A magazine article by me, and some lovely bookish things in Warwickshire

Several posts ago I mentioned Here Comes Everyone, a newish magazine published by Silhouette Press to provide a forum for writers and other creative types to publish their work and network online with other writers and creative types.  It’s available online, but also in hard copy – we are going to sell copies in the shop.  It’s a local venture (local to Warwickshire), and well worth supporting.

And I’m not just saying this because I have an article in the current issue, Prophecy, just out!  I dashed this one off a bit – an article on the continuing value of books – but was delighted to be asked to contribute, and hope to contribute to future issues too.  I will be on the ball a bit earlier next time, and write something a bit more polished.  But if you want to read about why I think books will always be important, the article starts on p.22 of the latest issue.

Here Comes Everyone are also having an evening of poetry and live music at Taylor John’s House in Coventry on 29 June – more details here.  £3 for a night out with live entertainment, can’t be bad!

I would also like to mention another local second-hand bookshop that is a bit like The Tree House, based in Nuneaton.  Big Comfy Bookshop currently trades online and can frequently be found on a stall at local fairs and markets, and is also looking for shop premises.  Michael, who runs it, has now set up an online book group via Facebook, though you can see details too on his blog and you can look at the Facebook page even if you aren’t on Facebook. I mentioned the idea of starting an online book group a while back, but am much happier joining his while I have so much else to do!  So if you fancy joining a book group and chatting online once a month about the book, and are on Facebook, do join his.   We are just starting the second book, which is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

So happy reading!

Henry Miller on Writing

Gill Sans poster (2)Henry Miller is a writer known mostly, it seems, for writing explicitly about sex.  He struggled to get his books published, especially in his native America; he moved to Europe in the 1920s, and settled in Paris, where he found society a little less repressed, though eventually he returned home.  The first book of his I read was Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch because the title intrigued me, especially as an art historian specialising (in early days back then) in the art of the Northern Renaissance.  It’s a very engaging account of Miller’s life in California, and far from the reputation he has, it was to me a book full of wisdom and beautiful writing.  My first encounter with him was as an undergraduate studying Modern Languages, many moons ago, through a university lecturer who taught French Renaissance literature and compared Miller with Rabelais.  I have since read several of Miller’s works – including those explicit ones! – and find him simply a wonderful writer.  I always feel very close to his creative spark – which is why I find a list like the following fascinating.  These are his tips for writing – and they evoke a system that might seem to be at odds with the creative dynamism I experience when reading his work.

I think these principles also  have some value in life in general, not just for writing.  And what I particularly love is the inconsistencies – as one who makes lists and sets routines and regimens and never quite follows them…in writing, in thinking, in organising my day, in setting up a bookshop…  Number 7, for example, seems contradictory with number 11 in this list – but that is instructive in itself; clearly he wants to focus on his writing, but Miller was also a hugely sociable chap and wanted to create some kind of balance.  Black Spring, mentioned in number 2, is a novel he was writing in the 1930s.

Miller was a friend of other great writers of the twentieth century, notably Lawrence Durrell (whose Alexandria Quartet is one of my absolute favourites, in my top three novels of all time) and was also in Paris at the same time as George Orwell was writing Down and Out in Paris and London – two very different temperaments, not least in that Miller was apolitical, he felt there was no point in getting involved in politics.  That period in the middle of the twentieth century is probably the period that interests me most in terms of literature, much as I love the great era of novel-writing in the nineteenth century; Modernism produced, for me, some of the best European writing (and Henry, despite being American, had European stirrings in his writerly soul), and from the 1920s to the 1950s or early 60s is a golden age for the novel.  (Also a great era for art – painting and sculpture.)

Anyway, here are Henry Miller’s tips for writing, which, as I say, I think are interesting in terms of living life generally, not just as a writer.  Miller’s writing is beautiful, moving, earthy and dreamlike (hence the appeal of Hieronymus Bosch, no doubt), wonderfully crafted yet seemingly impressionistic, always personal.  I doubt if it is possible to feel neutral about his writing.  He is a writer’s writer, but was also a warm, life-loving person, which is conveyed in every sentence he wrote.  I find him inspirational on various levels.

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Stress-busting is good for the soul!

Gill Sans poster (2)I wonder to what extent it’s possible to choose not to be stressed.  I know you can choose not to dwell on things, choose to do something rather than nothing, choose to think about something else…but can you choose away stress?  I don’t know, and don’t want to stress myself further by worrying about it!

But I do find that while there are times when stress can seem overhwelming, there is often a point where you realise you can still take control.  I am very stressed at the moment about the Tree House – it’s scary starting up a business on your own, despite all the wonderful moral support I get, and worries about finances, whether the project will take off, whether enthusiasm (mine and others’) will translate into actual success, etc, can threaten to overwhelm.  Yet while I have little or limited control over most of these things at the moment, I have realised that the things I can control can make a difference right away.

My big stress-busting decision this evening is that I will start selling books from the shop sooner rather than later.  I still have to do a bit of work before that can happen, but I have a shop, I have enough books to get started, and I need little else to begin with.  Work will carry on around this – fitting out the shop, arranging events, getting projection equipment for films can all be done while the shop is open for trade, even things like getting a proper cash register can wait.  I had a market stall – this is just a glorified version.

I will have a grand opening later in July, with the celebratory bash I mentioned in my previous post and a local grandee to open the shop officially, once all the shelves are in and the shop is properly set up; but there is no reason why I can’t start the core business of selling second-hand books straight away.  Events and activities will need to wait a little bit longer, but I’m now keen to get started.  I need to finish sorting and pricing books, but I really hope that I can start actually selling books by next weekend.  That’s my challenge for the week!  I need to keep raising funds, and the best way to do that is simply to start trading.

So – will keep you informed, but I do hope to have lots of lovely second-hand books for sale very soon!  And I feel less stressed tonight for having made that decision.  It’s all about taking control and focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t.  I have either swallowed a self-help book or I need to write one…

Planning a celebration

Gill Sans poster (2)Things are progressing at 5-7 Abbey End – anyone who has been past and looked through the window may have seen the piles of books growing, sofa arriving, kettle installed (essential!), a few posters in the window, furniture that has been there on show gradually disappearing…

I have some shelving arriving on Friday, some help with cleaning on Saturday, some help the following Saturday hopefully with putting the shelves together!  Then it will be easier to see how soon I will be able to open the shop.

I am planning a celebratory event on Friday 26 July, or possibly Saturday 27 July – put the date in your diaries!  Currently favouring the Friday, but it depends on who I can book to perform.  I have found a storyteller (for adults – I love storytelling for adults), am investigating some live music, and generally putting some plans together.  It will be a ticketed event, a fundraiser as well as a celebration, and hopefully a lovely evening.

It is Warwick Folk weekend, and as the musicians I am trying to get are folky types that might mean bad timing…but we’ll see!  I am sure we can find some good entertainment.

Anyway, look out for further updates!  And if you fancy lending a hand either this Saturday or next (15th and 22nd June), do just drop into the shop.  There will be other opportunities – sorting books, no doubt more cleaning, moving furniture about, etc – will quite possibly have another working party day on 29th June, and will in any case be in the shop most days sorting things and setting up.  Can be there in the evening too if that’s better than a Saturday!

Interest is growing, which can only be a good thing, and I’m starting to think about events and activities, for adults and children, and have some volunteers lined up for things like reading stories as well as helping in the shop.  If you’d like to be involved in any capacity, do let me know, if you haven’t already.  And if you wish to donate books, DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, do bring them to the shop – I am not there all the time, but you can either email me to check, or if you bring them and I am not there, the lovely chap at Town & Country Furniture next door is happy to take things in for me.

And if anyone can recommend a local company that makes and installs shop fascia signs, please let me know!

A few photos of the new shop

Just a few ‘before’ photos, at the start of the physical adventure of the Tree House.  All exterior photos so far – there is still quite a bit of furniture inside, the lovely Andy Jones of Town & Country who has been using it as an extra showroom for his made-to-measure furniture business is in the process of clearing it.  Will take some interior shots when the space is emptier.IMG_2682IMG_2684IMG_2683IMG_2686

I always notice mistakes after I print...capital letters would not go amiss!
I always notice mistakes after I print…capital letters would not go amiss!

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Simple twists of fate

tree house bag designWhat a week!  All sorts of ups and downs.  But the main thing is that I am moving the Tree House into it’s new home tomorrow, 10 June, and then the real fun can start.  I have a couple of working party days lined up to get things ship-shape – if you are in Kenilworth on the next three Saturdays and at a loose end, do come and give us a hand!  Especially on Saturday 22 June, when I hope to have bookcases to put together and fix to the walls.

One of the sort-of downs is that the Film Club,which has been running at the Kenilworth Centre, has not been making anywhere near enough money to cover the fairly high costs of renting the venue, so I have decided to put that on hold until we are in our new shop, where there is space to show films, and some comfortable seating is on its way!  (Any unwanted but still usable armchairs still gratefully received!)  It was worth a try, and a good time was had, just doesn’t seem a good use of precious Tree House funds to keep it going at a significant loss, but not too long, I hope, before we can resurrect it.

The mystery of the stolen books has been resolved, just about – I now know where the books an my new trolley are, and it seems it was a case of a misguided Samaritan thinking they had been left there unwanted and giving them to a charity shop.  I will probably get some of them back – would also love the trolley back, if only to move the books currently in my flat to the new premises – happy to share!

Still a bumpy ride in terms of setting up the business side of things, with a few more bumps to come I’m sure, but one thing I will say about this project is that it has never stopped moving forwards!  Since a friend and I first discussed it back in the autumn, the momentum has kept going, and here I am about eight months later moving into premises and on the brink of opening the shop.  Wow.

A few of us sat last night and watched James Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington showing that ordinary individuals can make a difference – it felt like an endorsement!  Abbey End is not quite the US Senate, and I am not heroic as Jefferson Smith was in the film, but I hope we will make a small contribution in our little corner of the world.  Here are the closing lines from Warwickshire-born George Eliot’s great masterpiece Middlemarch, my favourite novel and some of my favourite lines in literature:

‘For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unheroic acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.’