Managing a Bookshop – The Inside Story

Tina Hunting Raven 1

Some of us in Frome Writers’ Collective wanted to know what managing our popular Frome bookshop was like, so we sent a few questions to Tina Gaisford-Waller, Manager of Hunting Raven Books in Cheap Street – and she kindly answered them.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of managing Hunting Raven so far?

A couple of things really. The first is just how physical the job is! I lost half a stone in the first week of working here, and I am very rarely off my feet. It’s something I love about the job and which I craved during years of working in a desk-bound job. The second is just how well I have come to know the stock. With over 8000 titles on the shelves, I had thought there was no way I could know all of them. But I think I’ve come to know what we have here in the shop weirdly well. And I am a bit like a sniffer dog – I just need the whiff of a title or author (or the colour of the cover!) and I am off ferreting the book out!

 Do you have a favourite part of the job?

I absolutely love the people part of my job. I am so fond of our customers and I love meeting with sales reps and authors. It is easily the best part of the job. I finally feel part of the fabric of the Frome community – something which I missed when I worked out of town. I have also surprised myself by how much I like working with numbers and data. We use a lot of reporting – national sales data, shop sales data – to inform our decisions about what to stock and how to present it. Bookselling is a satisfying blend of the creative and the analytical.

The shop is often very busy and we saw you took part in a TV interview about the resurgence of independent bookshops in the South-West. Is this a local phenomenon, or a general trend?

I am happy to say that, after years of taking a battering, the independent book sector is beginning to bounce back. In 1995 there were 1894 Independent Bookshops. By 2016 this number had more than halved. The numbers are beginning to creep back up. I think the thrill of buying things at rock bottom prices is beginning to give way, as people start to realise the grim reality of what it’s like to live in a town with no shops, no cafes, no high street to speak of. When people buy things locally they are investing in their towns and connecting with their communities. It’s important to me that Hunting Raven is open and welcome to people from all walks of Frome life. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel out of their comfort zone in the shop – we’re here for everyone. I really feel like the community give us back as much as we give them.

Cheap Street is a lively mix of shops and cafés. Do you feel part of a street community?

Absolutely! I have been made to feel very welcome by all the other traders on our lovely street – and those from the ‘other side of the tracks’ on Catherine Hill and Stony Street. I definitely spend way too much money in La Strada! Living in Frome, Cheap Street isn’t just where I work though. It’s also where I shop, and where I bring my daughters on my days off. High streets are where we spend our time as much as our money, and we are so lucky in Frome to have a thriving town centre.

Are there any plans for further development?

Oh gosh. Yes! And so many more plans than I have time to put into place. The ones on the horizon that I am most excited about are our Books Against Loneliness project. Last September we were one of seven bookshops in the UK to be awarded a generous grant to run a project with a community focus. I am so happy to be teaming up with the amazing Frome charity Active and in Touch. We will be using books as a force against loneliness. I can’t wait to get stuck in. The other things up our sleeves are ‘Pyjama Story-time’ sessions for the little ones, and a Proof/Pudding bookclub, where we share advance copies with people and then we all meet up and dicuss them over pudding! Books and cake? What’s not to like! We are also looking to extend our events and schools programme. There’s just so much to do – and so little time to get it all done.

What’s the strangest/funniest request you’ve had since you became manager?

The requests have all been pretty reasonable so far – though I did manage to catch a pigeon mid-flight after it flew into the shop and started to panic. The funny thing is that it’s the second time I’ve done it (the other was in a fishmongers in South London). So maybe, if I ever grow out of love with being the manager of the best bookshop in the world, I will become a pigeon fancier.

Thanks, Tina – we’re very lucky that you and Hunting Raven are part of the Frome scene!

 

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Controversial Characters

Controversial Characters

Whatever the book is, characters are like Marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Perhaps you are completely in love with the main character’s best friend, mother, or pet cat, but you just can’t stop loathing the actual main character? I have had many heated arguments with people over my all-time favourite character ‘Amy’ in the brilliant book ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn. She manipulated pretty much everyone she knew, and murdered when dissatisfied. Yes, the definition for evil, right? Anyone who read that book must  just hate her. No, absolutely not! Quite frankly I adored her. I adored her brilliance, her intelligence, her needs for revenge. I related to nearly all her feelings towards men and patriarchy, as I am sure many more of my fellow women did. Her description of feeling the need to be ‘cool girl’ for other men, her consistent feeling of needing to win against people who mistreat her, and – most of all for me – being forced to become someone you don’t want to be, because someone is leaving you no choice: being that naggy, irritable, angry girlfriend without even realising. You see others do it and you just think well, I’ll never be like that. You soon realise it is not so easy, as Amy clearly indicates to us in the book.

I feel that the message of the book is simply ‘don’t let them get away with it’. This is where people might get the wrong idea. It’s not as if I am all of a sudden going to frame someone for my murder and then bolt, obviously. It just means I can empathise with her empowerment. The book is not an incitement to violence, it’s evoking the vengeful side in all of us. I’m not agreeing with what Amy did, I’m simply admiring her strength and resilience, not to mention her intelligence! It makes the reader wonder am I capable of that? Could I really do that? Is there an evil side to me? It intrigues us. A common argument is simply, well yeah but she did horrible things, it’s morally wrong, blah blah blah, but that’s not the point. The point of a book (an adults’ book especially) is not to be morally correct, or have a happy-ever-after ending, where the damsel in distress is saved by a mighty male warrior (which is so bleak, let’s be honest here). The point of a book is to involve the reader in a world they may not be used to, to leave questions in their minds, to perhaps even disturb them. You think if Amy bought groceries and watched ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ for the whole book it would still be exciting? Or if she accepted her life as a housewife and stayed obedient? Some will think aw come on man, he only cheated on her, no biggy, completely missing the point of a controversial character. Maybe they should go back to reading children’s books?  I don’t know what you think but Amy is my kind of Marmite.

© Martha Lynn

Tricky Titles

Woman next door 2       Question Mark      Woman next door 1

By Brenda Bannister, author of The Tissue Veil

Choosing the title for a novel is almost as sensitive as naming a child. Baby names follow a fashion, but you probably wouldn’t give your child the name your best friend recently used; similarly, you’d like to think the name of your book is original. But there’s no copyright where titles are concerned, and nothing to stop anyone pinching one that’s already in use, or two authors coming up with the same idea independently.

Recently, my book group fell foul of the confusion caused by duplicate titles. We take turns to suggest our next book choice and one of our number had proposed The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, a story of feuding elderly neighbours — one white, one black — in post-apartheid South Africa. Well, we all read the right novel eventually, but not before three of the group had got some way into a psychological thriller with the same title by Cass Green. After a while, they started to think that the book they were reading didn’t seem like a typical ‘Jacky choice’, but by that time were into the story, so ended up reading both. Each author published in 2016, so the common title is likely to be coincidental.

There are at least four books titled The Woman in Black listed on Amazon, including, of course, the Susan Hill novel on which both stage play and film were based. ‘Woman’, ‘girl’ and ‘daughter’ all feature strongly in contemporary novel titles in a trend that goes back to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Recent publications feature daughters of shoemakers, elephant keepers, clockmakers, poachers, lighthouse keepers, alchemists, silk merchants and many more professions! It seems like a winning formula.

The title of my dual narrative novel, The Tissue Veil, symbolises the time barrier between two young women living in the same place but in different eras — something which prevents physical contact, but is at times flimsy enough to allow each of them a glimpse into the other’s world. Aysha finds and reads a mysterious journal; Emily gets occasional glimpses of a ‘future ghost’. The two girls explain it in their own ways. Edwardian Emily is reminded of the opaque sheets which covered illustrations in a book she once read at school — a bit like the overlays in traditional wedding albums: ‘the images were there, behind their tissue veils, but you couldn’t quite see them until you turned the leaf. Sometimes I think that’s how it is with Aysha: that she’s there all the time if only I could see. But which of us is behind the tissue, I cannot tell’. Aysha, the twenty-first century history student, thinks about archaeology and how time is layered in the ruins of an ancient city, rebuilt many times. One reviewer wrote that the title ‘can be taken by the sceptical reader as simply an image or metaphor, while others will accept without question the relationship between the Emily of 1900 and the Aysha of 2000’.

Either way, I hope my title arouses readers’ interest and expresses the time-defying link at the heart of the book.

BB

WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

Could I sit in a public place for three hours and write a thousand word short story? I’d no idea – never tried it before. I’d written a couple of short stories years ago and sold them, but this was beginners’ luck. Somehow I had not managed to rise again to that level of success. I didn’t have the knack. Other writers seemed to be able to turn out beautifully crafted stories with ease; hot, exciting, precise little oeuvres, like Nadia’s bakes. Something had to be done to shake me out of this creative lassitude (idleness?). And here was a challenge. Frome Writers’ Collective were looking for writers to participate in the annual “Writers In Residence” event, part of Frome Festival.

Having been a member of the Collective for several years, latterly as a trustee, regularly attending meetings, socials and readings I felt that it was time to participate in something that involved actual writing. So I volunteered.

Each writer is issued with a prompt, a table and chair and a space in a shop in Frome town centre, and left to get on with it in full view of Saturday morning shoppers.

As a seasoned clog dancer I am not unduly fazed by Saturday morning shoppers. After all someone who is prepared to put on a strange costume and prance around to folk tunes in the market places of various British tourist traps must have acquired some immunity to shame. It couldn’t be more difficult than Ivy Sands’ Exhibition Steps, could it?

It could be. Turned out it was a competition, with prizes for the winners given out at a Festival event in Frome Library, and, later, we’d all be asked to read out our offerings at a FWC social. Two days before the event we received our prompt, a quotation from Mary Shelley: “Every thing must have a beginning”. Gothic is not my thing, but it was too late to back out with any semblance of dignity.

Running across the footbridge over the river on the fateful Saturday morning I passed a beggar. I was in too much of a hurry to open my purse and ran on, ignoring him, feeling very guilty. I glanced back at him over my shoulder and I had an idea.

They put me in a rather smart dress shop on Cheap Street; surrounded by beautiful clothes. The clientèle were quiet and respectful (probably more interested in fashion than literary endeavour) and the proprietor, tactfully, left me alone.

I thought of the beggar, dipped a ladle into my literary stockpot (where I keep offcuts from old plots permanently on the boil), interviewed some characters from the “Bestiary” (my own personal “Book of Beasts”) and I was away. Fighting off the occasional impulse to browse through the dresses, I finished my story.

It didn’t win, but it did respectably, receiving some positive feedback after the FWC social, and some very useful advice. The standard, as it always is at FWC readings, was scarily high, which made me feel proud of my also-ran story. I’d actually managed to write something acceptable in a very short time, and to specification – more or less.

So the moral of this tale is “have a go!” You don’t know what you can do until you try. Though the event is nominally a competition, the atmosphere is kind and supportive. You are among friends.

I am extremely grateful to all those members of FWC who organised the event and read all the stories to pick the winners… And returning to my car after a recent Trustees’ meeting, I met a beggar on the bridge and dropped a pound coin into his hat.

Sian Williams 12/09/2018

Small Publishers’ Fair and a Message from our Patron: Truth is disseminated through fiction, by Mary Macarthur FWC Chair.

Small Publishers’ Fair and a Message from our Patron: Truth is disseminated through fiction, by Mary Macarthur FWC Chair.

We couldn’t have wished for a better morning. The FWC volunteers were all there, filling the empty Silk Mill with tables and signs. Even competition from the England-Sweden match faded into the future. Balloons were blown, bunting distributed, and an atmosphere of cheerful bustle lay over us all.

I had a lovely welcome speech written and printed in large type, but I need not have bothered. When the time came for the official opening I forgot even to look at it as I stood on the steps with our patron, Chicken House’s founder, Barry Cunningham by my side. In the hall below, stallholders were already engaging visitors; the buzz was energising and hopeful and Barry was obviously enjoying being there. He made a point of looking round the stalls from the start.

I felt a bit too formal in my white top and navy skirt – but Barry’s warm personality and down to earth approach relaxed us all, and when the time came to begin the official opening, and I said I’d use my ‘teacher voice’ to get attention, he watched and listened. Then, when I didn’t get instant silence, he offered to use his ‘teacher voice’, which was surprisingly powerful and loud. That worked very well.

As he spoke, the warmth of his support for local talent and for the amount of effort Frome Writers’ Collective puts into encouraging members was obvious and heartfelt. He believes in what we are doing, and more than that, he believes that in a time of ‘fake news’, society’s truths and personal passions are written by the authors of books; that truth is disseminated through fiction.

Visitors continued to come throughout the afternoon; the stalls were busy and we had 100% uptake for our ‘Interviews with an Agent’.

We gained a number of new members from the many who followed the footprint and balloon trail into the Silk Mill. By the end of the day our volunteers were more than a little exhausted, but happy with the results. New contacts with the publishing industry have been made and the population of Frome has again been reminded of how the FWC channels and supports the abundant creativity of the town.

Writing a Press Release

Writing a Press Release

The humble press release – a basic but essential publicity tool, which, if it’s to do its job successfully, if it’s to stand out as a ‘must use’ from the pile of other releases on the editor’s desk, needs to be put together properly. Here are a few thoughts on how to achieve that from FWC member Peter Corbett who has had many years’ experience, both as a writer of press releases and as an editor of them.
To start with, can I stress that while I’ve taken the drafting of a release about the launch of a book by a local author as the basis for these notes, the advice applies whatever the topic and the target readership.
Right, the important thing is to get your message across as quickly and easily as you can in your release. The first paragraph, the ‘intro’, is crucial.

DON’T start by saying ‘XYZ is delighted to announce’ or anything like that. Dive straight in. For example if your release is aimed at the Standard or Frome Times, ‘A Frome estate agent is to have his/her first novel published by a major book brand’.

If you’re targeting the national press, you’ll need to change the emphasis to something like, ‘A debut novel by an estate agent is to be published in the autumn by one of the country’s leading book brands.’

Follow that with the author’s name and wee bit about him/her eg ‘Jinty McLean, a founder member of Frome Writers’ Collective, spent three years writing ‘Off the Record’ and had received four rejections before he/she was contacted by Portcullis Books who said they liked it and wanted to publish.’

Then a quote or two. “Even though it had been turned down so many times I still felt it had something to offer and had decided to re-write it,” said Jinty. “So I was flabbergasted when Portcullis’s new author manager rang me to arrange a meeting. She said they wanted to take the book on, to discuss what changes I needed to make to it, how they would promote it and so on. I can still hardly believe it.”
Portcullis’s Martha Pearson said she and her colleagues had been very impressed by Jinty’s manuscript and could see straight away that it would be a success.

“We’re delighted Jinty sent us ‘Off the Record’ and are looking forward to seeing it in bookshops in September,” she said.

Something about the book. ‘Off the Record’ is a crime story set in Frome, featuring the owner of a record shop who discovers evidence of a major fraud. As that evidence is based on hearsay and not yet strong enough to take to the appropriate authorities, he decides to investigate it himself. The book follows him his adventures as he explores some of the darker areas of the music business before risking his life to reveal the truth.

If you want, add a few more details about Jinty – married? children? lives where? and anything which adds more colour to his/her story.

The final paragraph should contain details about where to buy the book and other relevant information. For instance, ‘Jinty will be signing copies of ‘Off the Record’ at the Hunting Raven bookshop in Cheap Street, Frome, on September 21 st , the day the book is published nationally. It will be available for £8.99 as a paperback from book shops and via the internet. Visit jintymcleanauthor.co.uk and portcullisbooks.com.

OK, notice anything about that format? The heart of the story is in the first two paragraphs and while each of the other paragraphs adds something to it they can all be deleted from the bottom up without the point of the story getting lost. That’s important if the sub editor doing the page layout wants to include the story but hasn’t got space for all of it – or the time to tweak and twiddle it.
So don’t keep anything back to the end, no stings in the tail, no Columbo-esque ‘One last thing’, no cleverly contrived punch line.

Now, style. Use the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t use ‘posh’ words when something simple is available. Don’t include details which don’t add significantly to the story. Keep your sentences short. Don’t be too tekkie – use the everyday language you’d use when talking to your friends and family. DON’T put bracketed initials after a title, e.g. United Nation (UN) – they are completely unnecessary and annoying (that’s a personal request by the way – I know some people and publications favour their use but I hate it).

Next, you’ll need to identify your target readership. It’s no good sending a release about, for example, something specific to Frome to a newspaper covering Barnstaple (OK so that’s an exaggeration but you see what I mean). Nor is it any use sending a release about a novel for men, by a male author, to Mslexia or a handbook about breeding dachshunds to Horse and Rider.
If you can, check out copies of the publications you want to target. They’ll give you a clear picture of the sort of news items they carry. And in most cases they’ll also give you the contact details of the member of the editorial team you should send news items to. You can usually get that information from the net as well.
Timing is also crucial. Weekly newspapers like the Frome Standard have a pretty short deadline, assume it’s Monday lunchtime for publication that week. Don’t depend on it, however – they often hold stuff over for a week (a fortnight in the case of a release I sent them about the FWC poetry anthology) so if your release is time sensitive get it in early!

The same goes for local and regional radio and TV stations and regional newspapers. They have a longer but still reasonable run-in period but national publications are a different kettle of fish. I’m writing this towards the end of February. I’ve already had the March issue of Writing Magazine for some time and I think it would be safe to assume that the April issue will be popping through my letterbox any time soon.

This means, of course, that the April issue is already in preparation and that its preparation is pretty well advanced too. It may even be on the point of going to print. I sent them a release at the beginning of this month and would not be surprised if the story doesn’t pop up until the May or even June issue (assuming it will pop up at all).

That sounds complicated but I’m afraid it’s something we have to live with. I would suggest that if you hope to have a story published in, say, the June issue of a national publication, which could hit the streets in early May if not sooner, you should get it to them by the end of March. It’s probably safest, however, not to target national publications with any press releases that are time sensitive.
As to the overall format of the release, it used to be normal to place a logo or something similar at the top of the page but that has almost died out now with email taking the place of good old snail mail. A simple Word doc or something similar is fine, but not, repeat not, a pdf. Date it, give it a headline and pop the word ‘ends’ at the foot of the body of the release.
If you’re sending a picture with your text, you’ll need to add a caption, but make sure that you include reference detail with each picture so the editor is clear which picture the caption’s about – even more important if you’re sending more than one image with the release.

Then end the whole thing with your name and contact details in case of any query.
One last thing. I mentioned at the beginning of these notes that editors often have a pile of press releases on their desk/in their inbox and more often than not there’s insufficient space to use all of them. You may be lucky. You may not. If your release is different from the others, you have a better chance than if it’s on the same lines (‘only the names have been changed’ sort of thing) but even then there is no guarantee that it will be used.

Count it as bonus if it is, rather than a disappointment or a criticism if it isn’t. It’s not a paid for advert, and the editor’s decision, as they say, is final. Good luck!

PS – the April issue of Writing Magazine arrived on February 23 rd , the ditto issue of my other subscription mag, Kitchen Garden the next day. See what I mean!

(Written in February 2018) By Peter Corbett

What makes a writer?

What makes a writer? Is it the talent to have hundreds of books published like James Patterson, or the ability to write a top class comedy programme that runs for many years like Roy Clarke’s Last of the Summer Wine? Maybe it’s the ability to write great poetry and be nominated as the next Poet Laureate?

Writer

Or… maybe it’s something to do with the pleasure of writing for its own sake?
I started writing when I was quite young. While still at school, I would get ideas and scribble them anywhere. Once I got a comment from a form master who said:

‘I quite enjoyed your story but in future please do not write on the back of your exam papers’.

Early on, I realised that, as a writer, my main fault is that I have a butterfly mind. Although short story writing is my favourite field, I can be jotting down one idea, then get an idea for another which completely distracts me. This is why I now have several portfolios at home with at least 320 short stories of all genres in them!

Working in writing groups has been very helpful over the years, though I have learnt that sometimes people’s views are very different from within the same groups. In one group, a member told me I should cut out the first two paragraphs of my story, while another thought the paragraphs were essential.

Occasionally, courses have given me very useful insights. It was attending one course, several years ago, that set me on the short story trail. During this session, it was suggested that we write a short story from the opposite gender’s point of view. I found I liked writing this way so much that I now have female characters as my lead nearly all the time.

Stories mount up. I find that I have now written several plays, both short and full length, a number of poems and three novels. My first two books were handwritten and the second was destroyed by accident, but my first one is still here. Unfortunately, this was typed out by a friend of a friend – a good typist, but someone, it turned out, who couldn’t read my handwriting, so there’s a little more work to do here!

With the help of a fellow writer, I have recently had booklets of my work printed independently and this has been very satisfying. My slim volume, ‘Seven Sides of Life,’ has so far sold about 45 copies, and I have a second volume called ‘What you Want,’ which is waiting to be printed. Recently, too, I finished a compendium of short stories – sixteen tales in all. A number of people have said they like my stories – though often I haven’t believed them – and my new novel which has been read and reviewed by around eight people. One of these days I will take the plunge and send it off. Submitting anything makes me nervous, though. A writer’s fear of rejection slips perhaps?

But it’s not all about getting books on shelves. I enjoy writing and will keep on writing because the simple fact is that I like doing it, like seeing where the stories and characters lead me.

Maybe it’s this that makes a writer?

Alan Somerville.

 

Writer image courtesy of blogspot.com