Why we love Bookshops #thisbookshop


Recently the North East woke up to the great news that we’re getting a new Waterstones in Gateshead’s Metro Centre. It left many years ago and the MetroCentre has been poorer for it. So, a reason to celebrate  – BOOKSHOPS ARE FIGHTING BACK!

This follows other good news that a favourite bookshop of ours -Forum Books in Corbridge – had extended and opened a children’s bookshop with a garden, more reading activities and holding even more events for children and adults alike. Already bringing great authors to the North East such as Jessie Burton of The Miniaturist fame, this book haven is a mecca for book loving people everywhere.

There are few bookshops,  independent or otherwise left in the UK and numbers seem to be dwindling yet we’re so happy to see that Bookshops are fighting back and becoming more imaginative and more involved with readers as well as reading.

Two local authors who recently popped in to Forum Books recently to sign and eat cake –

Mari Hannah and Dan Smith in Forum Books Kids
Mari Hannah and Dan Smith in Forum Books Kids

A recent day with local Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary

The man behind Horrible Histories
The man behind Horrible Histories

Another local book haven – Cogito – has had many a literary lunch and is the official bookseller of Hexham Book Fair with events such as signings and film showings bringing readers and authors together. We were lucky enough to meet Mr Grantchester himself James Runcie this year and to have read the books and now to be watching it come alive on screen is a real treat. Something we have Cogito to thank for.

Cogito supports the arts and local communities
Cogito supports the arts and local communities

We also love the idea of Customer Recommendations that they have so you can share and chat books with other readers in store and recommend your favourites.

A lovely idea from Cogito
A lovely idea from Cogito

Waterstones Gateshead is a welcome addition to the North East landscape and we’re happy to have you return. Waterstones Newcastle is already a regular haunt – indeed Harold Fry  walked the length and breadth of the country up north to see his Queenie. He passed these parts and headed up to Berwick upon Tweed.

If he’d had time, we’re sure he would have stopped off for some literary refreshment in Waterstones Newcastle – their pastries are to die for!

Book Narnia - Waterstones Newcastle
Book Narnia – Waterstones Newcastle – the book in front is the hardback version full of wonderous things

Every time we go into a bookshop, we feel as if we’ve walked into Narnia as we always have an adventure, meet some new friends and  have to walk out and close the door behind us before we’re back in the real world.

But even though when we are  back in the real world, it’s with a book in our hands.

Thank you book havens everywhere xxxx

Nothing should Foyle you from getting to this bookstore

There is a lot to be said for booktrails around book shops – in fact the author Emma Chapman, author of ‘How to be a Good Wife’  is herself currently indie bookshop trailing up and down the country visiting lots of hidden and not so hidden gems of literary goodness. What a dream job! We’ve done a few ourselves this week – only a few – a kind of mini bookshopcrawl – and it’s been fun. Wonder what Emma’s book haul might be!

One of my rather battered books from my latest book haul
One of my rather battered books from my latest book haul

The biggest and newest bookshop we visited last week was the brand new spanking Foyles in the middle of Charring Cross Road. I was excited about this one – as having seen the huge amount of work that the booksellers had done by merely filling the shelves and getting the store ready was amazing to watch. See the video here –

As soon as I walked in the large glass doors, light flooded into the entrance – like a scene of Downton Abbey when you walk in the main doors and see the grand staircase of the house  – but instead of women dressed for dinner and men suited in classic jackets, the only visions I saw were well dressed book displays and book jackets making themselves quite at home thank you very much on shelves, tables, the stairs…

The grand entrance
The grand entrance

I felt a bit giddy… I mean where do I go first? Straight to the back where the children’s section was with some really nice table displays, turn right and head to the latest releases, and literary gifts near the tills. What about all those lovely floors to explore? Which one? There’s even a store directory – now that is a book department store is it not?

Books  stand like old fashioned chorus girls singing and showing you the way...
Books stand like old fashioned chorus girls singing and showing you the way…

But then I looked a bit further – why not visit the cafe – the sign brilliantly displayed on vintage typewriter keys….I say that, it took me a further 40 minutes to get there as, well, I kept getting distracted….

Perfect place for a cuppa and a cake!
Perfect place for a cuppa and a cake!

The store is just one delight and discovery after another. The music section, with music gifts, merchandise all dotted around and displayed in imaginative ways…The ‘party’ table with all those having book birthdays having a ball….The crime vaults…

The bookshelves of every booktrailers dream...
Read in the original language or the English translation..or learn a language!

And my personal favourite – the translated section and the foreign language fiction – Aah I can’t tell you how much time I spent here (or books bought). Separated by language and country – aah I felt as if this book shop had been arranged just for me. Ever since Grant and  Cutler had gone to that great bookshop n the sky, I had been I could wander via country and read the words of Carlos Ruiz Zafon in his native Spanish, then wander to read Muriel Barbery in French. 

Translated beauties
Translated beauties

Then off to the translated titles…hmm this looks good 😉

Same cover, wonderfully different title. Why do I love seeing the same book in other languages?
Same cover, wonderfully different title. Why do I love seeing the same book in other languages?

Wandering around the corner, I discovered the section that was to kept me in its throes for a good 3 hours. Was it three? I only know that it was bright sunshine when I entered the store and pitch black when I left.

But that is where the real magic of a bookshop experience lies…that when you come out you have no real idea and no real care of how long you’ve been in there.

Foyles flagship store is at 107 Charing Cross Road in London – http://www.foyles.co.uk/ 

Indie bookseller week starts here – Saskia van Emden – WestEndLane books – London

Today marks Independent Booksellers Week Eve – for tomorrow is the start of one of the most xciting events in book selling history. Organised by Books Are My Bag, it’s a fab opportunity to visit an indie bookstore, buy a book, chat to the lovely people there who offer advice and enthusiasm for books and maybe see an author!

To celebrate this, we at the booktrail have been to West End Lane books in London to speak to the lovely Saskia van Emden who calls herself a humble serf at WELbooks and since she is a medieval history aficionado, that sounds quite apt to us. She reads books, she sells books, she sniffs books ANd she is even writing a book. Oh and she’s an honorary booktrailer as she travels A LOT with a book in hand – especially to France to see  France through the eyes of the Platagenets.

She’s coming for a cuppa and a cake today – thought I would give her a little time to chat and relax before Independent Bookseller Week starts in earnest.

Ready for Saskia....
It is vital to look after these booksellers you know..

Hi Saskia. Welcome to the booktrail. I do love a good chat with a fellow book lover. Here take a piece of chocolate cake – oh and a marshmallow. I’ve got loads I want to chat to you about.

Saskia of WELbooks, London
Saskia of WELbooks, London

Your slogan ‘Writes, travels and researches Plantagenet Europe one Eurostar trip at a time ‘ sounds right up our street! We travel the world one book at a time so it’s great to have you on board if you excuse the bad pun. Where have you been to recently?

Where haven’t I been? Sorry for the clichéd response, as you can tell from my slogan I travel around France rather extensively as research for my novel. In the last year I’ve covered Normandy, the Loire Valley, parts of Aquitaine, Paris and also Limoges. The wonderful thing about France is its size and the sheer difference between the many regions you can travel to. In the space of three hours you can travel from the forested mountains of Chinon to the beautiful seaside ports of La Rochelle which seems more like a Mediterranean village than a French town. In the past year or so I’ve  been lucky enough to visit Le Mans, Tours, Limoges, Bordeaux, Paris, Angers, Saumur, Rouen, Bayeux, Poitiers, Caen and the villages of Chinon, Fontevraud and Chenonceaux where you can find stunning examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture. 


La Rochelle is a stunning location for a book
La Rochelle is a stunning location for a book (c)Saskia van Emden

Tell us about your favourite historical novel and the places you have visited from reading it.

At a push I’d have to say my favourite historical novel is Pillars of the Earth mainly because it covers  my favourite period 12th century England! The novel is set during the anarchy period documenting the effects of the brutal civil war between Stephen and Matilda on the fictional towns of Kingsbridge and Shiring. I know that the fictional towns and the cathedral built in the book are loosely based in Salisbury and sadly I’ve yet to go there! Not to spoil too much, I have been to Canterbury which features heavily in the latter stages of the book and also to the various regions in Anjou where Matilda (referred to as Maud) lived when not in England. 

What is it that you love so much about historical fiction?

Historical fiction for me is such a tricky thing to get right and for me, more times than not, I don’t enjoy what I read. It is not a case of me being ridiculously picky, but I find the more romantically set ones to be a tad repetitive. That said, when I do find a historical novel I enjoy I often tend to re-read them to death. In my opinion a successful historic novel creates compelling characters, paints a picture vividly and transports the reader to another time. A historical novel is the ultimate escape when it comes to fiction, they represent those stolen moments where a person can briefly disengage from the stresses of 21st century life and decompress.

Your favourite historical fiction novel?

One of Saskia's recent reads - set in Greece
One of Saskia’s recent reads – set in Greece

That’s an impossible question for me to answer, because I go through stages of obsessions with historical fiction. As I’m unable to pick one I’ll cheat and list a few. I’ve just finished The Last King of Lydia the debut novel by Tim Leach. It’s about the rise and fall of the powerful Middle Eastern king Croesus and his struggle to understand the transient nature of happiness during and after his reign. Besides Pillars of the Earth I’d highly recommend Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (recently reviewed on my blog), Blood and Beauty a book about Lucrezia Borgia by the wonderful Sarah Dunant, Andrew Miller’s Pure which serialises the construction of the Parisian catacombs and finally that old classic I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

Which character from historical fiction would you be?

Next time you pop into WEL books, you may see Saskia dressed like this...
Next time you pop into WEL books, you may see Saskia dressed like this…

In an effort not to complicate things I’ll stick with a female character rather than go through every character I can think of. I’d quite like to be a character from Greek mythology, probably Athena who is the insanely cool goddess of war and wisdom who features in classical, medieval and modern literature. 

 Favourite historical fiction author?

At the moment it’s Madeline Miller because her prose is perfection, her research is impeccable and her passion palpable. I can only hope she writes a second book!

A dinner party with the Plantagenets..who would you want to sit next to and why?

My friends would expect me to say Henry II so I’m going to throw a curveball and say his son Young Henry or Prince Hal. Hal was a little more extravagant than his frugal father, spending vast amounts of feasts, clothes and tournaments. In modern terms the guy was a total playboy prince which would probably provide memorable conversation than Henry Sr! 

Please tell us about the book you are writing – where is it set?

My book The Vanquished Crown is a 12th century epic that brings to life the meteoric rise and crushing downfall of one of England’s most infamous and misunderstood kings, Henry II. The novel introduces readers to one of history’s most dysfunctional families: his wife, the original she-wolf and political power-monger Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his embattled sons, the future Richard The Lionheart and King John. A heady mix of murder, marriage and misfortune, The Vanquished Crown journeys through almost 60 years of medieval history. We see Henry develop from a stubborn boy, troublesome heir, conquering king and political strategist and, finally, an isolated and vanquished monarch, discovering on the way the humanity behind the mythology of the wrathful and brutal king who is now seldom remembered for much more than his supposed dispatching of Thomas a Becket with ‘who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ 

A setting from Saskia's book? A stunning medieval castle in the Loire Valley
A setting from Saskia’s book? A stunning medieval castle in the Loire Valley

Set in England and much of France, writing this book has taken me from the highest peaks in the Loire Valley to crypts of Canterbury Cathedral. I am very visual when it comes to research, I have to see the places I’m writing about and through the book I’ve not only learnt a huge amount of new history but also about myself. I have been wholly privileged to experience the things I have and I encourage anyone with an idea to do the same.

Thanks for stopping by Saskia! Eeh you’ll be parched after all that chatting, I am! I’ll pop the kettle back on and we’ll have a rest. Then you can get back and finish preparing for tomorrow.

WEL books in London - the booklovers paradise
West End Lane books in London – the booklovers paradise

WEL books can be found at http://westendlanebooks.co.uk/  or 227 WEst End Lane London – Nearest tube station is West Hampstead. Go..now! and buy a book from Saskia!

Saskia’s historical dabblings can be read at saskiaregina.wordpress.com

Book Narnia

The door to Book Narnia
The door to Book Narnia

This has been an amazing week as I finally got to go to Narnia. Well book narnia. I opened the wooden door, stepped in to a world covered in books.

Like Lucy, I was both nervous and excited to find myself in Narnia but I couldn’t wait to discover the land and its people. As soon as I entered the book by the magic doorway, I could sense a change in temperature and a wonderful scent wafting past my nose. It was the smell of old books – the best smell in the world. What visions would I see? What gems would I discover? I couldn’t wait to find out.

Suddenly a vision appeared. It said ' More books this way' I followed it straight away
Suddenly a vision appeared. It said ‘ More books this way’ I followed it straight away

I walked very slowly around the land of books, careful not to step on any little people or creatures that might be living here. I could be Gulliver to them after all. I would have to take care not to knock any books over. Who knows what damage I could do. I turned back in the direction i had come from eager to remember the path I had taken. Luckily I had a half eaten sandwich in my coat pocket which I took out and crumbled up in my hand. I scattered some of the crumbs behind me in an attempt to find my way back again. Well, it had been good enough for Hansel and Gretal I told myself. I then remembered where they had ended up so I told myself that I would keep my eye open for any nasty witch who might want to eat me.

The book tower
The book tower

I stopped in amazement beside a tower of books and held my breath as I heard a voice. Who was that? Dobby suddenly appeared from behind and smiled at me. Dobby asks if he can help the booktrailer. Dobby would like to assist you in showing you some books you might like in book narnia. I said yes I would love Dobby to show me round. He smiled at me nervously. Dobby has never been asked to show  book Narnia to a book trailer before. I smiled at him and asked him to lead the way.

books carpet the stairs
books carpet the stairs

The weather had suddenly changed in book Narnia so there now was a snowy carpet of books covering the floor and the stairs. We had to be careful as we navigated our way around. Watch out for the thriller books said Dobby. Some of them are scary and will jump out at you!

The thrillers - watch out for bad people and nasty surprises! Be Brave!
The thrillers – watch out for bad people and nasty surprises! Be Brave!

The romantic fiction tribe lives here said Dobby. These are special books who love for you to take home and sit them on your knee in front of a roaring fire.

The romantic tribe live here in these hallowed walls
The romantic tribe live here in these hallowed walls

These books will transport you away from Narnia and away to distant lands. You can climb the Magic Faraway Tree, learn languages and meet people like Pippi Langstrump from all over the world.


I thanked him but decided to stay in Narnia for now although we did visit the little mini bookshop in Narnia where the Lilliputians, the oompah loompahs and the hobbits live


The mini version of book narnia
The mini version of book Narnia

It was nearly time for me to leave Narnia but before I did, I managed to collect a few books that I knew would take me on many more journeys once I had left Narnia and was back on the other side of the door.

Apparently I would soon be off to Wimbledon Common, back to school with the World’s Worst Witch and stop off to see Horrid Henry. Dobby said he would teach me some tricks to get my own back if I did see Henry.

I thanked Dobby and followed the trail of breadcrumbs to the door and out of Narnia

I leave Narnia but know that I will be back one day soon
I leave Narnia but know that I will be back one day soon

Back in the real world, I turned and smiled to myself. It looked just like a bookshop from the outside but in fact it was a Narnia of books that I just knew I would be going back to very soon.

I have the secret passageway that will take you to Book Narnia – you can enter it here- http://www.keelrowbookshop.co.uk/  – but careful! you enter at your own risk. You will probably come out with more books that you can carry and the booktrail can not be held responsible for any book emergencies or book accidents. Once inside hours can pass by without your knowledge and you may never get out….