Friday 31 August 2012

The (wonderful) Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie

Birthday parties are always special, but how often do you get invited to a birthday party for a bookshop?

Twenty years ago, two people with little or no knowledge of bookselling opened up a small shop on a back alleyway in the Kilbirnie shopping centre and at the end of that day were part relieved, part exhilarated to realise they had made $250 worth of sales. Last night, a big and convivial crowd gathered in the shop (a bigger one, but still in the same alleyway)  to help John and Ruth McIntyre celebrate the 20th birthday of the wonderful Children's Bookshop. 


The bookshop was looking as fabulous as ever, with posters around the walls - reaching almost to the ceiling - and enticing book displays, set off by big bunches of congratulatory flowers on the counter. And the crowd inside reflected the wide range of people who value this bookshop so highly, including many local authors, illustrators and storytellers, other booksellers, school librarians and teachers, publishers' reps and staff, both past and present.

Annette King, who is a "neighbour" as well as local MP (her electorate office is right next door) began the speeches with a heartfelt tribute to all John and Ruth's hard work and their many awards and achievements over the last 20 years. She quoted from the article in the Dominion Post, describing them as "unsung heroes of Wellington", and said how true that was, but that we were there today to sing their praises. She also commented that whenever people weren't sure how to find her office, she simply had to say it was "next to The Children's Bookshop" and they would immediately be able to locate it.

Heidi talked on behalf of the staff, telling Ruth and John how wonderful they were to work for, and read out warm messages from others who couldn't be there, including David Hill and Diana Neild. Julia Marshall described the advice she'd been given by John when she was considering starting up Gecko Press, and pointed out how many other people have benefited from their helpful and wise suggestions. One of the publishers' reps described the bookshop as a "haven" in their busy day, and  one of their favourite places to visit (especially at morning tea time!)

But the star turn was undoubtedly Kate McIntyre, who has grown up with the shop - as she pointed out, it is only a few months older than she is. She told us that she'd only scribbled down a few notes an hour earlier, but she kept the audience captivated as she talked about what it had meant to her growing up with the bookshop as a second home, meeting world- famous authors, giving advice to book-buying customers as an eight-year-old and hanging out with the staff until she started proper "work" there at the age of about 15.

Finally John said a few words, and then there there was more wine and juice and deliveries of pizza, and lots more talk and a buzz of congratulations and admiration.

It was a great evening and a well-deserved celebration, with several themes that came through most of the speeches.  One was the quality of the staff whom John and Ruth have chosen and mentored, and how much they contribute to the bookshop's success, with their own wide reading enabling them to give valuable and reliable recommendations to  customers trying to choose the right book.

Another theme that emerged was is that it is all very well to set out to follow your dream, but a dream involves a lot of hard work and determination to make it succeed, and that's what Ruth and John have in bucketfuls.

So if you haven't been there for a while, make a visit and buy a book to celebrate their success and to wish them well for the next 20 years!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Walking home by Simon Armitage

Some years ago, I heard Simon Armitage when he was in Wellington for Writers and Readers Week, and bought his book All points north straight afterwards. Lately I've been enjoying his latest book,Walking home (sub-titled Travels with a troubadour on the Pennine way.) Simon Armitage is an English poet who came up with the idea of walking the Pennine Way north to south - against the prevailing weather conditions, and the usual direction of walking it - with the intention of finishing near his childhood home, a village called Marsden on the edge of the the Peak District. The idea was that the humiliation of failing to make Marsden would act as a spur to completing the 256- mile walk.

The trouble with many travel books is that they can be very self-absorbed. The writer makes it sound as though they are the only one exploring this fascinating part of the world, whereas if you've been there yourself, you know perfectly well that it must be swarming with other tourists. That's why I enjoy reading travel writers like Bill Bryson who can season their work with a lot of self-deprecating humour and write about fairly ordinary places while making them sound fascinating.

And that's why I'm really enjoying this book, because Simon Armitage is constantly poking gentle fun at himself and the whole idea of a 'travelling poet" (a big part of his expedition involved giving poetry readings each night) but his focus is usually outward, at the scenery, and the weather, and birds and flowers and geology, and the people he meets en route who take on board the "travelling poet" idea, offer him hospitality, organise the readings and become part of the whole project.

When we lived in England, we did a lot of walking in the Lake District, and also embarked on a misguided attempt to complete the  Coast to Coast walk in March. (It ended halfway across in a blizzard, so I can sympathise with some of Simon Armitage's descriptions of the inclement weather he encountered, even in summer.) We still have a couple of Alfred Wainwright's guides  - A pictorial guide to the Lakeland fells is one I've just picked off the bookshelf, Book Seven - the Western fells, crammed full of Wainwright's trademark maps and detailed drawings. So I'm also enjoying the language of the place names which are condensed poetry in themselves (from just one day's trek: Billysbeck bridge, High Cup Gill, Maize Beck, Meldon Hill, Birkdale Farm, the Cauldron Snout waterfall and the cliffs of Falcon Clints) as well as relishing the unusual and wonderful vocabulary he employs.

I also admire his determination to stick to his own rules, reading his poems in all sorts of venues after a long day's walk, when he must have been exhausted and yearning to hide away in a quiet place by himself.


The book is also peppered with references to other journeys, and other travelling poets - Wordsworth, the great walker, and Odysseus of course - and with occasional anecdotes that tell the stories behind some of the poems he reads, like "Causeway". Altogether it's a lovely mixture of travel book, memoir and poetry. I'm getting to the end of it now and I'll be sorry to come to the end of the journey.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Margaret Mahy Readathon Saturday

Our Margaret Mahy Readathon at Brooklyn library on Saturday morning was an absolutely charming event.

Eirlys Hunter dressed up as a most splendid-looking pirate to read The man whose mother was a pirate.

She also provided a pot of bubble mixture, and the bubbles kept the children enchanted while she read Bubble trouble (a tongue-twister of a poem which both Eirlys and I can remember having once heard Margaret recite off by heart.) It's interesting to hear that bubbles also featured in a number of other Margaret Mahy readathon events.

There was a small boy who roared convincingly during the reading of A lion in the meadow, and we were also lucky enough to have a mother in the audience who had grown up in Christchurch and used to hear stories read by Margaret during Storytime at the Public Library. What a wonderful memory to have.

We tried to explain to the children gathered to listen (and they were very good listeners) that they were part of a very special occasion, paying tribute to - and just enjoying - the fabulous, funny and magical writing of Margaret Mahy. And it certainly felt like a special occasion for us, knowing that all over the country, other people were also reading and listening to these wonderful books.



Wednesday 8 August 2012

Margaret Mahy nationwide read: Saturday 11 August

On Saturday 11 August, all over New Zealand (and even further afield), people are gathering to remember and celebrate the life and work of Margaret Mahy (1936-2012) by reading some of her fabulous stories!

There is sure to be an event somewhere near you - check out the Margaret Mahy nationwide read under Events everywhere. Most (but not all) are happening at 11am. If you live in Auckland, Cambridge, Tauranga, Taupo, Wellington  Oamaru, Alexandra - and many places in-between - there will be readings, drawings and craft activities by local children's writers and illustrators.

I'm looking forward to reading at Brooklyn Library with Eirlys Hunter. We've both been raiding our bookshelves for our battered and much-read copies of some of Margaret's picture books - and Eirlys has even promised to lookout for a multi-coloured wig.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Thank you, Cambridge Primary School

›A big thank you to Heather, Jessica, Hayley, Nicholas, Katie and ZoĆ«, who have been reading some of my books in their reading group.

They emailed me a fabulous Power Point presentation and also posted this wonderful fold-out card - how can you resist a cover like this:

Thanks especially to Jessica for her comment  on A girl called Harry:

›Every moment of this book I was thinking WOW! What would happen next? I just could NOT put it down! It was my favourite book by far!, by Jessica.

Getting cards, comments and feedback like this just has to be one of the best parts of being a writer!

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Stop what you're doing!

Books about reading don't always work, but when they do, it's like stepping into the company of friends who love books as much as you do.

Stop what you're doing and read this! contains ten essays about the experience of reading by writers like Blake Morrison, Michael Rosen, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson. It was put together in response to research that that came up with depressing findings such as that one in three teenagers in Britain reads only two books a year (or fewer!)

Here are two gems of quotations:

"Select the right words and put them in the right order and you can run a cable into the hearts of strangers." (Mark Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

And there is another quotation from Virginia Woolf, which is referred to in a review of this book but I can't find in the book itself, so I had to Google it and here it is:

"When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, 'Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.'"