NEW YEAR IN THE BOOKSHOP

On the top of the bus on the way to work scanning the world going by I have a strange feeling of déjà vu. It’s as if I am myself and not myself at the same time. It’s odd and unsettling and I wonder if I’m coming down with flu. When I stop worrying about that I can’t help noticing  that many a new coat has been bought for Christmas and there is a lot of brightly coloured fake fur going on. New and frisky fake fur that looks as if it might slide off the edge of a hood and scamper up the nearest tree and  very unlike my dear old parka which looks as if rats have nested in the hood  for the last ten years.

There’s no queue in Caffé Nero which means that most of London isn’t back at work yet. I sit contemplating the top of my flat white and wondering what state the shop will be in and what the new year will bring.

The shop is in excellent shape! The window table that was full of Christmas books is now full of green Viragos. A very great improvement in my opinion. And even better we have some good quality books to put out. We have a steady stream of phone calls. Are you open? Yes! Do you take…? Yes! Obviously top of many people’s New Years Resolutions is taking books to a charity shop. Volunteers phone in ill.

The first Eleanor Oliphant is Fine comes into the shop. Last years massive bestseller. I read this over Christmas and loved it. It was funny, thought provoking and incredibly readable. I have a rather ambiguous relationship with the bestseller lists.  As a writer who does not sell vast amounts, I am susceptible to the green-eyed monster getting hold of me and throttling me till my eye balls pop out. It’s annoying and self-defeating but I daresay human. It amused me on holiday to find that I was absolutely certain that the title was Eleanor Oliphant is Unwell. Interesting given that I must have read the title many, many times since the book was published.

A very old bus ticket for the number 11 bus route falls out of a book. Ah, those were the days. Bus conductors! Annoyingly there’s no date on it but the fare paid was 5p.

I can’t help noticing that we seem to have vast numbers of Crime and Punishment. Well, if December is the crime I daresay January delivers the punishment.

On the bus home there is an interestingly diverse number of different types of coughs. Dry and tickly, phlegmy and fruity, a veritable petri dish of disease, and as I step off the bus  the first dry tickle hits the back of my throat.

Back home it comes to me why I was feeling so unsettled. Or a line comes to me at any rate.

London in January  – a city reeling from a million broken resolutions. 

It’s the opening line of the first chapter in my book Cutting Blades. In it my character Sam Falconer, a private investigator, is sitting on top of the same bus I was this morning. So in effect I was being haunted by a character that I wrote 13 years ago. Interesting. Rather bizarrely given all the lines I have written in my novels this line is one I am particularly proud of. As a scene setter it’s not bad at all, is it?  I mean it’s not a *bishop kicking a hole in a stained glass window, it’s not Chandler or McBain, but even so it has a nice noirish feel to it. I grab hold of a copy and begin to browse through it. God, there’s so much of me in this, I think. What was I thinking of? And I snap the book shut. I go on Amazon and check out the reviews of it. I haven’t done that for years (the book was published in 2005) and I read a review in which someone says they ‘almost liked it.’ Then another in which the reviewer states: ‘Like I said the book is good. But just that. Good … Ms Blake just needs to work at her art just a little bit more and then she’ll be a great writer.’ Well, hey, thanks for the encouragement honey. For some reason I then start sobbing with laughter. Being a writer is such a ridiculous thing sometimes. What on earth possessed me to ever think it was a good idea?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and memory and in particular what effect using personal memories and experiences for writing fiction has on the original memory. If for example I take a childhood memory and use it to write fiction and if I do that multiple times, can it end up, over time, altering and overriding the original memory? Does the fiction become more real to me than the reality and what effect does that have on my relationship with my past. Complicated, I know but that is what the journey on the bus delivered to me today, so I have delivered it to you.

I have made only one New Year’s Resolution. To go and see as many of the Laurel and Hardy films at the BFI as I can. Way Out West here I come. It is on with a ‘short’ titled Laughing Gravy, that’s the name of a dog. And here is a clip of Stan Laurel laughing. Maybe he’d just read a review of his most recent film on Amazon. Watch Sharon Lynn’s face. She is definitely having a hard time keeping it straight.

Happy New Year and if you’re looking for a book set in January in London can I recommend Cutting Blades it’s good. But just that. And there’s the chance you might almost like it.

*”It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

Raymond Chandler – Farewell My Lovely

16 thoughts on “NEW YEAR IN THE BOOKSHOP

  1. Happy New Year Victoria! The window of the shop sounds a thing of beauty 🙂

    Don’t read your amazon reviews – what a nightmare! I don’t write but if I did I’m sure I’d disregard all the good comments and the bad ones would haunt me forever…

    The Laurel and Hardy resolution is a fine one – happy viewing and thank you for the glorious clip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Madame Bibi the window is a thing of beauty! And you are so right about not reading my amazon reviews. It is an obvious writerly form of self-harm. I think it was trying to imagine that I was a person who went to all the trouble of reviewing a book I almost liked that made me howl with laughter. I mean I just wouldn’t bother. I think I’d prefer to hoover and I don’t do that very often!

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  2. Pingback: Winding up the Week #51 – Book Jotter

  3. Yes, that’s a great first line. As for memory – well, that’s what bus journeys and long walks are for, trying to re-capture the detail and shape it into some kind of sensible form. Complicated, as you say, but who can call your bluff and say what is really real? Happy 2019 to you and wishing you many more creative musings!

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    • My sisters do occasionally although I don’t think they know they have because sometimes they come out with such different versions of events we have all been at that I feel like I might be losing my mind! Happy New year to you too and hope the weather cools off soon!

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  4. I more than liked Cutting Blades, it’s very good!!! Loved your amusing start to the year – an interesting thing about how writing about memory might change it – my local area features in a lot of my stories so I have a ‘real’ world and an ‘imaginary’ world that’s all the same place.

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    • Thanks very much Andrea I’m glad you liked it! There was a stream and a tunnel in Christ Church meadows in Oxford that we used to walk in when I was a child and my mother would always say that’s the tunnel that Alice (in Wonderland) went down. So that thing of a place existing in reality and as a setting for story telling was always in the mix.

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  5. That is such an interesting idea! Where do you and your characters merge? It must be quite a scary thought. And it clearly continues over time. Do you know, the one thing I would hate to be would be a critic? I don’t want to have to pass judgement on another’s artistic abilities. ‘Cutting Blades’ what a fab title! I loved all 4 books and have always thought that Sam and the originality of her character would make a brilliant tv series.
    Happy New Year to you, my Darling! May it be one of rave reviews and the recognition you deserve! 💋

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Francesca and Happy New Year to you too. I tried to imagine myself as a reviewer who almost liked a book. You know I just don’t think I’d bother to review it in that case. I haven’t looked into that series for a while and it was a bit of a shock seeing how much of me was in it. Unfortunately Morse and Endeavour have tied up the Oxford setting for ever I think as far as TV people are concerned!

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