Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mal Peet reporting on his New Zealand visit

from ALCS News via Booksellers NZWe came across a large and busy children’s bookshop and went in. We were looking about (in a casual way intended to disguise checking out the presence or otherwise of our own books and don’t tell me that’s not what you all do) when a burly man with specs perched atop his impressive bald pate loomed from behind a bookcase.John McIntyre of Kilbirnie Children's Books. Photograph: © Matt Bialostocki ‘I know who you are,’ he said.‘Do you? How?’ ‘I was tipped off that you were in town. How do you take your coffee?’That’s how we met John McIntyre who, with his wife Ruth, runs Kilbirnie Children’s Books. Within half an hour, they’d become our unofficial NZ agents. Elspeth and I had a new book coming out soon; John and Ruth offered to host and provender the launch. I’d do a couple of workshop/seminars there. They’d contact local schools and colleges and organise events that paid proper money. All these things, and more, came to pass, and ours was but one of several book launches there during the following months.  We had great audiences and participants. The events at the shop were crammed. This had less to do with my, and Elspeth’s enormous magnetism than with the McIntyres’ effective and precisely targeted publicity. In taking the fight to the enemy, bookshops could do worse than look to New Zealand... John and Ruth also host story-telling and reading aloud for very young children on Saturday mornings and publish a print and online newsletter about books and events. John has a regular slot on national radio reviewing new children’s books. (Imagine! Anyone from the BBC reading this?) Their shop is not just a retail outlet, it’s a nexus for reading and bibliophilia. They don’t just cater to book buyers, they create them.Left to right, Mal, Elspeth, Ruth McIntyre and Julia Marshall, publisher at Gecko Press. Photograph: © Matt Bialostocki The same is true of Unity Books, the big downtown bookstore. Walking into Unity is like entering Waterstones in times of yore: a huge, richly stocked browser’s paradise amply staffed by very knowledgeable people. The attention-grabbing tables were heaped not with – or not only with – potential big-sellers publishers had paid good money to put there, but with books the staff was enthusiastic about. Again, we were immediately recognised and welcomed. (By now, gratification had taken on the faintest, almost thrilling, tinge of paranoia.) A few weeks later, Unity hosted a University-sponsored conversation between me and the brilliant NZ writer Kate de Goldi. We had an audience of over a hundred, not bad for a Friday lunchtime. What pleased me more than anything was that book shoppers there by happenstance joined the audience, just possibly because I was ranting about Hobbits. Unity, like Kilbirnie Children’s Books, also regularly hosts book launches, talks and seminars by local and visiting foreign writers. I was intrigued to discover a collection of musical instruments in the staff room.‘Oh, yi,’ Tilly, the store manager, said. ‘Some of the staff’re in a band. They use the shop to rehearse in when we’re closed at the weekind.’Here in the UK, a colony of Amazonia, it is axiomatic that bookshops – and many other kinds of shops – are doomed. The omnipresence of charity shops, pawnbrokers and pound shops testify to the fact (in Exmouth we have a cut-price 99p shop and eagerly await the arrival of the 98p shop where the greengrocers used to be). I may well be delusional, but I think it need not be so. In taking the fight to the enemy, bookshops could do worse than look to New Zealand or, somewhat nearer at hand, the marvellously proactive Norfolk Children’s Book Centre. In the meantime, let’s all get behind the Booksellers Association’s ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign, in pursuance of which the BA is urging its members to get partying. So if a bookshop anywhere near you is hosting a soirée or saturnalia or even a hot greasy pie event, please get stuck in. The Booksellers Association's 'Books Are My Bag' campaign launches on 14 September. For more information see the BAMB website.Mal Peet is the author of several novels for young adults, including Tamar, winner of the 2005 CILIP Carnegie Medal, and Exposure, which won the 2009 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. His latest novel is Life: An Exploded Diagram.Elspeth and Mal in action at the Kilbirnie Bookshop, Wellington. Photograph: © Kate McIntyreFor Mal Peet's full article link to ALCS News

Mal Peet reporting on his New Zealand visit Images

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