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Waterstones Carlisle — I love you!

Self-trumpet-blowing and a great bookshop


I love going into any bookshop, indie or chain. Of chain bookshops, I particularly like a branch of Waterstones. For one thing it’s normally a good-sized friendly bookshop filled with books which are not carefully tailored to my tastes. Amazon insists on trying to sell me pretty much what I’ve just bought — which gets boring very quickly.

A bookshop, any bookshop, is a huge treasure house full of books I’ve never seen before, never considered before, but now suddenly want to try. Sure, I’ll buy the latest history book about Elizabethan times – which Amazon hasn’t even tried to sell me – “God’s Traitors” by Jessie Childs, but I’ll also buy a book about cycling through the Debateable Land – “The Debateable Land” by Graham Robb – something about quantum physics made simple, something about rewilding agri-deserts – “Wilding” by Isabella Tree.

Anyway, I always buy at least triple the number of books I intended to.

Sir Robert Carey

Waterstones Carlisle is a special case though, and here you’ll have to forgive me for blowing my own trumpet and banging my own drum. On the 27th April 2019 I went to Waterstones Carlisle to talk about my books — particularly my Sir Robert Carey historical crime fiction novels which are often set in and around Carlisle. I write them under the pen name P F Chisholm.

My British publishers, Head of Zeus have been bringing out my backlist Carey books, from A FAMINE OF HORSES onwards. The first three novels came out in one omnibus edition titled GUNS IN THE NORTH, the next three came out in a second omnibus edition titled KNIVES IN THE SOUTH, two as SWORDS IN THE EAST and… (drum roll) This year A SUSPICION OF SILVER came out as a new standalone publication (9th) and that’s why I wanted to do an event. All of them have really superlative covers.

Coffee cups

So I arrived off the train to Carlisle from London and trundled my suitcases to Waterstones. I’d arranged with Alli Rowe the manager that I could dump my big suitcase there overnight. Up in the staff room, it was exactly the same as every Waterstones staff room I’ve seen, which is to say, totally overwhelmed with books, unsold chocolate on the table among paper, cute plush toys and a lot of coffee cups.

As always I immediately felt at home there.

After I’d had a wander round the store, I stayed in the staff room, reading the books that had somehow flung themselves into my bag and eating the chocolate. Alli offered me a glass of wine which I naturally accepted, told me that most people had arrived, including a Mr Kyle who has been giving me wonderful word-of-mouth on his cruises.

I love an audience

So I trotted downstairs feeling warm and happy. Did I mention that I love an audience? Well, I do. I know I’m supposed to be modestly nervous and so on, but what I feel is excitement. Maybe a slight salting of nerves because I want to do a good job?

Happily there were lots of people there, sitting waiting for me, including the friend I was going to stay with that night. So was Mr Kyle for whom I’d already signed a book.

I talked about Sir Robert Carey, about his father Lord Hunsdon who was the son of Mary Boleyn, the Other Boleyn Girl, about Carey himself and the glorious soap opera plots of their lives. I talked about the terrible Border reivers in the area during the 16th century and their toughness and violence, and about Sergeant Henry Dodd who is turning into the protagonist. People asked interesting questions, we drank wine, many of them bought books and I signed them.

I loved every minute of it. I always have and I always do.


Now this is not to say that all the other venues in the tour weren’t good, but they did have smaller audiences. It’s very very hard to get people to come out for a non-celeb these days, and frankly I’m grateful every time I get an audience larger than zero, or two embarrassed librarians and a tramp asleep at the back with his dog. This we achieved everywhere I went, I’m happy to say.

I had experimented with advertising the events on Facebook and asked at every event how people found out about me. I found one man who thought he might have seen something on Facebook, everybody else looked blank so I think I won’t be bothering with Facebook ads for events. About half came because of an email newsletter or an entry on a webpage. Everybody else came because of posters or fliers or word-of-mouth, old fashioned things like that.

Solid backing

Waterstones Carlisle had given me the sort of solid backing I dream of. As I said, it’s not at all easy to get people to come out for a mere author who’s not on the telly and isn’t a celeb. Twenty-four carat Sunday Times/New York Times bestselling writers struggle to get an audience nowadays.

Alli Rowe, the manager at Carlisle Waterstones, and Peter Harrison and the whole staff had put up posters, personally sold tickets, told people about the event while recommending my books, pushing me relentlessly and enthusing people about my Border reiver stories. It takes effort and commitment and hard work — while also selling all the other books they have in stock. The result was that they had the most people and the most enthusiastic questioners and they have sold a lot of my books.

So I’m hugely grateful to them all.

And if the Armstrongs and the Grahams should dare to ride in from the Debateable Land to reive Waterstone’s books, I’ll be there in the fray, stabbing my trusty biro into them, swinging my laptop with all my might…

PS Yes, I know that 27th April is a while ago: this blog was written before my late laptop tragically died of a broken motherboard and I’ve just tracked it down again.


  1. Judy Rowe says:

    Wish you could include California on a book tour. Love to see and hear you in person! Any hint on when we might expect the next Sir Robert adventure–can’t wait for news of Elizabeth’s situation and The Baby!

    1. I’ve nearly finished Carey 10 so your pain will be relieved… er… soon(ish) November 2020 to be exact. As for a book tour in California – you’d have to contact Sourcebooks, my new publisher, and convince them there’ll be immense crowds and everyone will buy a book!

  2. Val Joyce says:

    We may have been a smaller crowd in Skipton but it was an enthusiastic one and we had a splendid evening so thank you for undertaking the tour!

    1. Hi Val – you were the second biggest crowd after Carlisle, which made me very happy. It was a great evening for me too – I simply love spouting on about Carey and all his relations-4

  3. Mark & Lynda Hodgson says:

    Don’t forget Keswick! We enjoyed your talk so much the first time – at Carlisle – that we came back for more a few days later at Keswick, and were glad we did.

    Looking forward very much to reading Carey 10.

    1. Thank you so much – I’m afraid that Carey 10 (probably A TASTE OF WITCHCRAFT) has been delayed by nine months so that the new publishers – Sourcebooks – can reissue all the books with new covers. This is a really good thing because I have to rewrite a large chunk of Carey 10 which doesn’t work.

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