Saturday, June 30, 2007


Been watching the 7 ages of rock and revelling in a 15-20 year old nostalgia of great tunes of the time. Personally I love the Smiths, Roses and Suede from that show.

But I was watching and there were a bunch of blokes in their 30's and 40's blabbing on about how great britpop was in the 90's and I was getting distinctly bored. It's in the past and it hasn't carried well... Flicking on to a music channel straight after led to this song which I heard a while ago and love. Nostalgia is fine but it's a bit like a concrete block tied round your neck.

On the other hand am I too close to 40...? This is a great song by a barely 20 something and I'm already appropriating it.
It's just wrong. We should know our place. Stuart Maconie is wrong. This shit annot be shared. Time and a place...

Out Stealing Horses

From time to time I find myself in the bizarre position of not knowing what to read. I wander about the shop with books all over the place and none of them appeal. I go to the shelves at home and there's nothing that leaps out - I'm in a book funk...

I was in a book funk yesterday and grabbed Out Stealing Horses from our table. I have had my eye on it for about a year but despite the fact it won the Independent foreign fiction prize and then the IMPAC I hadn't quite managed to read it.

Well, one rainy day later it's read and all I can say is




A beautiful, sad, lovely, warm, snowy, tree-filled classic. Extra Norwegian poignance can be added by listening to Susanna and the Magical Orchestra's album Melody Mountain. Their version of Love Will Tear Us Apart added to Per Petterson's storytelling had me close to tears.

Our pernicious influence is spreading like a particularly unpleasant fungal infection

Virus-like, we've crossed the channel. An ex-colleague (hello Karen) was in the venerable Shakespeare & Co in Paris and noticed our full-page Guardian spread sellotaped to the wall, pride of place. We even have photographic proof.

Mwhah-hah-hah-hahhhhhh! Soon, the world will be ours!!!!

Friday, June 29, 2007

A few things

Tony Curtis and Dannie Abse were in the shop reading last night from their most recent Poetry collections and in Abse's case his new memoir/journal of the time following his wife Joan's tragic death in 2005 in a car crash - The Presence.

Tony was a great reader but I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying just what an exceptional reader Dannie is. Listening to him really brought his poems and his journal entries vividly to life with a rich yet sometimes tremulous voice. It really was top drawer stuff and the best reading I've ever heard.


Self-Published Novel Turns Out To Be Really Rather Good Shock! After my posts a few weeks ago about self-publishing a brave young woman phoned and asked if she could send us her self-published novel, Imagine This by Sade Adeniran. It's very well produced and designed but more importantly it's actually excellent to boot. It's such a pleasure to open this sort of thing and read not only a compelling story but someone who can really, properly write. She tried going down the publisher route and didn't get anywhere - somehow it fell through the cracks. I don't think that will be the situation for too long. Keep an eye out.


Ouch! I'm sure I read an article a short while back where someone from Fopp was telling the journalist how swimmingly everything was going. Must have been a last ditch attempt to drum up custom. Anyway, staff from over a hundred shops have been locked out and will not be paid this month. Shame on those at the top, I bet they've feathered their own nest plenty.

But it seems to boil down to corporate greed and hubris too. In february they expanded by buying the 60-odd stores of Music Zone after they went into administration. Will these fools ever learn?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where do you live?

A lad with a very strong London accent phones us:

'Would you like to take part in a survey on the congestion charge for Transport for London?

'Yeah sure, why not'

'Which borough do you live in?'


'No, which borough do you live in?'

'Southwark is a borough'

'Is that in London?'

'Yes, South-walk is in London'

'Oh, SouthWalk, yeah. Ok are you between the ages of 16 and 29?'


'Is there anyone in the household who is?'

'This is a shop, it's a business, no there aren't'

'Okay. Sorry to bother you'

TfL, business as usual.

ps This is a blog of some considerable quality.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mary Queen of Shops

Brilliant living in London.

I was at a concert in a small church in North London, listening to my mum and dad sing in their choir. The small family were sat at the back in case Finn decided to add an extra soprano line which he did - but not before Mary (my wife) had spotted Mary Portas (Mary Queen of Shops) a couple of rows in front of us...

I've been watching the program and enjoying it a great deal and now there she was - out of the telly and into real life. Well there's no point messing around in these situations. At the interval I went and said hello.

I'm sure she clocked my extreme lack of fashion sense and fast disappearing hair but even so, we had a pleasant chat. I said we'd been in Vogue under the heading Boutique Bookshops and that we were trying to present and sell books in a way that chimed with a lot of the advice she gives out to her fashion victims on the program. We agreed that Daunt Books sets the benchmark at present. All good.

The trouble is she said she would drop in next time she's in the area. Adam and I are quaking. (Well I am) Would we survive a visit from the Queen of Shops? If she does turn up I hope she goes easy on us...At the same time I'm sure she would have something useful to say...

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When A Good Book Ends I Die A Little - Failure

I would be a fool and in the wrong business if reading books didn't excite me, but sometimes it goes a bit too far.

I have recently read two books that were so great I almost wish I hadn't read them. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano and David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero. Both left me feeling down for days because they were over. I've read them now. It's not the same reading a book the second time, in fact I hardly ever do it.

Finishing The Savage Detectives would have been far far worse had I not had Tokyo Year Zero to follow. There was something about that book that really resonated. Probably all to do with the inherent failure involved in writing. Try as you might, the words are never quite able to convey the feeling - believe me I've tried. (Ten years writing the same novel four times and it was still bad!) The obscure poet the poet heroes of the Savage Detectives are looking for remains mysterious. The only poem of hers they ever see contains no words, only abstract symbols. There is something achingly sad (I think) about writing and the literary world in general. If there is anything concrete to be gained from reading it is often hard to measure, let alone grasp hold of.

David Peace seems to be interested in failure as well. GB84 was all about the miners strike - the tipping point in the recent failure of the left. The Damned Utd examines the only period in Brian Clough's life when he failed - his time managing Leeds Utd. Tokyo is set in a recently defeated Japan and explores some of the psychosis such a massive defeat unleashed amongst the survivors. Even the Red Riding Quartet could be seen in terms of failure - the police took a very long time to catch the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe. Then there is that famous Beckett quote, a favourite with Zadie Smith - "Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better."

There is something undoubtedly heroic about failure. Supporting Fulham is one way to become acquainted with the positive aspects of failure. Trying to write a novel is another.

At any rate, failure is an interesting subject I think.

What really matters about failure is what you do after.

I used to stay awake at night worrying the shop would fail, after all that's what everyone seemed to expect when we opened. Now I sleep soundly (or at least the things that wake me tend to be small boy shaped rather than book shaped) for a couple of reasons. The first is that the shop is doing well and we are succeeding. The second is that having stuck our necks out and gone for it I now see that failure is impossible if you refuse to fail.

As Beckett says on another occasion:

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

I will finish that novel one day!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Boxes of Lovely Books

...some great stuff in today.

Some from the US, always a bit of a treat.

And some from Book Works.

I like it when that happens

'Do you have the Autobiography of Malcolm X?'

'Yes we do.'

'Oh Wow, that's great. I've been looking for it everywhere and nobody has it. Thanks.'

'You're welcome.'

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New E-Mail Address

As of today we have a new e-mail address. is dead

long live

It's a long story involving David (us) and Goliath (BT)

As in the story, David Won!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arise, Sir Adam. Arise, Sir Matthew!

I suppose we shouldn't say but we were contacted by the powers that be to see if we would be willing recipients of a queen's birthday bauble for our gallant services to the independent book trade.

Unfortunately due to our innate distrust of, and contempt for, authority, hierarchy and the monarchy we had to politely decline the offer.

Still, it's nice they thought of us.

A Dud Avocado

It was a hot, peaceful,optimistic sort of day. I was sitting in my box with all the other avocados thinking how fantastic it is to be here. One minute I was hanging on the tree, just starting to think I'd never do anything, go anywhere or be anything and then it happened - I was picked!

In some ways it would have been better to end up somewhere more romantic than Cruzon's fruit and veg grocery in Camberwell. (I always dreamed of Paris and the movies.)

But South London will just have to do. At least Mr Cruzon is a lovely man. He gave me a good rub earlier so my skin shines brightly. My mother always used to say "If you have a bright and shiny skin you just never know what might happen" - not that I ever paid too much attention to her.

Hello, now there's a sight. Mum and her little lad. What a handsome chappy! Oooh, he likes the look of me. Oh gosh, what a lot of teeth for one so small. It looks like - OUCH! Little bugger bit me! Now I have tooth-marks in my skin...

At least mum has a bit of decency and is going to buy me.

I wonder what sort of house they have? My fantasy was always ending up on a plate at the Ritz, being nibbled by the lacquered lips of a film starlet.

Hmmm...a basement flat. Not bad inside though. Bit of a mess. Obviously someone likes their books. And the fruit bowl is ok. The bananas are rather over-friendly but the apples are a solid bunch.

Well my time has come! But mum, what are you doing? The little bloke is chewing me again! Don't you know you have to cut the skin off? Ah, back in a civilised grasp. She's chopped a chunk off the top. I'm heading back to the little gob again...

...but he's just had a lick and chucked me straight on the floor. That really is no way to treat a lady. Now dad has picked me up. What! He's running me under the tap. Oh, that's really classy - back to little gob for another go. Aargh, he's chucked me on the floor again. I can't take any more of this, I'm off...

I don't know why he keeps chucking it on the floor Maz, usually Finn loves his avocado. Maybe it's a dud?

Weekend entertainments

Great to see a tubby 37 year old beat the rippled, muscle bound Tiger Woods on sunday at the US Open. Normally I'm a big fan of Tiger but he's becoming the wrong shape for golf. Granted he's an extraordinary physical specimen now but it still just seems out of sorts. And here's a quote from Angel Cabrera, the Argentinian winner:

'Some players have psychologists, some have sportologists - I smoke'

A C&P kind of sportsman.

And I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Totally and utterly mad bonkers crazy. A lot of the bad reviews have focused on the incoherent plot but to me, who cares. It's like someone gave 150 million dollars to Fellini and told him to make a pirate film. I honestly could have sat through another three hours of it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Peace at Crockatt & Powell

David Peace will be signing copies of his awesome new book Tokyo Year Zero (first of a trilogy!!!) at Crockatt & Powell on Wednesday 5th September at lunchtime.

Yes I know it's months away and there's plenty of exciting stuff before then (Marie's book for example) but I just hadtatellyou...

Us or Them?

An interesting article here.

What can I say? Nobody pays us to put things in the window! In fact it's full of art books from a local college at the moment.

Know what? We put art books in the window and sales last week were up by over a third on last year. (My maths is too crap at this time on a Monday to work it out exactly) Maybe We'resostoned should try acting a little less like money-making commercial hard men? They might just make a little more money...

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just had a visit from a very angry ex-colleague from my Waterstone's days. Head office has issued a new contract to everyone with some fairly stringent/insulting terms. No over-time and booksellers will be obliged to work bank holidays and christmas day at normal rates. Pay-cuts across the board which mean that a bookseller with 10 years at the company will now be earning the same as someone with 10 minutes experience if they don't sign up. The intention is to keep a very thin layer of experienced company people and populate the shops with a high turnover of cheap staff - to all intents and purposes they're turning it into Smiths.

Everyone has to re-apply for their jobs. Those that refuse to sign the new contract will be left in a state of limbo and reduced to the status of a part-timer with no benefits or holiday.

There is quite a revolt at Gower st, Hatchards and Piccadilly but smaller branches seem to be submitting with barely a whimper. The status of Bookseller, never that high in the first place, is being reduced to the level of a till monkey. What annoys my ex-colleague even more is that Waterstone's sell themselves on the basis that they are passionate Booksellers and that there is experience and knowledge in store, clearly not a view shared in Brentford.

Personally, I couldn't give a toss, what Matthew and I do here is a million miles away from that outfit. If they want to turn into Smiths that's their business but as a favour to a fellow bookseller who is leaving Waterstone's after 12 years to set up his own shop (hooray!) he wants to tell as many people as possible just how appallingly they are treating their staff. Hopefully this will help.

Peace in the Middle East

My parents live in Doha on the Persian Gulf. They were over for a visit a few weeks ago and mum left behind some toothpaste. It was colgate but all in arabic. I tried it this morning and there are enough chemicals in it to strip the enamel off your teeth.

Maybe if their toothpaste was as benign as ours then all the conflict and strife in this disturbed region could be brought to a welcome end.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Don't Believe It

I've just wasted an hour writing two posts about what I love/hate about the net and they have vanished into the ether.

But I'm not bored at work, I have a shop to run, boxes to unpack, people to find books for...


Two Posts Vanish


I don't believe it! I just spent an hour writing a post about what I loved and hated about the net and then accidentally deleted it!

In a nutshell...

What worries me about "social networking" and the world Mark and Emma describe in the comments below is that most of these things are about selling stuff. (Or watching how people network and collecting the info for market research)

Most of the subversive elements of the internet have been controlled. (We would never be allowed to blog if we worked for a chain bookshop for example)

I am a fan of paper, paper and metal money, flesh, blood, paper books etc because these things are very hard to control.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Janet Davey

We launched Janet Davey's new novel The Taxi Queue at C & P last night.

It was a night made brilliant by two things - a perfect author and a fantastic publisher. It also helped that Janet had so many good friends who not only loved the shop but were not afraid to show support for us and Janet by buying plenty of copies.

So thanks - to Janet and to the great folk at Chatto and Windus.

THIS is a trailer

There is a new trend for publishers both large and small to produce a video trailer for a new book. I have seen a lot of them now and they are all, without fail, rubbish. They range between third rate powerpoint presentations and clumsy interviews. The hope is that these go on youtube and a kind of viral marketing leads to increased visits on their websites. The only reason I click through is to see if the publisher is as incompetent as their hopeless video.

So beware, if you're not as visually literate as the audience you're peddling to and you're not prepared to spend hollywood money on a professional production be very careful. And remember, the people who are telling you your video is great were going to buy the book anyway.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vanity/Self publishing

I put up a post about a week ago on the merits or otherwise of vanity publishers such as AuthorHOUSE. We received an e-mail from a concerned self-publisher worried about getting his work into bookshops (although he seems to be doing fine already).

Here's part of my reply:

Sorry for taking so long to get back. You must have assumed that was symbolic of our responses to small publishers! Luckily, we are just very busy at the moment.

The truth is we are very open to any suggestions and will look at everything that is presented to us. However, we can usually tell within 5 seconds or half a page whether or not whatever it is has any merit. About 99% of stuff we see from the vanity press is total garbage written by people who haven't gone to any effort to really work out how they want their work to work. These types also seem to think they're in possession of some undiscovered genius. It's not called vanity publishing for nothing and these writers tend to be deluded narcissists.

However, I should really have titled the blog 'vanity publishing' instead of 'self publishing' as real self-publishing is a different kettle of fish altogether. If you have the genuine belief in your own work and you set up your own 'publishing house' and you research and find printers and you go and visit bookshops without being jumped up and pushy then you would have every chance with us. The work produced through this route is usually at the very least, interesting. A lot of small presses we stock have some excellent content which is good but a lot are also clueless when it comes to typesetting, design and covers which is not so good and also very important for getting your stuff stocked by bookshops.

Which I suppose is where the self-critical bit comes in. You have to be strong in your convictions but you also have to be aware of your shortcomings and if there are areas where you fall short then don't be afraid to get help and if you're not getting help because of financial constraints in the long run it will be a very false economy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Overcoming Cormac McCarthy

I've never been too fond of meeting authors or hearing them speak. There's too much of a risk that if they turn out to be dicks I can never read their books again as all I'd have in my head is an image of them and their dickishness. That apart, Roland Barthes wrote a very interesting essay that more or less sets my stall out for me regarding authors more articulately than I could ever manage.

However, strangely enough the absolute opposite may just have happened. Regular readers may be aware of my antipathy towards pulitzer prize winning author Cormac McCarthy and his punctuationless prose. Indeed it is a fairly long running bone of contention here at C&P. McCarthy's The Road was recently chosen as an Oprah's Book Club choice and as part of this privilege the reluctant and shy McCarthy was obliged to undertake an interview with Ms Winfrey. You can watch it here although you do need to sign up to Oprah's Book Club to do so.

The thing is, is that I watched expecting my prejudices to be fulfilled but unfortunately McCarthy turned out to be a thoroughly nice and interesting bloke. Watching him squirm trying to politely answer Oprah's inane questions I found a whole new level of respect. So much so that I'm going to try The Road Again!

I suppose the thing to do is not just to admit you were wrong but to admit it in public too...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sore arse

A pleasant sunday morning jaunt on the old penny farthing.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tusting Bargets

Oh I do like to sell more books than last year!

Up yours Barkin!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Teenage Kicks...

I can't go to work
Dah Dah (that's the sound of heavy guitar chords)
The boss is a jerk
Dah Dah
I ain't got time for this school
Dah Dah
The fuckers are fools
I'm going to... explode I've had it!
I lie around with the TV on
Dah Dah
I don't do nothin', I just hang around
Dah Dah
etc etc
Black Flag were an inspiration in my teens. We used to cover that song (I've had it) and also Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie The band I was in for a while went through various phases, the most successful of which (our crowning moment of glory was a gig at the Brixton Old White Horse watched by a few devoted fans and some rather confused looking locals) was a hardcore punk phase. We were truly horrendous and had the plug pulled on us mid gig on one occasion when we refused to stop playing. I left when I got a girlfriend out of it!
I love punk. I love the DIY ethic and I guess the punk ethos is still a driving force. (Hard to see behind my disguise as mild mannered, bespectacled bookseller but I shi* you not!)
Get out there.
Do it.
Don't fake it.
Crockatt & Powell

It's not all doom and gloom on the front line

We had a delivery today from our usual wholesalers - 10 boxes. Buried in no 6 was an invoice for Waterstone's Harrods, a mistake obviously. I picked it up expecting the usual miserable news of Waterstone's excellent terms only to be pleasantly surprised to see that we had a better discount than them - by more than 1%. Let me repeat that.


Rock on.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Brazil make sexy pop, yeah

This is my new favourite song. They're from Sao Paolo.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Godless heathen

Might have known...

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Angry Atheist


Spiritual Atheist




Apathetic Atheist


Militant Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

(thanks Marie for the link)

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Big Shout, Self-Criticism, Bolano, Laryngitis, Walking and Plenty of other waffle Adam thought he escaped by taking the day off...

The BIG SHOUT goes out to Deborah our Turnaround rep who turned up today with a massive Latte that has fuelled me through the first half of the day. Thanks!

Self-criticism is one of my fave subjects. If it wasn't for the bastard voices only I can hear yelling "You're Crap You're Crap" I would have self-published about four novels by now. As it is I wrote the same one four times then gave it all up to start a bookshop. I also need to be severely reprimanded for blaming my wife, Mary, for the loss of David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero. I found it. It was at the shop all along. I'm a git, sorry, must try harder etd ad infinitum...

I finished The Savage Detectives! Oh what a wonderful novel. Impossible to describe really. Imagine bumping into a long-haired pair of poets who convince you to go for a drink for a discussion of Horace's poetic works only to find yourself waking up in Mexico driving fast down a desert road with a prostitute who informs you that her pimp is about to catch up with you and kill you with the knife he uses to measure his penis and you have an indication of the ride to expect from this one...Bolano - I salute you.

Marie has the lurgie. I spoke to her on the phone and she sounded like somebody else.

Finn can walk! Well, almost. He has a trolley full of bricks he pushes around.

I think that's enough already...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Self-publishing/ self-criticism

There is a place for self-publishing. It's quite nice if somebody has written a history of their family and they want to have it as a book to pass on to children and relatives. If somebody has written a manual for the kind of machine only dozens perhaps hundreds will use. Maybe someone has written a local history of a village that will only be of interest to people from that village. Yes, there are a few select areas where self-publishing is a good idea.

Unfortunately, most self-publishing is pure delusion.

We had a submission this morning from a woman who has published a novel through an outfit called AuthorHOUSE and was wondering if we'd be good enough to stock it. She can't write. I mean she really cannot write. Just because you can put words down on a page in a legible order doesn't mean you're a writer. Somebody should have told her and this is the bit where I get annoyed. I don't know how much AuthorHOUSE have charged her but I imagine it's not cheap - she's had bookmarks printed and flyers - and it's fraud. They've led her to believe that paying to have her book 'published' will help her in a writing career. This is just plain deception.

Of course there are exceptions - GP Taylor started out self-published and more or less through sheer force of will got himself a deal and sold thousands - but they are few and far between. If you look on the AuthorHOUSE link above and click on the box that asks what is the most important reason to publish I reckon only one or two of the answers is remotely acceptable. The rest are offering the bait of career and it's ripping people off.

Of course one should be self-critical enough to realise that you can't write/paint/compose to save your life. There's nothing wrong with that. There comes a time in all our lives when the realisation hits that you will never be a Movie Director (I was 23). That's OK, move on.

But if you really, really, really still want to write because you have to well, you're reading the answer - it's what the internet was invented for, it's free and who knows, if your ramblings get read and people like it then you may well get published anyway by somebody who wants to try and make you a bit of money not fleece you from it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Book business

We have been going on about the possibility of Print on Demand for backlist and out of print titles and what an opportunity that gives small independent bookshops for over a year now. We've had nay-sayers and grumblers but we've never been shaken from our conviction.

This just in from the trade press today. Amazon have gone into pod in a big way because it's bloody obvious - you don't have to stock any physical books. So much of what Amazon sells is the odd 1 or 2 of something they might as well keep everything as a digital file and then print a book as and when an order comes in. The big news is that they have an agreement with among others Collins and Wiley, huge publishers. Probably the type of agreement we've been banging on about for the last year.

So, come on publishers, if we buy a machine will you license your backlists to us? How hard can it be?

In Praise of Torment

Story here about the importance of suffering to a good relationship and a happy life.

Reminds me of something I read about Andrei Platanov recently:

"TORMENT is a key word for Platanov. Life, existence, being HERE is torment, anguish, albeit a creative, fruitful torment, a heroic anguish. Another key concept is "patience" or "endurance". One must live and be, one must endure. According to Platanov, one must not only endure grief, sorrow, need and other forms of unpleasantness. One must endure happiness, love and pleasure."

I could add a few things to Platanov's list.

One must endure people like the "artist" I just had a "conversation" with.

One must endure Chelsea Football Club.

One must endure Amazon.

One must endure independent bookshops (and booksellers) being such moaning arses!

Feel free to add to my list of things that make you suffer but make you stronger...

War & Peace

I was 2/3 through David Peace's new novel Tokyo Year Zero when we took a train down to Essex to see some family.

On the way back the train was packed. There were no seats at all and many folk were standing. Finn was in one of his wriggly moods and I was having trouble keeping him in my arms when a lady kindly offered us her seat. I pretended to do the gentlemanly thing by suggesting Mary sit down with Finn but really it was a cunning plan to get back to my book! I had to stand all the way to Liverpool St but it was worth it - Tokyo Year Zero is yet another astonishing achievement from Peace.

Back in London meant the return of Finn (ie total chaos) and for some reason I stuffed my book into Mary's bag. The next day it was still there, weighing her down, so she took it out and put it somewhere...

Probably "in a safe place" because it has completely vanished!

This morning I asked her if she had found out where it was yet. "No, I looked everywhere."

But it's a proof. They are not easy to get hold of. If I ask the publishers for another they will suspect I sold the first on e-bay. (They don't know that I have forgotten my Paypal password do they.)