Richard Reynolds

Richard Reynolds: the pure genius

Books, bookseller and bookshop, inextricably bound!

As John Aubrey, the seventeenth century polymath, bibliophile – and bookseller – observed, “to read a book is demanding, for one must stay awake; to write a book is more demanding, for one must stay awake and think; but to sell a book – ah, that is a work of pure genius!”

I’m starting this series of celebratory posts with a piece about Richard Reynolds, the undisputed doyen of crime booksellers. Why begin with a bookseller? Because without the services of the bookseller, the entire creative process that concludes with the finished book would be pointless. Bookselling is an art under-rated by everyone who has not practised it.

Richard began his working life in September 1976 as a ‘classical music consultant’ at Hardman Radio in Manchester. He loved reading and would trawl new and secondhand bookshops and market stalls in the city. In early 1980 he spotted a job advert in Jardine’s bookshop, applied for it and began his bookselling career a few months later. In 1981, he was appointed buyer for the sports section at the famous Heffer’s bookshop in Cambridge, progressing to travel and biography and then to the literature department, which boasted an impressive twenty-five standard book ‘drops’ (book cases).

Richard’s manager knew he was a crime fiction buff and encouraged him to use a small space under the ledge near to the stairs to develop a crime fiction section. As sales took off, crime was promoted to more prestigious areas in the shop.  

Heffer’s is famous for its crime fiction events. Richard explains that these began in a small way in 1990 with Bodies in the Bookshop. Heffer’s put on “a wonderful display of crime fiction titles and ephemera on the platform halfway down the central staircase. Penguin Crime Classics sponsored a competition: the winner to supply the scream in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. I still have the poster! Heffer’s first crime fiction catalogue was produced at the same time. Five authors came to sign books on the last Saturday of the month: Colin Dexter, Lindsay Davis, Reginald Hill, Minette Walters and Michael Dibdin.”

Sixty authors took part in the last of these events, for which, for seventeen years, Richard compiled the catalogues. He still receives ‘heartening’ requests for copies from readers trying to fill gaps in their collections. As the numbers of authors increased, what had been a single annual event became three separate ones: What’s Your Poison, Murder under the Mistletoe and Murder Will Out, now organised by events manager Kate Fleet.

Since the COVID restrictions were lifted, events have resumed but been smaller: a launch party for After Agatha, by Sally Cline, Kate Rhodes in conversation with Sarah Vaughan about her book Reputation, and a launch party (with jazz quartet!) for Peter Morfoot’s Essence of Murder. On June 23rd, Financial Times reviewer Barry Forshaw and Kate Rhodes will discuss Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films and The Devil’s Table, the fifth of Kate’s Scilly Islands series.

Richard finds it very difficult to name an individual crime writer as his favourite. During lockdown, he re-read the whole Scilly Isles series, as well as books by Nicola Upson, Rennie Airth, Barry Maitland and Charles Todd. In 2019, as he approached his fortieth year as a bookseller, he compiled his personal list of 100 Favourite Crime Novels. If pushed to choose he says his favourite book would be The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and his favourite author Agatha Christie.

Richard is still a bookseller, but he now combines this with editorial and publishing activities. This began when he suggested to Penguin Random House which authors they should reissue under the Vintage Crime imprint. He has acted in a similar capacity for Ostara Books, Oleander Press and Clerical Crime and assisted with the publication of six Gold Age titles under Oleander Press’s Oreon imprint. More reissues are planned in the coming months.

He says he is grateful to his wife, Sally, for tolerating a house full of books! His small attic study is stacked high with collections of Penguin Green Crime, Gollancz yellow jackets, Golden Age titles, Cambridgeshire crime fiction, translated crime fiction, historical whodunnits, much recent detective fiction, a substantial collection of crime reference books and… and… and..!

Musing on his career, he says, “I suppose specialising in crime fiction is like being paid to pursue a hobby. Badgering publishers to re-publish good authors is a privilege. I enjoy working out the best fit between the author and the publisher. I serve as chairman of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year, for which there have been 260 submissions this year, making it hard to create the long list. The winner will be announced on 29th June.”

For aspiring booksellers, he offers the following message: “The late John Cheshire, a chatty, encouraging and supportive Heffer’s shop manager, told me not to spend my small salary on books but instead ask reps for proof/reading copies so that I could help publicise them. I have kept to that advice – and I’d like to thank all the reps and publishers who’ve kindly kept me supplied with reading material. And it’s important for booksellers to keep on reading ephemera about books: articles, reviews, blogs, information on publishers’ and authors’ websites.”

Asked what his advice to someone just starting out on a crime fiction writing career would be, he says that as writing is a solitary occupation it is important to chat to local booksellers and meet other authors, especially at events or festivals such as Crimefest and the Harrogate International Festival or one of the many good smaller festivals that now exist. It’s also a good idea to attend other writers’ launch parties, read widely – and try not to overwrite! Having some bookmarks printed is an inexpensive way of getting noticed – it’s easy to underestimate how useful they can be.

As an author, I am inexpressibly grateful to Richard and all the booksellers who make it their life’s work to support writing and reading. He is a man who practises sheer genius every day! If he were still alive, I know John Aubrey would be the first to agree.

Tomorrow’s post will be about an aspiring crime fiction writer, Fraser Massey, who is already a distinguished journalist.

National Crime Reading Month and www.christinajamesblog.com

The Crime Writers Association (CWA) and the Reading Agency have built on their brilliant lockdown idea of designating June as Crime Reading Month (CRM). This June, crime writing of all kinds will be celebrated in bookshops, schools, libraries and museums and at special events. CWA members are all encouraged to engage in some kind of activity to celebrate crime writing and reading, however small – it could be something as simple as encouraging a local library or bookshop to mount a crime fiction display – or large – the festivities culminate with the announcement of this year’s Daggers Award winners. More information about individual activities and events can be found at Events – National Crime Reading Month. It is worth checking this site every day, as exciting new projects are continually being added.

I think CRM is a very exciting concept and I am planning to participate by offering a new blog post every day during June on some aspect of crime writing, reading or publishing. Most of the posts will take the form of interviews with people prominent in these areas and I have many great interviews already lined up: for example, with Richard Reynolds, the doyen of booksellers specialising in crime fiction; Dea Parkin, the secretary of the CWA; and Lynette Owen, the distinguished editor of Clark’s Publishing Agreements, as well as authors, book lovers, bloggers, librarians, publishers, policemen and more booksellers. I have been invited to take part in several events myself and shall be covering these, too. There are still a few spaces left in the latter half of the month, so, if you would like to take part in an interview for the blog, please let me know.

I’ll write one or two posts about certain aspects of my writing. Questions that I have been asked are: ‘Why do your books describe the towns and villages of Lincolnshire as they were when you were growing up, even though the novels themselves are set in the present?’ and ‘What is the fascination that Lincolnshire still holds for you as an author, when you say you moved away many years ago?’

I’ll pick up on this later in the sequence. In the meantime, I do hope you will find time to follow the posts and enjoy them. The series will begin tomorrow with the Richard Reynolds interview. Why have I started with a bookseller? The post itself explains.

Christina’s summer, aside from work!

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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.

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!]

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Enjoying the Cambridge Literary Festival at Heffers

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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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