Thursday, 19 December 2013

My Shelfie

Selfie seems to have been crowned the top word of 2013. I'm not one to pose so thought instead I'd take a Shelfie!

People keep books all over the house, with some taking up whole rooms. What may surprise you is that even though I own The Big Comfy Bookshop, my own personal shelves don't take up much room at all and are in fact tucked away in a small alcove in my sons bedroom, along with mounds of DVD's and CD's. Below is one small wall of my books. There are a few other places dotted around the house too; I have business books and my 'downstairs' book all neatly shelved in the living room alongside my sons children's books. I'd love if you could take a picture of your shelf, either all of them, one of them, as many as you like, and post the picture to the bookshop Facebook and/or Twitter!
I've added a little description to each shelf with certain books picked out so feel free to do the same.

The very top shelf has box files with house stuff and paperwork, so this is the top 'book shelf'. The usual family favourite Harry Potter is filed next to a load of Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace books, very funny and entertaining. Sandwiched in between these and my Nick Hornby's is a selection of literary heavyweights. George Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, J D Salinger and a few more. The Hunger Games trilogy (awesome) sits next to Neil Gaiman's classic Amercian Gods, with a load of World Book Night books on top, the ones with the dark green-grey spine and the crescent moons on top. All these are yet to be read. I love my Hardback copies of The Time Travellers Wife and Norwegian Wood which is sitting at the top of the picture. These are limited edition from Waterstones. A few PS1 and Nintendo DS games fit in wherever I can find room.

A world of fantasy sits on the shelf below with a mound of Terry Pratchett (mostly Discworld, very gratefully received from my friend Dave @Nikon300boy), only half of them read. I bought my wife Heidi a load of Redwall books by Brian Jacques and they seem to seamlessly fit here. Some random books fit where they can. Scrabble and Munchkin board games also squeeze on the top.

This shelf is 95% Heidi's dance and theatre books. She teaches dance at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College and also writes. She is much cleverer than I.

The bottom shelf, or rather floor, has a few graphic novels, including a world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (my wife's again, although I am also a big fan). A few more theatre books, some pregnancy books and a few Jackie Chan books. He's a hero to Heidi. The DVD wall is rammed so the West Wing box set (Best.Telly.Ever) sits here next to an empty shoe box that once contained my sons first shoes, and on top rests my harmonica.

I could take a picture of the other wall but I may leave that for the future.

I'd love to see your shelves!


PS. And here is a Selfie :

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EDIT! - Literally 10 minutes after writing this blog I have seen The Guardian have done THE EXACT SAME THING. Read their piece HERE

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Big Comfy Interview - Tara Behan and Matthew Hill, author and illustrator of The Legend of Everwinter

Since starting the bookshop, albeit just on line at the moment until I open up in Fargo Village in Coventry, I've come across several local authors I never would have otherwise. I'm hoping to bring them to a bigger audience (AKA YOU!) with book signings, readings and workshops.

I caught up with one such local author Tara Behan and her partner Matthew Hill to discuss their brand new d├ębut children's book 'The Legend of Everwinter'.

As well as working together, the pair have been a couple for 3 and a half years and it clearly shows in the ease between the two, with the collaboration making The Legend Of Everwinter a joyful read filled with majestic characters realised by Matthew's art complimenting Tara's fantastical storytelling. Coventry University alumni Tara is currently working at Coventry's Herbert Art Gallery whilst Matthew is training to become a lecturer at Solihull College after his time studying Fine Art at Birmingham City University. I started out by asking Tara how long she'd been writing for.

Tara: "I used to read a lot of books, I cant specifically remember which books I read, I know I used to read a lot of fairytale books, Enid Blyton books, I used to read Beatrix Potter and stuff and my Mum and Dad always used to read to me before bed so I was always bought up, you know, surrounded by books and I just had an idea one day to write a story about fairies in the garden. At school we were given a handwriting book but I never really used it for handwriting, I used it to write my own stories in. I'd take it home and I'd write stories about fairies and unicorns and things like that, so, it was just something I really enjoyed doing from an early age."
Tara and Matthew at their book signing at Kenilworth's Tree House Book Shop
The book you've written, The Legend of Everwinter, why is that your first story? why did you choose Everwinter and fantasy as your first avenue?

Tara: "We worked on it together. I've always enjoyed writing magical fantasy-like stories and wanted to write a children's book inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, J.R.R.Tolkien's Lord of The Rings series and Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen."
Matthew: "Yeah, I've also worked on fantasy art and magical or mythical art in the past so we thought it would be good to come up with a story idea that could incorporate all of these avenues and use our skills to create a book that children would enjoy reading, as well as appreciate the artwork and encourage them to use their imagination."

That's great, that's fantastic. Because you are a couple did that make it easier or harder working together? Were you very honest with each other, were there a few arguments about artwork and story lines etc?

Tara: "No I found it really easy, I found it a lot easier to work with Matthew, yeah, we didn't have any arguments did we? About what things go in."
Matthew: "We had a respect about what each other was good at, so, you know, Tara took care of the writing, I took care of the illustration and kind of... we bounced ideas off of each other and trusted each other to do the best things in our particular area, so Tara would start the story, I started painting it we kind of..."
Tara: "We'd approve each others work but if we wanted to change anything, like... We had to change the story, tweak the story a little bit didn't we..."
Matthew: "Yeah."
Tara: "...With the illustrations that you thought would, you know, be better to do, but it went fine, there were no problems. It was good!"

Could you tell me how the characters came about. Were there specific guidelines for their look?

Matthew: "To be honest Tara gave me complete freedom to kind of really visualise the characters myself, so I'd sort of come up with designs for the characters, I would show Tara but she was kind of, you know, you would give me your opinion wouldn't you but a lot of the time it was, I'd show her something and she'd say
"Yeah that looks cool" but then I'd sort of change it the following week. We've got loads of illustrations that we never used for the book as they kind of went through several, so many different revisions, so each character was about 6 or 7 designs that it went through to get to that initial, that end stage. But yeah I'd show you each week, I'd bring loads of sketches round and different things but I think on the whole you were happy to give me the freedom to kind of visualise it."
Tara: "Yeah, because Matt obviously read the story and then he came up with the character ideas and like every time he made a new character I used to think they looked amazing, he's such a good artist, but then a week later he'd do another option and then he'd ask me which one I liked best, so I gave him my opinion with that. It's quite nice because I feel as though I've written the story and Matthew's used his imagination, it's all of what Matthew has visualized, so when he read my story this is what he imagined, it's lovely because this book is encouraging children to use their imagination so, you know, I said at a school session yesterday, "Read the story as well without looking at the pictures and think about what you see"."

How important is it to have that strong female protagonist that you have in The Legend of Everwinter?

Tara: "The thing was, I've always loved princess stories, I've always found the Disney films and all the classic fairy tales with the princess as the heroine, but she's always been the damsel in distress usually. I've been quite inspired by Hermione Granger and also Princess Merida from Disney Pixar's Brave with princess Adreana (The Legend of Everwinter's heroine), and what I wanted to do was I wanted to create a book that was suitable, and appeal to both boys and girls so I didn't want the princess just to be the girls favourite character, maybe the princess could be admired by the boys because of what she does, and you know, with her ideas that she comes up with. It was also important to me to get across the whole 'You don't have to use violence or kill the actual creature' you can actually, you know, through team work and friendship and with going with your gut instinct and using other ideas you can also overcome like Princess Adreana did."
Matthew: "She thinks of other solutions and puts them into action..."
Tara: "She's able to do that and through her I wanted these morels to come through."

At the end of the book there's more than a slight hint there will be a sequel. How far along is that and is it one book? Two? How far do you see The Legend of Everwinter going?

Tara: "We've already started, we've planned the next book and we're working on it now. It's due for release next year hopefully! About the same time. At the moment I've got an idea for two more books, this one and the next one, but we've been told not to limit ourselves so if it is a good series and people enjoy it then we don't know how far it can go. If people enjoy it and its what the public want then, yeah!"

How long did it take you to write this from scratch? From the start date til release?

Tara: "It was 13 months."
Matthew: "Yeah it was quite strange as the actual finished book that people see now was probably only in the last 5 months of production, well you wrote the story fairly quickly within 2 months or something,"
Tara: "Yeah."
Matthew: "That was in October."
Tara: "We started in October 2012 and I got the initial story written within 2 months and then it got sent off for editing to the publisher and it kept getting... it was sent back with little tweaks and stuff and I let Matt carry on with the illustrations."
Matthew: "I kind of had this idea it was going to be a more of a, kind of, realistic fantasy but it really wasn't working, it wasn't really suitable for children it was a bit too dark, the illustrations just didn't match the story, they were quite muted, a bit more real looking so it came to Christmas which was the initial submission deadline and I spoke to the publisher and said 'Look, I want to take it in a different direction, I'm not happy with how it is". I then started to re-plan the whole book, redesign all the characters and actually use a different style for the book. I began that after the Christmas period and then I started all the final illustrations people see in the final version now, around March. The actual finished version that people see now is probably about the 5 months of work before it was sent to be published but it was in production for 13 months or so."

Are there any stories not set in Everwinter that you've got lined up? Or are you simply immersed in Everwinter World?

Tara: "Ha! We're in the Kingdon of Everwinter at the minute because it's our first published book but, you know, I don't know if we'll be able to carry on with Everwinter forever, so, we are looking forward to doing different books in the future as well, like, either one off books or a different series kind of thing, so yeah, Everwinter isn't just the beginning or the end."

Do you see yourself writing other genres and styles, maybe adult books in the future?

Tara: "I'd like to do a few, a couple of adult books maybe, or teen books, but after being at one of the school session yesterday a lot of the children were asking for a horror story to be written so you never know, you never know what we might branch out into!"

On a personal level, you must be happy with the response. It's sold out on Amazon AGAIN, it's obviously going really well!

Matthew: "We're pretty happy, we didn't know what to expect because it's our first book, but we're really pleased with how people are responding. People have been sending us photographs of like..."
Tara: "Including yourself!"
Enjoying Everwinter
Matthew: "...People holding the book, we've kind of had, you know, pictures of all ages as well because we wanted the book to kind of...well, although aimed at children we wanted adults to appreciate the artwork as well so, we've kind of treated it as a piece of artwork, each page, so it's really nice to see adults holding copies of the book but we've also got all the people, the mums and dads who've got children and they're holding their copies and yeah, it's a really rewarding thing to see."
Tara: "Yeah, it's really surreal so far, I mean, this has been my life long dream and to actually see how much of a response we've had, it's been overwhelming for me. I didn't think it would take off as big in, what, three weeks? I've got school sessions lined up, I've got children asking for my autograph, you know what I mean. It's really, really amazing. I'm still in this little bubble right now I'm like 'Oh my gosh'!"
Let's hope it goes on!
Tara: "We're really looking forward to seeing it in a bookshop next as well, on a shelf."
Matthew: "I think initially we've just promoted it online, and online is a fantastic tool to use, it gets to a large audience but I think we really want to see it on the shelves now!"
Well I'd obviously stock it once the shop is open.
Tara: Thank you!

What advice could you give to others who wish to write?

Tara: "I would say, just keep writing. Just keep writing, write as much as you like, if there's a story that you're writing and it's not working scrap it and start again, because there's no point in trying to finish it because it might not turn out the way you want it, you can come back to it once you've got more inspiration. Once you've got a story you're happy with I'd just submit it to a publisher and just see what happens and if nothing happens, try again, don't give up. I'm 24, I never thought at 8 years old at the age of 24 I'd have a book published, two years ago I wouldn't have been able to anticipate that I'd have a book published in 2013, it can be done. Matt and I are real people, we're from...we worked hard at school and things, we haven't...we've not been given everything on a plate, we've worked hard to get where we've got to today and it just shows that if you believe in yourself and you've got encouragement from your family and you work hard you can achieve your dreams no matter who you are."

Many thanks to Tara and Matthew for giving up their time and helping me complete the first Big Comfy Interview.

The Legend of Everwinter can be bought from Hampton Bond International as well as Waterstones and Amazon, plus local bookshops soon.

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I don't often reread books, even my favourites, but I felt that after watching the first film in The Hobbit Trilogy I needed to refresh my memory. After all it had been about 18 years since I last read it!
Dean, grasping his copy of The Hobbit
I reviewed the first Hobbit film and although I enjoyed it, all the parts I remembered from the book were in the film which got me thinking what the other two films would contain. I had forgotten 80% of the book and I'm so glad I picked it up.

The Hobbit is a road trip, a story of friendship and a story of courage. I don't tend to look deep into meanings of books, I simply like to enjoy whatever adventure it takes me on and I was not disappointed with The Hobbit. The previous time I read the book, I was about 13, I loved Gollum and also the three trolls. Both of these seemed to appear quite quickly in the book, but I think that this may be because I was comparing it to Peter Jackson's film, in which he pads out the intro of the Dwarves to a full hour. The dwarves are all ready and waiting and on the road with Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit of the title) within a few chapters. A mix of memory from when I first read it and the film meshed together so it seemed the start really whisked along. Don't get me wrong, I loved discovering Thorin the dwarf along with his 12 companions in Tolkiens own words rather than Jackson's drawn out, somewhat pantomime way, I just think I'd have loved it even more if I hadn't seem the film.

Once the book gets to the part where the film ends this is where I could invest further, as I had no idea where it was going to take me. I was lost in Mirkwood, I was in danger with the Spiders and had a rollicking ride rolling in barrels. The 'Big Bad' of The Hobbit, Smaug the Dragon, is a shifty, Machiavellian devil and his booming voice and attack on The Lonely Mountain had me unnerved. The peripheral characters all played their part too and although some were a little sketchy, such as Thandruil, King of Mirkwood, there was enough atmosphere to pull me into their world. Beorn the bearman was a particular favourite and I can't wait to see how he is shown on screen.

The second film, The Desolation of Smaug is out tomorrow. I urge you to read the book first if you can!

I've given the book 8 cushions on the Comfometer.

Here is the trailer for the new film.


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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Book club choices for December

Christmas is nearly here! But the book club waits for no man, or woman.

Take a browse of these 6 choices for Decembers choice. You can vote over on Facebook HERE, tweet me your choice or simply put your choice in the comment section of this blog. Closing date is this Saturday. You'll then have the month to chew through it.
On Sunday at 4pm we'll discuss November's choice The Cuckoo's Calling over of Facebook.

The Husbands Secret by Liane Moriarty
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

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PS Here's the awesome trailer for the next Hobbit film.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

When The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize it obviously garnered a lot of attention and it's unfortunate that it was mainly due to the fact it's so large and that Eleanor is the prize's youngest winner. What should be highlighted instead of these is the plot, the characters and the setting. It's a deeply rich book filled with luminous characters (see what I did there) and a wildly complex plot involving gold, guns, politics, prostitution and death.

The setting is 1860's New Zealand, a wilderness slowly populated by travellers wishing to make their fortune on the recent gold rush. The town of Hokitika has recently been erected and is slowly growing and with it comes a culture of greed and power struggles. We start our journey with Walter Moody, fresh off the boat 'Godspeed', as he accidentally becomes embroiled in a secret gathering of 12 men. These men have all been connected to the disappearance of wealthy young entrepreneur Emery Staines, the death of a drunk hermit Crosbie Wells and the incarceration and reformation of former prostitute Anna Wetherall.

One by one, these 12 men tell their story to Moody of where they have been over the past few weeks, leading up to the secret rendezvous at the Crown Hotel, where they have met Moody. The tales vary wildly, with most stories involving at least one other member of the twelve. Men in the group range from a Chinaman, a Maori, a banker, a chemist and a chaplain amongst others. With so many characters each telling their own stories, intertwining with several others, it could have become a bit too muddled but Catton has fleshed them out so much that they become real. Along with these 12 (13 including Moody) characters, we also get to hear each persons view of several other key cast members including Anna Wetherall, the violent Francis Carver and the deceased Crosbie Wells.

The first chapter is a whopping 360 pages long but it absolutely required every page due to the detail of each statement of the participants. Chapter 2 is also over 100 pages and concerns two weeks after the meeting at The Crown Hotel, with each man now in the knowledge of each others secrets. With these secretes slowly seeping out, and each person with something to lose, it becomes a tense, beautifully rich mystery.

The story has all been laid out using astrology, and according to Catton, the stars in the sky in 1866, and the astrological science behind it, is all heavily researched and correct. You need to know nothing of this as it doesn't enter the plot at all and is used merely as a structural tool, but after reading it I saw that each character had been plotted on a character chart at the front of the book. It's a very interesting way to structure the book as if you are up to date with the astrological field in 1866 New Zealand, you may have seen a few plot twists coming. I, however, only know up to 1864.

I would never have picked this up if 1) It wasn't nominated for the Booker Prize and 2) If we hadn't had it as our book club choice. I am so grateful that I did as it's one of the best books I've read this year. Don't let the length put you off as 832 pages went past quite quickly. It took me about 6 weeks to get through.

On the Comfometer it has received an 8.5. I'm looking forward to reading more of Catton's work.

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

8 literary inspired tattoos

I do not have a tattoo but have always considered it. The one thing stopping me is 'What do I get?' I've started to think of book inspired tattoos and took to Google and Pinterest with an open mind for inspiration. The range of ideas and creativity is astounding.

Harry Potter
Lord of The Rings

Where The Wild Things Are
The Catcher In The Rye
Pater Pan

Pride and Prejudice

Amazing! Do you have a book inspired tattoo? Would you ever consider getting one? What would it be?!?


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Novembers book club choice is The Cuckoo's Calling

Say's it all in the title really. The Robert Galbraith AKA JK Rowling thriller is this months choice. Pick up The Cuckoo's Calling and get reading, you have til 1st December to get through it. I am a massive Harry Potter fan and, even though her first non-Potter book The Casual Vacancy was not exactly praised, this tome has been held quite high. Before the news broke of her pseudonym it was getting great reviews and even afterwards too, and it's been a while since I've read a crime thriller. It's often cited as being a bit of a soft genre, too saturated, not literate enough, but I don't go in for that. If there is a story to tell, then tell it. I'm a big Kathy Reichs and Michael Connelly fan and hope The Cuckoo's Calling is in the same vein.

I'll report back with my book review once finished. Last months book The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is a deep, complex murder mystery set in the mid 1800's in New Zealand. I'm actually still reading it as it's quite a large book, but those that finished it have said, on Facebook, that it was very good. A few tried it but couldn't get past 100 pages.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Book club choice for November

Have a look at the books up for vote this month. Pick your favourite and vote on Facebook, Twitter or comment below this blog. Feel free to add yourself to the Facebook group.

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J K Rowling)
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Octobers book of the month was the Booker winning The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. If you're reading that then you have til Sunday 3rd November. The vote for this months choice closes THIS FRIDAY Nov 1st.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

What have I been up to lately?

My last few blogs have mostly been reviews so I think it's about time I had an update on what has been going on with the shop and I.

Fargo Village has finally started. It has been on the drawing board for quite some time now and it's a relief to see a digger actually on site. It has begun. I was getting a little worried it might be quite some time before the doors are open, but now, since the start of October, it's a go!
OK, so it may still be a while yet, but hopefully if the winter is kind and I cross all fingers and toes I could open mid next year. That's probably the best case scenario. It is such a large project with several spaces being developed for all the new businesses occupying the village. My building is one of the first to be worked on. The question that needs to be discussed a little further is does Fargo Village, and my shop in particular (along with those in the same complex) open when our part is complete, or do we wait until all other areas are complete? I am firmly in the 'I WANT MY SHOP OPEN NOW!' camp. Whilst the building is complete, and the area around safe and fenced off, why wouldn't I want to start getting people in the shop? Those I've spoken to have the same feelings too. The people at Fargo, both tenants and project managers are very keen to do it right, and are open to many ideas so I can't see it being too much of a problem (famous last words?!).
Last night was the second FarGo Village tenants meeting held at The Tin in Coventry's canal basin. It was nice to speak a little more to the other tenants and get some info about setting up as a Social Enterprise. I've never owned a business before so it's all new to me and the options are quite confusing sometimes so to have a little more detail was appreciated. Ian Harrabin, the man who's idea FarGo was, graced us with his presence and told us a little about the entire Far Gosford Street, Gosford Street area and I was stunned hearing the history of the area. I had absolutely no idea the importance, globally too, of Coventry. I am planning on investigating further so that I have more details to pass on to you and the shop customers, and maybe have some history events going on in the shop. I'll be wondering a little more around the area that is for sure.

At the meeting, Hannah from Urban Coffee Co, one of FarGo's tenants, gave us a little talk on her business and how they have grown and adapted. They only set up in 2009 in Birmingham but have already 3 stores open with FarGo being the forth. Even though I will also be selling coffee and cake, I will be along to Urban Coffee to learn more about coffee beans and to take part in their events too! It's all a happy family at FarGo! Hannah brought along Steffan from Droplet. Droplet is a mobile app that lets you pay without using cash or card. It's like a wallet. FarGo is being talked about using this type of payment (along with Cash and card too) as another way to be forward thinking. Droplet is new and is being used in Birmingham and areas of London. I for one am championing the design and inventive new ways that the Village hope's to take.

As well as Fargo I will be attending a few local craft fairs. Both are at Stockingford Sports and Social. The first is on October 27th and the second on 8th December. I'll have books and hopefully some homemade Christmas decorations and cards for sale, all book themed, mainly thanks to my wife Heidi.

It has been quite difficult to get the website getting hits as bookshops are overtaken by Amazon, not to mention other online bookshops. I started adding my stock to the website about a year ago now, and that was my day-job, with about 50-100 added daily. I added every single book I had which I see in hindsight wasn't a great way. A lot of generic books, some worn quite badly, have been added. I have looked recently at just adding those that I think are something of a find. I have a mass of sci fi and fantasy books that are not your everyday find, plus I still have about 80% of my stock to even look through. From now til Christmas I'll be streamlining the site a little with quality rather than quantity. Please take the time to have a look at the shop website. If there is a book you want, or a certain author then I will do my best to find it for you.

Finally it was the Man Booker Prize last night. I love the prize as it showcases books I would not have heard of before and gets people talking about books. In the book club I run (join for free here!) we picked The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton as our book of the month to read and it just so happened to have won last night! I am able to get The Luminaries at a special price of £16 with free postage so if you fancy it, please let me know.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett is the 19th novel in the Discworld series. I am a massive Discworld and Pratchett fan and have read the Discworld novels in publication order (apart from Jingo, which was the 21st published) so this was my 20th Discworld novel and it was based on The City Watch, my favourite group of characters from the series. I'd even go as far as to say it was one of my favourites so far.

The City Watch is the Police Force of the main city on Discworld, Ankh-Morpork. Commander Vimes, Captain Carrot, Nobby, Colon, Detritus and Angua round out the main characters from previous City Watch Books, with a new recruit in the dwarf Cheery Littlebottom. Each one of these characters lives and breathes on the page, and they have done since his first book and Littlebottom is no different.
The City Watch

If you have never read a Discworld book before then try to imagine Monty Python in a fantasy land with wizards, trolls, humans with a tongue firmly in a cheek. Several times I laughed out loud (I always do with Pratchett).

The story of Feet of Clay revolves around a double murder. It's implicated that a Golem has killed the duo, but how can a Golem, who has no 'life', it's simply a machine, have any murderous tendancies? At the same time the marvellous Patrician (One of Discworlds rare sensible beings) has been poisoned. It's up to Vimes and The City Watch to find the culprit and bring them to justice.

In each Discworld book several figures pop up from time to time and new ones appear. I loved the introduction of a new character called Wee Mad Arthur, a 6 inch hard-as-nails Ratkiller gnome, with the face off of him vs a bull a hoot.
The Discworld - Great A'Tuin

It really was a joy to read, more so than normal. I've given it a huge 8.5 on the comfometer.

I urge you to read a Discworld novel. Publication date is not a great way to start tobe honest but I'm half way through now so I'm not stopping! The books are all in series eg The City Watch books, The Witches books, Wizards books etc, but they are all set on the Discworld, with characters appearing in other series. Have a look at the Terry Pratchett site for more.

One of my favourite Discworld books.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The local scene of Coventry and Warwickshire

In yesterdays Telegraph it was brought to my attention that there is a new book showing the UK's crappest towns. You know the type, the books that end up in The Works for £1.99 in a year. Well Nuneaton and Coventry both make the top 10 crap towns at 8 and 7. I also accidentally ended up on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire breakfast show on Thursday too as a local lady had stated she would never go to Coventry in a million years and I tweeted that I'll be moving my business there soon due to Fargo!

I'm going to start a new regular piece on the blog about what is GREAT about the area. From buildings and musicians, to parks and shops, to show that Coventry and Nuneaton isn't all concrete and charity shops.

As I live in Nuneaton it is actually a pretty sad state of affairs with no real new direction being made (new KFC! *sigh*), but the old Ritz Bingo hall is being talked about becoming a theatre or community space so hopefully soon will turn a corner.
It has only been in the past 2 years where I've seen a little more of Coventry and I, like the lady on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, thought it was a bit of a dump at first, but after spending a lot more time there, there is so much to do and so many great shops, all independent, it's an exciting time. Fargo Village will be the go-to place too.

In the shop I will have local acoustic music, or any music really, just not loud rock bands! My first 'Focus on' piece is on a band close to my heart.
It's me.
I've started with me just to get it out the way, and when I say me, I actually mean Jonathan Coates and I, also known as Barricades Rise.

We've been playing together over half our lifetime and mainly in and around Coventry and Warwickshire and we've played some magnificent venues. We'll no doubt grace the Bookshop stage a few times so here's a little song by us to show you what to expect.

For more on us visit, follow on twitter @barricadesrise and like on Facebook.

I'll be focusing on loads more musicians in later blogs, but just wanted to ease you in.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong - Guest blog by Rachel Ritchie

When I was about fourteen, I read an article in Cosmopolitan that mentioned Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I had never heard of the book, nor of Jong, but thought it sounded interesting, particularly as it was being held up as a feminist classic. A day or two later, I came across another reference to Fear of Flying and took this as a sign that I must read it. I duly checked a copy out of Nuneaton library. I noticed the librarian looking at me a bit askance while she stamped it (remember the days when library books were stamped by a person, not scanned by a machine?). By the time I’d settled down that evening and read a few pages, I realised why she had cocked an eyebrow at me and my book choice: Fear of Flying was rude! Well, it seemed ‘rude’ to my rather green teenage self as its pages are peppered with strong swear words and discussions of sex. Despite my shock, the journey of the protagonist, Isadora, had me hooked. I wanted to know more about her life. I needed to see where Jong would take her. So I continued, albeit with the book held so close to my face that my parents must have thought I was developing long-sightedness; I was worried that they would glance at it over my shoulder and decide that it was unsuitable, so I took to surreptitious reading and vowed to not mention it to anyone – especially family members or teachers.

Many reviews of Fear of Flying concentrate exclusively on what I naively labelled ‘rude’ elements. Whilst acknowledged as a key text in second wave feminism, it is also pigeon-holed as being all about sex. Recent editions have played to such assessments, using images such as a half-unzipped banana on the cover. In an updated introduction, Jong recounts an incident when her daughter confronted her with classmates’ accusations that she wrote pornography; Jong gives her a copy and tells her to judge for herself. She does not share what her daughter’s assessment was, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is so much more to Fear of Flying than titillation. Accusations of pornography have long been thrown at any expression of women’s desires and sexuality, usually in an attempt to silence voices that threaten the gender status quo.

Focusing solely on its visceral aspects is simply one way to avoid the more challenging aspects of this novel, particularly its questioning of marriage, an institution that dominates Western understandings of love, intimacy and family as much now as when the book was first published in 1973. Fear of Flying tells the story of Isadora’s flight from her marriage and her ensuing jaunt around Europe, largely but not exclusively in the company of her older lover. In the course of her travels, we also learn of Isadora’s life up until that point. Whilst sexual encounters are undoubtedly a fundamental part of this recounting and her European adventure, Fear of Flying is also a broader exploration of female identity, freedom and independence. It is ultimately about Isadora’s voyage of self-discovery. Unlike in comparable novels such as Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the central protagonist is not punished for transgressing acceptable feminine norms, yet at the same time Fear of Flying offers a conclusion with no easy answers for either Isadora or the reader. The unflinching deconstruction of so-called ‘romantic love’ evident from the outset continues even on the last page, with Jong eschewing the conventional happy ending and instead providing an ambiguous final scene. Almost twenty years after I first read it, I still struggle with this. I don’t want ambiguity; I want a definite answer as to what happens to Isadora in the end. Perhaps, though, this is the point: in our journey to find ourselves, there is no definitive ending until we die.

Many thanks to Rachel Ritchie for this great post! Go and visit her website at and follow her on twitter at @rae_ritchie_

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My first foray into Audiobooks was the children's classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Frances Hodgson Burnett

The beauty of the audiobook is that I can 'read' it whilst I'm doing other things, mostly driving, but you knew that anyway. Yes I'm late to the game. I only put it on when I knew I'd be listening to it and not concentrating on several things at once. I came across this audiobook via the app simply called Audiobooks and streamed it direct from my phone. It is part of the huge library on

It was read by Kara Shallenberg and as my first audiobook I found her tones were simple and didn't take me out of the story, although an American woman pulling off an old man's Yorkshire accent was startling at first! But she did it!

I picked The Secret Garden first as I always remembered a film version of it from my childhood but I could never reach those memories, and it turns out I made a lot of it up in my head.
The brash, rude 10 year old Mary is our eyes into her new English world, having been brought up in India by maids. Left alone in her new surroundings she is expected to live life like a child yet, she is so used to everything being done for her including dressing that it's a shock. The idea of 'playing' is alien to her but bit by bit she investigates the huge mansion and gardens, and one such garden in particular.

The garden has been locked up for 10 years and the mystery awakens Mary's sense of adventure. In India she had no friends and no inclination to speak to anyone but now in England she is slowly warming to becoming a child, and finding her childlike tendencies of inquisitiveness.
Leaves and things. It's a garden. And looks secretish.
These tendencies leads her to the young boys Dickon, the maid Martha's brother and keen gardener and later on, Colin, the master of the house's sickly demanding son. There is almost a chain in the relationships with Dickon very placid and calm, teaching Mary how to grow, both in the garden and emotionally, then Mary doing the same to Colin.

I enjoyed the book very much. At around two thirds of the way through I became a little frustrated at the pace, as I was enjoying the relationship between Mary and Dickon but it focuses more on Colin. It was written for children and if I'd had read it when I was 10 or so then it would have captivated me all the way through.

A healthy 6.5 on the comfometer


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The great thing about running a book club is that I get to pick the book, or at least have it up for vote. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a book I've wanted to read for ages yet never got round to but with it being victorious in the vote, I gladly sat down and devoured it.
The Book Thief by Dean the cat
One reason for picking it is also there is a film version out very soon and i didn't want to taint my experience of the source material. The book is based in Germany at the start of World War II but instead of focusing on the army or the war, it picks it's lead as an 11 year old girl off to live with her foster parents. The war is simply a backdrop to her life. Another expert twist is that the whole book is seen through the eyes of, and narrated by, Death.

Liesel, the girl in question, has a wicked start to her story, with her younger brother dying in the first few pages and her distant yet lovable mother leaving not long after. Her brother leans heavily on her conscience and moulds her character throughout the book. At her brothers funeral she comes across a book, The Grave Diggers manual and, unable to read but wanting to find something to hold on to, she takes it. The first of many.

When Liesel finally arrives at her adoptive parents this is where the book takes off. The characters are full of life. Her 'Father' Hans and 'Mother' Rosa create a world of discipline, safety, love and freedom, with Liesel's love growing each day for Hans, who each night helps Liesel read. Rudy, the boy a few doors down and best friend is captivated by Liesel and the pair are in love more or less from the start, but the young love that children find. Although with little food and in the slums of Germany, the pair, along with other kids, make the best, with Rudy and Liesel becoming expert thieves, plotting schemes, capturing adolescence perfectly.

The war is far away from her home of Himmel Street but at several points it creeps in with a procession of Jews appearing more often, and Hans's son putting all his faith in the Fuhrer. Promises made 20 years ago haunt the family but also open them up to a life much more colourful and rewarding.

I loved this book from page 1. It was harrowing, tense, depressing yet uplifting too. I have never cried at a book but I had a lump in my throat at one specific part. It is a book that, very cleverly, revealed everything about Liesel's future life due to the narration from Death, way before the book was over, in fact about a third of the way through we find out the ending. Even when we know what's coming, the way Markus Zusak pulls no punches and uses symbolism choked me.

I've given The Book Thief a massive 9 cushions on the Comfometer. I miss these characters.


PS The trailer for the film is a bit too syrupy for me.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

10 tips to help you read more

Here are 10 tips to help you read more.

I often have a spat of not reading anything. Last year I read about 6 or 7 books all year and for me that is woeful. I can use my new born son as an excuse but it's still pretty bad. At the start of this year I gave myself the task of reading a book a week. I am still way off target but I've managed to squeeze in some reading where before I would do anything else.

There is no maximum or minimum number of books you should read, as long as you enjoy it. If you fancy adding a book or two to your yearly log then try these for size.

1. Enjoy what you read.
OK, so it may seem simple but if you start reading Umbrella by Will Self and after page 10 you are utterly bamboozled then it's not a crime to stop. Personally I get to about page 50-70 and make my mind up, but I've given up on some so-called classics. I've sometimes later revisited them and completed a few and generally enjoyed them but don't put yourself through it. You'll come out dizzy and with a contempt for books. Reading is supposed to be fun!

2. Use more than a book
Being a bookshop owner I encourage buying books, but I also read on my phone and on my kindle. I use the Aldiko app on my phone to download and read classics. It gives me the opportunity to read anywhere I am. My son used to fall asleep on me and refuse to budge so I decided to use this time to read on my phone as it was the only thing I had on me at the time! I've discovered some fantastic books this way including Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice and Call of the Wild.

3. Read more than one book at a time
To some it may be quite hard but I often have at least 2 books on the go, on different mediums. It helps if the books are different genres rather than having 2 crime thrillers. These can get mixed up and plots transfer from one book to another! At the moment I'm reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (on the Aldiko app), Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (in paperback) and The Secret Garden (audiobook).

4. Use audiobooks
Some may say it's not reading but who cares? The Secret Garden is my very first audiobook and I love it. I put it on when I'm driving and doing chores around the house. If I went to the gym I'd put it on then too. It still counts. I use another free app called Librivox and there are hundreds of free classics to choose from, but try Audible for new books, there are thousands!

5. Read short stories
I've never been one to invest time in short stories. I always thought if I'm going to put effort and time into a book, I want to really give myself to it and spend time with the characters. This is so wrong. A short story can be amazingly nutritious. Depending how short, it can be read in just 20 minutes or so (I'm a slow reader). The Sherlock Holmes stories I'm reading at the moment are all short stories yet still encapsulate the characters, the smells and locations of London just as a novel does.

6. JUST read
The reason I've not hit my goal of a book a week this year is due to the Internet, and probably Twitter in particular. I try to read just before I go to sleep but often think "I'll just check Twitter first" then spend an hour working out my thumb muscle scrolling through. Put that phone down (unless using Aldiko of course!) and maybe even turn it off. Use the time you said you were going to read, to actually read.

7. Schedule more time
As stated I like to read before I go to bed, but I've also scheduled in an hour just to read during the day. It's easier for me as I work from home, but even if it's just 15 minutes before dinner, or in your lunch break, you'll soon see that book you've been meaning to read complete within a week or two.

8. Join a book club
I've started an online book club and it is going amazingly well. We vote on what book to read then we have the whole month to get through it, ending with a discussion on Facebook on the last Sunday of the month. We don't meet anywhere as it's online and each time we do the discussion I use my phone and the Facebook app rather than sit at a PC as it gives me much more freedom. Arguing about whether the book was decent or not is all part of the fun! Book clubs are all over too so if you want to sit, eat cake and chat about them then see if your local book shop of library runs one. Join The Big Comfy Book Club online HERE

9. Give yourself a challenge
If you only read 1 book a year why not make it a New Years Resolution to read more? Maybe there is a film coming out that has been adapted from a book, you could read the book BEFORE the film comes out then brag to your friends "Oh they missed so-and-so out of the film". Read ALL the Man Booker Prize books before the winner is announced. Work towards a goal. At the end treat yourself to a low-calorie carbonated refreshment. Nice.

10. Get up to date with the next big thing.
A lot of people think that Dan Brown is an awful writer, but his books have sold enough that if you line up every one he's sold it would reach a really, really long way. Probably a billion miles long. Forget about the critics, if you like chases and cars exploding and dinosaurs (who doesn't?!) then get in on the action. A million billion people who bought Dan Brown can't be wrong and you can chip in with the conversation around the watercooler or Internet forum about Inferno or Fifty Shades of Grey or Harry Potter. Take a look at the bestselling books this year, this month, this week and see why it's at the top.

I hope this list has inspired you to pick up a few more books and get your read on. You can, incidentally, pick them up from OUR SHOP, with just £1 postage on everything.

Any more tips then let me know and I'll share to the world. Contact me on Twitter @BigComfyBooks, Facebook or comment below.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

October book club choice - Man Booker Mania!

Our October book club choice will be chosen from the list of 6 Man Booker Prize nominees.

I love the Man Booker Prize for several reasons. New authors are brought to public attention. It's one of the only book related events to be covered by the media extensively. Small publishers are given a huge boost. People buy more books. Plus loads more!

Often the list is argued that it's too snobbish, too easy, too literal or too stale, but for me I love the fact that these discussions are taking place.

I failed to read a Man Booker nominee last year but usually I try to cram as many in as I can. Sometimes the books on the list are absolute stinkers. Snowdrops by A D Miller from 2011 is one of the worst books I've ever read and even the winner from a few years ago, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, had me bored to tears. Conversely The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is one of my all time favourite books and Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch is simply a delight.

So what does this year hold? Below are the six short-listed entries. Read the blurb then take your choice!
Either vote via Facebook, let me know on Twitter or comment below this blog.

Our September book of the month discussion will be Sunday at 4pm where we'll be discussing The Book Thief. The vote will close at the same time.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Tale of the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Have a look at the Man Booker website for more info.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Fargo Family - Meeting everyone at Fargo Village

On Tuesday I had the chance to attend the very first tenants meeting at Fargo Villege. Around 15 or so tenants already signed up to Fargo got together to chat on Far Gosford Street in Coventry, ask questions and generally get to know each other. It was a very successful evening with ideas being shared between us. The meetings will become fairly regular and keep us up to date on the works going on on the site, offering us help with finances, new businesses, marketing and anything that we feel we need.
(l-r) Beadlebop, Big Comfy Bookshop and RogueArt!
The go-to guys at Fargo, Jo and Steve, are very much approachable and open to any ideas and worries we all had and we were mostly given an answer straight away to questions asked, with other queries being taken away so they could research them and let us know next time.

Below is a list of businesses and people who will join me at Fargo. With just under 50% of the place rented, and it still to be built, places are going very quickly so at the next meeting I'm looking forward to saying hello to more new people.

These are off the top of my head and if I can find a website/link to them. Please check them out by liking/following or just spreading the word of Fargo:

Beadlebop Design - Facebook
Karmen's Kreations - Website
Iris Aperture - Website | Facebook | Twitter
UTI Creative - Website
Astral Gypsy - Website
Twilight - Facebook
Urban Coffee Co.

More TBC.

And of course Fargo Village! - Website | Facebook | Twitter

And me!
The Big Comfy Bookshop - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

 PS. Man Booker Fever hitting! Shortlist announced!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

I've seen a great documentary about Jeanette Winterson and I even gave her book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? out on World Book Night, yet I've never actually read any of her books, so when Sexing the Cherry won the vote in our book club I was excited.

It's a hard book to describe. It roughly follows Jordan and his 'mother' in the 17th century, except time, space and all things real are not really true. Villages that float, an elephantine protagonist and the stories of the 12 princesses (great bit btw) all mash together with the London Plague, feminism and sexuality. At even 144 pages I really struggled to follow it. Winterson's literary tongue, especially towards the end, was overindulgent and suffocated what was already a convoluted idea. I really enjoy literary fiction but was sorely disappointed with this result.
The book club was split, with some also not enjoying it but some really revelling in the prose.
Here's hoping that her other books are not as muddy and troublesome for me.

A dour 3.5 on the comfometer.
I'm excited to start The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Buy stuff

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Books on TV, 50 Shades and more Salinger - Book News!

Since the Book Show on Sky was cancelled earlier this year (RIP) there is not one TV show on air dedicated to books. To me this is a travesty. The beauty of the Book Show was that we not only got to know about what new books were out but what went into the writing, getting to know the author, presented skillfully by Mariella Frostrup. I loved seeing snippets of authors homes and how they work, classics revisited and the end of show questions. I'm sad. But now there is a new book show appearing on TV.
Not so much a review show but a book club similar to 'Richard and Judy's' and 'The TV Book Club' that appeared a few years back (meh). This new show is based around crime thrillers.
It's produced by Amanda Ross, who also produced The TV Book Club as well as Richard and Judy's. If it runs along the same lines then we'll get a few celebrities to read that weeks book and then spend half an hour dissecting it. Top crime authors have been confirmed to appearing such as Martina Cole and Harlan Coben. I champion the fact we have books returning to TV, albeit for a short time.

The Crime Thriller Book Club starts on ITV3 on September 16th and runs til 24th October where the channels Crime Thriller Awards will take place.

If I say 50 Shades to you I'd hazard a guess you know what I am talking about. This Goliath of a book trilogy by newcomer E.L.James comprising 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed will be turned into a film (no doubt the trilogy) and the question on everybody's lips is who will play Christian and Anastasia?
Well stop those rumours as the pair have been confirmed as Byker Grove alumni Charlie Hunnam and daughter of Melanie Griffith, Dakota Johnson.
After scouring the net it's quite clear the 50 Shades fans seem a little underwhelmed, but only time will tell if they create cinematic steam. The film will be released in August 2014 and make a billion dollars on day one and create stars of the duo.

Finally J.D.Salinger, who's one and only novel The Catcher In The Rye became an American classic is to posthumously release a series of other novels. Five to be exact. Some of these will be based on the anti-hero from Catcher, Holden Caulfield. Another is based around Salingers brief and rocky marriage to Sylvia, with others rumoured to be based on his experiences in WWII. These 5 books will be released from 2015-20. In the meantime a new documentary focusing on the mystery surrounding Salinger is out soon.

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Septembers Book Club choice is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is our book club choice in September after our week of votes. I'm excited by this as I've been meaning to read this for ages and now I HAVE to, seeing as I run this book club!
If you fancy joining the book club, it's purely online and we have a group on Facebook (click here and add yourself) but if you're not on Facebook then fear not as you can join in the conversation over on Twitter or simply comment on this blog. Join in anyway you can!

You'll have til September 29th, 4pm to get through it, then we'll talk about it over on Facebook.

Happy reading folks! 


PS I have yet to receive my copy of the book so I'm unable to take a picture of my cats with it, so instead here is Dean on his own.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Fargo Village - The new home of The Big Comfy Bookshop

After over 12 months I am excited to say I have signed a lease for a property!

My shop will be where the rolling shutter is

I will be moving into a purpose built creative village in Coventry called Fargo Village, on Far Gosford Street.
Fargo is an exciting new cultural hub that will open next year. It is being built on a disused industrial site, using the old buildings themselves rather than knocking down and making a building-by-numbers, and will incorporate dozens of independent businesses, including me! As well as books you'll find artists, music, dance, food and more.

I was approached by Jo from Fargo whilst I was in Earlsdon for the Earlsdon festival. I tucked the leaflet into my bag and subsequently forgot all about it. Only a month later whilst reorganising things did I come across the leaflet and investigate further. I was struck immediately by how similar both Fargo's and my ideas were.

I've visited the site twice already, once whilst it was being featured on Midlands Today (my foot was clearly visible in the background whilst a councillor was being interviewed!).

I am extremely excited by this new venture and hope to get an open date soon. As well as books I'll be selling cakes made by Clairey's Cakes (simply divine!) and Ali Smart, and selling locally made crafts, such as the talented Emily's at Cotton Cat UK. The place is currently being built though so all I know at the moment is it's open next year. I'll still be attending craft fairs and other places in the meantime (I have a 'residency' at POD in Coventry thanks to Adam at the wonderful Here Comes Everyone magazine)

As well as the main buildings, there will also be shipping containers to work and sell from! These can be leased for a short period too so if you fancy having a go at a business but think it's too risky, it really is a grand opportunity.

Please go and visit the Fargo website and follow and like on their social media sites too.

Follow me on Twitter - @BigComfyBooks
Like me on Facebook - Facebook

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