Tag Archives: bookselling

Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 15)

In which The Author has some more strange dreams

I knew my recent visit to Cardiff would stir up memories of working in Dillons/Waterstones. I even told my friends that I was bracing myself for post-traumatic stress flashbacks as a result of calling into the shop to catch up with Jeff T. and Christos. Well, boys and girls, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Dr Davies has prescribed me a small amount of melatonin, in addition to the 45mg of Mirtazapine I currently take at what I laughingly refer to as ‘bedtime’. She was quite horrified when I told her that, if anything, my chronic insomnia had been exacerbated by the maximum dose of the antidepressant.
‘Did you see the trailer for last week’s Doctor Who?’ I asked her, last time I was in the surgery. ‘One of the characters said, “Now you can go for a whole month without sleep.”‘ Dr Davies laughed, and I added, ‘Only a whole month! Bloody amateurs!’
I’m taking a third tablet to address my recurring stomach upsets. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it also starts with M. I teased Dr Davies that we could work our way through the British National Formulary, letter by letter, until we find a combination that works.
At first she wasn’t sure about the melatonin, but she checked my blood test results and apparently I’m okay to take it – ‘You haven’t got any liver problems or anything like that.’
That was a pleasant surprise, I can tell you. I’m slightly on the young side, but (as Dr Davies said), I’m not far off my fiftieth birthday. I told her about my last visit to London, when we were delayed for some time outside Reading.
‘The overhead sign said 50 AHEAD. I thought, “Yeah, really don’t remind me.”‘
It’s always nice when you can have a laugh and a joke with your GP.
Anyway, the combination of the three Ms hasn’t done anything to give me a good night’s sleep, but on the rare occasions where I do go into a REM cycle, the results are even more bizarre than usual.
Last night I was working in a bookshop (not Dillons and not Waterstones), along with some of the people I used to work with. There were mountains of stock everywhere, so it must have been the period between Freshers’ Week and the start of the January sale.
I was helping a customer to find a number of titles from his list, and we were nipping around tables and dumpbins, grabbing books as we shot past. He was quite impressed by the speed at which I was able to pin them down, and I told him (quoting Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard from NCIS), ‘It’s more an art than a science.’
At one point we stopped to examine his list again. When I turned around, one of the temporary Xmas girls had picked up our pile of books and was quite happily re-shelving them. At that point, I knew I was dreaming lucidly, because no self-respecting Xmas temp would ever have shelved a book on his/her own initiative.
The weird thing is that, unlike many of my dreams, that one is based on a true story. I was working late in Dillons one evening, and I decided to kill the last half hour of the day by picking a load of travel guides which were due for return. (Final quote of the day, I promise!) As Prof. Jim al-Khalili would say, Let me explain …
One of the quirks of the book trade was the fact that almost everything was supplied on a Sale or Return basis. It was a fantastic tool during the academic season. We could order large quantities in relative security, knowing we wouldn’t be stuck with a mountain of surplus stock when the initial rush subsided.
There was another side to it, too. As new editions of books were published, we sent the previous editions back to the publisher for full credit against the original invoice. I kept a watchful eye on the publication schedules, and a few publishers would also issue recall notices just before the new editions came out. That’s why my Law section was always bang up to date, unlike its counterpart across the road. Shanara and I once called into Borders after work for a look around, and I was amused to see current and old editions sitting quite happily together on their Travel shelves.
By an odd quirk of fate, this story concerns travel guides, too. A batch of updated Rough Guides were due to hit the shelves any day, so Penguin had sent a recall for the obsolescent editions. I printed out the paperwork and started gathering them up. By closing time I’d found ninety per cent of them, so I decided to tuck the paperwork in the top book and resume collecting them in the morning.
Unfortunately, Jeff nearly always got to Cardiff before I did. It was great for him, because we operated a system of unofficial flexitime. If he started work as soon as he got to the shop, he could bank that time and shoot off to get the through bus to Abertridwr. He also looked after the Travel section.
Needless to say, when I arrived at the shop, he’d re-shelved all the books I’d picked the night before. How he’d managed to miss the paperwork remains a mystery which neither of us ever solved.
It gets better.
‘Here’s a strange thing,’ he said. ‘I’ve just had a load of Rough Guides in, and there was exactly enough space on the shelves for them.’

The Valley of the Walking Dead

In which The Author really can’t see the point

Of the many and varied science fiction/fantasy/horror sub-genres which have grown up over the past fifty years or so, only one leaves me completely cold. Before I come to that one, I’ll get the obvious contenders out of the way first.
If it’s done with intelligence and wit, a reworking of the age-old alien encounter/invasion plot can be a worthwhile diversion from normal life.
I’m perfectly comfortable with the Mad Max-style scenario of every heavily armed man (or woman) for themselves. In fact, my recent proofreading assignment – Gavin G. Smith’s latest novel, coming to a bookshop near you early next year – includes just such a storyline. It’s executed with flair and humour, and makes a nice change from the relentless shoot-’em-ups of much of the sub-genre.
I enjoy having my mind stretched by bizarre time travel adventures, such as the ones Steven Moffat – at his witty and imaginative best – writes for Doctor Who.
The recent crop of superhero movies (with a couple of exceptions) have done a decent job of reviving the characters for a new tech-savvy generation. We’d all like to believe that the guy or girl next door has amazing powers, other than the incredible ability to start a DIY project at 8.30 on a Sunday morning and continue until the sun goes down. (But I digress …)
The war of humanity against the machines has been done to death (no pun intended) over the last nine decades, often with mixed results, but the basic idea stands the test of time. When it’s treated well, as in the original Terminator and Matrix films, there’s nothing better in the cinema.
Even vampires and werewolves, if they’re executed with style (as in the BBC’s original Being Human series), are interesting and tragically flawed characters. Who can’t help feeling sorry for Russell Tovey as George, doomed to change and unleash havoc every time there’s a full moon?
When it comes to heroic fantasy, I still hold to my opinion that nobody – but nobody – will ever hold a candle to J. R. R. Tolkien. All the other massive sagas of fantasy realms are just the book world’s equivalent of tribute bands – decent enough efforts, but nowhere near as good as the real thing. (Incidentally, the Wizards of Middle Earth didn’t become redundant when Sauron was defeated. They just experienced staff cutbacks.)
There have been other clever ideas, too, that promised more than they actually delivered. The brilliant FlashForward, based on an ingenious plot device, was cancelled after one series. That decision raised more questions than it answered – mainly about the wisdom of the studio executives.
The one aspect of the unreal world that I can’t come to terms with is the idea of the zombie apocalypse.
I simply haven’t been able to cotton on to the idea of the dead rising from their graves to feast on the rest of us. George A. Romero’s movies may be regarded as classics of the schlock horror genre these days, but they (and all the variations on the theme) have failed to make any impact on me.
I know The Walking Dead is cult viewing among many of my friends. It’s never appealed to me in the slightest. In Waterstones we used to sell lots of copies of a guide to the zombie apocalypse, a tie-in to something called World War Z. That was another frequent flyer, now I come to think of it; it often used to turn up among the books on World War 2, or in the Reference section, or – worst of all – in the Popular Science section. (Yes, boys and girls, there really were people working in a bookshop who actually believed that the dead would one day walk the Earth.)
With Hallowe’en on the horizon (unless you’re reading this in New Zealand, of course, where it’s already under way), I thought it was a good time to declare my utter scepticism in the face of the doomsayers. In my opinion, the only decent voodoo storyline in a film is in Live and Let Die, where the whole thing is faked anyway. I simply can’t take the idea seriously. I absolutely refuse to read any book featuring zombies, watch a film about zombies, or take an interest in any TV show involving zombies.
And you won’t change my mind on this. I don’t care about the enormous critical acclaim heaped on The Walking Dead. I will never waste a minute of my life on such trash.
After all, why should I bother? If I wanted to see a steady parade of shuffling, moaning, toothless, decaying, barely conscious individuals threatening the peace of the local community, I could just sit in Commercial Street in Aberdare on a Friday afternoon and watch the smackheads going into Boots for their methadone fixes.
A few years ago I started writing a short story called ‘The Valley of the Walking Dead’, which I was going to publish online. I abandoned work on it after a couple of weeks, when truth started to become stranger than fiction.
With all this out of my system, I think it’s timely to mention something I saw on Facebook earlier today. (I hope it’s a spoof. You never can tell these days.) It purported to be a sign at the Pentagon, giving useful advice to follow in the event of a zombie attack.
A few years ago my friend Ian H. did a solo zombie walk through the new shopping centre in Cardiff. He and I were hoping to rope a few people in, and make a bit of a political statement. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it as I had a late lecture. I don’t know what happened to the others, but Ian did it by himself.
Ian’s plan was for us to walk through the new consumer heartland of the capital city. I suggested a neat twist for the climax of the walk. My idea was for us to start off at different points in town and converge on the precinct outside St David’s Centre, where we’d stare blankly at the huge TV screen which shows the BBC rolling news 24/7. I honestly don’t know how many people would have got the message, though.