Saturday, 26 February 2011

Read Them Quick! There Are Films Coming

I can't read a book once I've seen the film. And even if I haven't seen the film, I can't read the book with the movie tie-in cover because I believe it makes me look less cool (says the man wearing the shirt that reads "reality is for people who can't handle science fiction"). As a book fan I am fascinated by this process and how screenwriters and directors can sometimes get things so right...and sometimes get things terribly wrong.  The list below is made up of books that are about to undergo the novel-to-film treatment.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Gary Ross, director of Seabiscuit and Pleasatville, is directing this adaptation. This futuristic thriller in which the characters participate in a life or death competition is due for release in 2012, with the two other books Catching Fire and Mockingjay following soon after.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Martin Scorsese is currently hard at work creating the film version of this popular childrens novel about an orphan boy in 1930s Paris who lives in the walls of a train station. The film has an all star cast including Emily Mortimer, Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen. Due for release around Christmas 2011.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A $40 million production is set to commence in Sydney later this year, with Baz Luhrmann (Australia, Moulin Rouge) directing. Leondardo DiCaprio has been cast as Jay Gatsby with Tobey Maguire as Nick Carroway. To be released in 2012.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Wachowski Brothers who directed The Matrix films and produced V for Vendetta recently acquired the rights to David Mitchell's novel. They are apparently going to co-direct the film with Tom Tykwer, who made Run Lola Run and Perfume. It sounds like a good team to bring this story to the screen as it's fairly complex and there should be some amazing visuals. To be relaesed in 2012.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
After years in development The Hobbit is finally coming to screens and, taking a page out of the Harry Potter playbook, it's going to be spread across two films. Peter Jackson is back directing and it's all going to be shot in 3D. Part one will be released at the end of 2012, with part two following at the end of 2013.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen
Several directors have been attached and at one point it looked like Natalie Portman would be taking the lead role. This book definitely lends itself to being filmed and the results could be absolutley hilarious. My advice would be to hand it over the people that made Zombieland.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Still in the very early stages of development, Justin Cronin's post-apocalyptic tale of vampiric zombies and an epic quest across a ruined America was purchased by Ridley Scott's production company before the ink was even dry on the proof copies! Sold for a rumoured $3 million price tag, expect a big epic to match the scale of the book. No release date has yet been scheduled.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
This Ian McEwen novel takes place on the wedding night of a young couple in 1950s Britain. Sam Mendes, director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road is attached to direct, and had apparently cast Carey Mulligan (An Education) in the lead female role. However, Mendes is apparently about to start work on the next James Bond film so don't expect this one to surface for some time. Possible release in 2013.

One Day by David Nicholls
Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess star in this adaptation of David Nicholls' novel. Nicholls himself wrote the screenplay and it's been directed by Lone Scherfig, who also directed the excellent film version of An Education. It will be interesting to see how this unique novel is brought to the screen, as each chapter visits the lives of the characters on 15 July on successive years. Due for release mid-late 2011.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King
To be directed by Ron Howard, this sprawling epic could potentially be one of the biggest productions in cinema history. The plot follows Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, on an epic quest across Mid-World to discover the location of the titular Tower and hopefully find a way to stop all worlds from ending. Fans of the series will be ecstatic to know that rather than cram all 7 books into one film, Howard plans to make a trilogy of films that are to be supported by TV miniseries that will bridge the gaps between the films. Word is that Javier Bardem has been offered the lead role of Roland Deschain. To be released in 2013.

Truth by Peter Temple
Australian director and founder of Tropfest John Polson has optioned the film rights for Peter Temple's Truth. To be filmed in Victoria with a high-profile Australian cast, this film is expected in cinemas at some point in 2012.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Win Lonely Planet Goodness!

Many things happen when you travel. Some involve wonderful moments that you'll never forget. Others involve dysentery. I personally think that the dysentery stories are far more interesting. There's an idea for a travel guide: Around the World in 80 Embarrassing Diseases.

Lonely Planet have recently updated their range of travel guides. Better organised, easier to read, clearer maps and still with their trademark 'tell it like it is' style. Our friends at Lonely Planet have been kind enough to donate a few guidebooks for us to give away on our blog. All you have to do to win one is send us your worst travel story! Tell us about that time when you really needed a Lonely Planet guide! Email your entry to Entries should be 100 words or less, and the winner will be decided by the Shearer's staff. The winner will be announced on this blog in two weeks, on Friday 11th March 2011.

The winner and runner up will receive a wonderful prize courtesy of Lonely Planet.

The Travel Book Premium Edition. The Travel Book is an amazing book that takes you on a journey to every country on Earth. Beautifully photographed with information on every country, it features over 229 destinations. The Premium Edition comes with:
  • A cloth-look case with gold foil lettering and a magnetic closure 
  • A photo quality mini-poster chosen from the stunning range of images in the book
  • A special reprint of the original Lonely Planet publication - the handmade Across Asia on the Cheap, the first Lonely Planet guidebook
  • A personalised letter from Lonely Planet's co-founder, Tony Wheeler
The runner up will be able to choose any Lonely Planet guidebook they like from the new range of updated titles (Including Bali, Bhutan, Canada, Croatia, England, France, Portugal, Scotland, Taiwan, Tibet or Turkey).

And just to kick things off, here's my entry! (Don't worry, the competition isn't corrupt and I can't win!)

Athens. After the rail trip across Italy, the overnight ferry and the bus ride to the city centre, we endured taxi drivers not wanting to take us to the hotel because they were 'waiting for a better fare'. We arrived at the hotel to find that our private bathroom wasn't private and that a cat had been locked in the room for 12 hours and was living on the pillows. Later that evening we got caught up in a police operation to arrest prostitutes. I wish I'd had a Lonely Planet guide so I could have chosen a better hotel!

I look forward to reading all your stories!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

We Chat With Author Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh has written many bestselling romance novels including two hugely successful series, Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter. She's going to be in town soon for the 2nd Australian Romance Readers Convention.

Thanks for answering some questions for our new blog! Let’s start with a simple one: What are you reading at the moment?

PJ Tracy’s “Live Bait”

You’ve joined the illustrious club of “New York Times bestselling” authors, how does that feel?

It’s an incredible, amazing feeling – like champagne in my blood!

How would you describe your work to someone who’s never read it before?

Paranormal romances featuring strong, intelligent women and sexy, dangerous men.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

Part of what I love about writing is the flexibility of it – my process changes with each book, adapting to the demands of the story.

However, I generally like to do a fast first draft. I don’t do a detailed outline, so that first draft is how I write my way into the story.

I also do at least one edit on paper – it gives me a different perspective to working exclusively on the screen.

You’re heading to Australia soon for the 2nd Australian Romance Readers Convention, what’s it like to be a guest at conventions like this?

It’s a lot of fun – I really enjoy the contact with readers. Also, it’s fabulous to be in an environment with so many other people passionate about reading, and about romances in particular.

Travel appears to be an important part of your life, is it important to you as a writer?

Yes. It brings me joy and feeds my imagination – I love seeing new vistas, exploring the sights, smells and sounds of a different place. I think all of that helps strengthen and add depth to my writing in one way or another.

Also, of course, travel is important to me as a writer in terms of attending conferences, doing signings etc.

You have your psy/changeling series, your guild hunter series, plus writing novellas and short stories for anthologies, how packed is your schedule? And is there a series or a type of story that you prefer to write?

My schedule is extremely tight at the moment, and I have to be quite disciplined about ensuring I meet my deadlines. It keeps me on the straight and narrow!

As for preferences – I love the paranormal romance genre. There’s just so much freedom in it. As long as I follow the rules I set up for my worlds, I’m free to go wild.

What is it about the romance genre that attracts you?

The hope inherent within it. No matter what happens, there will be joy at the end.

And finally, what’s next for you?

I’m currently working on Archangel’s Blade, the fourth book in the Guild Hunter series. My next new release is Kiss of Snow, a pivotal book in the Psy/Changeling series.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! 

Thank you for the interview.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Jesse Blackadder Book Launch

Jesse Blackadder, author of the Scottish epic The Raven’s Heart was heralded into Shearer’s Bookshop by two wailing bagpipes whom were heartily cheered by friends and family in one of the most memorable launches Shearer’s has experienced.

Bernie Hobbs, journalist and judge on the science programme The New Inventors, launched into the evening by excitedly describing her friend’s book as a “bodice-ripping epic” and later confirmed (to rapturous applause) that the “girl-on-girl” action received a big tick. 

She then asked the question which was on everyone’s lips – “Are you related to Rowan Atkinson?”
Apparently Jesse and Rowan are not related, but the connection is not completely tenuous.  There was indeed an Edmond Blackadder to whom Jesse found she was related.  A road trip instigated by a random opening of the street directory took her and her cousin to the front gate of what was the site of Blackadder Castle. 
A trip Jesse described as “A great moment of fate” that unearthed the history of the Blackadder’s misfortunes and of Alison Blackadder, who would become the heroine of The Raven’s Heart.

“The story finds you” said Jesse, who then regaled us with the incredible tale of bravery, savagery and treachery that befell the Blackadders and intertwined their fate with that of the charismatic Mary, Queen of Scots.  She had us on tenterhooks.

As every plot development that occurs in The Raven’s Heart actually took place in history, the process of writing was an incredibly complex, six year journey.  However the editing process was very short and publication of the book took place not even 12 months after Harper Collins optioned it. Sue Brockhoff, Head of Fiction at Harper Collins, quoted her colleague Jo Butler in describing the book as “a breathtaking epic from a remarkable literary talent”.  The Raven’s Heart was the recipient of the Harpercollins/Varuna Award for Manuscript Development and has been published under the Fourth Estate imprint, which includes authors such as Geraldine Brooks and Hilary Mantel.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Which Froth Cafe Menu Items Would be Best to Consume With a Book?

For those of you familiar with my work on Twitter it will not be a shock to learn that I love Froth Cafe. Froth is a lovely little cafe located within Shearer's. The staff are fantastic, the coffee is great and the treats...oh the treats...mmmmmmm.

So this morning I wandered over to Froth with the intention of ordering a latte when I was struck by an idea -  why not get a brownie too? A further idea struck me - get a large latte. Yet another idea struck me - what types of food are best consumed with what types of book? I printed off a list of titles and handed it over to the girls at the cafe. Here is what they came up with:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Gluten free Persian orange cake

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
House made T2 iced tea

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
French style savoury tart with goat's cheese and semi-dried tomatoes

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Triple chocolate brownie with chunks of white and dark chocolate

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Lemon tart

The Shining by Stephen King
Homemade Lasagne

Possum Magic by Mem Fox
Spotted Cow smartie cookie

Well, writing this has definitely made me hungry. And for the record I didn't have a large latte and a brownie this morning, I just had a regular latte. Brownies are for the afternoon. So, let me just look at my watch. Hey! Do you know what time it is? It's afternoon o'clock! 

By Mark,  Jess and Claudia 


John Boyne Event

John Boyne, author of Noah Barleywater Runs Away and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas visited Shearer's for a wonderful event on Wednesday February 16th. Don't worry if you couldn't make it, here's what happened!

Barbara introduced John (who a staff member took to be a customer when he first arrived!) by saying how excited she was when she first heard that he was coming to Australia to work on a short film. Never one to miss an opportunity Barbara emailed Random House to see if John would be willing to visit us at Shearer's. She then went on to talk about John's work, mentioning that:
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been published in 42 languages, sold over 5 million copies worldwide, been made into an award winning Miramax film and topped the New York Times bestseller list. 
  • John has published over 70 short stories, 2 novellas and 8 novels.
  • John's next novel The Absolutist examines the events of the Great War from the perspective of two young privates and will be available in June.
  • The Irish Times described Mutiny on the Bounty as "a mesmerising tour-de-force...a remarkable and compelling piece of storytelling."
John then took to the "pulpit" where our visiting authors do their speeches. He said "This is a wonderful place to read, I feel like the archbishop. I don't normally get pulpits but I've wanted one." He spoke about being in Australia, how much he loves the country and Sydney in particular. "Irish boys don't usually tan well. We turn the colour of boiled prawns." He also mentioned that when he visits a country he only reads books by authors from that country. That meant that Barbara's gift to him, Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, was perfectly chosen.

John described Noah Barleywater Runs Away as an "intimate story about a little boy." He described it as a modern day fairytale, and said that he had realised how dark fairytales actually were. He then read from Noah Barleywater Runs Away in his lovely Irish lilt.

Unlike traditional fairytales Noah is not cast out but runs away because there is something at home he cannot deal with. Over the course of a day Noah and the old man have a series of conversations in which readers realise that what Noah is running from he cannot escape.

John said that he likes being in a place when he's writing about it, and due to his two month stay in Sydney may set part of his next children's book here. He lived in St. Petersberg for a few months before writing The House of Special Purpose and spent some time in the winter palace, which is now a museum. He then read from the first chapter of The House of Special Purpose.

He said that writing is trying to put yourself in the mind of someone else and when writing The House of Special Purpose he had to be in the mind of an old man (which was difficult as he's never been that age).

An excellent Q&A session followed.

When writing historical fiction do you start with the historical truth and then move sideways or change perspective?

John stated that he's not interested in historical fiction but in certain historical periods. "I try to know as much as I can about the facts before I make the decisions that make up the novel." He also stated that sometimes reality is more interesting than fiction and that all the things he had assumed about Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian were actually wrong.

What was the most interesting thing about the Russian revolution?

He answered that the Czar and Czarina and their children were a close, tight-knit family. They had married for love against the wishes of the Czar's father. He was "intrigued by a family with so much power and responsibility in a land that was changing so much." He was also intrigued by the family connections, all the WW1 rulers were cousins "like a group of children having an argument in the backyard" but people were dying.

You write a lot of short stories...

He said that writing a novel is very difficult whereas a short story can be done in a few days. He wrote short stories for a newspaper in Ireland, writing one 500 word story a week. He said that cutting a story down to 500 words is a great way to improve yourself.

How do you know an idea is worth it?

Instinct. It's like falling in love.

Did you intend the children's books to be children's books?

He never intended to write for children but when he realised the prose was for children he didn't fight it. He really enjoys writing for children and wants his children's books to be about something important.

Were you an avid reader as a child?

"Nobody wrote in my family but they were all great readers." Wednesday was a half day at school and his mother always took them all to the library, it became his favourite part of the week. Reading was very important to him and his "imagination was on fast forward."

Were Bruno and Shmuel (from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) based on anyone? How factual is the book?

He said that the characters were not based on anyone, but Rudolf Höss brought his family with him to Auschwitz. He went on to say that children were kept at Auschwitz, some were there for medical experimentation and some had pretended to be older than they were in order to be kept alive. While it's not probable that a boy like Shmuel would have been there, it is possible. He made changes such as moving the commandant's house and de-electrifying the fence but felt it was important that it didn't have a happy ending.

The event ended on that rather depressing note, but John stayed around to sign autographs and meet his readers. Everyone was very interested in what he had to say and as you can see there were some great questions. One lady was browsing in the store before her film started but found John to be so interesting that she stayed for the entire event, bought his books and happily missed the film. It was a really good night, and John dropped us a line later on to let us know that he had a great evening.

 Buy Noah Barleywater Runs Away and other John Boyne titles online at Shearer's Bookshop

Friday, 18 February 2011

Dexter Creator Jeff Lindsay Talks to Shearer's!

 Jeff Lindsay is coming to Australia! In anticipation of his trip, Jeff was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. We will be hosting a special event with him on Tuesday 8th March at 6pm. Click here for booking information.

Where does a character like Dexter Morgan come from and what research have you done to make him so believable?

The idea was inspired by watching a room full of Civic Boosters pretending to be happy to see each other, fake-smiling, talking with their mouths full – and the idea just popped into my head that serial murder doesn’t always have to be a bad thing....

I’ve read all the books on the subject I could find, and I talked to a lot of shrinks and cops, and at a certain point I think I just developed a feel for the character.
Can you give us a sense of your grounding in literature? What do you read and what are some of your best-loved books?

I have a degree in literature, and have read an awful lot of almost everything – compulsively sometimes.  I used to read a book a day, until I started writing.  Now I don’t have time.

What’s your view on the cast for the series Dexter and how does the show match up with the vision in your head?

I think the cast is absolutely top notch.  The first time I saw Michael in character, I knew he was IT.  He totally got it.

Things never match up the way you see them in your head, but it’s definitely my world up there on the tube.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had writing?

I think I have to stick with Dorothy Parker on this one.  She said, “I loathe writing.  I love having written.”  It’s mostly less fun now that it’s a job, but sometimes I work on a new play, or a collection of really stupid poems I’m writing, and that gets me to giggle.
Because of the nature of the character, there is a lot of analysis of Dexter Morgan and his ethics. Do you pay attention to this analysis, and if so how does it affect your writing?

I do pay attention, because the ethical considerations are part of the reason I wrote the first book.  It is very interesting to me, but it doesn’t make me change anything I’m doing.

Can you give us any hints as to what’s next for Dexter Morgan?
I really think he needs a vacation.  I’ve been threatening to write DEXTER DOWN UNDER.  We’ll see if that happens....

Many thanks to Jeff for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions! 

The Death of Independent Booksellers? Don't Make Us Laugh...

Yesterday’s news that REDgroup Retail has been placed in voluntary administration has had a massive impact within the bookselling and publishing community. REDgroup owns the bookselling chains Angus & Robertson and Borders, which between them account for approximately 30% of the market. If they are to disappear, the change in the market will be huge. We will all feel it, from independent booksellers to major publishers.

There is no joy in this news for us. While there is certainly a perception that independent booksellers and large chain stores have been locked in mortal combat for some time, I don’t believe that this is entirely true. We have catered for different markets and have had a different focus. While the large chains have tended to focus on top sellers, books with high margins and diversification into gifts and homewares, indies like Shearer’s have still regarded the love of books as the cornerstone of what we do. When you walk into a chain store you expect to see massive quantities of that month’s bestselling books. When you walk into an indie you expect to see a diverse range of titles, including many new books that you may not have heard of.

With this in mind we feel great sympathy for our colleagues who may shortly find themselves out of work. We also feel sympathy for the customers who regularly had their book buying needs filled by these stores.

For the overall market a dramatic decline like this adds to the myth that booksellers are dying out. But I ask you to consider this; how long have people been proclaiming the death of the novel? Bookselling is not about to vanish, despite what you may have heard. There are things we provide that simply cannot be found in chains or online.

Service is a big part of what we do. When you visit an indie you know that you’re going to meet staff that love books. In fact, part of the requirement to work at an independent bookseller is experience, knowledge of relevant issues and databases and a familiarity with literature. In Shearer’s we have a team of staff that are able to handle any book request – no matter how obscure the title may be.

Community and culture are intrinsic to indie bookstores. We all have individual personalities and different visions of the bookselling environment we personally want to thrive in. This is reflected in the way we lay out our stores, the different genres and authors we choose to emphasise and the particular sales and promotions we choose to undertake. This in turn is a reflection of the communities we live in. Being small means that we are able to adapt to changing needs faster and with less fuss.

Other aspects of our work include author events, book clubs, loyalty cards, children’s storytime and having dedicated genre specialists – things you don’t get online or at chain stores.

Independent bookstores are thriving hubs of book loving communities. We may never make huge amounts of money but do you know what? We’re ok with that. That sounds like a radical thing to say in an economic culture that tells us that being number one is the only thing worth going for. But it’s true. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re passionate and knowledgeable about our products. We revel in the thrill of meeting the authors we admire and getting to sneak peeks at books that won’t be on the market for months. We love our customers and the conversations we have with them about these things, these stories and words that we love so much.

While we’ve served different needs for different groups, the impact of this will be felt in many ways, some of which we won’t see coming. But to those who are taking this as a sign that booksellers are about to die out, think again. I’m writing this while looking out over a thriving and vibrant book-buying community. They’re here now, and so are we. Neither of us seem to be going anywhere, for the moment.

The most important thing you can do is support your local bookstore. I’m not going to simply plug Shearer’s, I’m going to plug everyone. We indies are also part of a community and we respect and genuinely like each other. So this weekend if you want to go shopping then shop at Shearer’s and Pages & Pages, Gleebooks, Abbeys, Galaxy, Better Read Than Dead, Constant Reader and all the other fantastic stores that are out there. 

Written by Mark

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Brendan Cowell visits the Tuesday book club

Brendan Cowell is an actor and writer whose debut novel, How it Feels, is an electrifying ode to youth. He came to Shearer's to have a chat with our Tuesday night book club about How it Feels.

In his introduction he spoke about his Nan who stole the show at the launch by jumping in with remarks while Andrew Denton was giving a speech. Brendan’s Nan read the book and commented that she found parts of her body she didn’t know she had!

Brendan talked about his youth and how he started writing poetry at the age of 10 and later read his work to the Word of Mouth patrons at the Harold Park Pub.  When up to 100 people were attending his readings he realised he could hold an audience and decided to have a go at writing a play. The book that inspired him at an early age was The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi.

When asked about why he wrote a novel,  Brendan mused that when writing for the theatre so many people had access to drafts and were willing and happy to change the writing.  However when working on a novel he found he owned the “room” again and was free to write a story. 

Brendan grew up in the Sutherland Shire and How It Feels is set in “The Shire”.  People from the area have challenged the book, as Brendan wanted to question why people were smiling behind their manicured lawns and feeling safe in their world when the area has the highest suicide rate in the country. He mentioned that at the time of writing How It Feels, he was reading Charles Bukoski and M J Hyland.
When asked how he came by the title, he answered the book was concerned with how it feels to be young. The main character Neil Cronk was not liked by some of the members of the Book Club.  Brendan’s defence of his protagonist was to argue that he was a beautiful lost man, typical of a person who actually is quite vulnerable and lashes out through fear.  

When asked if was he writing another novel, his guarded reply was yes, and although he couldn’t give away any of the plot he said it was about a very topical issue. He gave a captivating reading from chapter 28 of How it Feels

Brendan Cowell was entertaining, honest and gave a fascinating insight into his excellent debut novel.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars is an extraordinary work of fiction. It's a collection of four novellas, each linked by the concept of the shadow-self that lurks within us all and the idea of revenge. King is no stranger to the novella and has released several collections over the years such as Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons (which spawned three of his most respected works, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me and The Mist). This collection includes 1922, a confession written by a farmer who murdered his wife, Big Driver, about a mystery author who uses the conceits of her genre in an attempt to take revenge on the man who attacked her, Fair Extension, about a terminally ill man who makes a deal with someone to extend his life, and A Good Marriage in which a loving wife discovers that her husband is hiding a horrific secret...he may be a notorious serial killer.

King's powers as a writer have been resurgent ever since the publication of Cell, a techno-horror about a disease spread by mobile phones. This was followed by Lisey's Story, a romance about a woman dealing with the death of her husband (and the fantasy world he had sometimes lived in), Duma Key, an underrated book about a haunted island and a short story collection, Just After Sunset. But it was the publication of Under the Dome that cemented King's resurgence. One of his bestselling novels since he was at the height of his powers, it's a thrilling page-turner with a wonderfully simple idea at its heart. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy - it's among the best books he's ever written. But back to Full Dark, No Stars.

Each of the stories in this collection are strongly readable. They're all firmly rooted in the horror genre and involve murder, haunting, revenge, deals with the devil and more murder. King paints with a brush that's been firmly dipped in blood. But it's not cheap or sensationalist. King doesn't go for over the top gore and he's not trying to shock anyone. The stories slowly build to their climaxes, increasing in intensity until you simply cannot put them down.

Choosing a favourite is difficult. I loved the evocation of a harsh life in rural '20s America in 1922. The pace of Big Driver is quite frankly perfect and leads to a surprising finale. Fair Extension is a clever riff on King's Needful Things, and while I initially though it to be the weakest link in this collection it has really stuck with me. But I have to choose A Good Marriage as my favourite. It asks the question of how well you can really know someone, even after 27 years of marriage - and then asks some very difficult questions of how to act when someone you deeply love turns out to be someone deeply disturbing. It's about all the little details that make up a marriage and what it means when it turns out that someone has been misrepresenting themselves. Does the marriage dissolve instantly? Can you shut off your feelings like a tap? And what, ultimately, should you do?

An idea that is sometimes used in relation to Stephen King is that he has 'transcended genre', like genre is somehow a hindrance to him as a writer, a disease that he needs to defeat. Or that he has somehow become his own genre. But this misunderstands genre in my opinion. It somehow implies that genre is necessarily limiting and that to challenge the tropes of genre is to transcend it. But genre can be deep and diverse, and for all the intricacies and layers that are in A Good Marriage it is still a horror story. It doesn't leave horror behind for some purgatory that's halfway between genre and literature, it proves that stories can be both. Masterful writing of the style King produces is all about good storytelling. And it's organic - he doesn't bung it on or play with narrative just for the sake of it.

Full Dark, No Stars is a wonderful collection from one of the best storytellers around. Read it and enjoy it.

Reviewed by Mark

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Stephanie Dowrick Event

Last night we were fortunate enough to host an event with the one and only Stephanie Dowrick. We have a long history of events with Stephanie and each event is a highlight on the Shearer's events calendar. Stephanie also enjoys coming here and described Shearer's as "open, enthusiastic and welcoming." Last night's event was about Stephanie's latest book, Seeking the Sacred, a spiritual memoir that contains wonderful stories from a whole range of people.
Stephanie's talk was full of fascinating insights into her life, work and beliefs. She is constantly questioning how we can live alongside each other in an inspiring way. She certainly inspired the audience last night, and here is a brief summary of some of the points she covered:
  • On the weekend Spectrum mentioned the event and that there are lots of 'soul searchers' out there. Stephanie defined 'soul searchers' as people looking for another dimension to existence, be it God, a soul, or meaning.
  • Stephanie said that we are seeking in a time that is unlike any other. We do not have to follow in the footsteps of grandparents or parents and the difference between generations in terms of spiritual thinking is profound. This is a potent moment in history because we can look at other belief systems and not feel that we are stealing, and we have been shaped by several decades of psychological analysis.
  • On spiritual journeys these days, people want to find things out for themselves. Seekers aren't beholden to anyone's dogma and concrete ideas are suffocating. Spirituality is an experience involving prayer, meditation and conversation.
  • You cannot act without influencing and affecting the people around you. The bleakest moments are aloneness, the brightest are connections. "No matter how lonely I feel, I know in some part of myself that I am not alone."
  • In seeking the sacred we are "setting our sights on the soaring. However, we also have to come back to the ground where we live."
  • We cannot afford war and need to break out of old ways of thinking. 
Stephanie's works are always full of quotes from great people. Here are a few quotes from Seeking the Sacred:

  • "Only spiritual consciousness...can save the world." - Paramahansa Yogananda
  • "The modern world is desacrelising. That is why it is in crisis." - Carl Jung
  • "I believe in the essential unity of all people, and, for that matter, all that lives." - Gandhi
  • "I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty." - Gandhi
 Stephanie was asked by the audience about how she writes. She responded that she writes morning, noon and night. She said that Seeking the Sacred and In the Company of Rilke took a long time and that the work doesn't stop once the book is finished as there are still workshops, tours and events to deal with.

Stephanie was also asked about how to overcome spiritual ups and downs. She responded that things get better but that doesn't mean that things don't hurt. She said it's important to think about what stands between us and our happiness.

Last night's event was wonderful, as have been all the events we have hosted with Stephanie. We hope to have the opportunity to work with Stephanie whenever she next writes a book, and would like to thank her and the audience for coming along for an illuminating evening.

 Buy Seeking the Sacred and other Stephanie Dowrick titles online at Shearer's Bookshop