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 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
(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!
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 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.
Monday was a horrible day in West Yorkshire. Torrential rain and high winds were battering the city when I arrived at Wakefield One for my afternoon of reading and discussion with some of the lovely members of the reading groups run by Alison Cassels. My husband dropped me off opposite the library complex and I got soaked – and nearly blown away – just crossing the road.
Nevertheless, I felt both philosophical and optimistic. As I’ve already noted, every event for The Crossing so far has taken place when the weather outside has been appalling, and every one has been a success. I knew that the gallant and stalwart members of the Wakefield reading groups would not let me down by preferring their firesides to the library.
Reader, I was not wrong! An extremely lively audience arrived punctually, some having regaled themselves with hot soup in the café to start with, and we all enjoyed a couple of hours of reading, writing and sleuthing, handsomely fortified by the Christmas cake, mince pies and stollen and tea and coffee supplied as generously and thoughtfully as usual by Alison and Lynn.
After listening to and providing feedback on the readings as only Wakefield audiences know how to do, when invited to take inspiration from the first chapter of The Crossing, each of the group members wrote a short sketch of an event that had happened to them and had stayed with them vividly, one that might be used as the opening scene of a novel. I hope the photographs capture the lively and committed participation that has come to be the hallmark of Wakefield One events: some read their own sketches, others asked their immediate neighbour to read for them. Everyone was spellbound by what was on offer. The accounts were fascinating and included bell-ringing for the first time and soaring unintentionally upwards on the rope, riding to London on The Flying Scotsman, walking to school through the snow in the Arctic winter of 1947 and the tale of how an uncle had pawned his wife’s hard-saved-for furniture to buy a red sports car. Novels in the making, every one – and the quality of the writing was of a very high standard.
The afternoon was rounded off by a quiz prepared by Alison. She’d found the photographs of twenty famous crime writers and asked the group to put names to them while I signed some books. It was a brilliant idea, and quite a hard task: no-one got more than half of the answers correct. (I’m going to ask Alison if she’ll let me have the quiz to post on this blog, as I’m sure some of my readers will enjoy it, too!).
The time slid away very rapidly. Braced by a final cup of tea, we ventured out into the cold again before we were trapped by the notorious end-of-day Wakefield traffic bottlenecks. I’d like to thank everyone who took part: the reading group members for giving me so much support (as they always do; it was also good to see several new faces this time), Alison and Lynn for arranging it all so impeccably, the Wakefield Libraries tweeter who, together with them, ensured that the event gained plenty of publicity, and Richard Knowles of Rickaro Books for supplying copies of The Crossing for sale. I hope to see you all again soon!
Yesterday I spent a superlative afternoon at Rickaro Books, Horbury, to celebrate three events: the launch of Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times, by A Firm Of Poets (some of whom are now also Firm Friends of this blog!) on the first day of this year’s Books Are My Bag festivities; the birthday of one of Rickaro Books’ regular customers; and last, but by no means least, the thirteenth birthday of Rickaro Books itself. Toasts were drunk in sparkling wine while it rained outside: a wonderfully cosy and pleasantly decadent way of spending a Saturday afternoon!
The four poets who performed yesterday were Ralph Dartford, a founding member of A Firm Of Poets, accounts of whose at once tongue-in-cheek and poignant performances (‘Now then! / In November 1950 / Pablo Picasso / visited Sheffield / for a hair cut, / Peace, / and some toast.’) have graced this blog before (he has a lovely wife who always supports his performances);
Matt Abbott, a born performance poet, whose rendering of a pathetic yet comic drunk was particularly hilarious (‘I’ll have a bottle of Beck’s from the fridge / ‘cause you all might have stopped drinking / but I’m from Horbury Bridge / and I’m – yeah, I’ll have some gravy, love …’);
and, new to me but very impressive indeed, the goth poet Geneviève Walsh (‘So many love songs which compare desire to sunshine, / a practice as futile as comparing art to dust. / This is England, see, and the sunshine’s more akin / to a tax rebate / or a lottery win’).
The work of all these poets, as well as that of John Darwin and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (whom I’ve also met and been wowed by at an event at Rickaro Books, so I was disappointed that he couldn’t be there yesterday) appears in the beautifully-produced, chapbook-style Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times.
If you happen to be in West Yorkshire, you could do no better than to buy it from Rickaro Books and have a look round the shop at the same time – it is a very distinctive shop which sells both new and antiquarian books.
But I mentioned four poets and I’ve only described three. There was, in fact, a fourth poet present, who also performed, joining A Firm Of Poets as he regularly does; his poems (which he read from his mobile phone, having forgotten to bring the text with him!) don’t feature in Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times. His name is William Thirsk-Gaskill.
Perhaps because he now has a double-barrelled name, my husband and I didn’t recognise the former plain William Gaskill at first – though my husband says that he knew the voice as soon as he heard William speak. When we first met, he was a very talented schoolboy and we were also young, though not as young as he was (William obligingly informed us that my husband was twenty-nine at the time, so I will have been twenty-eight!). To see him again gave the day an extra special bonus. William was also selling a book: Escape Kit, a novella, which we have bought but have yet to read. I’ll review it here when I’ve finished it.
Events at Rickaro Books are always distinctive, memorable and successful. It was a great privilege to be able to attend its Books Are My Bag launch and celebrate with A Firm of Poets. I am therefore extraordinarily proud to be able to tell my readers that Richard of Rickaro Books will be supplying the stock at ‘Tea at Sausage Hall’, Wakefield One’s wonderful way of celebrating the publication of the third of my DI Yates series, on November 19th. And I’m thrilled that some of A Firm of Poets have said that they will be supporting me by attending. Riches indeed! Thank you all so much. I’m looking forward to it already. Meantime, I wish you every success with your books.
Rickaro Books, of Horbury, is one of our most distinguished independent bookshops and, like all distinguished independent booksellers, Richard Knowles knows that events don’t just happen: you have to work at them. Therefore, although World Book Day – and, by extension, World Book Week – is getting a huge amount of support from the Booksellers Association and individual publishers, with lots of media coverage, whether or not a bookseller succeeds in making it work is down in the end to himself or herself.
Richard has arranged events for almost every day of this week, leading up to World Book Day itself, which is tomorrow, Thursday March 6th. (If you’re interested in finding out more, please click here.) Tomorrow, he is entertaining a group of schoolchildren in the shop, all wearing fancy dress, and is even going to dress up himself! (I find this amusing: Richard has obviously mellowed since I worked with him all those years ago, when, if not exactly child-unfriendly, he was certainly selective about the children that he liked!)
However, when I read about Richard’s celebrations for World Book Week, the Rickaro Books event that most intrigued me was the one that took place yesterday. I made plans to attend it immediately. It was a live poetry evening, with Ralph Dartford and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (who refers to himself on Twitter as ‘the poor man’s Benedict Cumberbatch’, a soubriquet that immediately endeared him to me). The shop has an excellent track record at organising poetry readings (I’ve written about them on this blog before) and I knew that yesterday’s would not disappoint.
The two poets recited alternately with the fluency and skill which comes from complete command of the material. Both were consummate performance artists, but what really impressed me was the quality of the poetry itself. It is my experience that many live poets are performers first, poets second, but both Ralph and Matthew are exceptional poets as well as being brilliant at engaging with a bookshop audience. The latter was pretty special, too, and included a small boy named George who was dressed as Peter Pan.
If you are not familiar with Ralph’s and Matthew’s work and you like poetry, I recommend that you invest in the two books (AND Matthew’s lovely green vinyl record!) that I bought last night. Cigarettes, Beer and Love, by Ralph, takes the form of a chapbook that has been beautifully produced by the Ossett Observer on hand-made paper. Matthew’s A Family Behind Glass, published by Valley Press, has all the elegance of a classic ‘slim volume’. Which poems did I enjoy most last night?
Well, the Co-op store in Ossett will never be quite the same to me again, now that Ralph has given me ‘Co-op Live Art Fiasco’, which describes his effort to show the individuals in the checkout queue that their investment in the Lottery pays for art (and his wages)… by stripping stark naked and doing some ‘live art’ with a Lucozade bottle. The constable summoned to the event says: “I once saw something like this in Berlin. A scratch card paid for the trip. I quite liked it.” (Ralph was led away at 08.46.) As readers of this blog know well, I’m game for a laugh, but there’s serious stuff behind Ralph’s humour.
Ralph describes Matthew as the ‘cerebral’ one of the pair (but all their poems last night were ‘thinky’, even the most superficially frivolous of them!). In fact, one poem of Matthew’s touched me a lot and spoke to me very clearly from my own past in our first rented marital flat in Leeds.
He set the context of a rented house in Rothwell, his and his wife’s first home, at a time when, he said, they weren’t really ready to be adults, yet. I’ll give you the first stanza, so that you may be touched as well:
Now that the streetlamps have stolen the stars
From the afternoon sky, sleep, content
And lovely as custard, pours over us. We sit
With winter on the settee, arm in arm –
Our legs interlaced like denim snakes,
Bedlam pressed between our palms. [From ‘The Wendy House’]
Matthew is about to take up a post with Leeds City Libraries: I’d like to wish him well with this. Ralph works for the Arts Council, and knows Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing. He observed, unsurprisingly, that they are both ‘lovely people’. He kindly bought In the Family before he left the shop, which gave what had already been a very enjoyable evening a considerable extra fillip for me!
I wish Richard every success with World Book Day. (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he receives the schoolchildren tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to travel to London instead.) And I hope very much indeed that I shall meet Matthew and Ralph again. In the meantime, I shall enjoy reading their poetry for myself. Thanks to them for introducing me so beautifully to it.
Precious poetry pack
How to get a book signed by two priceless poets
Last Friday, I spent another fascinating evening at Rickaro Books. I’d been looking forward to it with great anticipation since the Ian McMillan / Tony Husband event that took place several weeks ago. This time, the author was Gervase Phinn. I hadn’t met him before – though my husband is very familiar with his books – and he did not disappoint. The event was extremely well attended: I calculate that at least forty people managed to squeeze into this distinguished but pocket-sized bookshop.
He focused upon his latest book, Mangled English, which delights in highlighting the way we all misuse the language (I certainly do!), and touched upon such matters as mis-spellings, Spoonerisms, Malapropisms and howlingly bad verse (guilty!). He also told many amusing anecdotes about people he’d met. He now spends some of his time as a performing artist on cruise ships, so the tales he had to tell were varied. However, the one that I liked best – although it was also one of the most poignant – was the one about the old people in a care home. One of them was actually his mother-in-law. She was obviously out of the conversation (he was very sensitive in the way that he talked about her dementia), but he derived real humour from recounting the reaction of the old man who was sitting next to her when he was asked his name. He wouldn’t give it and, when asked whether he had played any part in ‘the war’, would only reply ‘I might have done’. Getting no other response from him, Gervase turned to his mother-in-law and asked her name. While she was struggling to remember it, the old man suddenly burst out: “Don’t tell him, Pikey!”
In a more serious vein, Gervase extolled the virtues of encouraging children to read at a young age – as he had himself been encouraged as a boy – and deplored the government’s ever-changing education strategy. As a former inspector of schools, he is better qualified than most to do so. He took an especial interest in the children at the event.
It was a privilege to meet him and I had two opportunities to talk to him. However, the best part of the evening for me was actually being at Rickaro Books itself, looking at the excellent rare books collection that is on sale there and drinking mulled wine – it was the gateway to Christmas for me, in fact. The experience was made even better by being invited to join Richard and Carole Knowles, the proprietors of the bookshop, for dinner afterwards in their local Italian restaurant . As I’ve said in a previous post, Richard and I go back a long way, and it was very good to have the opportunity to listen once more to his (sometimes elliptical, always amusing) take on life, the universe and bookselling… and to get to know Carole a little better.
Watch this space: I’m sure that there will be more posts about Rickaro Books in the future. Should you ever be in Horbury, I wholeheartedly recommend that you take a detour (it won’t be much of one, as the bookshop is in the very heart of the town) to pay a visit.