Refreshing gift ideas from independent booksellers

27 November 2012 - 02:07 By Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives


'Bed of Nails', by Antonin Varenne, (MacLehose Press) R195

An astounding debut that grips from the outset; a naked man steps out into traffic, watched by cops on CCTV, and a maverick detective believes it's not a suicide. It's a dark crime story, but it's profound and filled with unexpected grace; it pushes the boundaries of the genre.


Jingle bells, jingle bells . . . yes, the merry cash registers. It's that time of the year and chain stores are flinging lists of recommended titles and suggestions at book readers battered senseless by the sheer commercial hell of it all. How refreshing, then, that independent booksellers in the UK have put together an "alternative" top 10 as an antidote to the avalanche of Jamie Olivers and Nigella Lawsons that this way comes.

It is rather parochial, so I won't list them all, but here are highlights: top of the pile is Horologican: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth; second is Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, Artemis Cooper's biography of the legendary travel writer; third, The Middle-Class ABC, by Fi Cotter-Craig, which describes itself as a loo book, as opposed to a toilet book; fourth, Wenceslas: A Christmas poem, by Carol Ann Duffy; fifth, 101 Uses on a Dead Kindle, by Adrian Searle; seventh, On The Map: Why the World Looks the Way It Does, by Simon Garfield; and ninth, Sanna Annukka's The Fir Tree, a reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen classic.


Mills & Boon is jumping on the Fifty Shades bandwagon by laying on free workshops across the UK to teach wannabe authors the ups and downs of bashing out steamy sex scenes. According to M&B editor Anna Boatman, who headed up the pilot seminar, held in a London sex shop cluttered, as they are these days, with stirrups, bridles and other equestrian gear, there are five basic tips:

1. Create your characters: if they're not real, no one will care about them - or the sex. 2. Context: the sex must make sense, and not just come out of nowhere. 3. Tell a good story: obviously. 4. Avoid cliches: harder than it sounds. 5. Do your research: hence a writing class in a sex shop. Author Jilly Cooper suggests humour could be a sixth. She told the London Sunday Times: "I had this hero called Jonathan in my book, Pandora, and when he slept with a fat girl I wrote that 'it was absolute heaven, like being on a bouncy castle at the local fete. Such bliss'. That was one of my best."


"Your dear mother is endeavouring to live on a purely liquid diet with unfortunate results." - Dear Lupin ... Letters to a Wayward Son, by Roger Mortimer and Charlie Mortimer (Constable).

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