1778 at the ripe old age of eighty-five.)

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Thomas Gent

Gent was highly respected in his own day, but was, as his Wikipedia biography laconically states, ‘financially unsuccessful’.  I wonder what he would have made of Books Are My Bag?  I think it’s likely he would have approved of it and I’m certain that he would have loved to have had the opportunity to obtain support from an early version of the Booksellers Association.

Christina’s summer, aside from work!

09 +00002017-09-18T15:29:15+00:0030 2012 § 9 Comments

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Despite all my good intentions (and I’m very grateful to Lisette Brodey, Laura Zera, Val Poore, Sylvia Peadon and Tamara Ferguson for the supportive empathy they have shown me over my failure to keep up to date with social media generally!), the summer mostly slipped away without my posting on this blog. However, I met some great people at literary events over June, July, August and September and want to share those occasions with you before they become distant memories.
On 16th and 17th June, I attended the Winchester Literary Festival for the fourth time, partly to conduct one-to-ones with twelve new authors, partly to give an updated version of the talk I first delivered last year (‘Whodunnit: how it’s done’), which, as last time, attracted a large and enthusiastic audience. Winchester has now become one of the most important dates on my calendar: it’s a brilliant festival, thoughtfully and imaginatively created by Judith Heneghan, who lectures in creative writing at the university, and efficiently organised by Sara Gangai. The guest talk that takes place first thing on the Saturday morning is always a treat. This year’s speaker was Lemn Sissay, the performance poet.

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay

Lemn’s talk was full of wit and unusual insights: for example, he said that every single day we are part of a privileged generation because we have the Internet. “We are at the most exciting time for words that there has ever been. So how can it be that the point of view that the Internet promotes rubbish is always held above that that says the Internet promotes beauty and genius?” And: “Every day I wake up and think of ways that I can promote writing other than the book. But the book is the greatest gift you can give any child or adult.” My own books were kindly stocked and sold, as always, by staff from P. & G. Wells at the festival book stall; they also gave me a signing session, when I met several new and a few old friends.
July 6th was the next big date for me, as the legendary bookseller Richard Reynolds had invited me and eleven other authors to participate in his summer evening of crime at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge.

Heffers Crime July 2017

Reading at Heffers

I was particularly pleased to meet Barbara Nadel, whose books I have read with real enjoyment. We were each asked to describe ourselves and read, in not more than two minutes, a short extract from our latest novels (Richard’s assistant had a bell and said that she was “not afraid of using it”!). This actually worked very well: it’s surprising how much you can get across in two minutes if you think about it beforehand and try hard.

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Richard Reynolds, in rapt concentration during the readings

Afterwards, there was a drinks reception at which all of our books were on sale. The audience numbered more than one hundred (Cambridge is a real Mecca for crime enthusiasts!) and we all sold lots of copies.

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Busy at Heffers

Wednesday 12th July followed hard on the heels of the Heffers event. I had the good fortune to be invited to a Houses of Parliament reception (held by the Booksellers Association, Publishers Association and the charity, World Book Day) for authors and booksellers, with MPs and peers.

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Before the bell was silenced!

There I met several booksellers who have supported me by stocking my books, including Sam Buckley, from Bookmark in Spalding, who over the years has generously given me a launch event for each of them. The event was hosted by Dame Margaret Hodge, who emphasised the civilising influence of both books and booksellers on our society (a sentiment about which I need no persuading!).
Last but not least, on 15th July I was invited to give ‘A Morning with Christina James’ at Spalding town library. This was a round-table event, at which I read a couple of excerpts from In the Family and Rooted in Dishonour and then talked to the audience about how I came to write the novels, my own Lincolnshire roots and, most important of all, their views on fiction. I was delighted to be able at last to meet Sharman Morriss, the librarian, having been told at one of the Bookmark evenings that she tirelessly promotes my novels to her customers. Sharman then put me in touch with Alison Wade, her colleague at Boston town library,

Boston Stump

Boston Stump (the library is just the other side of it)

which has been holding a month-long crime-writing festival during September. Alison very kindly asked me to open this on the afternoon of September 1st, when I talked to the audience about my own books and what they like to read. I was really pleased to have been able to meet readers and new writers on this occasion.

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Alert readers at Boston!

Fair of Face, the sixth novel in the DI Yates series, will be published on 15th October.

I’ve diligently been updating my Twitter header and posting the new novel’s cover here and on Facebook! Bookmark in Spalding is providing a signing session on the afternoon of 16th October and an evening launch event on 19th October and I know both will be memorable moments for meeting friends old and new. If you would like me to come and talk at your local bookshop or library, or to your reading group, just let me know.
Oh, and hello again to all my readers here!
[An apology to Spalding Library – I’ve temporarily mislaid my SanDisk – a picture will follow!]

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Charleston, South Carolina… a topsy-turvy town

09 +00002017-02-11T18:57:43+00:0028 2012 § 12 Comments

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Next stop for me after Quito was Charleston, in South Carolina, home of North America’s most prestigious conference for academic librarians.  You often hear that places are ‘steeped in history’ – a cliché that must apply to at least 80% of UK towns and cities – but I’ve seldom visited anywhere as overtly gripped by the past as Charleston is.  Named for Charles II (it was originally called ‘Charles Town’ until contracted to its present form after the American War of Independence), it has a colourful past, reminders of which include a cross-vaulted underground prison for smugglers

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and numerous old colonial and pre- and immediate post-Civil War buildings.  In the classical style and painted white, often with pillars or cupolas, they seem to epitomise old-world grace and the elegance of a more leisurely age.

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When I was there, many of the houses were decorated for Hallowe’en, some in very imaginative ways:

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my favourite was the giant witch’s hat set atop a cupola.

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Charleston stands for a great many things that are hard to swallow.  That gracious leisure – for the few – cost thousands their freedom.  South Carolina was one of the first states to secede from the Union because it supported slavery.  It still has a considerable black population, many of whom, if not part of an underclass, are clearly not rich; there’s a stark contrast between them and the owners of the sparkling white yachts and cabin cruisers that loll in the harbour

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or go for little spins offshore.

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As a British visitor, this blatant juxtaposition of wealth and modest means made me uneasy; yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to be beguiled by Charleston, where the sun shines warmly in November and the inhabitants treat strangers with impeccable courtesy and charm.

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I asked a lady watering the plants in her garden the way back to my hotel and with alacrity she got out her car and drove me there; the staff in the hotel were unfailingly polite and solicitous, especially during my first forty-eight hours as their guest, after I’d turned up plagued with a Latin-American stomach bug.

Nowhere was the tension between old-fashioned courtesy and dyed-in-the-wool conservatism more apparent than during my visit to the Confederate Museum, which is situated right in the heart of Charleston, at one end of the historic covered market.

ch-2It’s run by a group that calls itself ‘The United Daughters of the Confederacy’.  When I entered, two of these rather ancient ‘daughters’ were sitting at a table near the main door, collecting the modest entrance fee and looking as if they might indeed have stepped out of the 1840s (the building that houses the Museum was constructed, as the leaflet shows, in 1841).  The ladies were gently polite and directed me to some of the things they (correctly) thought might interest me most, including children’s clothes made of old Confederate flags and letters home written by achingly young Confederate soldiers.  They had one male companion, an elderly man whose sole task it was to tell visitors the story of the large cannon that occupied the centre of the room.  Apparently, it was the first cannon ever to be used in America, and – of especial interest to me – manufactured from the particularly robust iron ore quarried at Low Moor, near Bradford.  I told the old man that I lived in Yorkshire, not twenty miles from Low Moor; he said, to his knowledge, he’d had only one other visitor from Yorkshire and that I was very welcome.  I told him I was a writer and begged for permission to photograph the cannon for my blog.  Immediately, his attitude changed.  He frowned and stabbed his finger at a large notice erected on an easel next to the cannon.  “No photographs in here, Ma’am.”

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I’ve mentioned the market, which is one of Charleston’s many crown jewels and the place that Americans always recommend to sightseers if they ask.  It’s a fascinating place: a craft market with a few farmers’ market-style stalls thrown in.  The stallholders sell many beautiful things, so I was spoilt for choice: eventually I settled on a South Carolina Beadwork necklace for my friend, a Charleston collapsible fruit bowl for my husband and a topsy-turvy rag doll for my granddaughter.

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There’s some disagreement about the origin and purpose of these dolls – I was told that they were made for black children who were forbidden to own a white doll and one of these could be quickly turned upside down if an overseer came by, but perhaps the alternative view of their play purpose is more compelling, that African-American women were preparing their own children for the life they themselves experienced, as carers of white children during the day and their own children at night. I’m sure that other theories exist, but during this Black History Month I’ll take the opportunity to say that, for me, the doll is a fine emblem of an ideal of racial equality and mutual respect that sadly isn’t much evident in the world today.

Top of the tree among the stallholders are the black families (usually but not always headed up by a woman) who make the traditional sweetgrass baskets.

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sweetgrass-basket

My charming sweetgrass lady, with a couple of Christmas decorations

My charming sweetgrass lady, with a couple of Christmas decorations

These are intricate and very beautiful – they’re expensive but take a long time to make – and crafted from a design that originated in Africa.  The method for making them crossed the Atlantic with those captured for slavery.  Apparently only about fifty people understand the technique today – it’s been passed down from mother to daughter over the decades and centuries.  Another kind of Charleston elegance – and an enduring heritage.

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Journey to ‘the middle of the world’

09 +00002017-01-30T12:36:14+00:0031 2012 § 8 Comments

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I’d never been to Latin America when I touched down in Quito and knew very little about Ecuador.  Wikipedia had told me that Ecuador was a former Spanish colony, that the first language was Spanish and that temperatures while I was there would be around 19 degrees (which turned out to be a considerable underestimate: it was hot!).  Otherwise, virtually zilch.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never taken much interest in the South American continent; I’m resolved to change that now.

I was wowed by the spectacular assault on my senses which began as soon as I could see Quito from the plane.  It’s the world’s highest capital city and ringed by magnificent mountains, some of them volcanic.  And, of course, it’s right on the Equator.

Sculpture on the 'middle of the world'

Sculpture on the ‘middle of the world’

As the plane drew nearer to the earth, I could see Quito’s imposing array of churches and some of the colourful, flat-roofed dwellings that are home to most of its citizens.  (I was to discover that only the old colonial houses have pitched roofs.)

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The forty-minute taxi ride to my hotel revealed more of these houses, some clinging precariously to steep hillsides with deep ravines below them, and many incomplete, as if funds had suddenly dried up.  Because there are few high-rise developments, huge areas are covered by these modest residential districts.  Quito has a population of about two million, but its large number of very small buildings makes it seem more populous than it is.

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There isn’t much undergrowth, but there are many shrubs and trees, including the fabulously tall araucarias.  Most bushes and shrubs are in flower in late October, in vibrant, clashing shades of orange, purple and cerise, and are often sweet-smelling.

I asked my taxi driver what the main industries of Ecuador are and was told chemicals, including petroleum, and agriculture, especially the cultivation of flowers for export.  I’m sure that there are wealthy Ecuadorians, but most of the people seem to be either poor or, at best, of slender means.  Many of them make their living by selling things – I quickly realised there is a strict retail hierarchy.  The poorest sellers are peripatetic: they roam the streets with a very small selection of low-cost goods – sweets, water, small toys – and accost people as they pass.  Some of them are also beggars, who will offer you a sweet in return for alms; often they are women carrying small children.  Then there are street sellers with fixed spots on the pavements.  Either they lay out cloths or little folding tables exhibiting their wares, or they have small portable stalls.

Ice cream?

Ice cream?

They peddle cheap souvenirs and a wide variety of foods, especially the glistening heaps of stuff that looks like ice cream but, as I discovered, is really a kind of panna cotta, and cups filled with small pearl-like balls of coloured ice, which I guess are made of frozen fruit juice.  Exotic drinks are also on sale.  I sampled one of these, a pungent, bittersweet beverage made from green tea, cinnamon and warmed fruit juice.  Apparently, it is served at funerals, with cheap cookies so that people don’t ask for too many refills!

One up again from the street sellers are the market traders.  Most operate from relatively small, covered markets; Quito contains dozens of these.  Most sell textiles, silver jewellery, upmarket groceries (especially local coffees and chocolates) and fancy goods, the latter often too gaudy for northern European tastes.

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Carnival masks are a particular speciality of artisan craftsmen, and I found them both more appealing and more beautifully made than the ornate mirrors, leather-clad shots glasses, miniature shrines and fake shrunken heads which were also on sale.  It’s possible to haggle with the market traders and I found this less of a problem than the fact that they never let anyone  browse undisturbed.  Immediately you show an interest in something, they emerge from the depths of the stall to describe with great enthusiasm and speed (and in Spanish!) the many virtues of whatever it may be.  I found this approach overwhelming and usually just moved on.

Shops are at the top of the hierarchy.  Usually they are grouped in small parades or two- or three- storey malls.

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The goods they sell are generally of good quality and the shopkeepers themselves more discreet.  They won’t barter: the prices are marked clearly on what is for sale and they won’t budge; but often they charge only a few dollars more for a product far superior to what can be purchased in the market. The textiles, in particular, are made of fine wools and silks tender to the touch.   I imagine that many shopkeepers start off as street sellers and work their way up: this would explain the immense pride they take in their establishments and the impeccable displays they create.

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I’ve said that, from the word go, Quito made a pleasurable assault on my senses, but there was one exception: as a dog-owner with a very British love of animals, it saddened me to see the packs of abandoned dogs roaming the streets almost everywhere, even in the more affluent districts.  At first they look intimidating, especially when gathered in groups of up to ten, but I was assured by locals that they are never aggressive and don’t pose a danger to sightseers and other pedestrians.  To be fair, they don’t seem to be malnourished, mainly because both sellers and consumers of street food frequently take pity on them.  Cooked street food isn’t really my thing: I’m too prone to stomach ailments to be able to risk it; but I think even the most ardent dog-lover must find it difficult to enjoy a piping hot delicacy straight off the brazier when eating it involves having his or her every move tracked by a semi-circle of drooling, envious canines.

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Enjoying the Cambridge Literary Festival at Heffers

09 +00002016-11-28T13:17:40+00:0030 2012 § 6 Comments

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Celebrating in 2016 its 140 years of selling books in Cambridge, Heffers is one of the nation’s great classic bookshops, a national treasure.  It’s always been a privilege to visit it.  Even better, from my point of view, it’s home to Richard Reynolds, perhaps the country’s best-known crime bookselling connoisseur.  I first met Richard five or six years ago, when he had just embarked on a crime classic reprint venture.  No doubt owing to Richard’s influence, classic crime is now big business: there are several excellent imprints, including the British Library’s own.

An honour to be welcomed by Richard Reynolds

An honour to be welcomed by Richard Reynolds

Richard is interested in all types of crime fiction, modern as well as classic, and I’m very proud to say that not only does he stock the DI Yates novels but he also invited me for a signing session on Saturday as part of the Cambridge Literary Festival.  There was a wonderful buzz in the shop, which was packed with people shopping all the time I was there.

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I had a glorious three hours, talking to old friends and many new acquaintances.  I can’t begin to tell them how much I appreciate that most bought Rooted in Dishonour.  There were lots of sales of the other books in the DI Yates series, too.

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I’d like to thank Richard and his colleagues for great hospitality and for extending a very generous invitation to me to return to the shop again as soon as I am ready.  Perhaps they should be careful what they wish for: I might turn up again next week!

You might like to share in some of the highlights of my day there with the photographs below:

 

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Criss-crossing Lincolnshire with DI Yates…

09 +00002016-11-21T20:21:14+00:0030 2012 § 2 Comments

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Walkers, Stamford

Walkers, Stamford

Last Saturday, as last year and the year before, I once again enjoyed a warm welcome in Stamford’s Walkers Bookshop, which hosted a signing session for the publication of the new DI Yates.

In spite of the cold (snow had arrived the previous day in the Pennines), Christmas was in the air and the shop looked very handsome, newly kitted out with its festive stock.  I enjoyed talking to customers as they came and went. I was particularly grateful to Anne’s daughter (who sent her husband back to the shop to buy the book, having herself first gone home to check that her mother didn’t have it), to the lady who bought a copy for her friend ‘Brig’ and with whom I had a fascinating conversation, to Brian, Vetta and Liam, a British/Scandinavian family, who took a huge amount of interest in all the books and how I’d come to write them and to the man who, after a great deal of deliberation, decided that he’d rather have Sausage Hall.  Several people wanted to buy the earlier DI Yates novels. I was very sorry to have missed ‘the man from Gainsborough’, who’d visited the shop about half an hour before I arrived and bought all the novels, but couldn’t wait long enough to have them signed – I do hope that you will read this blog post and, even more, enjoy the books!

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I’d like to extend special thanks to Jenny Pugh and Tim Walker, who invited me to the signing, and Lynne, Linda and Sophie, who looked after me so well on Saturday.  I hope to look forward to meeting you and some of your wonderful customers again next year.

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