Thursday, August 27, 2009

5 Questions with... Sarah Rees Brennan

This week, our ‘Five Questions with...’ features Sarah Rees Brennan, a young Irish writer whose first book, The Demon's Lexicon, was published this summer. You might also like to have a look at Sarah’s blog on LiveJournal, called Sarah Tells Tales.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on the third book in my Demon's Lexicon trilogy, The Demon's Talisman, and a romantic comedy I'm co-writing with a friend. Working on two things at once is always interesting - you find yourself accidentally inserting demons into the comedy, and lovers' squabbles into the sword fights, and then realising you really need your morning caffeine injection.

2. Who's the best new writer you've come across recently?

I would have to pick two - Margi Stohl and Kami Garcia wrote Beautiful Creatures, a gothic-to-modern romance set in the deep South which isn't out yet, but which I really enjoyed. I was particularly seduced by the exotic food, though of course being Irish, 'gravy and biscuits' immediately makes me think of someone upending a gravy boat over a packet of Rich Tea digestives.

3. Do you have any peculiar rituals you do before you start writing?

Aside from the ritual goat sacrifice? Heh, no: I tend to check my email, drink three cups of tea, and go to writer town. Some people might consider my continuous listening to country music as a peculiar ritual, though... My flatmates have certainly expressed that opinion.

4. Who's your favourite literary character?

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I love her! She's funny and flawed, attractive without ever being the best-looking in the room and without ever minding that she's not the best-looking girl in the room, and really just impossible not to love. I wish I knew how Jane Austen did that!

5. If you could be anything else in the world, except a writer, what would it be?

I think I would be the possessor of an incredibly sophisticated robot suit, which enabled me to fight crime without ever risking being harmed. (I would have lasers in my robot arms, and a comfy chair and kettle inside the suit.) Failing that, there are the options of working in a bookshop, being queen, and being the Official Taster for all the chocolate factories in the world...


Friday, August 21, 2009

Graphic Novel, is it?

The Graphic Novel is the fastest growing literary form, but there has been mixed opinions about the term since it was first used in 1977 by Will Eisner to describe his A Contract with God. So, curious to see how the professionals felt about it, I asked sixteen assorted comics writers, artists, and publishers the same question: What's your opinion of the term 'Graphic Novel'?

Neil Gaiman said:

It is at moments like this Pádraig, that we remember what Dr Johnson said on the subject:

As far as I can tell, GRAPHIC NOVEL was a term coined by YAHOOS specifically to pester, irritate and lykewise get the GANDER of MASTER EDDIE CAMPBELL, such that SMALL BOYS and STREET URCHINS are said to shout it at him in the street (Viz,
Here Comes Master Campbell, Have you written or drawn another Graphic Novel today?). Persons of QUALITY do not utter it, preferring such terms as BIG COMICAL BOOK ALL BOUNDEN TOGETHER WITH A THICK SPINE or even A COLLEXION OF PAGES WITH PICTURES AND WORDS PRINTED IN SUCH A WAY THAT BOOKESHOPPES CAN SELL THEM TO THEIR PROFIT.

Other, more serious, opinions can be found in this blogpost, from people like Bryan Talbot, David Lloyd, and Dave McKean.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

5 Questions with... Abigail Rieley

This week, our ‘5 Questions with...’ features Irish writer and journalist Abigail Rieley, whose first book, Devil in the Red Dress, told the true story of the Sharon Collins ‘Lying Eyes’ Hitman-for-Hire case.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently in the final editing stages of my first novel. It's a bit of a change from my previous book Devil in the Red Dress, which came out of my work as a court reporter. This book is a satirical fantasy. OK there might be one or two journos in it but after that it all gets a lot more surreal.

2. Who's the best new writer you've come across recently?

Without a doubt Sam Savage. I read Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife on the train to and from a sentencing in Galway. It's a wonderful book - funny, tragic and utterly compelling. A book in which the main character is a rat which is also a profound celebration of the richness reading can bring to life. Well, it's one of those books I read and really wish I'd had the idea first!

3. Do you have any peculiar rituals you do before you start writing?

At the risk of sounding boring it's putting coffee on to brew. I discovered a long time ago that caffeinated coffee was a severely bad idea when I was writing. I can easily get through an entire pot in a day and if it's a leaded brew, after a few cups I can't concentrate to the end of a sentence! I'm pretty obsessive about my decaff beans - if I'm having a hard time getting started just the smell of the coffee brewing gets me back on track. I have a hazelnut blend I'm eking out for as long as I can - the place where I used to get them was a casualty of the recession.

I also listen to music when I write. I'm too used to the clatter of newsrooms to work in absolute silence. I have playlists for each of my characters. It helps, when I'm working on a difficult scene, to have the soundtrack for their lives not mine.

4. Who's your favourite literary character?

Since I was a kid I've been a fan of dystopian fiction - possibly something to do with a 70s London childhood. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was always a favourite and Helmholtz Watson is my favourite character. I always found him more interesting than the other leading men. He's principled but pragmatic and passionate about freedom of thought...although I'm not sure I'd go to the lengths he does at the end of the novel when it comes to finding a quiet place to work.

5. If you could be anything else in the world, except a writer, what would it be?

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember so this is a really hard one. I did flirt with the idea of being a Womble for a while when I was about 5 and living in Wimbledon but I think nowadays if I couldn't write I'd have to get my fix vicariously by running a bookshop.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Books do furnish a room: Elementary, my dear Reader

Though we're a bookish lot, we're pretty excited by the forthcoming Guy Ritchie film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Created by Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes and his loyal companion Dr Watson have seen countless outings in various book jackets since their appearance in Strand magazine in 1891, and Caustic Cover Critic tackles the various incarnations of the brilliant "consulting detective".

Included are Michael Kirkham's tasteful pipe and swirls of smoke for White's (see also) Vintage Classics's handsome hardcover edition, as well as Atlantic Crime Classics retro patterned jacket. Hats off, though, to Hard Case Crime's "lurid pulp drag" dime store cover that has startled the broadsheets. Says publisher Charles Ardai,
"This is the tradition we wanted to revive with our edition of The Valley of Fear – presenting something 'good for you' in 'bad for you' garb," he said. "We chose Conan Doyle precisely because he does seem miles away from what we usually do – part of the goal was to startle readers with the apparent disconnect between the style of the art and the work being presented."

Our personal favourites are Coralie Bickford-Smith's acidic, Hammer horror-style covers for Penguin Reds, and available in-store. Created with Mike Topping, you can read both artists talking about the series here.


Monday, August 17, 2009

A room of one's own

Writers are generally solitary creatures, spending most of their time alone in a room, decanting the products of their fertile imaginations into computers, and from there to the printed page. Their rooms are their places of power, shaped to meet their needs, so any glimpse into a writer's room seems like a glimpse into a part of their creativity.

The Guardian have been running a feature called Writers' Rooms since the beginning of 2007, with individual writers talking about where they write, accompanied by a photograph. Here's award-winning Irish writer Sebastian Barry's piece, along with this photograph:


"It doesn't look very tidy, but from childhood I have loved provisionality in a room, something thrown together, as indeed the bookcase on the right was, in the first days after coming here 10 years ago. ... The plain inkwell I dug up in the garden, which seemed an apt thing to find. There's stuff in boxes waiting to go off to the Harry Ransom Center in Texas sometime. The chair was sold to Ali years ago in a Dublin shop. The man swore it was "genuine Georgeen" and it may well be."

Meanwhile, photographer and Who Killed Amanda Palmer? contributor Kyle Cassidy has been taking photographs of Fantasy & Science Fiction writers in their workplaces for a forthcoming book called Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in Their Creative Spaces. You can see some of the photographs here, including this bird's-eye view of Samuel R Delany:

Given the choice between the two, I'd have to say I much prefer to see the writer in the photograph, rather than not. It's the writer who gives the room its meaning and purpose, after all.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Recommendation

Once in a while - interspersed with shelving and pricing, stock checking and reordering, title searches and tidying - a bookseller gets to perform one of his/her primary, and all too often neglected, functions: the Recommendation. Oh yes, the capital 'R' is most certainly warranted. In today's book market the range of titles is staggering and when you walk into a bookstore, particularly one as capacious as Chapters, the task of finding something to take home can be daunting for even the most determined bookworm.

To some greenhorns the hopeful, beaming visage of a customer in need can be a source of great apprehension. “What if they don't like the book I recommend”, one thinks. “What if they never come back, because I promised them a nerve shredding page turner and they fall asleep on page 24?” And so forth. For some of us, however, recommending a book can be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. There is little to compare with knowing that you've gotten the right book for the right reader, and getting positive feedback always makes the day that little bit better.

Of course the internet has made it that much easier to find that book you heard about last week in the café, or read in the Guardian Review but forgot to take the clipping, but in a world of Amazon auto-suggestions and keystroke targeted online marketing there is no substitute for looking someone in the eye, asking the right questions and guiding them to the book that's been sitting on that shelf, quietly and patiently waiting for them to pick it up. So don't be shy, if you're ever in need of some inspiration, a new direction for your reading or even just someone to tell how awful that last book you read was, talk to us. It's what we're here for.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Books do furnish a room: Objects of desire

It was the book that caused a scandal, with one reviewer calling it 'sheer, unrestrained pornography'. The book, Nabokov's Lolita; the publisher, George Weidenfeld. And who could resist a copy of Lolita with a pair of cherries cut into the cover? Weidenfeld & Nicolson hope you can't: to celebrate their 60th anniversary, they've issued some dashing looking books, Lolita included.

Pitched as a covetable, tactile collection, each book cover is designed with a "window" (also known as die-cut) on the front revealing a portion of specially commissioned endpapers, reflecting each novel's theme (hence cherries for Lolita). It's a nine-strong list that includes Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, designed by Yehrin Tong, as well as J.G. Farrell's Siege of Krishnapur, with endpapers by Mikko Rantanen.

The set is limited, so you should get yours while our stocks last. The list in full:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, designed by Louisa Scarlet Gray

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, designed by James Dawe

The World According to Garp by John Irving, designed by Karl Grandin

The Siege Of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, designed by Mikko Rantanen

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, designed by Carl Kleiner

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, designed by Mikko Rantanen

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, designed by Yehrin Tong

The Reader by Bernard Schlink, designed by Ann Muir Marbling

The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, designed by Micah Lidberg


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

5 Questions with...Juliet Bressan

This week, our 'Five Questions with...' features Irish novelist Juliet Bressan, whose new novel Entanglement we're launching here in Chapters on Thursday 13th August. Entanglement is Juliet's second novel, following last year's Snow White Turtle Doves.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I'm finishing up my third novel and I suppose you'd call it a romantic political thriller... It's the story of a Dublin A&E doctor who discovers that her boyfriend has murdered one of the patients... This book is taking me a bit longer than the others because I've had to do a lot of research. So I've been spending the summer reading forensic pathology books, talking to A&E nurses, visiting Mountjoy Jail, spending time with ex-prisoners, and talking to all those gangland criminals we hear about in the papers all the time! I've been learning loads and it's been fascinating. I'm also working on two non-fiction books which I'm co-authoring with other writers and I'm way behind so thanks for reminding me..

2. Who's the best new writer you've come across recently?

Conor Bowman is a brilliant, very funny,very talented Dublin-based writer who's just about to publish in America. Michelle Jackson is fantastic, and she's going to go very far. I've just read Amy Huberman's book and I think she's very talented and very funny. . . Oh, and I've just read a fantastic book by Kimberley Chambers called Billie Jo. They are tipping her as the new Martina Cole.

3. Do you have any peculiar rituals you do before you start writing?

You know, I'd love to say yes to this, and pretend I'm one of those writers who sits in a shed in the garden sharpening their pencils smoking Dunhills wearing a nightie and a pair of wellies or something, but I'm so undisciplined, to be honest I just grab whatever opportunity I get and whack away at the laptop. I like writing in bed best of all – which is a bit disgusting and slovenly but I do get lots of privacy there and to be frank, that's all I need, to be left alone. I love going to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig and I've drafted two novels there and I'm dying to go back. It's a wonderful place to work and meet other artists and I've made some of my very best friends there.

4. Who's your favourite literary character?

What a great question! Can I have a list? Winnie The Pooh, Millie Mollie Mandy, Harriet The Spy, Heathcliff, Mrs Dalloway, Homer Wells, Ruth Cole and Eddie O'Hare ( I'm a huge John Irving fan).

5. If you could be anything else in the world, except a writer, what would it be?

To be honest, if I couldn't be a writer – say, because my brain was all scrambled or something – I'd rather be dead. That sounds awful, doesn't it? But I just know I'd be so unhappy if I couldn't write... oh, well, I think I'd quite like to be a rock musician. If I had the talent...


Juliet will be signing copies of her new novel Entanglement in Chapters this Thursday (13 August), from 6.30pm - 8.00pm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What we're reading

Reputedly written as a result of a friend betting him that he couldn’t write a classic murder mystery with an historical setting, The Name of the Rose is Umberto Eco's first and most popular novel. Set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, the story follows the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his apprentice, Adso of Melk, as they attempt to unravel the truth behind a series of murders plaguing the Benedictine monks of whom they are guests. William refuses to accept that demonic possession can explain the increasingly bizarre deaths, and must instead apply the deductive reasoning of the "scholastic method" to solve the mystery and reveal the murderer before he kills again.

Incorporating all the classic trappings of the whodunit genre – a closed community, a limited range of colourful suspects, obscure clues that inspire the detective to exquisitely executed leaps of logic – The Name of the Rose is both a brilliant crime novel and an erudite work of historical fiction. Amidst the flurry of dead bodies, we are also treated to an examination of "the question of poverty" which threatens to split branches of the Church, the appearance of real historical figures such as the Inquisitor Bernard Giu, and the strange allure of a labyrinthine medieval library.

You can read it for the gripping plot alone, and still be dazzled by the literary allusions to semiotics, biblical analysis and the nature of story-telling itself.


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Available in various editions, including the Vintage Classic from €9.75 and the Everyman hardback at €11.99, while stocks last

Friday, August 7, 2009

What we're reading

Dan Rhodes, author of Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey once said that
"it isn't easy writing about dogs. I can understand why Mark Haddon put a garden fork through his in chapter one. It isn't always easy reading about them either – I've met several Paul Auster fans who needed reconstructive dental surgery after attempting Timbuktu."

It isn't always easy reading about any animal story pitched at adults: animal narrators, though common (and often beautifully executed) in children's books, can be a difficult thing to pull off for grown-ups. For every Fup (Jim Dodge's tale of a duck) you have a Timbuktu, for each Timeoleon Veta Come Home, a Life of Pi (didn't like this one, sorry). Sam Savage's Firmin thankfully falls into the latter category (that is, an animal story for adults that is very, very good).

Born the runt of a litter of rats and having to fend for himself, Firmin takes refuge in an independent bookshop and, nibbling on his bedding (a shredded copy of the "Great Book"), discovers he can read. Thus Firman begins a lifelong love-affair with literature. He'll ingest anything as long as it does not contain other rodents: "I despise good-natured Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. I piss down the throat of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fish-bones." Savage has a background in philosophy and while Firmin raises more questions than it answers ("Firmin"is a play on vermin and furman), this little book is a bibliophile's dream.


Firmin by Sam Savage
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, available in-store

Thursday, August 6, 2009

5 Questions With...Peter Murphy

We continue our mini-interview series by putting 5 Questions to Peter Murphy, journalist at Hotpress and author of the dark coming-of-age novel John the Revelator, highly recommended by Chapters and described (by Cathi Unsworth no less) as "blues noir...with shades of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews."

1. What are you working on at the moment?

Another book. Please excuse the vagueness. I'm superstitious when it comes to blathering on about work in progress for fear it might inhibit the desire to tell the story. William Gibson likened it to taking the lid off a kettle that's trying to boil.

2. Who's the best new writer you've come across recently?

I very much liked Kevin Power's book Bad Day in Blackrock.

3. Do you have any peculiar rituals you do before you start writing?

Cup of tea and a roll-up and I'm good to go.

4. Who's your favourite literary character?

Huckleberry Finn, The Chief from Cuckoo's Nest, Boo Radley, Riddley Walker, Francie Brady, Judge Holden from Blood Meridian, Euchrid Eucrow, Brother William from The Name of the Rose, Preacher Harry Powell, Ida Richilieu from The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon, Hazel Motes from Wise Blood... the list goes on.

5. If you could be anything else in the world, except a writer, what would it be?

Carny. Burlesque organ-grinder. Revivalist proselytizer.

Peter Murphy soundtracks his book for Largehearted Boy, plus go have a look at the book trailer for John the Revelator. "Well who's that writin'?"


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Books do furnish a room: White's Books

We all judge books by their covers; we may not mean to, but we do. A recent article in the London Independent on the art of book cover design raises many valid points, not least "there's no doubt that recent years have seen a golden age of book design."
Partly this is a case of big publishers relying on brilliant design to make their goods stand out in an increasingly difficult market; but partly, too, it's a case of small, independent publishers springing up to provide a certain kind of reader with what they want, more than ever: the book as beautiful, covetable, keep-able object.

And none more covetable than White's Books. Set up by Penguin designer David Pearson (he of the Great Ideas series), White's Books are redesigning the classics, commissioning illustrators as diverse as Radiohead's cover artist Stanley Donwood and fashion illustrator Petra Boner (for Louis Vuitton) to produce exquisite fine hardcover editions that can only become future collectables.

You can read an interview with Pearson talking about White's Books in Creative Review, while Apartment Therapy share some of the wonderful covers. Better yet, Chapters have a selection of White's Books in store. Why not treat yourself to some affordable luxury?


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Man Who Sold The World

Stieg Larsson

If the name Stieg Larsson doesn't mean anything to you, then we have one question: Where have you been?

Riding high in sales charts all over the world, translated into around forty languages so far, dubbed "the virus from the north" in France due to their staggering success, the books of Swedish journalist, activist and crime-novelist Larsson's Millennium Trilogy - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and, due for release in October, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest - have landed on bookshelves and promptly enjoyed an explosion of popularity akin to a small nuclear device.

Alas the man himself cannot enjoy the fame which his three-volume blockbuster has brought him: he died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack in November 2004 at the age of 50. Founder of the anti-racist EXPO Foundation in 1995 and editor in chief of EXPO magazine, Larsson possessed a life long commitment to counteracting racism and right-wing white-power extremism. He was also among other things a successful graphic designer, chairman of the Scandinavian Science-Fiction Society and publisher of two sci-fi magazines. A man of many parts indeed.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So, a new popular crime/thriller series, in and of itself nothing extraordinary there. However the exciting thing about Larsson's books is that they are, and continue to be, appealing to an unusually broad range of readers: men and women, young and old, hard-core crime readers and holiday readers alike are champing at the bit to get their hands on the final volume this October. As to their plot, well without giving anything away, the books centre largely on Mikael Blomkvist, down-at-heel journalist and editor of the controversial Millennium magazine, and Lisbeth Salander the spiky, troubled, mysterious hacker-turned-private-investigator and titular girl with the dragon tattoo. Mystery, violence, romance and sexual politics are the order of the day, and while Larsson does take time to stop and reflect - on the scenic wonder of his home country, on the moral dilemmas of his main characters - these books are all about fast-paced, page-devouring, eye-tiring action and mystery.

And with a Swedish film already successfully released and rumours of a Quentin Tarantino-helmed adaptation with Brad Pitt in the lead role, the hype surrounding the Millennium Trilogy shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.


Millennium Trilogy V1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & Millennium Trilogy V2: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Published By Quercus, In Store now

Millennium Trilogy V3: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest
Published By Quercus, released 1 October

Monday, August 3, 2009


You knew this was coming...

Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters

After the incredible publishing success that was Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies it was obvious that the editorial world would be eager to capitalise on the mash-up/zombie trend. So what does the future have in store for us?

Grahame-Smith will return to the fold with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but Quirk Books already has a new Jane Austen mash-up planned for later this year (October in the USA), Sense And Sensibility and Seamonsters. And look, there's even a trailer!

The USA will also see the release in September of Amanda Grange's Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, where the Darcy family are all vampires (because, frankly, why not?) while in Europe mid-October will see both A.E. Moorat's Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter (which I assume will do exactly what it says on the tin) AND Adam Robert's I Am Scrooge: A Zombie History for Christmas (an excerpt from the description: Can Scrooge be persuaded to go back to his evil ways, travel back to Christmas past and destroy the brain stem of the tiny, irritatingly cheery Patient Zero?).

And that's not even mentioning Alan Goldsher's Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie where The Beatles are, well, zombies.

What great times for lovers of gonzo fiction!

(Although, I should write a follow-up on how the serious literary world is only now catching up with comics. Hum...)


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Published by Quirk, available in-store