Going into week 3 of my year long bookshop challenge I didn’t think I would get to see many books other than my business accounts, but I had forgotten that I had a ticket to see Matt Haig, the author of Reasons to Stay Alive, speak at the Canterbury branch of Waterstones. I have to say that I spent the day debating whether I would actually go to the event which was at 630 in the evening. Winter evenings are long and it is cold at the moment. Travelling to it, in Canterbury, meant driving during rush hour into one of the main cities in Kent. And did I mention it’s dark? Anyway. I tried not to overthink it (didn’t I just use all my fuel, oh I won’t have time to fuel up, there we go then. I could leave early…) and did get there. I arrived at the shop just before 6. I always say I couldn’t be late if I tried! It’s particularly hard when you are going somewhere where you’re not used to going for a specific time so you have no idea how long it takes. There are benefits to being early mind. I had a browse round the top floor and was reminded that I wanted to put The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on my list and then as others started to come up the esculator to the top floor and I heard people wondering if they could sit, I struck. Much as the comfy chairs were right in the front row of the arranged seating they were comfy chairs compared to fold up metal chairs crammed together with no escape route! So I sat and had a brief chat with the sensible ladies who also cadged a comfy seat. They too have travelled and really rate Matt Haig. The younger of the two buys all her books on her kindle but had bought How to Stop Time in paperback and she had it with her to ask him to sign.
Sadly Waterstones had not worked out how to stop time and Matt and the store manager came in a few minutes late. I had heard people behind me mentioning that Matt had tweeted that he had a cold, perhaps it was a lemsip moment that caused the delay? If you don’t know Twitter or know Matt on there you should know that Matt is a prolific tweeter, particularly about mental health and Donald Trump which appear to go hand in hand in his opinion. Matt commented during his Q and A session that his twitter account must be like watching a car crash for the outsider. He tended to be a bit addicted to it and use it to have pointless arguments and vent his anger to get past any writers block. This is clearly a very self-aware man because those were my exact thoughts!
The event was organised as a Q and A session and the store manager asked Matt a number of questions about writing, growing up and mental health. Matt’s Mum reckons he read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at 3 which Matt vehemently denies, his favourite book growing up was a tractor catalogue as he recalls. He spent his youth in his local library as there were no bookshops and his first foray into grown up literature was Lace by Shirley Conran which opened his eyes to manhood! He is really pleased that they are going to make a film out of his new book, How to Stop Time, and particularly happy that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the title role. He’s hopeful of fresh life being put into it by a well thought of screen writer though he feels its a win win situation and he doesn’t mind if they make a bad film, just make a film. Matt spoke of how suitable his publisher is in that they are happy that he isn’t pigeon-holed and that he isn’t under pressure to write a Reasons to Stay Alive 2 or More Reasons to Stay Alive (insert laughter). He explained that Reasons was his first popular book and he had effectively had a proper career where he started at the bottom and worked his way up which is quite different to most authors these days who get a huge fanfare with the release of their debut novel and then are never heard from again.
Matt was a very relaxed guest and I found it inspiring to listen to him when he spoke about his writing methods (slouched on the sofa rather than ensconced in his Roald Dahl-esque shed in the garden). He was genuine and honest about his struggles, going to literary parties (or not going in reality) and not being nearly as organised in his writing as Ian Rankin who apparently is a great guy.
My question to Matt was, “I’m on a mission this year to buy real books from real bookshops, Where’s your favourite bookshop?”. And I was delighted with his answer. Matt’s absolute favourite bookshop is in Santorini, the volcanic Greek Island that I have longed to visit for years! He described that the bookshop was filled with English books but that many shelves were just out on the cliffs. He said that another favourite was the Shakespeare Book Co in Paris where he had done a book event and then stayed the night in the shop with the shop cat. Sounded amazing! Matt talked so positively about bookshops and how he felt that there is a real resurgence in books and that independent bookshops were actually opening which was so exciting! Here’s a man that tours the world on book tours so if anyone knows he should!
And my highlight of the evening? I bought a hardback copy of How to Stop Time and asked Matt to sign it (having been early I was right at the front of the queue!) and he asked my name. When I told him I was called Rebecca he said, “Spelling as in the Daphne Du Maurier Rebecca?”, “Yes” I said, “My favourite book”. This is a man of books. He has been writing since he was a boy, published since his 20’s and even his dinner party guests in response to a question were all writers, so much so that someone shouted out, “what about non-writers?” and he couldn’t think of any. That his response to my name was a literary one shows to me that he thinks in books. He talked about the word bookish being equated with introversion and I agree but to me, the Daphne Du Maurier Rebecca, I can’t think of any other way I would like to live than surrounded by books and living a bookish life where my asides are literary references. Now that’s an author!
If you haven’t come across Matt Haig before obviously you can find him on Twitter. His book on his own mental health, Reasons to Stay Alive, has remained high on the charts for years now and has proved helpful for many. This latest book, How to Stop Time, is a work of fiction about a man who has a disease that means he is currently 800 years old. I bought Humans at the event so keep your eyes out for a review of that in a blog in the future. Sorry for the rubbish pictures. I had a great view during the event but just couldn’t bring myself to thrust a camera in his face.
What I read this week:-
I’m still avoiding The Picture of Dorian Gray but I have until the end of the month! Hubby is listening to it on Audible during his commute and I have to say he isn’t selling it to me! The book I did read this week was The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is one from the list and you may remember, if you’ve read the other posts in the series, that I bought a Folio copy in Winchester in the first week of the year. I am a fan of Benedicts’ Sherlock but other than that have never really settled with it. I find it all a bit fusty on the tv. And I haven’t read any Sherlocks as a result. But on my research to find the most recommended books this one was well thought of and therefore made the list.
I have to say from the off I was hooked. The suspense and intrigue is built from the start and on my first evening of reading it I felt completely enchanted by it. The story is about a family curse attached to the Baskervilles who hail from their family pile on the moors in Devon. Generations ago Hugh Baskerville had kidnapped a local woman and kept her captive until she escaped and ran across the moor. When he realised he gave chase. Friends with him came across both bodies and a hound from hell, literally. And since Hugh’s dreadful death (well deserved!) the family has been cursed, the most recent heir dying in the grounds in suspicious circumstances. Holmes and Watson are visited by Dr Mortimer who is in London to collect the remaining Baskerville heir and take him to the house. He wants Sherlock’s advice on whether to escort him to his inevitable doom. The story is quickly located to the bleak and mysterious moors where it plays out to its terrible conclusion. And I won’t say another thing.
Half way through I remember hoping upon hope that the ending didn’t let down how well the story was progressing. The pace was brisk, I appreciated the different styles of presenting the story, diary entries, letters and observations as they happened. I wasn’t let down. The story finished brilliantly. I am terrible at trying to work out what is happening and what is going to happen and I did work it out but it wasn’t obvious, it was a guess because I had to know! Lucky guess. And my guess work didn’t ruin my enjoyment, I was still surprised when what I thought might happened did happen. I really understand now why Holmes is such an enduring character. The prose felt fresh and modern though some of the events clearly weren’t – a young woman not being allowed to visit a batchelor at his house at night alone for example. There were moments that aged it but they were so seldom that I felt it virtually ageless. I absolutely loved it, completely and utterly. I really loved reading it in the Folio edition as well. The words weren’t crammed on the page and the pages were of such lovely paper that turning them was a delight in itself!
I genuinely have found a favourite book. This book was exceptional and I won’t stop recommending it to people. I finally completely understand why Sherlock and Watson are such important characters in the history of the English novel!
So that’s all for this week. Am busy reading away and now have such a huge pile of books I’m going to need a bigger bookcase! Have a well read week x