Saturday, 25 May 2013

Reading and reviewing

Friends who blog usually note 'what they've been reading' this month at month end. Which is a nicer idea than the chaos of a financial month end. I was always put off by reading diaries, ever since the school insisted that I couldn't possibly have read that much in a week. (I could and did). Now, though, I'm buying and borrowing as many books as ever, not that I mention what I couldn't finish, hated or just 'passed the time'.

I love reading through what other readers are reading - a combination of natural curiosity and wonder if I've missed a book I'd love. I find it harder to trust mainstream print reviews as there are too many friends reviewing friends or academics looking for goodwill, but bloggers are happier to critique a free book. Some bloggers do wonderful reviews and I'm pleased to see them and consider. I also find the mixture of vintage and modern offerings that bloggers tend to offer to be far more interesting than the offerings of many broadsheets. I mentioned Waitrose's weekly newsletter a while ago - it's good to see vintage and modern represented in their reviews area together with recipes and ideas for local entertainment each weekend. Books need time and often word-of-mouth to gain a readership and that's what so many books don't receive. Your average high-street bookshop has very limited shelf space and is under tremendous pressure to move stock, so you have to remember to buy what looked interesting now and hope you can balance your finances until payday.

So, rather than use a Goodreads or a LibraryThing model, perhaps publishers could improve their websites and print on demand offerings. Yes, I realise publishers are now huge corporations, but they could show readers their imprints and suggest future novels to read within that imprint. If there are links to sample chapters, then that's even better. I blog, admittedly quietly, to maintain interest in my books and remind people that I'm still here. I can only publish so many each year, so Twitter and the blog have to work to gain attention.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Good Housekeeping Children's Cook Book - Happy World Baking Day

I've been drafting this post for a while and not been able to upload the photographs because of a mysterious technical glitch that just stalled at 90% of uploading each one. I thought I'd have another go to celebrate World Baking Day today. I may even try some baking of my own later, though I'd be quite happy if I could manage light and fluffy scones. Do the simple things first - the ones people enjoy eating. Which is why I've perfected banana bread that people are coming back for a second slice before it's even cooled down.

One occasional advantage of republishing vintage books is that you're given other vintage books as people think you'll appreciate them. I normally do and find them an interesting read. While I wait for the strawberries to grow, though I don't have enough of a gardenful to consider opening my own tearoom, I'll think of trainee cooks like Candy Nevill. She was lucky enough to create her own recipe notebook because she had cookery lessons at school. For those who didn't, the Good Housekeeping Institute could help then and still does today. This Good Housekeeping guide dates from the late 1950s, so around the time in which Candy would have been learning to cook. It's a clashing mixture of black and white and saturated technicolour photography. It would have been the perfect present for the young cook as it covers everything he or she would need to learn. I've omitted the cover picture as it's a frankly scary shade of orange with small boy gnawing on a toffee apple, one neat girl in an apron dipping an apple in the hot toffee and a taller boy looking over their shoulders while doing the drying-up. It's useful in that it's not simply a book of sweets and biscuits - you're taught how to make simple suppers, breakfast and the sort of recipes you might manage if your mother (it's only mother) is unwell.  

We start with a birthday cake. Home-made, be-ribboned and slightly squint candles.

Even the contents page is interesting. Before you're introduced to a circus of iced biscuits, you also learn how to prepare yourself (hand-washing, find an apron) and the kitchen. There are even illustrated instructions on how to light the gas stove. It's generally useful to get your ingredients ready before you start. 

Finally, this red, orange and blue runs over a two-page spread. It shows exactly how colour photography can enhance cookbooks and you see every layer in that jelly. 

It's a world away from layer cakes, cutting-edge patisserie and cupcakes with icing that's taller than the cake that you see in many shop windows now. Enjoy the vintage world of cooking for the family.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Print *and* digital - just read the book

Whatever marketing strategy is planned, the content underpinning it has to be appealing. Much as I like 'books are my bag' as a concept, there have to be books ready to fill said bags. London Book Fair excitement is ebbing away and all sorts of signed deals are being publicised. That's exciting to read as both reader and publisher and it's all very well for the new, but can it compliment the backlist? That critical part of publishing that builds up authors or publishers as brands? It has to be there or else you lose a good deal of your credibility, your past work and an opportunity for readers to see what you've done.

It's all about the story, isn't it? It's the author's job to present a story that transports you and your imagination and it's the publisher's job to present it in an appealing format.

As a reader, you can take the story wherever you like. Now, I've rejected handbags before as being too small for the necessary 'book I'm reading now' and 'second book in case I finish the first'. Now I have to consider the possible addition of an eReader too?! It's the story that appeals to the reader whether they feel in the mood to download, flick across a screen, turn a page or turn on an audiobook.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Veronica Henry and Iain M. Banks

It's a public holiday in England today, so I'd fully expected driving rain. Instead, I've been out in the sunshine watching the world go by. Don't worry, I did the business emails first and walked to the post box with the weekend orders. I took one of Veronica Henry's Honeycote novels as she's does exactly the sort of book for summer weather. Her latest - something to do with the Orient Express (I don't want spoilers) - comes out next month. Returning to Honeycote means that you return to old friends, drink sparkling wine and never worry about hangovers or work the next day.

I'm also working my way through The Crow Road. My copy is an old hardback, so not exactly transportable. It was my introduction to Iain M. Banks and remains a favourite. I can only hope that his treatment makes him more comfortable. I've been told that booksellers often recommend The Crow Road to reluctant readers as the story can draw them in so well. If so, that's the best compliment to an author that I've heard as there's nothing like finding a book that you enjoy, that stays with you and that you return to as an old friend.