Stepping into Rickaro Books on Bookshop Day, 2017

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

Rickaro Books 2

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

Tilly

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.)

Gent

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

9781784631086cvr.indd

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.

Richard Reynolds

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.

Heffers July 2017 2

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.

Houses of Parliament

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.

Boston library

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!]

9781784631086cvr.indd

Journey to ‘the middle of the world’

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

quito-8

quito-21

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.)

quito-10

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.

quito-11

quito-15

quito-16

quito-14

quito-4

quito-2

quito-3

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.

quito-7

quito-13

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.

quito-6

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.

quito-18

quito-19

quito-5

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.

quito-12

In quest of the soul of South Korea

09 +00002016-01-17T21:00:56+00:0031 2012 § 8 Comments

Seoul 4

Last week, the day job took me to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I didn’t have very much time to explore this city, as, for family reasons, I had to cut my visit as short as possible. These impressions are therefore based on two walks that I made within about a one-mile radius from my hotel, my visit to the (amazing) library at Seoul National University, several evening trips to restaurants and what I could see from two one-hour taxi rides.

Library reading room

Seoul is a massive, sprawling city set within a giant curve of the Han River. If you land at Incheon Airport, the city appears to be ahead to the east and to your left. Gradually, the road sweeps round until you hit the city centre quite suddenly. There is a lot of traffic, with bottlenecks and impatient queues clogging the arterial roads at either end of the day.

The city centre had a slightly odd look when I was there, because many shops and hotels had removed only some of their Christmas decorations. Many still sported Christmas trees (the ones at my hotel were adorned with little placards announcing ‘Danger of Electric Shock’). I’ve no idea why Christmas disappears from Seoul in stages in this way; my Asian colleagues were equally baffled.

Although there are many cars, the streets teem with pedestrians. On the Sunday afternoon, many young people, in particular, were out walking, muffled against the cold (it varied from -1 to -10 degrees) in thick padded clothes. What immediately struck me as a Western observer was how the young women continually try to please their male partners, laughing up into their faces when the latter make jokes and hanging on to their arms as if unable to support themselves. To me, it seemed as if there was something formal, almost ritualistic, about this behaviour. It didn’t appear to be spontaneous.

The crowds on weekdays are quite different. They stream purposefully along the pavements, obviously on their way to work. The main streets are broad, often with traffic islands in the middle. ‘Jay walking’ is strictly not allowed: there are notices banning it. Just a few yards down from my hotel, a policeman with a whistle was stationed near a spot where the pavement narrowed each morning. He blew his whistle and waved a kind of luminous wand (reminiscent of a battery-powered Darth Vader light sabre that my son owned as a child) if anyone stepped off it in an attempt to circumnavigate the throng. In the evening, you see the people surging forth again, sometimes stopping at one of the many street food stands that occupy the lanes and alleys branching off from the main thoroughfares. Some of these alleys and passageways are decorated with murals that celebrate Korea’s ancient past.

Seoul 1

Seoul 2

Food seems to be the national passion. In the network of streets and alleys that I explored, almost every business was a restaurant, café or bar. Some have fish tanks standing in the street outside, from which you can choose the fish you fancy for dinner. (I assume that, once they’re removed from the tank, they’re taken out of sight to be dispatched.)

Seoul 8

As well as these individual premises, there are whole malls devoted to every type of cuisine – in addition to Korean restaurants, there are Japanese sushi bars, Italian pizzeria, Swiss chocolate houses, and even an approximation of a British pub, sporting the sign ‘HAND COOKED DINING PUB’ – though, as I found when my hosts took me to an Italian restaurant, most practise ‘fusion’ cookery.

Seoul 5

Whether you order a pizza, spaghetti, pie and peas or a hot chocolate, you’re likely to be offered a dish that, although it resembles its national original, is also redolent of Korean herbs and spices. My favourite restaurant, which I visited on my last evening, was a Korean B-B-Q restaurant. (This is how it is always spelt: these restaurants appear to be nationally celebrated.) It had charcoal braziers set into the tables. Patrons order raw meat from a selection on the menu (my own party chose a mixture of beef and pork), together with a range of salad and sauce accompaniments, and cook their own food. The main course was followed by two kinds of soup, one meat and vegetable based, one fish and seafood based, both very spicy. Koreans usually drink beer with this kind of meal, though there was also a strong white wine on offer (you drink it in sherry-type glasses, in very small quantities, and it tastes a bit like saké).

What else do Koreans like besides food? I was keen to find out so that I could buy presents, but even Koreans were at a loss to tell me. I discovered that Korea is home to a renowned type of ginseng and very good for silk ties. There are whole shops devoted to candles (though, on closer inspection, I found that the candles are imports from New York and Paris) and chemists’ shops, often selling vast ranges of foreign make-up, are popular. Otherwise, the main passions do indeed seem to be food and drink. This impression was borne out by the wares at the airport shops, where I saw very little on display except extensive pyramids of food and alcohol and an impressive range of electronic products. I couldn’t even find postcards, either at the airport or anywhere else.

Would I like to return? As I said at the beginning, my stay was very short and I can’t claim to have formed an accurate opinion of Seoul. I certainly liked the people: they were courteous and fun-loving, hard-working but not over-serious: I’d like to go back to become better acquainted with some of them. But I didn’t find Seoul itself as interesting as some of the other Asian cities I’ve visited. I’d be very happy, though, to be told that I’ve completely missed the point.

Seoul 3

Seoul 6

The bird in the house

09 +00002015-11-07T20:26:27+00:0030 2012 § 1 Comment

A wonderfully atmospheric post. A magic melange of images.

Murielle's Angel

image

‘There was a bird flying round the house,’ the Boxer told me.  She had no answer for what happened to it?or, how did it get in and out.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘but it looked quite startled.’

‘i expect you were startled too.’

‘I expect I was,’ she said vaguely, ‘but it was early.’

These days I suspect a slight detachment from reality. Lost in her thoughts she will not answer plain questions deflecting them with vague answers like, I can’t think right now, or I don’t know, you decide. Till I’m unsure whether this is simply because of the effort needed to answer or decide, or whether she actually doesn’t know anymore.
Things have slipped that once were sacrosanct. Take reading the newspaper cover to cover and marking up television programmes not to be missed.
Now, not only are the TV choices not made, but the ability to…

View original post 155 more words

Interview Special: Crime Author Christina James Becomes Less Of A Mystery

09 +00002015-03-14T11:45:33+00:0031 2012 § 6 Comments

Assalamu alaikum, people of Kuala Lumpur

09 +00002015-01-27T11:10:15+00:0031 2012 § 6 Comments

Composing oneself at the top of Petronas Towers

Composing oneself at the top of Petronas Towers

"It's only a model!"

“It’s only a model!”

Last week, the day job took me to Kuala Lumpur. I was away for five days, two of which were spent travelling almost around the clock (mad, I know, but I assure you it was worth it!). Once I had arrived, I was privileged to be the honoured and somewhat overwhelmed guest of two universities in the city. My impressions of the country and its people during so short a stay, although vivid, are therefore inevitably sketchy, so I apologise in advance for any observations that may strike those who know Malaysia better than I do as either incomplete or simply wrong.
Malaysia is a young (just over half a century since independence), very proud country, and also a thrustingly ambitious one. All of these qualities are epitomised by the twin towers – the Petronas Towers – that were built in the KLC district of the city in 1998 and are now the tallest twin towers in the world. Following many recommendations from my Asian colleagues, I chose to spend most of my single free half-day travelling to them and taking the tourists’ trip to the top. As the Towers are eighty-eight storeys high, this provides a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur and delivers a 360-degree demonstration of just how much development work is taking place there. High-rise buildings are everywhere and many, although dwarfed by the Petronas Towers themselves, are giants by UK standards. Nor is it all about size: most of the buildings are beautifully designed and Malaysians are increasingly strict about the standards of architecture they consider acceptable for their capital city. Whilst at the top of one of the Petronas Towers, I was lucky enough to see an inferior skyscraper being demolished: it collapsed in clouds of black dust.

In the race to the top, one down... and more, I think, to go.

In the race to the top, one down… and more, I think, to go.

A view from the bridge... between the towers

A view from the bridge… between the towers

Another view from the bridge

Another view from the bridge

As I’ve said, my impressions are based on only a little information, but it did strike me that Kuala Lumpans are in such a hurry to become world leaders that they are in danger of destroying not just their immediate past, but also their much older heritage; and this notion resonated with some of my colleagues when I voiced it. I saw little architecture in the city that was more than thirty years old and nothing at all that was likely to have pre-dated my own birth.
Yet, paradoxically, despite their keenness to ‘get on’, the overwhelming majority of Malaysians whom I met, almost all of whom were extremely well-educated, were gentle, polite, courteous, humorous and modest. They were not ‘go-getters’ in the sharp-elbowed sense. They have their own, highly honourable, way of making progress in today’s world. Much of this stems from the fact that they are also very devout. At both of the universities that I visited, the call to prayers sounded five times each day. The prayer rooms hold only twenty to thirty people and those not able to take part exactly on the hour await their turn patiently, but they make it quite clear, whatever the task in which they are engaged or the conference or focus group to which they are contributing, that prayer comes first.
Despite this apparent unanimity about how things should be done, I did observe some collisions as Eastern values met Western ones; not, however, at the universities, where highly-qualified librarians and academics have no problem with reconciling traditional dress and customs with exacting, high-profile jobs. The suite of rooms in which our meetings took place are normally occupied by eminent doctors and surgeons and are designed to help them relax from cutting-edge medical research and surgical operations. That we were very privileged to have had them generously give up these quarters to us for a whole day was not lost upon us.
Most of the men and women employed by the university wear traditional dress. This is at once exuberant and dignified. The men’s tunics and the women’s shalwar kameezes (they call them this, even though mostly the garments consist of three-quarter-length tunics and long skirts, rather than trousers) are beautifully made, often embroidered or sequined, and frequently in very bright colours. Sometimes the women wear tailored versions in heavy silk. The more austere outfits are a little more nun-like, and stick to plainer cloth – usually cotton – in light blues, greys and navy. But all these advocates of traditional dress wear their clothes with pride and often the women fasten their hijabs with many-jewelled brooches or enhance them with a framework of pearls. I saw no black burqas or niqabs at the universities.
Where I did see one such outfit was at the Petronas Towers. Since these are frequented by tourists, its owner may not have been Malaysian. I could see from her eyes and deduce from the age of her husband that she was very young – probably a girl still in her teens. And she didn’t look unhappy: he was holding her hand and they were walking along together, laughing. What was striking was the difference between this couple and another Asian couple (again, of course, I cannot make an accurate guess at their nationality), also taking the Twin Towers tour and also holding hands. The girl, also probably in her late teens, was wearing a short-sleeved black T-shirt and immaculate, but very short, white shorts.
How will Malaysia’s future unfold? From now on, I shall be fascinated to observe and find out. I hope that it will prosper as it wishes, and I also hope that it will at the same time manage to preserve its heritage and its traditions. I think that its most prominent religion may be the key: this week I was extremely honoured to have been able to immerse myself in how true Islam – tolerant, humorous, friendly, hospitable and forgiving – makes a huge contribution to the world in which we live.

A sense of proportion?

A sense of proportion?

And a sense of scale

And a sense of scale

And so high above all those!

And so high above all those!

A few degrees of the 360

A few degrees of the 360

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Uncategorized category at Christina James, crime novelist.

%d bloggers like this: