York Book Fair is huge! Hundreds of dealers on three floors with thousands and thousands of books for sale. Are you going? Browse some of the books I'm taking here and you can down load complimentary tickets here. Convenient from almost anywhere in the UK there is even a regular free bus service running from near the railway station to get you to beautiful York Race Course where it is staged - Knavesmire Suite, York Racecourse, YO23 1EX
There are both beautiful and collectable books as well as just plain readable books, ranging from a few pounds to thousands of pounds in price. The cheapest book I'm taking is £2 so please don't think it is just for those with deep wallets - there are plenty of good books at good prices.
If there is anything you would like me to bring from our stock please let me know. There will be someone back in the office most of the time who can arrange for books to come in even once the fair has started.
Last night my mother and I took ourselves off to the nearby town of Ilkley to The Grove Bookshop, a friendly independent. We were attending the launch of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by the late local author Gil North. Gil North, the pseudonym of Geoffrey Horne, was from my home town of Skipton and his series of novels are set in Gunnarshaw which is so recognisably Skipton that I can often pinpoint his route as he travels about.
Martin made the point during his talk that Gil North has a sparse writing style and that the books are brief, almost novellas, much like the Maigret books that North admired. I was prepared therefore when I started my first Cluff book this morning for the rather staccato sentences. Initially I thought the style was so brief as to be clunky, but very quickly I found it both easy and appropriate, rather craggy and sharp like the landscape of the moors and the traditional demeanour of Yorkshiremen!
My next shock was the great contrast of the tone of the book with the cover. The nostalgic covers of the British library series are indeed half their charm, but this story is not set in the charming Skipton of the modern tourists on their bus trips or narrowboat rides, coming to Skipton for cream teas and fish and chips, the castle and the pretty canalside walks. This is the old-fashioned, stuck in its ways Skipton of the late 1950s. A semi-industrial landscape where farming is an industry, and the livestock, and the mud, and the mills and the (then) filthy canal make it grimy not charming. Nor is the story a traditional whodunnit. Cluff knows his man and dogs his trail. More than anything else this reminded me of a film called Hell is a City, an unlikely piece of Mancunian film noir that came out the same year (1960) staring Stanley Baker as Inspector Harry Martineau.
Cluff is steadfast in a rather brutal way. Hard-boiled, in a rather Yorkshire way. And the language reflects this reality rather than the typically placid crimes of the home counties detectives. Graves are not a place of rest when they're 'gashed' into the landscape. Furniture is not arranged, it is 'thrust'. Ginnels (alley ways) don't wind, they 'burrow' like an escaping animal. The imagery is also straight from film noir:
Cluff leaned against the lamp, idle, nonchalant, large in the grey afternoon...He was motionless, his face shadowed by the flopping brim of his hat, his hands in his pockets, his stick dangling from his right wrist.
Cue cliched film noir pic:
But in fact it does blend the urban and the rural in close and dark proximity, much as Hell is a City does. "The canal was still and murky, black, evil-smelling" is echoed not relieved by the moors: "Perpendicular black crags raised themselves above still black pools of peat-stained water".
Hell is a City also shows an industrial landscape merging with the moors and the street-wise detective at home in both:
Hell is a City was first a novel by Maurice Procter and was published a few years before the Cluff books. Proctor was born in Nelson, another mill town on the edge of the moors. He was then a police offer in Halifax, another ... well you get the picture. The plots are completely different but the dark tone of the film is so similar.
I've thoroughly enjoyed this foray into Skipton's murkier past and enjoyed seeing it in my mind without the day-trippers. The dark tone and the psychological persistence of the detective are offset by the essence of the man: as Martin Edwards says in his introduction, Cluff is 'unquestionably a man of genuine compassion'.
Hell is a City, by the way, is an excellent film of its type, available on DVD or you can pay to watch online at the excellent BFI website.
There's an excellent review on Past Offences and I thoroughly with his assessment that North has, "unforgiving descriptions of women"! I could write a whole new post about that.
And lastly, I met a friendly librarian at the talk who told me that Skipton library is having a big read along led by another local crime novelist, sometime in September, which locals might like to look out for. There is a photo of me and a stand of Cluff books on the library twitter feed!
For Thursday 30th June only we're having a sale offering 40% off all our books. See below for your discount code and further details and then browse our site.
Use the code 40June16 at the checkout for a 40% discount on our book prices on Thursday 30th June only. There is no minimum purchase and no limit to how often you can use the code on the day so browse our site and enjoy!
Please feel free to pass the discount code onto friends or to your students.
The small print: valid until midnight on Thursday 30th June. Postage is extra. Because of the sizeable discount we cannot subsidise postage so large orders from outside the UK might require increased shipping costs. We will contact you to explain if there are any additional costs once your order has gone through, or you can email us before placing an order. You will be able to cancel the order if you're unhappy with the extra shipping.
40% off all books in stock - today only Use the code 2016mar40 at the checkout for a 40% discount on our book prices on Monday 28th March only. There is no minimum purchase and no limit to how often you can use the code on the day so browse our site and enjoy!
The small print: valid until midnight on Monday 28th March. Postage is extra. Because of the sizeable discount we cannot subsidize postage so large orders from outside the UK might require increased shipping costs. We will contact you to explain if there are any additional costs once your order has gone through, or you can email us before placing an order. You will be able to cancel the order if you're unhappy with the extra shipping.
Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshie Life Sixty Years Ago by Mary Taylor is by no means a great work of literature but boy is it written with some passion. Much vaunted as the friend of Charlotte Brontë, Mary Taylor is to my mind much closer either to Maria Edgeworth or to writers who come much later. Didacticism comes before story or character and yet... I really did rather enjoy this tale.
Different summaries of this book variously claim it is the story of three or four women. I think it is the story of five women. The Miss Miles of the title is Sarah born into a working class dissenting household whose family run a grocers so they are somewhat insulated against the shocks of the ups and downs of the fortunes of the mills. Their neighbours are often out of work so Sarah sees real poverty but is not quite of the poverty herself. We spend much of the book with Sarah and indeed the first 100 pages are a bit of a slog through the Yorkshire dialect (and I say that as a northerner who's lived in Yorkshire 20 years) but as she grows and her milieu broadens the dialect barrier becomes much less of a problem. Sarah want to know what makes up a lady - why are they special, what to they do all day, how do they get their money? When she hears, 'nothing' she won't believe it, and this obsession with ladies, social security, education, and the ability to get on and do things, form the heart of the book.
Sarah wants to go to school and the cheapest of the local establishments is run by Miss Bell. We then go back a few years to discover how Miss Bell came to teaching and how she formed a close friendship with a girl called Dora whose present situation is dire. I won't explain why but the education and social security thing is at the bottom of the problem. So there we have three of the women.
The fourth is Amelia whose family is nouveau riche through owning a mill. Her education has been greater than her older sisters as money became more plentiful for them at the right time. The end result has not been a success. Not that there is anything wrong with her education but the values it has given her, and her appetite for work, are the despair of her relations. When the mill hits hard times we learn how her education has helped, or otherwise, Amelia and her family.
There is a fifth lady at the periphery of this tale: Miss Everard. Once of the 'great house' she now lives in its lodge and is much under the sway of the mill owning family. An elderly lady, she has been unfit for spinsterhood and her inability to tackle her business affairs is an ongoing theme of the book. She blossoms rather charmingly at the end of the novel, showing it is never too late to adapt to new ideas.
Keeping these threads going is no mean task but Mary Taylor is equal to it and, once I'd got my eye in with the dialogue, I never flagged. Sarah is a wonderful character being very 'Yorkshire': 'upright and downright'. There is a scene where she is the guest in a room full of those above her social class and yet she gives as good as she gets - something one wishes Jane Eyre might do from time to time. There are no governess mice in this novel. Dora similarly, though brought up to be middle class, has something of the mill hand's chippiness in her soul.
"Maria", said the girl, "if people knew that women in the churchyards were alive - those in the coffins, I mean - and were waiting for us to dig them up, do you think anyone would do it?...
"Well of course they would."
"No they would not! They would say ladies did not want to get up - that they had all they wanted, and that men did not like them to get out of their graves."
That to me sounds much more like the 1890s when it was published, the decade of the New Woman (I have been cataloguing a lot of books on the New Woman and it is much on my mind), not the early Victorian years she shared with the long dead Brontës. Like Anne Brontë I think Mary Taylor, though not such an accomplished novelist as Emily and Charlotte, has much to say that's still well worth reading, and again like Anne, I think association with Charlotte has done her no favours. This is not Jane Eyre and the Gothic elements of darkness that it does share with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are more like the threats in Northanger Abbey - real, and related to cold hard cash and moral laxity. It is closer to Austen and Edgeworth and the early nineteenth century, or to the early modernism of the late nineteenth century. Read it in this vein and not as a Brontë-lite and there is much to be got out of it. I commend it to you.
Text notes: Miss Miles is out-of-print. You can order an expensive print-on-demand version from OUP or find second hand copies (which can also be expensive). Joan Bellamy wrote a biography of Mary Taylor called More Precious then Rubies (2002) about a life that was certainly unfettered by the usual feminine constraints of the nineteenth century. I occasionally have a copy of this in stock.
I love libraries. Believe it or not, despite living in a bookshop, it is my idea of a fun day out. It is not at all the busman's holiday that you'd think it might be. Just over a month ago with Mr J. and Rachel of Bewitched by Stitch I went to The John Rylands Library in Manchester. It is the most glorious building, mostly on open access and with a changing series of exhibitions. It also has a very reasonably priced cafe full of excellent home cooking.
It is very Victorian with Gothic blending into Arts and Crafts. It was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, John Rylands and apparently Mrs R had charge of the interior furnishings and, incredibly in such a grand building, the little reading spaces in the main library have the most homely feel as a result. Well, I could cheerfully move in at any rate!
The details throughout were delightful: the varied roof bosses, the huge number of matching oak chairs with delicate carved top rails picking out features of the building and little brass castors to two legs so you can move your chair without disturbing other readers. I loved too the green glass on the lights and the oak panelling - all this and books too!