Friday, 24 March 2017

Books and Bookies - A Day On The Road With A Life To Kill

I had a great road trip to Lytham St Anne’s yesterday for a literary lunch hosted by the excellent Plackitt and Booth bookshop in the stylish Gusto restaurant. Guests had an excellent lunch and a copy of A Life to Kill in the price of a ticket. Plackitt and Booth is a wonderful example of an independent bookshop that has risen to the challenge posed by Amazon and organises frequent author events which have become the lifeblood of the publishing industry.
Books only sell by word of mouth, and this is where word spreads – where writers meet readers and exchange thoughts.

As always, the thrill is in meeting new people. Among the many I had the pleasure of speaking to at Lytham were Bill the (nearly) 90 year old author embarking on his next book, and Sam, an entertainer who had spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq with her soldier partner and for whom, I hope, the new book will have special resonance. She says it’ll be the first print book she’s read in years, which is terrific!
Over lunch I talked with Pat, (who runs Plackitt and Booth with his wife, Alison) and Andy Belshaw, who handles sales for Macmillan in the north of England, about what independent bookshops offer that bigger beasts simply can’t. The answer is they can introduce you to books you may not even have thought might interest you. Amazon’s algorithms can offer you something similar to what you have already read, but can never help you make an imaginative leap. Browsing in the best bookshops carries the thrill of the unexpected surprise – the book that leads you into whole new worlds.

On the way home, I squeezed in another talk at the Scribe Literary Festival in Middlewich, Cheshire – a neck of the woods new to me – and found a welcoming audience full of questions and probing interventions, which I love. In the audience and next to speak was a local pathologist, a very cheerful man who told me that a colleague of his thinks dead bodies must exude a sort of chemical that makes pathologists happy and content in their work. From his smiling countenance, I’d say it was working brilliantly … Thank you Rowena Gomersall for inviting me and organising the event.

                                                                 Middlewich, Chesire
On these long treks my pal Richard kindly does the driving and always adds a certain spice to proceedings. When I met him fourteen years ago he was wearing an eyepatch, had shoulder length hair and was fresh from a near-fatal accident in the last private coal mine in the Forest of Dean. He’s done a lot of tunnelling and road building over the years, he’s travelled more than Alan Whicker, frequented the flesh pots and been the wrong side of some cell doors. He is one of the happiest people I know and somehow seems to spend every winter in the tropics (Mexico and Belize this winter). Thanks to budget flights and the ATM, you can draw your pension in Goa or Dangriga, drink and smoke all you like, find a bed for the night (albeit shared with a few bats) and spend your days on the beach and still have change at the end of the week. Why doesn’t everyone do it?

Pleased to report he made a decent dent in the William Hill bookies in Lytham, nearly lost it all in Middlewich but won big on a 5/1 and ended the day well up by three figures. We had to mess around with tow rope at midnight to get his car started once we got back to our rendezvous point up a darkened lane at Symonds Yat, but he got her going and I crawled home with dirt under my nails and wondering how me manages to say ‘Hello, Darling, it’s your lucky night,’ or similar, to almost every barmaid, petrol station cashier and hapless passer-by we meet … And they always smile (well, nearly always).
Pics: signing books for the lit lunch and Richard's January in Belize.