Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Paradigm Shift...

It's been bothering me of late. I've been mulling it over.

When exactly did it happen, this sudden shift to entitlement in fiction - and the world at large? When exactly did we shift to this belief that we were destined for greatness? That we wouldn't have to work for it?

I don't blame Harry Potter, but it certainly didn't help.

The whiny little wizard who had greatness handed to him on a plate (I know he had some troubles because of it, but really... point stands).

But there's a difference I think between the way childrens fiction does this sort of thing today, and the basic set up as it was before.

Through the 60's and 70's and early 80's it was normal kids, unimportannt, nothing special everyday kids falling into spectacular events and having to muddle through. To find something within them WORTHY of the adventure they'd been thrust into. Find the strength to deal with extraordinary and often dangerous events.

These days the kids in such a tale are likely to be 'chosen ones' whose destiny it is to put the world to rights; to be the greatest wizard; to be the lynchpin/the fulcrum that will tip events in a certain direction. No matter what they do - they're special.

And there's something about that, that I think is having a bad effect on kids.

No doubt they're getting the same sort of shit from elswhere too - X-Factor and the like are even worse - but this kind of paradigm in childrens fiction is more insidious. It gets in early. And it gets in deep.

In the stories of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones and the like, it's much more likely to be thhe case that the children in the tales are ordinary. Nothing special as such - but that the WORLD around them is shown to be a great deal more special than they thought. They stumble into fantasy, into magic, into wonder, and they have to live up to it. Have to rise to the challenge set before them to be worthy of being part of the tale.

Even when - as with Will in The Dark Is Rising - there is something inherently special about the child that they were unaware of, it's dealt with in a way that still doesn't give him any fundamental right to superiority. It's a potential within him, that he still has to earn. To - again - live UP to.

My thoughts on all of this remain ill-formed and tangled, but it's nagging at me.

Something about this set up really isn't right.

It sets kids up with the wrong kind of attitude and the wrong kind of relationship with the world in which they live - the other people living there, the landscape all around. It puts THEM at the centre of importance. Rather than the story - the magic, the wonder. It sets the child as being of greater importance than anything else. The locus point. The source of power. It's sort of babyish and infantile in that respect.

The other way is to make them part of something greater than themselves, to instigate a sense within the child that they must grow and earn and learn to better themseves, to be something extraordinary. Something wonderful.

It's not a god given gift. It's fought for, tooth an nail.

Someday I'll get a hold of this idea and clarify. But for now... I'll keep on pondering and chewing on it. I'll break it down eventually.

Monday, 23 August 2010

We're Back!

Hi there... it's been a long time, I know.

But the recommends section in the window hs been going down quite well I'm pleased to say. Which makes me happy.

After a bit of a blitz into the work of Christopher Fowler recently (his memoir PAPERBOY was one of our initial reccomends if you remember), I just got my grubby mits on the new book from David Almond MY NAME IS MINA.

It's a gorgeous book - as you might imagine from an author I hold in such high esteem - and while it's a little plot-lite it's wonderfully written. A prequel to SKELLIG, this tells us more about Mina, the precocious little girl with the enquiring mind from Almonds debut novel.

Essentially, MY NAME IS MINA is her journal. And like her, it's fizzing with life and ideas, and utterly rapt in the sheer wonder of the world around us and the life we live in it.

It's a joy to read - not least beause it taps so directly into the feeling of being enraptured by the world. The sense we have as children of the enormity of the world and the universe. It brought all that bubbling to the surface agsain for me, and it was a delight to feel it - though a bitter sweet delight as I realised how much that sense of the world has been eaten away.

But if you want to see the world through fresh eyes once again. Wipe the sleep and scales from your mind. I can heartily recommend this one. It may seem slight - but it won't disappoint you.

Likewise a new collection from Wordsworth of the Ghost Stories Of Oliver Onions.

If you don't know your Onions (sorry - couldn't resist!) you're in for a treat. He's one of the greatest British authors of ghost stories, that ever lived. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood both sang his praises, and his abilities with character, mood and atmospher, put him right up there with the very best of M.R. James.

Best known for 'The Beckoning Fair One', this is 600+ pages of pure shivering delight.

Also out now is ELECTRIC EDEN...

...a fantastic tome that I'll try to write about another time - or just as likely rope in my fine friend, fellow scribbler and occasional volunteer instore (he makes sure I get the odd holiday) Jeremy Winship. Click HERE to get the basic details... expect more soon...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Books We Recommend...

Hi there... well, it's been a bit quiet of late. Not just for us, it seems - from other retailers I talk to - that the streets of Exeter are a bit quiet in general at the moment.

So, in an effort to draw you all in, and keep myself smiling, I've added a selection of Personally Recommended authors/titles to the window display. New books at our usual 20% off (same as we do for anythign new we order for you).

I see it as a personal gift... well, okay, a MISSION! Dammit, there's so much more out there than TWILIGHT! So many wonderful writers, and I want you all to know it! I want to gift you all the wonder of these writers, people who will make your world a better place. I promise.

Mind you, you'd better be quick... because a couple of these have disappeared already! (I'll be ordering more)

Graham Joyce (under the pen name William Heaney) - I've talked about his novel MMEMOIRS OF A MASTER FORGER at length here before, so you KNOW how much I love the book and how much I love Graham as an author. Outstanding... but I thought it high time I started mentioned a few others...

ROBERT SHEARMAN - the collection is a little hard to see in the picture here, it's called LOVE SONGS FOR THE SHY & CYNICAL and it is a beautiful book. A collection of short stories that mark Shearman out as the natural successor to John Collier and Roald Dahl. Weird and wonderful, beautiful and strange, achingly heartfelt and melancholy.

STEPHEN VOLK - this is the man who created GHOSTWATCH for the BBC and so scared the nation that it's never been shown by them again. He also created the ITV series AFTERLIFE (one of the best drama series of the last 10 years). As it happens, Volk is also a fantastic prose writer, as this collection amply proves. Intelligent, creepy and provocative. Volk is a writer well worth your time, who deserves to be MUCH better known.

NEIL GAIMAN - The Wolves In The Walls is just a great bit of fun. A picture book for 5 year olds... it can be enjoyed by anyone. This edition includes a CD of Gaiman reading the story himself. He's got a great voice for it too.

CHINA MIEVILLE - The City & The City. Mieville is one of the best young writers of dark fantasy in the UK. This one takes him into new territory, blending a bit of film noir with a bit of Kafka, Orwell or Philip K. Dick...

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER - Paperboy. This is a memoir, achingly funny, sometimes sad, always touching. Fowler is another UK writer who should be better known than he seems to be. Currently enjoying success with the Bryant & May crime novels, he's a man of rich imagaination, who writes novels and stories that grab you by the throat and lead you down some very strange alleys indeed. His memoir though is the kind of book that can be enjoyed by fans or non fans alike. The sense of place, and the feeling of growing up in England in the 1960's is so acute it's like he bottled it. One whiff can act liek smelling salts, awakeniing all kinds of memories from the depths of your brain...

MICHAEL CHABON - The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Chabon won the Pulitzer prize for his novel The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay... this one has been optioned as a movie by the Coen Brothers. I think they'll make a perfect match.

JEREMY DYSON - The Cranes That Build The Cranes. Dyson is currently enjoying great success in the theatre with his play GHOST STORIES scaring the crap out of audiences. He's themember of The League Of Gentlemen that you don't see much of onscreen. He's also a cracking writer of highly imaginative, often funny, sometimes downright twisted tales.

DAVID ALMOND - I'm pretty sure I sang the prases of David Almond in my first few posts here. Probably the UK's finest children's author. With The Savage he teams up with Dave McKean as illustrator to produce a books that is both brutal and beautiful. A perfect match of talents, and a brilliant, brilliant little book.

GUSTAV MEYRINK - The Golem. A dream like take on the classic tale. Meyrink was a wonderful writer, and this is one of the great novels of a CITY...

SCOTT BRADLEY et al - The Horror Book Of Lists. If you're a Horror fan, you NEED this book. A fantastic collection of obsessive, obscure, odd and funny lists by horror writers and film makers. The kind of thing you dip into for a quick look... only to find yourself surfacing a couple of hours later wondering where the time went!

So, keep your eyes on the window if you want somethhing good... I make no bones about the fact that it reflects my tastes. These are personal recommendations. But there are no guilty pleasures here. Only Great Stories. Great Writing. Great Imagination...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Micky C on BBC...

Michael Chabon wrote one of my very favourite books, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. A novel I did not want to end. A big, chunky novel to get lost in. A novel like a duvet, to wrap yourself in when the world outside is cold and hostile. It's a glorious book and I cannot reccomend it highly enough. Nor for that matter his novel WONDER BOYS (the film of which is actually as good, though the things I like best about one are not what I like best about the other - thus making them mutually loveable and yet totally distinct), or his 'Sherlock Holmes' novel (though he never quite identifies our hero) THE FINAL SOLUTION.

Quite frankly, all of his work is worth your time, and his most recent book - MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS is being read on Radio 4 as 'Book Of The Week'.

It's a nonfiction collection. And, like all his writing, it's wonderfully evocative.

Do yourself a favour and give it a listen HERE.

And,if you like what you hear, well, why not pop in and buy some. Chabon never lasts long on our shelves because he's one of the safest bets for me when someone asks me to recommend them something GOOD.

But we can order new stuff as well... What's that? you never realised!? OH YES! WE CAN ORDER NEW BOOKS FOR YOU TOO!!! AND USUALLY AT 20% OFF THE COVER PRICE! (end of advertising voice).

Really though, if you've never read any Chabon, I can't recommend him highly enough.

So, if you want something worthwhile to read when you're sitting in the sun (now that it's here), or even something not so worthwhile - we've got some very diverting/entertaining trash in here too - why not pop in on your way to wherever it is you're going?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Sunshine and Smoking Poppy

SUN! LIGHT! I do believe that sping might actually be on the way... the dark is receding, the world is ours again!

And, while I know this might make the blog seem more like a Graham Joyce love in than a place to talk about the shop, right now there's no author out there bringing me more pleasure. Indeed, right now - what with my own writing on the go, and the way my mind is hopping and skipping and swirling and taking long walks down strange dark alleys - he's the only author I've been able to focus on for more than a short story's worth. Most recently, his novel SMOKING POPPY, which was published back in 2001.

I got very little sleep last night. This book kept me reading way past the time I should have been sleeping. And really it's a heartbreaker.

The opening page just welds you to the protagonist, with his description of the incomparable love of a father for his little baby girl, the chemical addiction to the smell of her. The writing is so strong, so direct, it is palpable. I wanted to weep right there... and that is just the start.

Joyce is not a cheap sentimental writer. Any and every emotion in his writing is honest, hard won and real. And because it's real - it's complicated. Few other writers I've read, convey so powerfully (to me at least) the moments in our lives when we are revealed to ourselves. When we transcend ourselves. When we suddenly see ourselves for who we are; when we are confronted by the truth of ourselves and of the people that we love. When the scales are shaken or indeed scoured from our eyes so that we might really see.

Jonathan Carroll is right: "Graham Joyce writes the kind of novels we hope to find, but rarely do."

I know no other author who can shred my heart like he can. No other author who can bring tears so readily to my eyes (of joy as well as fear or pain, or anger).

His clarity of vision, the way he sees people, the way he writes them is so utterly clean and clear, it strikes no false notes.

It really is a joy to read his books. And a travesty that, right now, so many of them are out of print.

As ever, I can't reccomend his work enough. Right now, Joyce feels like MY author. My own (my precious?). But I want him to be your too. You deserve him. You really do...

He's currently working on a new novel, and keeping an almost daily blog about the process. Candid, frank and entertaining, if you've any intrest in writing,you should check it out...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Window On Our World...

Well, it's been quiet.

We've not seen many of you for a while, what with the weather and all. So we hope you stocked up on reading material.

And if the snow had you a little panicked, so you were stockpiling milk and tinned foods etc because trips into town were, at best, hazardous, if not down right impossible, then don't forget: Survival isn't just about food and water. Your sanity is important too. Cabin fever is a killer, just ask Jack Torrence! We'd hate to see you axe murdering your family (or killing them with a Roque Mallet if you'd prefer the literary version...

So, while you're stocking up on tins of beans (and hey, at least those beans will help heat the home - if you catch my meaning) think about your sanity as well. Think about the boredom when you're stuck at home with only daytime TV for company, and you've had enough of Scrabble and Monopoly. Stock up on some books as well why don't you?

We've got a lot of Spike Milligan at the moment...

And a whole horde of other delightful things...

Have you read Steven Millhauser? Pulitzer Prize winning author of stories that delight and amaze with the variety.

How about John Collier? Thorne Smith?

Do you want to travel the world from your armchair with Paul Theroux?

Get inside the mind of one of France's finest film-makers with the letters of Francois Truffaut?

We've got all kinds of minds and lives and dreams lining our shelves. Contained in handy, portable, pocket sized virtual reality machines more subtle and more user friendly than anything Apple have yet to design. Books are doorways. Your mind is the key. Open the lock and swing the door wide...

Monday, 4 January 2010


Happy New Year!

I hope yours was a good one. Likewise your Christmas.

There's a fresh new year stretching out ahead of us like a blank sheet of paper, waiting to be scribbled on. An undiscovered country, an unexplored land of possibility.

Let's make the best of it this time, huh?


Let's discover something new, something positive. Let's make striding advances,let's gain some ground, claw it back from the zombies and the slugs of negativity that are ever nibbling at the lettuce of our lives (sorry, that analogy got away from me).

Let's weed our head gardens, shake ourselves loose from the patterns that imprison us.

Let us strike out this year and find gold. In the world and each other and ourselves. Let us prove ourselves worthy of living. Let us shine.