Looking forward to Kingsblood

2013 August Wells 076Ankaret Wells, whose books are great and who I credit with showing me that self-publishing could be far more fun and far less trouble than I had always feared, has teamed up with Irene Headley, whose writing is always insightful and often hilarious, to write a new fantasy series, Kingsblood. And it looks like it’s going to be fantastic:

The bitter years of the Cousins War are over… for now.
The grandsons of Kharis Sidonia are dukes and kings, and the last kinsmen of the deposed King Gilbert the Bloodless are hunted exiles… for now.
Winter holds armies at a standstill, and in Briege, the suitors of the new Duchess of Bergomance protest that they are at her feet… for now.
Before the thaw breaks, Ambrosia of Bergomance must choose a husband, and place her people in the hands of another, greater, power, By her side are two men – her uncle Thomas of Wharram, loyal to his family above all else, and Nicolas ás Ithel, who has spent most of his life as a hostage.
Thomas and Nicolas become lovers and allies…
For now.

There are extracts at Ankaret’s blog and at Irene’s. The first work is coming out in December.

I’m really looking forward to this one.

100 untimed books: joyful

37. joyful

37. joyful

This book seems to have attracted a lot of adjectives. Beyond KARSAVINA’s ‘enchanting’ on the front cover, the flaps have ‘fascinating’ (three times), ‘exciting and vivid’, ‘enchanting’ again (once the full Karsavina quotation, and once from the News Chronicle), ‘delightfully impetuous’ and ‘irresistibly impetuous’ (the Observer and the Daily Mail respectively, agreeing on something for once), ‘beautiful’, ‘valuable’, ‘charming’, ‘enthralling’, ‘almost a great book’ (The Times, damning with faint praise, there; see also ‘in spite of its horrible title’ from The Spectator), ‘brilliant’, ‘remarkable’, ‘splendid’, and ‘unique’.

And, if that wasn’t enough, I am going to add ‘joyful’.

100 untimed books

A reader’s guide to Cambridge charity shops

The fruits of an afternoon's research

The fruits of an afternoon’s research

I have always bought books in charity shops, and, so long as charity shops, books, or I continue to exist, I always will. There wasn’t much spare money around when I was growing up, and besides, I have a perverse liking for things that are out of print.

In terms of books, charity shops are good for:

  • things I have a vague idea that I’m collecting (for example, Blue Peter annuals, or John Buchans in the red Nelson edition, which is the only thing that fits on the second shelf of my big bookcase);
  • last year’s bestsellers;
  • impulse buys.

Charity shops are not so good for:

  • things that have only just been published, though you occasionally get lucky;
  • rare or specific books, though you occasionally get lucky;
  • things you need within a tight timeframe, though you occasionally get lucky.

I spend less time in charity shops than I used to, mainly because there are none within walking distance of my office – at least, not if I want to get out and back and spend a reasonable amount of time actually in the shop all within my lunch break. However, there are always Saturdays. I’ve lived in Cambridge for getting on for three years now, and have explored a reasonable portion of the city in that time. There are two streets in particular that have an abundance of charity shops: Burleigh Street and Mill Road.

Charity shops fall into two broad categories. There are the carefully curated, and the undiscriminatingly chaotic.

The latter are, of course, by far the best for books. You never know what you’re going to find; you pick up things you’d never heard of because you are intrigued by the picture on the spine or because the title reminds you of something you were looking for six months ago. You never find what you’re actually looking for, but the chances are you’ll find something else worth reading.

In the carefully curated category, by contrast, you will find two stingy shelves of books, whose contents will be unremittingly boring, and suspiciously similar to those in every other carefully curated charity shop in the street. If you’re looking for last year’s bestseller, this is the place to go. If not, it won’t take you long to scan the shelves and decide there’s nothing to keep you there. (You will also find some inoffensive and deeply boring clothes, and the ones with an ‘Atmosphere’ label will probably cost a pound more than they were originally sold for in Primark.)

A more promising subset of ‘carefully curated’ is the specialist charity bookshop. There are two of these in Cambridge – the Oxfam bookshop on Sidney Street, and Books for Amnesty on Mill Road. The great advantage of these is the fact that the books are arranged in a coherent and logical fashion, and, if you know what you’re looking for, you can be in and out within three minutes.

However, the chances are that you’ll pay a similar price to those charged by specialist second-hand dealers. Which is good for the charity, of course… up to the point where you don’t buy the book because you didn’t want it that much. And of course, if you don’t know exactly what you want, the choice can be somewhat overwhelming.

My two favourite shops on Burleigh Street are Oxfam and the RSPCA. Oxfam has  a vast range of all sorts of stuff over two floors. The books are helpfully arranged by category, and there are plenty of categories, and there is plenty of variety within those categories. The last thing I got in there was a book of poems by Luci Shaw, and the thing before that was A Murder Is Announced. It’s also, so my father informs me, good for Ordnance Survey maps.

The RSPCA doesn’t have such a wide selection, but what it does have is of good quality. I picked up the bulk of my Buchan collection there. The British Heart Foundation tends to have interesting books. Like all BHF shops, it’s crammed full of too much stuff, both second-hand and the hideous ‘new goods’, but it can be worth fighting your way to the back left-hand corner. I wouldn’t go out of my way to any of the others, and have resolved never to give books to the Scope shop, which sends them (so one assistant told me, at least) for pulping if they haven’t sold after only a fortnight on the shelf.

Mill Road has the Sally Ann, which is a spacious shop with a lot of stuff in it, and another Oxfam, this one affably scruffy. The YMCA is comparatively new. It has hardly any books, but I did get A Book of Escapes in there.

It is worth going beyond the railway bridge, if only for the RSPCA bookshop. This is less like a charity shop and more like something you’d find in Hay-on-Wye. Books everywhere, stacked on the top of shelves, on the floor. Penguins, Pelicans, Viragos, old hardbacks, old paperbacks… It’s wonderful.

I don’t recommend going round all the charity shops in one day. There are, after all, only so many books that can be loaded into a bike basket before the steering goes all skew-whiff.

December Reflections 9: best day of 2016

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On my birthday I found a labyrinth in the shape of a diplodocus.

It was a great birthday anyway. I was staying with my family on the Isle of Wight. We visited my favourite second-hand bookshop. There was a picnic on the beach, with stuffed vine leaves and huge chocolate cookies, and my youngest brother bought everyone ice creams. I opened my birthday presents on the beach, and one of them was a book about the labyrinths in the London Underground.

Then we walked up from the beach to look for lizards at La Falaise car park. We found a lizard, and then, a little further up the cliff, we found a lizard of another sort. I’d had fossils and spirals on the brain all year – and what’s a labyrinth but a very particular sort of spiral? And moreover, because of the way that one follows the path of a labyrinth into the centre, and then follows it back out again, it’s a very appropriate thing for a birthday. You can let the last year go on the way in, and welcome the next one on the way out.

Later, my oldest brother treated us to tapas; and we rounded off the day with pink lychee liqueur. It was a fabulous birthday.