So THAT\’s what I should have been doing all this time…

I did a poetry reading and gig at Waterstones in Truro tonight – it was a blast. Slightly a blast from the past as I was cavorting in my amazing purple corset, but everyone ate my chocolate truffles (damn fine, though I sez it myself), drank some wine kindly provided by Waterstones and then sat and listened to my poetry and discursions on…
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Actually I\’m not sure what. I do remember censoring the bit about when I was having my first baby and then explaining how to make your daughter\’s eighth birthday sleepover go really well for all the little girls in her class. It involves meticulous doses of Haribo sweeties and ice cream with chocolate sauce for breakfast, the recipe for which is in \”The Poetry Diet\” (published by Thingley Press).
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I love making people laugh and I love doing it even more when it\’s deliberate and part of selling books, rather than inadvertent because I\’ve said something idiotic again. I am, after all, the woman who caused the whole of the village shop to fall about laughing when I spotted an unexpected tenner in my purse and said loudly, \”Oh look, there\’s some money, better spend it quick before it all goes away!\”

Thoughts about #bookshops

I finished at #Waterstones on Christmas Eve and now I\’m back in the #Costa coffee shop, scribbling away and drinking espressos. #JamesDaunt are you listening? Here, for what it\’s worth, are some of my thoughts about bookshops and Waterstones in particular
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Firstly, I\’ve worked in all sorts of places and most of them are full of nice people struggling to do a good job despite the best efforts of management. Waterstones, Truro, was different: the people were even nicer and so was the management. You can rely on what I say here: if I\’m still enthusiastic about the place after working Christmas Eve there, that\’s pretty impressive.
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Secondly, there is a persistent feeling of doom hanging over bookshops as ebooks motor into the sales figures. I talked to quite a few customers about this. People love their little ereaders, they love being able to download books instantly, they love being able to change the print size and they love being able to take dozens of books with them everywhere they go. Age doesn\’t matter here – in fact it\’s older readers raving about ereaders which they find easier to hold and lighter to carry. Youngsters like my son actually prefer large lush hardback books with beautiful pictures on which they spend eyewatering sums.
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So not only are ereaders here to stay, they\’re going to munch up some of the book markets. This is why so many publishers are in a flat spin: their business models are broken and they don\’t know what to do about it.
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A lot of them are moving into ebook publishing as fast as they can – a good start. Some of them are also trying to stiff the writers along the way, which is very silly of them. Even writers can count and add up. The Society of Authors is fighting for 40% – a much higher share of royalties than you get with physical books because, once you\’ve set it up, which isn\’t that costly, you do not have materials, printing, warehousing or transport costs.
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Which is the point of this article. How are bookshops – those wonderful bastions of intelligent social life and civilization – going to cope with ebooks on top of the competition from huge Internet tax-dodgers like Amazon?
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I\’m certain that bookshops will survive ereaders, just as theatres survived movies and TV. People will still want treebooks – big beautiful illustrated ones, non-fiction, children\’s books. I do think mass-market paperbacks will disappear, though, and become about 80% ebooks. Recipe treebooks will go the same way, perhaps, but art books, craft books, gardening books – perhaps they\’ll still be around. Self-help and travel guides – ebooks. Big reference books that survive – treebooks. And so on.
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I say, make friends with ebooks. Invite them into the shop. Put a barcode on the shelves so people can come into the shop, see a book they might not have thought of reading until they saw it, and download it immediately to their ereader. That way the bookshop gets the money not the tax-dodgers and I can continue to sit and drink coffee and write in one of the two most civilized places in Truro.

One Wierd Thing about Working at #Waterstones…

… Is the way customers say things like \”Oh, I don\’t want to waste your time, it\’s really not important…\” I used to think they were just telling me to get lost in a typically British unassuming way, but then I found when I persist, they tell me about this book they\’re hunting for and they can\’t find it and do I have any idea…? And sometimes I do (or I can find it on the dreaded #database) and then they\’re really happy and they buy it.
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Which is something I thoroughly enjoy doing. Of course, sometimes it\’s frustrating because of the peculiar way human brains remember things: a few days ago a customer was looking for a book called \”Lost Nations\” by someone with a name like Davis. I knew I\’d seen it somewhere in the shop and I spent ages trying to track it down in the World History section and on the database and couldn\’t find it…
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Then another customer wanted it and one of my colleagues found it… On a display table at the front of the shop. Where I probably passed it dozens of times a day.
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Only it was \”Vanished Kingdoms\” by Norman Davies
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Aargh!
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But it\’s just so satisfying to be able to do that for someone even if they then decide that it\’s not the book they wanted after all.
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So what else could I possibly be doing in a bookshop that\’s more important than finding the right book for a person and then selling it to them? How is that wasting my time? I don\’t understand.

EVEN MORE BRILLIANT BOOKS

I can\’t keep up, I really can\’t. Every time I go near Waterstones, I come across more brilliant things to read.
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My eyes look like boiled eggs in tomato sauce and I\’ve got a cracking headache because I spent the day reading \”The Social Animal\” by David Brooks – which deals with the astonishing powers of our unconscious mind and how best to make it work for us… Which sounds about as much fun as endoscopy, but is in fact quite unputdownable because he uses a lovely light witty touch in his writing and tells the story of two people while he\’s doing it.
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Meanwhile what I ought to be doing is generating lists of people to send advance copies of my book. The Poetry Diet is about to be published by local micropublishers Thingley Press and as I\’m doing the marketing and publicity, I\’m having to do all the stuff that corporate publishers are supposed to do. Not that they really do it nowadays, unless you\’re their Book of the Month and they\’ve paid for a lot of prime spots in supermarkets.
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So I\’ve got a lot to learn. Any suggestions?

WHY THERE WILL BE BOOKSHOPS ON THE MOON

\”Bransonville, dateline 29 August 2061

Yes – anthr bookshp is opnin on de Moon. Lol 2 evry1 who sed bookshps wer finished with the new cranial plug-ins! Trad books in retro ereaders – u cn even get fizzical hardcopies wiv de best Moon-grown coffee u eva tasted…\”
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My #2 son refuses to pay for movies or music – but he\’ll spend his own money on smart beautifully produced hardbacks and graphic novels and on massive fantasy novels like George RR Martin\’s Game of Thrones series. Luckily we have a wonderful Waterstones in the centre of Truro with a Costa coffee shop which is evidently the only place to hang out. He\’s not even put off by the fact that I\’m constantly in there, reading the books (and buying far more than I actually have space for), writing and drinking coffee.
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Bookshops have only really been with us since the 16th century and the invention of printing – now they\’re becoming what monasteries were in the Dark Ages. They are bastions of civilization, places where people who read can meet each other, social hubs, temples of literacy.
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HMV were mad to sell the Waterstones chain but it\’s probably just as well they did. I was relieved at the news that Waterstones had been bought for a bargain £53 million by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut and delighted when he appointed the inspiring bookseller James Daunt of Daunt Books to run it.
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TV was supposed to kill off theatre and live music – instead they\’re thriving and it\’s TV that\’s in trouble. Huge corporate publishers will probably go bust, books might change physically, genres will come and go and new ones will emerge. Nothing (not even a cranial plug-in) can give the emotional immersion of a really good book. But for all the wonders of Internet shopping, we still want something to hold, we still want to browse and we still need people who can listen to our feeble burblings about this really great book with a yellow cover and find it for us. 
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That\’s why there will be bookshops on the Moon.

ON BEING A SLOB 2

Here are some handy excuses for the state of my house.
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1. I broke my arm three months ago and couldn\’t do any washing up or hoovering. Or tidying. No, honest, I couldn\’t. The surgeon said so.
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2. The hoover wasn\’t working. Well, the plug wasn\’t working. I fixed it. Then the plug broke again. It\’s a splendid Numatic Henry Hoover, by the way, which is fine now I\’ve got round to fixing the plug again. At least I have good kit.
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3. I have one fifteen year old son and one 21 year old son. Nuff said. Yes, I know it\’s my fault for not training them properly. But how can I train them when I\’m so rotten at tidying myself?
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4. I have a very serious £150 a month book habit, mostly bought from Waterstones in Truro. We are currently very very overbooked. I might count them. I have now found the last remaining bit of wall to put a bookshelf against. After that… well… I don\’t know. No, don\’t be ridiculous, I can\’t possibly stop buying books. And although I had great hopes of Kindle, the black/white-page-change flicker would give me a migraine.
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5. My house just silts up with stuff. And paper. And newspapers. And magazines. And notebooks and photocopies and… I don\’t know why it does this. My mother-in-law\’s house never does.
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6. I think stuff follows me home, that\’s what I think.