Thursday, 24 April 2014

World Book Night in London

Books ready to hand out!
For the first time in World Book Night's history, my day off fell on the actual day, so I was able to discover some celebrations across London. I was lucky enough to be selected as a World Book Night giver, so I set off with a rucksack full of my chosen title, After The Funeral by Agatha Christie, to hand out to unsuspecting strangers across the capital. I should at this point say a big thank you to Jon for lugging the books around the city for me!

I was aiming to hand out my books at some famous Christie landmarks in the capital. Fist stop was the Agatha Christie statue just off Leicester Square. Unfortunately this did not seem to be a good choice. A street team from LA Fitness had set-up camp right next to the statue, blasting out loud music and harassing all passers-by to sign-up to their gym. It also became clear, that most passers by were tourists with little English, so we soon decided to move on elsewhere.

At the Agatha Christie statue
While in the area, I just had to make a visit to one of my favourite London spots - the huge Waterstones in Piccadilly. I could spend hours browsing in there (and quite often do!) If I could have a supermarket sweep style moment in any store it would be this one. With so many beautiful books, stationery and unique, quirky gifts, I could spend an absolute fortune in there! Plus, there was a brilliantly quirky window display telling the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory completely with biscuits!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - in biscuits!

After a quick lunch spot and a google, we found out about a Harry Potter alliance holding an event at Paddington Station so headed there on the Bakerloo line. This also fitted in with my Christie themed day as one of my favourite Marple stories is 4.50 from Paddington. We soon came across the London based group called London Loveiosa (@londonloveiosa on Twitter) and we swapped books. I picked a free World Book Night copy of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier and John Williams' Stoner in exchange for a charity donation. If you love Harry Potter get in touch with them to find out how to get involved and raise money for charity with their events.

After the hustle and bustle of Paddington, we decided to get some fresh air and walked up to Kensington Gardens, where we handed out most of the books. The happiest people we met and gave books to were a young lady working on one the kiosks, an elderly gentleman walking his dogs and a lovely couple who were visiting London for the day from Bedfordshire. We spent a long while admiring the Peter Pan statue and talking books and stately homes with them. We event gave copies of the murder mystery to two policeman, who seemed very amused and interested in the story! 
Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens

We decided to walk from Kensington to the World Book Night hub of the Southbank via Green Park, Buckingham Palace and Westminster, taking in all the iconic London sights. Once at the Southbank, we browsed the book fair (another one of my favourite London places) and Foyles. It was then time for the World Book Night flagship event Letters Live!

Southbank book fair

Letters Live is based on the hugely popular Letters of Note twitter feed and books. It aims to rediscover the lost art of letter writing and how important this method of communication has been over the years by sharing letters from historical figures, celebrities and ordinary everyday people. This event saw authors, musicians and stars of the stage and screen reading a wide variety of letters. My favourites were a bizarre letter from Elvis Presley to Richard Nixon requesting to be a federal agent, a touching letter from Iggy Pop to a depressed fan, an amusing letter from Bette Davis to her daughter pretty much putting her in her place, a sweet letter from a young child to Abraham Lincoln suggesting that he grow some 'whiskers' to be President and a letter from Queen Elizabeth II to President Eisenhowar with a  recipe for some scones. There were also a series of letters between two wartime sweethearts, who fell in love during their correspondence to each other. Guest readers included Matt Berry, Caitlin Moran (who also read a very self-indulgent beyond the grave letter to her daughter), David Nicholls, Kerry Fox and two surprises in Stephen Fry and Russell Brand who was hilarious in reading a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol.

At the Letters Live event

It was a really fun evening celebrating the written word and what can be accomplished from it. I really do have the urge to write some letters myself now, something which I have not done for years in the age of email and social media.

So, all in all a pretty successful World Book Night! I'm already looking forward to next years!

To find out about becoming a World Book Night Giver next year and helping to vote on the titles given away visit

Monday, 21 April 2014

World Book Night and Agatha Christie

April 23rd. A significant day of the year for me and thousands of others. St George's Day, Shakespeare's birth(and death)day and World Book Night. I love the idea of World Book Night, an annual event run by The Reading Agency when volunteers across the country hand out free copies of their favourite books to those who do not usually spend their time reading. I took part two years ago, when I handed out 20 copies of my favourite all-time book Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed being able to share a classic novel, which although non-readers may have seen the film or television adaptations, they were now able to discover Jane Austen's wit first-hand and more importantly free of charge.

This year, I selected Agatha Christie's After The Funeral from the short-list of 20 books. I have only been a Christie fan for about a year, but I love her style of writing and the clever and sometimes shocking murder cases she has created and I am hoping to once again encourage those who may have watched the Marple or Poirot cases on television to read Christie's original work.

I had only watched a few of the ITV adaptations myself before I visited Agatha Christie's holiday home Greenway while on holiday in Devon last year. The beautiful house and spending time reading about Christie's life and character encouraged me to buy a couple of her most famous stories. The first one I read was And Then There Was None. It was so atmospheric to be reading the book near the island which she based the mystery on and I was immediately hooked on the story of ten strangers all invited to a mysterious island where they are soon stranded and must face their previous sins. One by one, each character is killed off and the end provides a shocking twist as well as making you realise the vital clues you picked up on but misinterpreted. I had to go straight back to the beginning to read again now that I knew the conclusion and it was still a stunning and terrifying piece of work. 

I have read several Christie stories since and they always amaze me. How did a young lady from Devon think of so many twisted stories, hundreds of eccentric characters, scores of ways of murdering people and thousands of red herrings? All Christie novels begin with a cast of colourful characters being introduced one by one. I always think that I will never learn who's who, but I always do and can see each character in my head so vividly. Christie mysteries conjure up the weird mixed feelings of a cosy setting with scenic English countrysides alongside the shock and horror of murder and the dark side of human nature.

I have become fascinated with Agatha Christie's life over the past 12 months, from the child with an overactive imagination, to the woman who wrote novels like a machine in order to pay for the life that she wanted. With an obvious interest in the medicines and poisons, she even volunteered as a Pharmacy Dispenser at London's University College during the second world war. There was even her own personal mystery as her car was found abandoned and a nationwide search began. Staff at a Harrogate Hotel recognised her after she had checked in with a false name and it is claimed that Christie had been concussed and was suffering from amnesia, not even recognising her own husband. She never spoke of this time of her life with the press or her friends or family.

And so to After The Funeral, the book I am giving away 18 copies of for World Book Night. It is a fantastic story of a dysfunctional family in turmoil. The patriarch of the family has passed away and at the reading of the will, his 'silly' sister Cora is heard to say 'It's all been hushed up very nicely, hasn't it...But he was murdered wasn't he?' The next day Cora is fund dead after being savagely struck with a hatchet and Hercule Poirot is hired by the family solicitor to unravel the mystery. Full of brilliant characters, plenty of clues and a jaw-dropping revelation, After The Funeral is one of Christie's very best works.

The World Book Night edition of the book features an introduction from Sophie Hannah who has been commissioned to write a new Poirot mystery which is out later this year. There is also an excerpt from Overture To Death by Ngaio Marsh, which was a favourite book of Agatha Christie's and a poem by the winner of the Foyle Young Poet Of The Year Award.

I really hope that everyone who receives this book will take the time to read it and discover Christie's art of a good old murder mystery. And maybe it will ignite a love of reading, or the urge to read more Christie novels in one or two. Thank you to everyone involved with World Book night in giving book lovers the chance to share stories with friends, colleagues and even strangers. is a brilliant website all about the author and her work. There is so much to read, it really is worth a visit.

You can read more about my visit to Greenway on my blog post here

You can find out more about World Book Night, events on the day and the other 19 titles being given out here You can even apply to be a Community Giver, by passing on copies of your own books to non-readers

Follow @WorldBookNight on Twitter and keep up to date with #worldbooknight or #WBN14 on the day

I will be sharing my favourite Agatha Christie quotes on my twitter feed @HillingdonBooks throughout the day and I would love to hear from other book givers!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A Dynamite Book Launch

During the week I was very lucky to be invited to the book launch of the year! Debut author Jason Hewitt used his theatre background to create a unique event to celebrate the publication of The Dynamite Room in the eerie location of The Vaults in Waterloo.

The Vaults are a multi-disciplinary arts space located in the underground of Waterloo station. With dark tunnels to explore (one even has water dripping on your head!) and the rumble of trains overhead, it is a beautiful and atmospheric space. The walk there alone is a unique one, as we strolled through a graffitied tunnel to enter the 1940s world created by Jason. I spent the whole evening feeling as if I was in a film! There was even a programme which added to the feeling of a theatricals event!

The entrance to the venue

Many of the quests had taken the effort to arrive with hair styles and clothes inspired by the era and I was thrilled to meet another debut author, the very lovely Sophia Tobin in the queue! (I had just finished reading her novel The Silversmith's Wife, which added to my surreal evening!)

Once we were in The Vaults, we were free to wander around the dark tunnels and stop to watch scenes of the book re-enacted. The actors were fabulous and the tense and claustrophobic feeling of the book was recreated perfectly. In particular, the scene in the a concrete store in Norway in the 'long wet tunnel' was suitably edgy. We kept going back to this scene to see how it had progressed.

The Long Wet Tunnel
A toy lamb with wearing a gas mask reminds us of Lydia
 The use of the space was used in a really clever way, with one of the scenes taking place below us as we walked along a metal grilled walkway looking down on the action right beneath our feet. I wish I could have stayed longer to look, but it made me feel a bit dizzy as the whole floor was pretty much see through and I had to make a hasty exit.

The main party area was adorned with bunting and furnished with vintage leather sofas and street lights. We were treated to live music from The Stringbeans Quartet and singing trio The Scarlet Starlets who really got us In The Mood (sorry!) There were even SPAM sandwiches! It was just a shame that we could not hear readings from actor Will Thorp as it was just too noisy with the joviality of the guests.

The main party area

This was a fantastic evening and really showcased how immersive theatre can be very effective when in the right location. The morning after it was announced that The Dynamite Room has been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott award and I am sure that this novel will enjoy much success over the next twelve months.

You can read my review of The Dynamite Room here as well as my Q and A with Jason Hewitt here

Find out more information about The Vaults here

A huge thank you to Jason and Simon and Schuster for inviting me to this event!   

The programme