Every Picture Tells A Story (or a novel – or a poem…)

copyright Craig Sellars

The wonderfully evocative picture above is by the very talented Craig Sellars. A name I probably wouldn’t have come across but for the lucky circumstances that result, every so often, in a copy of ImagineFX magazine being abandoned on the dining table. (Lucky Circumstances being a pseudonym for Arty Daughter).  And of course I’m compelled to have a look while eating my breakfast because – well, I’m me and it’s reading material. On my last visual meander I saw this picture, amongst others, in a feature about Craig.

For the uninititated ImagineFX  is a monthly magazine on fantasy and sci-fi digital art, although the term fantasy is loosely interpreted. But then I suppose everything that is designed from the imagination and not copied directly from a real scene is fantasy, really; and all writing that’s truly fiction could be termed fantasy in the same way.

Craig works on commissions for all kinds of projects, but left to his own devices he favours futuristic images or characters juxtaposed with retro 40’s scenes. The scene above just screams to be written about – or it does to me, anyway.But on his website I discovered other beautiful scenes he’s created, like this one below.

copyright Craig Sellars

I challenge anyone with even the smallest creative bone in their body not to look at these and feel a story brewing.

In the first image, who is the man on the phone talking to? Why is there a monkey in the phone box – does he belong to either of these characters or neither? Obviously the figure with a gun is portrayed here as a fantasy/alien character, but of course in your story he could be a man. Or a woman. Or a child…hmm.Or another monkey!

The second picture suggests a certain era because of the clothes, horse-drawn vehicles etc. Perhaps you’re not into creating period pieces.

No matter. The carriage could be a car. The woman could be wearing jeans and holding an umbrella, not a parasol. Is she standing there waiting for someone to arrive, or waving goodbye? Who are they? Is she happy, wistful, shocked?  Has she just arrived – is that her luggage they’re unpacking? And who is the mysterious figure, coat pulled tight around him, hat down, striding away off-stage?

Do go and take a look at Craig’s work. And next time you look at a picture – of any kind – don’t just look; listen to the story that it’s telling you. There’s bound to be one – or more, if you’re lucky.

Good luck! 🙂

On Holiday In A Bookshop Part 4: The Cinema Bookshop

I think I’ve already mentioned ConstructoBoy’s obsession with Zeppelins. All through the holidays, and our many outings and pop-ins to bookshops (believe me, I’ve not mentioned them all in my posts), he had been searching in vain for a book about Zeppelins. Just Zeppelins. Not a book that had a random picture of the Hindenburg, or a book about balloons that mentioned Zeppelins in passing. No. He wanted a book just about Zepplelins, with all there was to know about Zeppelins, including lots of pictures of different Zeppelins. Blimps. Airships. Whatever 🙂

The Hindenburg

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find. Several bookshops we went to had decent selections of books about fighter planes, bombers, seaplanes… you know, all the glamorous, heroic aircraft that it’s trendy to be interested in. But no books about Zeppelins. He was close to despair by the day we went to Hay-On-Wye.

Now I could spend all day in Hay-on-Wye. Possibly all week. And if you don’t know why – where have you been??! Hay-on-Wye is the bookshop capital of the UK. But I didn’t have all day or even an hour – because Hay-on-Wye, like many other tourist areas in the UK, does itself no favours.

We had gone to Tintern Abbey that day and the trip there -and back – had taken a lot longer than we expected. Every tractor in Shropshire and Herefordshire seemed determined to get in our way. Caught in a traffic jam, it was 4.35 pm by the time we hit the streets of Hay-on-Wye, on a gorgeous summer afternoon.

And most of it was already shut.

Every cafe we saw was either closed or on the point of closing. We walked past so many closed bookshops, to begin with, that I nearly suggested we turned round and headed back to the car park. People were drifting home in their droves – because there was nothing left to do. Come on, Hay! People still want to buy books at 4.45pm, it’s not that radical! And after an afternoon of book-hunting, what about some tea or a meal? Where are your tearooms, cafes, restaurants for the person who wants to eat at that outlandish time of 5pm? Or even, perish the thought, 5.30?

However! We did find a few shops that deigned to open for something-approaching-standard trading hours. The queen of them all, though, has to be the Hay Cinema bookshop. I admit that as I came up the road and saw the sign, I thought – ‘ah – a bookshop that stocks books about the cinema’ followed by ‘and that’s a shame, because it’s open until 7pm. 7!!!!’

But as I got a good look at it, I saw it was a perfectly normal bookshop, except for 1)it’s huge 2) it lives in a building that used to be a cinema. (I know. Who’d have guessed?). And once inside, the internal architecture that’s been preserved makes the building’s history very obvious, enhancing your book browsing experience no end. Plus this marvellous place is open, to quote their website : ‘every day of the year, except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Monday – Saturday 9.00am – 7.00pm, Sundays 11.30am – 5.30pm’.

Not only that – the lady at the counter was very helpful and superbly knowledgeable about the books they had, even though there must have been thousands and thousands and… you get the idea. She assured ConstructoBoy that they definitely had books about just Zeppelins, please, and his expression swung continually from dubious pessimism to fragile hope and back again as he trotted upstairs and ‘nearly to the back’. She signposted ArtyDaughter to two places that would house graphic novels and manga.

And bless the woman, she was on the nail. They had around eight books just on Zeppelins. They had more than one copy of three of them!! A few were quite expensive, but luckily the one that could have been written for ConstructoBoy – it fitted his requirements so perfectly- was £3. It was a moment of pure happiness. Which we shared in – until he tried to download all the information he learnt from it directly into our brains by Continuous Verbal Input at every available moment thereafter.

ArtyDaughter was happy too as she found graphic novels to satisfy her exacting it-has-to-be-the-right-style-of-manga-and-not-just-a-sloppy-love-story specifications. Both offspring failry Bounced back to the counter, and there was Much Thanking of the Lady and Much Gushing about the Wonderfulness of Ye Bookshoppe.

So well done, Hay Cinema Bookshop. We award you the Runham Award for Really Ripping Bookshops. 10 out of 10.

If you go to Hay-on-Wye, go there! You’ll find it in castle Street.

“Welcome to the world famous Hay Cinema Bookshop for the best in secondhand, remainder and bargain books. If you like a lot of books for your money, then come and see us and browse in what must be the world’s largest open-air bookshop situated in the garden in front of Hay Cinema”

A-harrr, Me Hearties, Win A Prize!

Ahoy there, landlubbers, it do be me, Cap’n Alison, that’s havin’ a prize suitable for younger readers, on account of it bein’ Talk Like A Pirate Day.

It do be Anna Nilsen’s Pirates, which is a puzzle book which bids ye get “All Aboard For Hours Of Puzzling Fun!” It were the last thing she wer a’writin a’fore I made her walk the plank.

 But, avast ye! Ye cannot ‘ope to be winnin’ the treasure just by bein’ here, you scurvy bilge rats!! Nor will it come to ye for singing’ a shanty, callin’ on the help o’ Davy Jones, or offerin’ me yer last pieces of 8 (nor your last maggoty Rolo).

No! Ye ‘ave to be anserin’ of two questions, and they be powerful tricky. Happen findin’ the answers be more difficult than splicin’ the mainbrace whilst dancin’ a jig with a sea serpent a’crawlin down your trousers.

And there’s to be no ‘elp ‘ad from persky piratin’ parrots, either.

They be concernin’ my fav’rite piratin’ books.

1. Who wrote The Pirate Devlin (and was interviewed about it in Writing Magazine?)

2. Who wrote the children’s series High Seas Adventures (The Wreckers, The Smugglers, The Bucaneers?)

Be leavin’ of yer answers below in a comment, and if ye be the first t’answer correctly, I’ll be askin’ of ye to send me yer address in a bottle. Or if ye be modern, by email.


On Holiday in a Bookshop – Part 3: We Go West!

Before I wind my way west to Shropshire (where we stayed in week 2), just a quick mention for the Titles Bookshops. There’s a few dotted around the Peak District, but the one we visited was in North Parade in Matlock Bath. I picked up Christopher Somerville’s intriguing Never Eat Shredded Wheat in paperback for a bargain price (highly recommended if you want a light-hearted informative romp around the UK. I guarantee there will be stuff in there you didn’t know).Never Eat Shredded Wheat

ConstructoBoy, who likes to follow up his fiction interests with non-fiction, bought a book on handguns (because certain types are mentioned in Indiana Jones stories and he wanted to know about them. That’s what got him into tanks, too).

The Titles Bookshop there wasn’t huge but there was a good smattering of bargain and local interest books, together with helpful cheery staff. What more could you ask for?

For the second week of our holiday we abandoned the Peaks, collected my Mum then headed for Shropshire – swapping one set of hills for another (we obviously had a desire for hills – that’s what happens when you’ve moved to somewhere flat, y’know!) One of the bookshops we found there was Aardvark Books in the tiny village of Brampton Bryan, just off the A4113 Leintwardine-Lingen road.


Once again, a huuuge selection of books in a converted barn – and a place to enjoy some refreshments – and Arty Daughter was delighted because they had a graphic novels section. And yes, she had bought some the week before (in Scarthin Books – see On Holiday in a Bookshop Part One) but she reads them very, very quickly….sigh. And once again, helpful staff. Is it just running a bookshop that does that, d’you think, or is it the fact that they’re not preoccupied with trying to sell you lottery scratchcards and giant bars of chocolate at bargain prices…?
Next time we venture to Hay-on-Wye 😉

On Holiday in a Bookshop – Part 2

In shock news, I must report that Scarthin Books isn’t the only bookshop in the Peak District.
Honestly, it’s true. There’s another one.

This is Bookstore Brierlow Bar, 3 miles from Buxton. It claims that it is the largest bargain bookshop in the country, along with its sister store, Oakmere. I’m not entirely sure what criteria it bases this on; the website claims it has “over 20,000 different titles in stock at any given time”, but I’ve heard plenty of bookshops claim they have more. But it’s pretty darn big, and I defy you not to find something you want to buy. (2017 edit – this is now High Peak Bookstore and Cafe).

The staff – as claimed! – were very knowledgeable and helpful, but Arty Daughter and I were rather disappointed at the answer we received when we expressed surprise over the lack of graphic novels (in fact there were barely any ‘real’ graphic novels there, just a few glossy comic collections). We were told that they had given up stocking them because they “never seemed to stock the ones people were asking for.” Which kind of made me wonder why they didn’t note down which ones people were asking for, and stock them…

But it is a great bookshop, with genuinely bargain prices and a fantastic range of non-fiction and children’s books. Not to mention bird feeding supplies! And there’s also a place to sit down for a cuppa if the choice gets too overwhelming.

So if you should be wandering along the A515 towards Ashbourne, pop in!



Huntingdon – The Booklovers’ Capital of the UK!

Sorry to break into the bookshop blogs, but sometimes breaking news just has to take precedence!
It’s not often I’m shocked by anything in the Hunts Post. This isn’t a derogatory comment – as I discussed in a blog post many moons ago, it’s rather nice to now live in an area where, some weeks, there just aren’t any knife fights or drug raids to report. But it’s taken some getting used to; I still chuckle at front page stories like ‘new owl chicks at zoo given names’ and page 2 shouting ‘local teen pushed off bicycle!’. My best friend also ’emigrated’ to a rural location at the same time, and has equally dramatic stuff in her local paper – cue much headline swapping hilarity in our letters and phone calls!

But yesterday, when the Hunts Post crashed on to my doormat, I picked it straight up (my day off!) and…
I had to sit down with a frothy coffee to take it in.
Could Huntingdon – my nearest town – really be ‘the book-buying capital of the UK?’ Even though its only book outlets are standard charity shops, a small WHSmith (which now incorporates the post office) and – as of June – an Oxfam bookshop?? I turned in fevered haste (if you’ll forgive the cliche) to page 4…
Well apparently, yes. Or perhaps…not.

The Hunts Post was merely joining the many other newspapers and booktrade websites who had already made much of the fact that, according to Amazon, Huntingdon residents buy more books than any other town.
From them, anyway.

Amazon recently released a top 20 book buyers list of towns and cities (20,000+ residents only). It takes account of traditional publications and Kindle format.

1. Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
2. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
3. Sevenoaks, Kent
4. Rochester, Kent
5. Salisbury, Wiltshire
6. Chichester, West Sussex
7. Canterbury, Kent
8. Truro, Cornwall
9. Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
10. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
11. Winchester, Hampshire
12. Godalming, Surrey
13. Spalding, Lincolnshire
14. Warwick, Warwickshire
15. Newton Abbot, Devon
16. Durham, County Durham
17. Whitney, Oxfordshire
18. Oxford, Oxfordshire
19. Tonbridge, Kent
20. York, North Yorkshire

The Hunts Post had dug further down in the data and discovered that Huntingdon is at no.1 in the food & drink category and children’s books, and no.2 in non-fiction and science fiction.
What does that say about my local folk? We predominantly have large well-fed families who dress like Klingons at the weekend?

Huntingdon High Street

Perhaps it just mean that, in an area that’s traditionally tech-savvy and at the forefront of scientific advances, the people I now live amongst do more of their shopping online. Living as they do in the liberal sprinkling of often tiny hamlets and villages that fill the triangle formed by Bedford, Peterborough and Cambridge, perhaps it’s an easier option than having to go to one of those ‘big 3’ to find a decently-sized bookshop (I’m sorry, St.Neots, but your minuscule Waterstones-within-Barratts t’aint a lot of good to man or beast).

I certainly don’t think it means that people in Huntingdon buy more books than people in all the other towns and cities in the UK. Particularly when you consider that Huntingdon only just scraped over the 20,000 residents mark this year. Quite hilariously, the Hunts Post nabbed 8 people in the High Street and asked them about their bookish habits. Only 2 said they bought books from Amazon. 3 said they got their books from the library, 1 said charity shops, 1 said Waterstone’s or Oxfam, and the other just commented that they had bought their last book on a ferry from Denmark!

Huntingdon Library

The Guardian pointed out:
Amazon “has no evidence its purchasers actually read the books they buy, however, and maybe, just maybe, inhabitants of those towns which fail to appear on the list have been avoiding Amazon to buy their books elsewhere – let’s hope from their local independents, which have been having a rough time of it lately.” Indeed! Which is a good reason to big up some more bookshops tomorrow!

It would be interesting to see if other online retailers have similar figures. I might ask Techie Husband, who works for The Other Big One, if his company collate area data too. Watch this space…