The C-word…

bob whiskey
Bob Dylan reading (photo: Heaven’s Door whiskey)

Hello all – hope everyone is OK.  What a strange time.  That sounded flippant – I genuinely hope everyone is coronavirus-free.  We have now closed our doors until the shenanigans are over, but until the nation is put into lockdown, we can still provide a few second-hand books to see you through confinement and isolation.

COVID-19 (sometimes incorrectly written CORVID-19, which alarms me: the crows and magpies in my garden seem cross enough, I don’t want them to think we are blaming them for this too) is a major challenge for all of us, and I think is showing us all sorts of interesting things about ourselves and our society – some bad but also some very good.  And I hope it will at least force us all to slow down and think about our priorities, our sense of entitlement, how much we take for granted, how much we have in so many ways, and how to treat each other better all the time, not just during a crisis.  It is heartbreaking to close my little business without knowing when we will reopen, but it has to be the right thing to do as a means of keeping us all a bit safer.

george reading bob
George Harrison reading about Bob Dylan

But what is lengthy isolation without plenty to read?  And we will still have bills to pay.  So until we are forced into full lockdown (I do love all the terminology!). we can offer a few second-hand books to keep you going.  We can deliver within Kenilworth, and we can post further afield.

nick reading 2
Nick Cave reading

Who knows how long we can offer this, but we’ll keep going as long as we can.  I am also planning some online things, so keep an eye on the website or sign up to our mailing list (see tab above) if you’re not already on it and would like to stay in touch.For local delivery, we are planning on £5 for three novels, £10 for a bagful, £8 for a bagful of children’s books.  These will be books that we choose, though you can give us ideas of the sort of thing you like (and don’t like) and if we have specific titles you want, obviously we can include those.  Best thing is to get in touch by email or via the box below and we can deal with any particular requests.

Stay safe, everyone, and keep reading!

nick reading 1
Nick Cave perfecting his ‘Go away I’m reading’ face – my resting face.


Children’s books buy one, get one free for half-term

treehouse6I know it’s Thursday already, but there are still two days of our offer on children’s books!  Our books are cheap anyway – children’s fiction is mostly 60p-90p – but even better when you can get twice as much.  Bring the kids in to browse and stock up on a bit of reading; or they can sit in the treehouse and read for a bit while you browse for your own books – a good half-term activity in itself, and excellent value for the children’s pocket money.  We have lots of books in at the moment, and a few more boxes of children’s books to unpack today, so do come and have a look.  It’s windy – the market is cancelled – but we’ll be wind-free, and you may even be lucky enough to catch Nick Cave playing on the CD player.

nick hs2

Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood: first thoughts

nessAnyone who knows me well knows that Robert Macfarlane is one of my favourite authors.  I mostly read fiction, but I love nature writing, and especially since reading his book The Old Ways, which has become one of my favourite books of all time – previously only fiction took my top five slots!  Any new book by him is anticipated with huge excitement chez Victoria.  Ness was published late last year, but I can’t afford to buy new books so didn’t get it straight away; however, my local library is brilliant at stocking nature books, and I have just managed to borrow it from them.  Hooray for libraries!  [Please support all libraries. -Ed.]

A few nights ago, unable to sleep, I read it out loud in one sitting (it’s only about 80 pages, including illustrations – more on that in a moment).  I was stunned by it.  It’s a book to read several times and absorb, and I have only read it once, so these are very much first thoughts.

The Armourer leads a sort of ritual in a derelict concrete building known as the Green Chapel.  He calls on The Engineer, The Physicist, The Botanist and The Ornithologist to advise as they plan to set off a missile, WW-177A.  As they plan and deliberate, five beings are approaching the Chapel: it, he, she, they and as.  The natural world approaches the Chapel and the human plotters are met by an unexpected challenge.

This goes in no way to conveying what the book is about or what it is like, as I have no skill with words, unlike the amazing Robert Macfarlane!  He is professor of English at Cambridge as well as a lover of and expert on the natural world, and in his other books these two worlds are beautifully fused; this is a different fusion, a poetic imagining of the clash between our technological aspirations and the power of nature.

Alongside his beautiful words and imagining are illustrations by the great Stanley Donwood – I am assuming they are drawings rather than prints.  The two have collaborated in the past, but this is the first book where their words and images have equal emphasis.  Stunning black and white evocations of the Green Chapel, the environment and the hagstones that are part of the story.

So: a description of the book rather than a review.  It moved me and left me still unable to sleep (!) but more because of its power than anything, though it is disturbing.  But not bleak.  Nature is ultimately more powerful than humans’ desire to destroy it: a message for our times.

A better review when I’ve read it a couple more times!

Radio Abbey

radio abbeyDo you all know about Radio Abbey?  It’s Kenilworth’s own radio station, broadcasting 24/7 on the internet from the Kenilworth Centre in the heart of our town.  There is a growing band of presenters with music for pretty much everyone, and new presenters joining all the time.  It’s a local radio station but the shows can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere in the world.  There are currently people in 38 countries listening in!

I present two weekly shows: one is BookFolk, which (as its name suggests!) about books and folk music, though I play a broader range of music than just folk.  It aims to highlight new music from the folk and acoustic scene, but I also take the opportunity to play vaguely related music that I love – what’s called Americana, older folk and acoustic music, and my heroes Bob Dylan and Nick Cave.  I also talk about books, about book-related news stories and issues in the book world, and am expanding that to talk a bit about films and art as well.  My other show is called Old School Disco, and I play the kind of music we used to hear at our school discos in the 70s and early 80s (which of course includes music from the 60s and even a bit of rock and roll).  There are also shows featuring Northern Soul, classic and prog rock, local contemporary musicians, LGBT+ anthems, classical, pop going back to the 80s, house music, big band and swing, jazz and blues, and some shows that play an eclectic range of all sorts.  Lots of shows are available via listen again on the Radio Abbey website (which is soon to be revamped).

The station is entirely run by volunteers, and its only income comes from sponsorship.  At the Tree House, we are going to start to raise a bit of money to support it – particularly to buy new music for the station.  So I will have a pile of cards where you can write any song requests, and if you feel able, throw some change into a nearby jar to contribute to the fund.  We’ll also be doing some fundraisers, including an Old School Disco inspired dance night.  We always have charity tins, and I like to change those from time to time, so this year, we will make Radio Abbey one of our promoted charities.  And when I get my oven replaced, I’ll try and provide some little home-baked goodies to tempt you to part with your spare change!

The station has really grown over the last year, and is a wonderful resource for the town.  We are happy, as presenters, to give shout outs to things going on locally, we are trying to support the major events that happen in the town, and we’d love people to take it to their hearts and help it get bigger and stronger all the time!  There are also lots of available daytime slots for new presenters – contact Holly Hewitt at the Kenilworth Centre if you’re interested.

Next up for us is a day of broadcasting for Valentine’s Day.  Some of us are less keen on the whole concept of this day than others, so expect some more cynical responses as well as plenty of love songs!  Tune in from 8am on Friday 14 February – yours truly is presenting the first two hours, and there will be plenty of melancholic numbers as well as some happy stuff!

BookFolk is currently on Monday afternoons from 1-3pm, and Old School Disco is on Tuesday evenings from 6-7pm.  Send your requests!


Cicero Boxes even cheaper in January!

If you have a library and a garden, you have all that you need.We have a special offer on our Cicero Boxes until the end of the month.  What a great pick-me-up for these wintry, post-Christmas days!  Two second-hand books, a few flower seeds from the wonderful Higgledy Garden, some chocolate and a bookmark.  They are called Cicero Boxes because Cicero said that if you have a garden and a library, you have all that you need (we decided to throw in chocolate as well, and he seems to have forgotten the coffee and the single malt, but hey, the Romans didn’t know everything).  You can grow the seeds in window boxes, containers, flower pots, etc, if you don’t have a garden.

You can buy single boxes for £10 inc P&P, or subscribe for £9pcm.  Cheaper for locals who prefer to collect from the bookshop.  Not a huge reduction, but a chance to try one!  Have a look at the page herefor more information and to order one or get in touch.

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!


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, 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!)