Friday, 26 June 2015

Celebrating Independent Bookshop Week 2015, with a blog post dedicated to my family’s favourite Indy Bookshop – Mostly Books!

As a reader, writer, book blogger and mother I LOVE books. As a contentious buyer I LOVE independent shops, we buy our meet from a village butchers, we buy our books from an independent bookshop. My favourite book shop is the wondrous Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Mostly Books is a family business headed up my husband and wife team Nicki & Mark Thornton, who run the shop with a team of enthusiastic staff (endorsed by Imogen being short-listed for the Young Bookseller of the year award earlier this year) who are all passionate about books. The façade on the picturesque Stert Street in Abingdon could almost be off of Diagon Alley and walking inside the shop is full of hand picked books with vibrant seasonal displays and dedicated children’s room and even court yard garden.

What makes Mostly Books my favourite Book Shop is its; soul, character and its dedication to literacy, bringing a whole of host of events to the shop and to other local venues partnering with schools and societies. That and of course its stock of books, all chosen thoughtfully by Mark, Nicki and the team, who therefore really know their stock and are very equip to match books to readers.

The shop has really helped my small people to embrace a love for books through events, competitions, meeting authors, and by finding books that really engage them.

My daughter helped out on the Nosy Crow Take Over in celebration of Independent Bookshop Week 2013, meeting Helen Peters, Hitchcock and Paula Harrison, therefore inspiring her to read their book and their recommended books which pushed her to read outside her usual comfort zone and vastly improving her reading skills.

My son, really loves Hugless Douglass and was thrilled to have met David Melling at one of Mostly Books author events back in 2013. Also that year he met Jane Hissey and the Old Bear characters which inspired him to draw and write a book with his own teddy ‘Red Ted,’ this was the first time he ever wrote anything my choice.

Loving the shop and getting to know Nicki and Mark, I began to help out both on the shop floor and at events. This has provided me with much appreciated company (as much as I love it writing can be rather solitary), plus has been a fabulous experience, meeting authors and illustrators and seeing how they engage and inspire children. There is something very humbling and magical about watching children be so enthralled about the written world, and feel very privileged to have been able to observe this. 

Helping out at Mostly Books has been a learning curve, I’d worked in shop before but I soon discovered that being a bookseller is a vocation and very different to peddling clothes, or vegetables! Knowing your stock and customers is key, and I soon discovered my talents are almost exclusively children’s books. I really enjoy helping children pick books, conversing with them to find out what they like and suggesting titles that I think will really hook them. I like selling to adults too, and since spending time at the shop I've read more adults books than ever in my life and discovered some truly fantastic authors. 

The Mostly Books staffs are innovative with their events, competitions, groups and offers. They are always finding ways to improve and modify their unique service to bring their customers the very best Independent book shop experience, this is something which is truly inspiring and also contiguous. In 2014 Mostly Books was announced as Julia Donaldson’s Independent Bookshop for the month of August, ahead of which me and the small people made a Gruffalo Child to assist the publicity spreading the word that The Gruffalo was to visit the shop. 


In short I LOVE Mostly Books, it is my and my family’s favourite bookshop. But it’s not the shop or the books alone, but the dedicated hard working team that gives Mostly Books its soul.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

When Shelley Met Sally... Working with an Agent.

Submitting manuscripts is an exciting business, it’s proof that you've got the stamina to write and finish a book, plus it is validation that you are trying to do something further; share your story with the world. But submitting is also an emotional roller-coaster, the highs of full manuscript requests, and the lows of rejections. I’ve ridden this roller-coaster on numerous occasions (in fact never got off, as the submitting process is perpetual) but last autumn, something strange happened, I was offered representation by an agent.

Much jubilation and trepidation was experienced as I prepared to meet the agent; will they understand what I’m trying to achieve with my book? Will they like me? Will they think I’m someone they can invest in? Will I like them? Will I be able to trust them enough to let them guide me through the next stage of my writing career? What to wear?

So the day drew near, and stress piled on as all the trains were delayed due to ‘leaves on track’, and then I did a tour of central London as I took a wrong turn and got horribly lost. Eventually I managed to find Foyles, and get to the new café to meet the Agent. I needn’t have worried. The agent as it turns out was not some kind of monster who sleeps on the shushpile and snacks on writers, but an actual person, a rather lovely person called Shelley Instone.

Shelley put me straight at ease (aided by writers’ stable diet of coffee and cake) and said many lovely things about my writing; she ‘got’ my book. She totally understood what the book was about, and as having studied classics, she appreciated the intertextual motifs woven in to the duel-narrative plot. I was further impressed by the fact that she mentioned some of the authors whose work had influenced the book. Shelley’s enthusiasm was infectious, and we were soon in the throngs of conversation of what work needed to be done to take the book the next stage and ready it for submission. I had the confidence that with Shelley’s guidance that my book could really improve.

Feeling invigorated and ready to delve back into my own make-believe world, I signed with Shelley and we began the editing journey. The editing has been extensive, the nuts and bolts of the book have remained, plus the aim, themes, and the fairy tale narrative has been hardly touched. However the main body of the text has been overhauled, two characters have been written, and the word count has been cut by 30,000 words, but the biggest change has been changing it from YA to MG. 

So far we've done four edits, the first was actually taking away everything that wasn’t working then re-writing for middle grade readers followed by lots of planning, re-plotting, and rewriting. Every subsequent edit has focused one specific things. Until the edits come down, to smaller issues like the over uses of certain words. in my case too much SHUDDER.

The main difference between editing when you have an agent is the confidence that someone who is much more experienced than you believes that the changes are going to strengthen the manuscript, thereby elevating any concerns about the amount of work it may be. The editing has also been a creative endeavour, with many new plot twists or re-envisioning of characters and situations which has meant that the journey has been a fun one with many discoveries.

Editing and writing with an Shelley has been hard work, but fun, and it is a fantastic feeling knowing that someone else is as passionate and invested in your book as you are.