Thursday, 27 July 2017

Blog Tours for Authors - Andrew Crofts

“We’ve set up a blog tour for you,” my publishers, RedDoor, announced. “It’ll run for about a fortnight around publication date.”

“What exactly do I have to do?” I enquired, assuming I would have to write something for each blog, or do an interview – as is the pattern with PR tours.

“Nothing. They will all review the book on their designated days.”

It seemed hard to believe that anything could actually be that easy for an author. No one ever makes our lives easy – or at least that is sometimes how it seems.

But the reality was even better than that. Not only did they all review the book enthusiastically, most of them tweeted about it and re-tweeted one another’s tweets and then set up competitions for people who might want to win their copies, which resulted in more re-tweets and so the cycle continued. It was like a word-of-mouth campaign on steroids, sending the book rocketing back up the Amazon charts.

RedDoor then produced a poster of juicy quotes from the blogs, which the delighted bloggers tweeted about once again.

To top it off Nick Clee of Bookbrunch, (the leading publishing industry newsletter for those of you who have not yet discovered it), then allowed me to write an article about how wonderful book bloggers are, how there has been a power shift in publishing towards the authors and readers and away from the many layers of gatekeepers who have traditionally stood between us, and allowed me to share those juicy quotes once more, delighting me, RedDoor and the bloggers all over again.

I can confirm that these book bloggers are indeed wonderful human beings because I have since met one or two of them, but even if I hadn’t, anyone who reads books, and then encourages other people to read them, has to be a thoroughly good egg.

Since I am quite sure that all you Electric Authors are now gagging to know what these “juicy quotes” were, I am reproducing them yet again below, selflessly sparing myself no blushes.

 “Such a clever and disturbing book …terrible sense of unease …makes the reader question every underlying principle in their life …I finished feeling completely disturbed … shocked and not a little naïve … totally mesmerising.”

“WOW. Left me reeling by the end …a beautifully crafted and clever story full of depth and intrigue …pacy and becomes surprisingly sinister … I loved the tense, uneasy feeling … Andrew Crofts is a genius story teller … an incredibly thought provoking story... YOU NEED TO READ IT!!!”-

“Unexpected shocking events had me wide awake for hours after …the journey it took me on was one I won’t forget.”-

“Full of power and threat …Crofts’ magical storytelling ability.”

“Totally Absorbing … fascinating, interesting and compelling.”

“An absorbing, well crafted novella.”-

“Very moving and thought provoking …I feel like I’ve just read a true story … you are left gripped …a very emotive story that tugs at your heart and your own belief in humanity.”- Kraftireader

“Deeply insightful, often disturbing … that would leave me uneasy and uncomfortable throughout … extremely clever and well-written … a dark sense of foreboding and shadow … which really left me edgy and alert at all times … the story bursts from the pages and really grips you … unique and well worth reading.”- Booksofallkinds

Wow! … what a kick ass, heart pounding novella … Andrew really does pack a punch … twists, turns and tragedy and I was hanging on the edge of my seat.”
 - hayley10reviews

“A very powerful novel, and one that stayed with me long after I’d finished reading – probably my favourite piece of literary fiction I’ve read this year. A powerful and thought provoking book.” Thebibliophilechronicles

“Not like anything I had ever read before and definitely took me out of my comfort zone … but I loved it … so many moments of unease with twists and turns throughout … I still have this sense of unease and shock …shocking, unexpected and enthralling. 145 pages of pure excitement. - Onedaydreamaway

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Sari-draped Poetry: Dipika Mukherjee discovers the value of handmade books

Writing a novel is like visiting a foreign continent for the first time; there are the annoying visas and passport renewal, inoculations and phrasebooks, but also the long giddy months of serendipity and planning.
And Poetry? Poetry feeds my soul. It is the wind fluting through the weeping willow on a cloudless night. 

I had my first poem published when I was about 11 years old. Poetry has been a succor through the years of graduate school and raising two boys and has never abandoned me. It has always been there as a sudden image while I am washing dishes, or the red-hot rage after watching the news.
Poetry, as we prose writers discover early, pays so little...and is oftentimes respected much less than prose. Our novels find mention in newsprint and blogposts and even the booksellers’ scribbles on a store display; a book of poetry, by comparison, seems beloved of an arcane sect, rarely embraced unless there is big prize or a major publisher involved.
Back in 2007, while on a fellowship at the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden, I used to frequent the Kern Library with its extensive collection on Indology. This library has now been moved and merged into the soulless main University of Leiden Building, but in 2007 it was housed at the Nonnensteeg, where the Nuns once prayed in this oasis of tranquility in the middle of a botanical garden. Iron trellised staircases led to a maze of books, the books bordered by ancient Tibetan Tankhas displayed on the walls.
In this magical treasure house, I chanced upon my first sari-covered book, published by the Writers Workshop in Calcutta. I was astonished by the beauty of the book; the jewel-bright sari cover bordered by a faint line of green and white embroidery stood out from the beige and bland spines in a line. Inside was a table of contents written in a flowing calligraphic script.
I recognized at once that although this book was exceptionally beautiful, it was also rough around the edges, the paper thinner than usual. I would later learn that these books have been hand-printed and handcrafted since 1958, when the press had been founded by a visionary P. Lal in Calcutta (now Kolkata), who would go on to publish the early works of the towering figures of Indian writing in English like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Ruskin Bond, A K Ramanujan, Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Pritish Nandy, Meena Alexander, Agha Shahid Ali, Chitra Divakaruni and Vikram Seth, among others.
I immediately wrote to P. Lal. He wrote back, inviting me to submit my work, and explaining that the criteria for selection were high imaginative awareness and mature technique. 
With the arrogance of a newbie writer with a smattering of poetry and prose published in journals but no books to my name, I decided that I would not submit my work to a small publishing house in India where English was usually a second language, but aim for a much larger readership in English. In 2003 and 2009, I had been a resident at Centrum in Port Townsend, within walking distance of the Copper Canyon Press. I fell in love with the Copper Canyon broadsides and in my room, I found two volumes of poetry by Reetika Vazirani. I decided to submit my work exclusively to North American and British publishers.

I was lucky with my first poetry chapbook, The Palimpsest of Exile. It was picked up by Rubicon Press in Canada and my editor, Jenna Butler, an acclaimed poet in her own right, treated my inchoate words with a love that bordered on reverence. The Japanese flyleaf matched the flower on the cover exactly, and the finished product was exquisite. This happened in 2009.
But I kept seeing the Writers Workshop books everywhere, and delighting in their difference. As the press went into its sixth decade of existence, I finally realized the value of being a part of the literary history of India, and started the process of qualifying for my own hand-loom sari-bound volume of poetry, with exquisite calligraphy inside. 
For a book that I thought would not sell because the publisher was relatively unknown outside India, this book has surpassed my expectations. The demand for this slim book, and the persistence of this small publishing house at a time where the market for poetry seems so small, has taught me the lasting value of exquisite craftsmanship. 
Isn’t that the whole point of poetry?

More about the author at

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ice Apples, Darkness and Firelight by Susan Price.

Artwork: copyright Andrew Price.

All life is sorrowful - but very, very sweet.

[The wolf-witch] said, “You have seen wolves hunt deer. The racing shapes against the snow, darting, turning— for the watcher, so beautiful. And it’s so good to run and feel your own strength! But for wolves, the hunt is hunger. For the deer, it is terror, and death. The hunt ends in pain and blood, with the wolves choking the deer and eating it while it still lives— Oh, did you not think of that? But now you know, and will never forget. Do you think wolves cruel now? But wolves must live, and have cubs to feed— and wolves cannot use arrows, or spears, or traps. To be happy in the den with their cubs, wolves must kill.

            “Listen to the wolves sing when the hunting and feeding are done. So beautiful, their song, it will freeze you; and so sad it will pain you. The wolves know what they do. They know all life is sorrowful.

            “Men lie to themselves,” said the wolf-witch. “They tell themselves that, if they are good, they will be happy. They tell themselves that they can run away from sorrow, or hide from it, or pay it to go away. They say wolves are cruel, and hate them, and all the while pretend they don’t see their own hands making spears and snares. The truth is, all  life is cruel, and beautiful, and sad, and hateful and very, very sweet. You must know this.”                              Ghost Spell

Drover's Dogs
I've been self-publishing since 2011, but Ghost Spell is only my second entirely original  selfie. (The first was The Drover's Dogs.) All my other self-published books have been previously published conventionally.

Ghost Spell is the fourth in a sequence, all set in the same imaginary world of long dark winters and short summers, snow, firelight, wolves and ice-apples.

Only Ghost Drum and Ghost Song have a character in common but ice-apples are mentioned in all four of them. Vulchanok, in Andrew's cover-art above, is offering an ice-apple.

Carnegie medal winner
I didn't entirely invent ice-apples. When I wrote  The Ghost Drum, (which won the Carnegie medal) I researched 16th Century Russia. I read of how ingeniously the Czar's gardeners grew fruit and vegetables, even in the far north, even in winter, using glass-houses heated by stoves and pipes. They also bred hardier varieties.

One variety of apple was known as 'the ice-apple.' A few moments on Google tells me that the official name for this variety is the 'White Astrakhan.' It was known in England as the 'transparent Moscow crab.' You can buy a tree which is close to it here. (And I very well may.)

Not only was the apple grown in the far north, but its flesh was said to be so transparent that the seeds at its core could be seen through it. Bernwode Fruit Trees, the supplier I link to above, says this about it on their fascinating website:  

The apocryphal White Astrakhan
First recorded in Britain in 1810, if it is the same as Forsyth’s Transparent Apple, or 1826 if not. It came from Russia or the Baltic States and has been confused with White Astrachan and other Transparent apples but this one is probably distinct. Wisley now makes White Astrachan a synonym of this, but Scott has both described, and differently. Forsyth said ‘The Transparent Apple, was introduced from St. Petersburg; but is more curious than useful: a tree or two, therefore, will be sufficient for a garden. It ripens in September and October’. Scott described it as a small, top quality August apple, conical, tapering rapidly to the point at which it is much plaited. The skin is pale golden yellow covered with silvery grey dots. When thoroughly ripe the transparent flesh is melting, the juice plentiful with somewhat of an astringent flavour. The tree is an early and great bearer. Bunyard also describes it as a July/August apple, so Forsyth’s Transparent Apple, ripe in September/October, might be another variety.

I like  'a tree or two will be sufficient for a garden'!

When I read of the 'ice-apple' it set my imagination working: a transparent apple, flowering in a cold spring, pollinated in an endless summer of white days and nights, setting fruit in an ever darkening autumn and ripening in arctic winter.

            Ice apples are a rare fruit, found only in the far north. They blossom in the summer of white days and white nights: their flowers never know a moment of darkness. Their fruit sets and swells in the year’s other half, when the light fades into endless darkness by night and day. It takes a witch to coax them to ripeness. When they are ripe, the apples seem made of purest ice, clear and transparent as glass, except for the flower of dark seeds floating at their heart. They hang on a bare, black branch, in darkness and snow. They draw what little light there is to themselves and glow like cold, dim stars.

            They are not grown for eating. To eat one would be to swallow winter. They are grown for magic.                             Ghost Spell
There is a lot of magic in all four books. The characters are witches and shamans, travelling the road to the Ghost World. Like the other books, Ghost Spell draws on Norse Myth and Russian and Nordic folk-tale but, I think, has a more romantic feel than the other books.

There are connections between the books. Ghost Spell and Ghost Drum both have characters who are prisoners, but escape. Both Ghost Spell and Ghost Dance move from the wilderness to the Czar's great, reeking wooden city. All four move between the living world and the Ghost World. All four are told by the cat who walks round the tree.
            And that is end of the story. I know it to be true, because I was the cat who slept with paws tucked in at Vulchanok’s hearth...

The cat lies down among the links of its golden chain, tucks her forepaws beneath her breast, and closes her eyes.  Head up, ears pricked, she falls asleep under the oak-tree, and neither sings nor tells stories.

 Other members of PriceClan have been busy too.

The Teeny, Tiny Tiger Tot

The teeny tiny tiger tot is full of curiosity and adventure but doesn't understand that the world can be a dangerous place...

And so it's lucky that Mum and Dad are always on guard.
Ghost Spell by Susan Price
Ghost Drum by Susan Price

Ghost Song                                             Ghost Dance
by Susan Price                                        by Susan Price

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Everlasting challenges of Malawi, by Jo Carroll

Well, I've finally managed to publish my Malawian travels on kindle (and other e-platforms). This has been a difficult book to write - wherever I went I met people eager to give me their opinions on the aid industry. And I went with First World assumptions about the importance of overseas aid and its role in changing the lives of those living in poverty - views I ended up questioning but finding no answers.

And so I've left the reader with my unanswered questions. Should I have plucked solutions, rather than leave a reader uncomfortable? Or is it fine to present the challenges and leave the reader to think about them?

This dilemma was part of the reason for choosing my title: Everlasting. 80% of the population of Malawi lives in poverty - and I could see no evidence of a co-ordinated of effort to challenge that. The big organisations don't seem to be trying to work themselves out of a job. At the same time, there are some magnificent, locally-driven projects that are changing lives. 

But the title is more than a reflection of the problems faced by the country. For it is also the name of my guide - that's him on the cover. We had six weeks together. He is an extraordinary man. He filled long drives with stories - some of which have made it into my book. He looked out for me, kept me safe, picked me up when I slipped in the mud. And we talked about families - his family, my family, and it became the context in which I came to understand some of the complexities of African life. (He has given all necessary permissions for me to write about him and to use his picture.)

Just before I published this I typed ‘Everlasting’ into the search box on Amazon - and was rewarded with pages of romance. I sat for a while and played with alternative titles. None reflected what, for me, is the essence of this book: I needed a title that put my guide at the centre of the stage, and that indicated some of the complexities of the country. 

So there we are. Everlasting it is. You can find it on amazon here. And there are photographs if you follow links on my website:

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Remembrance of Things Past

Introduction by Lev Butts

A couple of years ago, Richard Monaco agreed to write a guest post for us, but we never received one. This was right around the time he was diagnosed with cancer, so we assumed the post had been driven form his mind by admittedly more important concerns.

Sadly, Richard lost his battle with cancer last month and died peacefully surrounded by his wife and animals. At the request of his family, I have been going through his files and taking inventory. I was both surprised and thrilled to find the following essay about the unforeseen repercussions our work can have outside of ourselves. It turns out that Richard did not forget to write the promised guest blog; he simply forgot to send it in. 

I am very happy to share it with you now with the blessings of his family.

Blast from the Past, o“Oh, a writer” by Richard Monaco

Just watched a true crime show that took place in the '90s when I lived in lower Westchester County. A gangster-cop love triangle. Ears went rabbit when they mentioned one Jerry V. and identified him as a “high-ranking” member of the Lucchese crime family. While working on a crime book (Rubouts, Avon, 1991) I’d hang out in some rough spots. First-drafted most of my stuff in public places and this was no exception. So, while studying some photos of famous Mobsters on the bar, a dark shadow fell over my Martini. Jerry V. 

I knew him by reputation which I figured was the best way. Like Moose Malloy, in Raymond Chandler's Farewell,  My Lovely, he was large and considered “crazy-dangerous” by many peers, but never dumb. His problems stemmed from steroids, white powder, and wine. Now he loomed over me and asked about the pictures, half-shouting over the music and noise of the club. I explained. He asked if he might sit – now, this lad, in a packed place, usually had no one, uninvited, sit within two stools of him.

He sat. Studied the pictures. He asked what happened to them after the book was printed. I said they went to him, if he liked. He put them on his wall. 

Long and short, we became friends. Socialized. Stuff that will be in the memoirs if I live long enough and enough people die first: people who wanted to kill me and those who were “with me.” His father, a well-respected Capo, considered me a good influence on his kid though he warned me: “Richie, if you hang around with him, make sure your insurance is paid up.” A legend grew that I was a Mafioso. 

Because asking questions isn’t the best idea, in those circles, a lot of Wiseguys believed it, too. The DEA even checked me out until, I was told, someone showed them my works and the agent scoffed: “Oh, a writer.” That was that.

Jerry read my Parsival and became quite a fan of Arthurian literature. He saw himself as a rogue knight. His mother once told me he was like a “pirate.” Well, he started taking a sword with him when he rode around town. Apparently, he once drew it to make a point to somebody who quickly agreed with him. When he came back to the car, somebody said “that was nuts” and he replied: “Well, I sheathed it.” Which was true, as far as it went. For a while he was called “Sir Jerry.” 

So, you never know what effect your work might have. You can’t afford to worry. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Formal? Casual?Affectionate? Ali Bacon reminds us not everyone wants to be kissed

Now we’re home from holiday, I’ve stopped worrying about my lack of Spanish, but the niceties of how we use our own language are sometimes just as mysterious as a foreign tongue. Maybe it’s a preoccupation of the elderly, but I’m always aware of the register we use depending on our audience. At the extreme ends of the scale, an application for a job or a pitch to a publisher is always more formal than a thank you note or reply to an invitation, unless we are making a conscious effort to be matey. Informality, after all, is a characteristic of speech rather than writing, or should that be ‘was’? 

Still nice to get some things in writing
The universal use of email (and all communication via keyboard)  has gradually blurred the lines. It was once the case that a stranger contacting me at work would start with ‘Good morning’ or ‘Dear’. These days I might use ‘Dear’ for a first cautious approach but anything after that would be ‘hello’, gradually giving way to ‘hi’. And this includes people I have never met in the real world. Virtual meetings are so much the norm we feel we have met people even if we’ve never sat down for a cup of coffee together.

We also meet in all kinds of online spaces with their own unwritten rules of communication. I made contact last year via Facebook Messenger with The St Andrews Photography Festival , or at least its publicity department. We were perfectly polite, but our exchange of messages (in my case hunched over a hot laptop around midnight) was peppered with things like ‘no worries’ and ‘brill.’ And this was potentially the start of a business arrangement!  We could have been more formal if we had wanted to, but really we were two people talking, so there was no need.

There is a final layer to this new world of interaction.  Social media and email platforms have strong visual signals . Not only that, but these display differently on different devices. I’ve just begun to realise the way I react and respond to messages is affected by the thing I am holding in my hand or looking at on my desk. Say, for instance I get an email about an event where I’m reading my work with other authors. I may or may not have met the organiser but we’ve already been in touch by email.  If I answer this on my laptop (which rarely travels anywhere so really it’s my permanent workplace) I’d probably say.

Hello xxx,
Many thanks for the information, I’m really looking forward to (event name) and meeting the other readers. 
I’ll make sure I’m there in good time. 
Best wishes,
Ali B

But if I pick the same message up on my phone, out-and-about in a shop, car-park or even in the golf club, I might just say.

Thanks for this.  Sounds great. See you there. Ali x.

The different interface and visual display, and I suppose my state of mind,  actually changes the nature of the discourse. (Here's a survey of what devices we use the most.) And did you spot that sneaky x? I used to steer clear of social kissing, but on the internet I’m an absolute luvvie. In certain situations, not to put one in looks downright rude!

The constant conversation -in real time
Does it actually matter if we slip into casual friendliness with strangers as long as we get the arrangements right? Years ago I remember reading that any important email should be save and reread next day before sending and this saved me from falling on my face more than once. But where once a gap of two or three days between message and response would be fine, now we are all in a state of constant conversation. Even so, if a message arrives that looks important, I often leave it until I’m at my desk to compose my considered answer. At the same time, I’m very well aware of a tranche of my acquaintances who do not have desks, or laptops or PCs – and who  don't need to differentiate between emails, texts, Whatsappp messages etc. If any of these people seem too casual, I make allowances!

Longing for a letter  on nice headed paper? That could be a long wait. And in most respects, our call-me-anytime- kiss-me-afterwards culture is progress. Things can be arranged so quickly and so easily. And I can think of some very good friendships forged on line. 

But if casual is fine, sloppy is to be avoided, and sometimes that’s hard to pull off. We’re always in a hurry, let’s face it, and the end of that email just slipped off the bottom of the screen. Was it Thursday or Tuesday? Did it even get in the calendar?

We have all had those communication disasters. Just remember some conversations are more important than others.

And maybe not everyone wants to be kissed!

Ali Bacon writes contemporary and historical fiction.
Her latest book,
In the Blink of an Eyejust signed with Linen Press, is due out in 2018. 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Hay on Wye, Town of Kindles? - Katherine Roberts

I have fond memories of Hay-on-Wye. I used to live in Ross-on-Wye, about 30 miles downriver of the now world-famous town of books, and often tackled the twisty rural roads through the glorious Herefordshire countryside to the Welsh border, all in the name of research.

It's been about 25 years since my first visit to the town, back in the early 1990s. My friend Sue and I used to go to the Book Festival while it was still quite small, and the children's authors did their talks in the local primary school hall - or in its more modest classrooms, depending on their level of fame. One of the first children's events we attended was JK Rowling reading from an early Harry Potter in the school hall, where the organizers were clearly caught by surprise at the size of the audience and did well to squeeze everyone in. My friend and I stood in the doorway, trying not to feel too self-conscious among all the young fans squashed together on the floor. Afterwards, the signing queue stretched right around the school - twice. The next year, children's authors joined the big names and did their events in tents on the main site. Then the Festival got its own bigger (and muddier) site on the edge of town, and from there things got bigger still. Today, there is not just the spring festival at Hay-on-Wye, but also a winter one, and spin-off 'Hay' festivals in far flung parts of the world.

A reader who lingered too long at the Hay Festival?

All this fame has undoubtedly been good for tourism. I prefer to visit Hay-on-Wye when the main Festival is not running, because then you can actually park your car in the main car park, the town is quieter, and the bookshops and cafes have more time for tourists. I love poking around in the dusty corners of the honesty bookstalls, where you used to be able to pick up bargains for 20p or so if you were lucky. You can lose yourself for hours in the back rooms of Richard Booth's main shop in the centre of town, where my friend Sue and I would unearth long-forgotten science fiction and fantasy novels. I even once spotted a proof copy of my first Seven Fabulous Wonders book The Great Pyramid Robbery on some random stand... naturally, like all well-trained authors, I turned it face-out before we left☺.

The Great Pyramid Robbery
(2017 cover)

Today, Richard Booth's bookshop has gone upmarket. There is a coffee shop where all the best bargains used to be, and beautifully labelled shelves advertising all the different genres. Young Adult is upstairs, where the floor is amazingly sparkly. The Great Pyramid Robbery has long vanished, perhaps someone bought it? One of Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries is there instead, face-out and pristine, making this part of the shop look a little bit like a big chain bookstore selling new books... which Hay does not (yet) have, thankfully.

Definitely not a chain bookstore

It might be my memory playing tricks, but there seem to be fewer book shops than before, and you need a special map to find them all. The honesty stalls in the outbuildings beside the castle have mostly disappeared, leaving just two ranks of covered shelving in the main castle garden near the street, which someone had artistically arranged by colour when I visited earlier this month, so that all the blue books were on the left, followed by white, then yellow, then orange, then green, etc... as good an attempt at categorizing the random titles found here as any, I guess.

Hay Castle bookstall - before the colour coding.

There are definitely fewer boxes full of tatty paperbacks sitting outside the shops where I used to do quite a bit of random shopping, and the discount £1 shop on the corner selling pristine copies of brand-new titles has vanished, to be replaced by some kind of gift store or clothing outlet... I didn't take much note, I'm afraid. Gone are the days of picking up a Hay author's book for a song in this shop, and then hot-footing it back to the Festival to get it signed - perhaps their publishers complained? Although, in truth, the discount shop was merely taking advantage of the fact publishers had optimistically overprinted and sold off their surplus stock at very high discount. Those books always turn up again one day, you know.

Books sold for less than the price of a birthday card.

These days, I look back at my bargain hunting younger Hay self with horror. But who can afford to buy full-priced books on a regular basis? Certainly not struggling authors. In fact, when I was in Hay only last week, I overheard a young woman saying to a friend that she wished she could buy a book because she wanted one, but she couldn't justify the expense (not even second hand), which I'm hoping is not an early sign of Brexit book buying jitters.

Hay feels different in 2017. The honesty book stalls, what's left of them, require pounds instead of pence - although the Old Cinema Bookshop still has a few bargain shelves that are worth checking out. I assume most of the tatty paperbacks I remember browsing through on the street have disintegrated, or perhaps been read to death. The secondhand book shops that remain have gone rather upmarket, and gift shops and cafes are taking over where books once reigned supreme. The wooden tourist information hut in the corner of the carpark, where my friend Mary used to work, has gone, to be replaced by a smart complex of shops complete with cafe, and shiny loos that require 20p before they will let you in.

Even the humble carpark is no longer content with a simple machine that swallows coins and issues tickets. It now wants you to answer a long list of questions before it will allow you to insert the price of a good book for the privilege of parking your car:

Language? (answer this one wrong, and you'll be totally flummoxed by the indecipherable Welsh instructions).
Type of vehicle? (You can't just answer 'car' - it's 'car and motorcycle', even if you haven't got a convenient motorcycle in the back.)
Registration number? (Cue anyone like me, who recently changed their car, running back across the carpark to check...)
Like the honesty bookstalls, the carpark machine too wants pounds these days instead of pence - and more fool you if you feed it your last 20p, because then you'll be hopping your way around Hay looking for a loo that doesn't think you're from London and try to fleece you for a wee. And after all that, if the machine rejects your new pound coins, you'll have to start the whole process again, accompanied by the groans of the queue behind you... this time, because you are panicking and forget to answer the language question, in the default Welsh.

Oh, and best not to mention the property prices. Everyone who is anyone from the London literati scene wants a cute little cottage in Hay these days, it seems, meaning that long gone are the days when you can buy a rundown little Welsh cottage for a song and camp there at weekends while you do it up.

Fame is not always a good thing for small Welsh/Herefordshire border towns. They start to get above themselves. Their car parks and their toilets acquire lives of their own. Their secondhand bookstalls seem to think they are selling new books. Their discount and new bookstores vanish into the ether. Their old-world charm is slowly overtaken by a desperate scramble for London pounds, and those bendy B roads just cannot cope.

Sue, taking in the view across Hay from the castle

With vanishing print runs by midlist authors, and the rarity of the more esoteric titles publishers used to support, where will all the future secondhand books come from? I doubt many of today's print-on-demand titles will find their way to Hay, and who wants to unearth yet another copy of last year's celebrity memoir? Old paper books eventually wear out. Will Hay be the same with a collection of old Kindles in boxes set out in the sunshine and showers on the street? Somehow, I doubt it.

No Kindles here yet... happy book bargain hunting!


Katherine Roberts writes historical fantasy for young readers with a focus on legend and myth. She also writes historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. Find out more at