Two brilliant Christmas reads from Chris Priestley

nick as herne
Lifesize Nick as Herne the Hunter

Christmas is such a great time for books.  My favourite week of the year is the one between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, especially since I stopped having to work that week.  I batten down the hatches, stay in my PJs unless getting dressed is essential (I will be going to the Talisman Theatre panto this year, and promise to get dressed for that!), and hunker down with books, films, wine and leftovers – Christmas leftovers are the best.  Or lots of cheese.

I imagine we all have our favourite Christmas books; I love children’s books at Christmas, especially.  There are some amazing stories, full of atmosphere, and the kind of book you can read in a day.  I always used to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter as a child, along with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; other classics such as The Box of Delights by John Masefield and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper have become favourites in adulthood, especially the latter.

A contemporary author who writes fantastic books for older children is Chris Priestley.  He loves creepy, gothic stories, and last year I read his The Last of the Spirits for the first time: it’s now become part of my Christmas celebrations, a tradition in the making.  Inspired by the two children Ignorance and Want sheltering beneath the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. he has written a story about two children, Sam and his sister Lizzie, living on the streets in Victorian London, reworking the famous Dickens story from their point of view.  It’s both a brilliant story in itself and an excellent introduction to A Christmas Carol for children (and wonderful to read alongside it for adults).  Full of atmosphere, creepy and dark, but with the same sense of redemption as the original, a perfect Christmas read.

I have also just read Chris’s book The Dead of Winter, also set at Christmas.  This is even darker, true gothic horror, though more gothic than horror.  It still has echoes of Dickens – there is a lawyer called Jerwood, which seems a Dickensian sort of name to me, and a young boy with a somewhat mysterious benefactor – and later on there are definite echoes of Rebecca and Jane Eyre (those books have similar stories).  But it has a power, presence and atmosphere all its own, as young Michael Vyner spends Christmas reluctantly with his benefactor when his mother dies.  The house is full of ghosts, and it’s truly creepy.  As Chris Priestley himself said, we need more creepy stories at Christmas.  (Remember those wonderful MR James adaptations the BBC used to do…?)

Both of these books would make wonderful television dramas, and also live dramas – so if you know a TV producer or someone with influence at the RSC, push these books into their hands and tell them to get on with it!  Seriously.

In the meantime, get reading.  Good children’s books – of which there are many – are good reading for any age, they don’t need to be classified as children’s books.  A good book is a good book, and these two are excellent.  We have a couple of copies of Dead of Winter in our Christmas window, which contains some of the other classics mentioned above, and also our own Lifesize Nick dressed as Herne the Hunter, who appears in The Dark is Rising!

priestley

Cosmic Dancing at the Albany Theatre: Stella Foodcov interviews Danielz, lead singer of T.Rextasy

We love live music at the Tree House.  We also love Marc Bolan.  We generally shy away from tribute bands, but this is something a bit different, and when Stella, the person behind the wonderful Food Covolution project and website and a key part of the team at the Tree House, went along to interview the lead singer of the band T.Rextasy, I thought it would be great to publish the interview.  The band are at the Albany Theatre in Coventry this Thursday, 28 November, one of only 10 performances in the UK of this particular show, and this should whet your appetites.  Over to Stella!

t.rextasy

T.Rextasy, the world’s only official live tribute band dedicated to the iconic music of Marc Bolan & T.Rex, is playing Coventry’s Albany theatre on Thursday November 28th. But this will be a show with a difference, as Stella FoodCov found out when she interviewed guitarist and lead singer Danielz.

Stella FoodCov: Hi Danielz! How did the idea for this very special tour come about?

Danielz: After one of our usual electric gigs that we’ve been doing for the last twenty-seven years, I was speaking to my agent, Sweeney Entertainment, and I said “it would be nice to do something a little bit different” just once, just a one-off, never to be repeated. So we came up with this idea of the whole band playing acoustically with the Mavron String Quartet behind us. We’re only doing ten of these, ten in the UK – that’s all there is. But working with the Quartet has been fantastic and the sound is amazing because it takes the music into a different sphere.

 

SF: So what should the audience expect?

D: It’s very relaxed and it gives us the opportunity to make things a little more intimate than at the electric gigs. With the Albany show, for the first half of the set we go on as a four-piece and we play four or five songs on our own. Then I introduce the Quartet and we close the first half with them. When we come back after the interval, again we do four or five songs on our own, then I do a Q&A with the audience. After that I introduce the Quartet again, and we do a lot more with them. And it’s not just the hits – we are doing the odd album track as well for the die-hard fans that want to hear something a little bit different with the strings behind it.

 

SF: Marc’s lyrics have a superb poetic quality, don’t they?

D: People annoy me when they say Marc’s lyrics were nonsense. Marc was very well-read. People know he was influenced by the writing of JRR Tolkien, but he was also into poets like Dylan Thomas, and I think that set him apart. A lot of his lyrics were autobiographical. There’s an acoustic song called ‘Spaceball Ricochet’ (from The Slider album), and it’s a song we play in our set. The lyrics are pure poetry and it’s all about Marc’s life at that period.

 

SF: And he was a great innovator?

D: To me as a young kid, he looked like he’d beamed down from Mars or Venus or something. Unlike earlier bands, he really didn’t look like someone who might be your next-door neighbour! But it’s a mistake to say he invented glam rock, because in the 1950s you had totally outrageous people like Little Richard, who wore thick eyeliner and very glamorous clothing. People like him were years before Marc, but Marc loved them. What I think Marc did invent was 1970s glam rock. I met up with David Bowie once, and I asked him about that, and he said “Well of course, Marc was the first”.

 

SF: How does Marc’s legacy continue?

D: Marc was one of the very few people from that era to be cited as an influence by punk musicians like Siouxie Sioux and Johnny Rotten. And as recently as a few months ago, Nick Cave played ‘Cosmic Dancer’ at his show in London; before he sang it, he said something like “this is one of my favourite songs of all time”. On a more personal level, because he often mentioned him in interviews, Marc introduced me to Bob Dylan, who has become almost as important to me as Marc himself. Marc helped a lot of people, he paved the way for a lot of people.

 

SF: For people who think of T. Rex as an electric band, why should they come and see this show?

D: People who’ve been to see us in Coventry before will be used to seeing us as a live rock’n’roll band playing Marc’s music in a certain way, with electric guitars, very loud, very lively, very up-on-your-feet. With this, it’s a completely different thing. Bring an open mind. Come along and see it beautifully played by a string quartet, hear different songs that you probably won’t hear live ever again. It’s a one-off, I think that’s the main thing. Fans can still come along in their glam-rock gear, clap along, sing along, but they can also see and hear the songs in a completely different light. I can one hundred per cent guarantee that if people have been to see us as T.Rextasy, they’re going to love seeing the acoustics with the string quartet. Everybody who’s seen what it entails has come away thinking “My God, this is tremendous”.

 

Stella FoodCov would like to thank Danielz for generously giving his time to be interviewed.

Advent book calendars

Because we were asked to supply a lot of children’s books to a school in Kurdistan, I haven’t been promoting our Advent books this year, worried that we wouldn’t have enough children’s books to make them.  We are low, but if anyone would like a bundle of 24 books, individually wrapped, one to open each day in Advent, we will do our best!  Time is short now, it’s only a week until the end of November, and this is for local people only.  We can do them for adults too, of course!

Prices are £15 for children, £25 for adults – if you have teenagers, it’s up to you whether you would like YA books (we don’t get that many…) or general fiction (which would be classed as a £25 calendar).  We can have them ready for next Saturday, or for the lights switch-on on Sunday 1 December (we’ll be open from 1pm).

This year I might even do one for myself!  So much better value than a normal Advent calendar, with the added bonus of enough reading material to get you through the dark days of winter still to come.  And great for Jolabokaflod, which I think we really should adopt in the UK!

So if you would like one, get in touch asap – orders later than Wednesday will be trickier!

advent books

Radio Abbey

Did you know that I am a DJ as well as a bookseller and Kenilworth’s most famous art historian?  (The latter title bestowed by Neil and Gayle, my great friends and fellow DJs, hosts of the wonderful Brunch with the Bradleys.)  I do two shows on local internet station Radio Abbey, one about books and folk music, one a celebration of nostalgic tunes from my youth – meant to get everyone dancing!  Here is this week’s episode of both.  BookFolk is on a Monday from 1-2pm, Old School Disco! is on Tuesdays from 6-7pm.  You can also Listen Again later.

Daytime art history at the Tree House Bookshop

monday art lecturesWe have had art lectures at the bookshop pretty much as long as the bookshop has been open (which, as an aside, is an amazing six and a half years!).  Mostly these have been evening lectures, but we are often asked about the possibility of daytime talks.  So this autumn there are art history talks on Monday mornings at 11.

The lecturer is me!  I am an art historian as well as a bookseller, with a PhD from Bristol University and 20 years of lecturing experience.  I still do a bit of professional teaching, but online (for Oxford University), which means I can do it from home in my pyjamas…perfect!  But now that we have the new projection equipment, lectures are even easier at the bookshop.  And even though it means I have to get dressed, it is all good fun.

Sometimes people say they feel daunted, and don’t come because they think it will be too highbrow or because they haven’t looked at paintings before.  But my lectures are informal, friendly, inclusive – suitable for all levels of knowledge, which sounds a tall order, but it isn’t really.

My specialisation is in the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries), but I do a few other things as well, including tracing what I call the Northern Tradition through the Dutch 17th century, German Romanticism in the early 19th century, and into the 20th century, and of course I look at Italian Renaissance and late medieval art too.  This all sounds very grand, but the key is simply taking a painting and looking at it, and that’s what a lecture is for: you can read about art in books and on the internet, you can go to galleries, but a lecture gives you the opportunity to explore and discuss and ask questions and spend time looking closely with a guide and some fellow-explorers.  Paintings – and the labels that go with them – become much less daunting when you do this.

I have mentioned paintings, but my PhD subject was sculpture, which in Germany is an incredible thing in the Renaissance, and prints, which grew out of the development of printed books in the 15th century.  It’s all marvellous!

So if you’re free on a Monday morning, do come along at 11 o’clock – or if you prefer an evening talk, I still do those on Tuesday evenings once or twice a month.  Lectures are £8 on the door, including coffee/tea, and last about an hour plus time for questions.

This coming Monday, 28 October, I’ll be talking about the greatest European painter of the 15th century: Rogier van der Weyden.  A bold claim, but a genuine one!  Why have you heard of Botticelli, who is not as good nor as important/influential, but not of Rogier van der Weyden?  I can tell you that too if you come along.

Victoria (aka Dr Vic, or Doc Tors as some Bristol friends used to call me!)

Film club launch, Friday 25 October – free screening!

There is a lot going on at the bookshop this autumn…to be kept up to date, it’s a good idea to join our mailing list!  I am not the world’s most efficient promoter (ahem…) but the more avenues you follow to find out what’s going on, the less likely you are to miss something!  So if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, do follow the Tree House Bookshop there too, and I will be working extra hard to keep all the different media up to date.

This Friday we are launching our new film club with a free screening of The Philadelphia Story.  We’d love a few more to sign up to the club to pay for the licence!  Our new equipment is working very well, it’s a joy to use – thank you to Mustard Presentations of Coventry for an excellent job! – and the films and lectures we have had so far have elicited very positive responses from the audiences.  So do join us on Friday if you can!  Film starts at 7.30pm.

More soon about other things that will be happening!

Tree House Bookshop Film Club

The C word…

 

It’s 3 Septembetreer, surely too early to mention Christmas…for me, Christmas is OK from 1 December, but decorations don’t go up until later, and the Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve.  There is then that blissful time between Christmas Eve and 2 January when I hibernate and enjoy all the Christmassy stuff.  The only thing I really like earlier than about a week before Christmas is the music – I love Christmas music.

However…when you’re in retail, you just have to think about Christmas much too early.  For us, the only reason for that is our Advent calendars, which take the form of 24 books individually wrapped, one to open each day in December up to Christmas

Eve.  They are always a huge hit, and we have to start early to make sure we can fill all the orders – last year we ran out of books and had other problems, but this year I feel we are better prepared!

 

So I am launching our Advent calendars of books now.  If you would like to order one, get in touch.  We can post, but this takes a bit of organisation and we have to add postage costs – enquire if you would like books posted and I can work out the extra cost, it probably won’t be as high as you think.

As ever, we divide them by price into age groups:

0-10: £13 (though books for small babies are harder – we don’t get many!)

11-16: £15

advent books

Adult (17 and over): £27

We choose generally fiction; for adults they are fiction only, our non-fiction stock is too hit and miss to make these work.  Sometimes we will put a fun non-fiction book into the children’s collections.

We can do shared ones too – divide 24 by the number of people and wrap each person’s books in different paper.

You can use the box below (give details of which ages you would like to order for), email us or call into the shop if you would like to order one.