I liked shopping for books at Waterstones, but I suppose that all has to stop now: Waterstones says it can’t pay living wage, as 1,300 authors support staff appeal

No doubt someone will ask how they will ever pay a living wage if people boycott the chain, but that’s unfairly saddling everyone else for its poor management – although, I suppose to shareholders, and the market in general, it’s seen as good management.

To my mind, if you can’t pay a living wage, you can’t afford your real staff costs and you’ve got a problem. And of course, the excuses from the top of the company would be much easier to swallow if those sitting there weren’t so well remunerated despite their inability to pay a living wage. Apparently (if Wikipedia is correct) the managing director lives with his family “…in a 4 storey house in Hampstead. They have a second house in Suffolk, and a third in Scotland.”

I don’t begrudge people making money, but it seems to me that it might make it easier to own several properties if you don’t have to pay your employees fairly…

Cover versions…

It’s possibly an entirely unreasonable prejudice, but I hate it when publishers replace the covers of novels with promotional tie-ins with TV or movie adaptations.

book covers

One of my fave booksellers has the above on their home page. I already own a beat up old copy of War and Peace, but if I felt inclined to read any of the others, I’d be looking on second-hand sites for the originals.

Perhaps it’s down to the sloppy treatment that so many novels receive in remediation to film. Or, perhaps it feels like carrying around an advert – I can’t quite articulate what my problem is. But it seems somehow to cheapen literature.

Of course, no one can blame an author for making money from a movie deal, and jolly good luck to anyone who does. But forgive me if I want my books to look like books rather than lobby cards.

The sweet poison of vanity…

I started reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game this morning. The opening paragraph struck a chord with me straight away:

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

Is this the same for all writers?


So the book group/club meeting came and went without me keeling over beneath the weight of such close scrutiny, though I did feel sometimes that I was sitting in a sort of friendly interrogation chamber.

The main points that emerged about Gape were:

  • Some people ‘don’t do fantasy’ but gave it a try and quite liked it.
  • Some with more religious sensibilities were a bit disquieted by it.
  • The humour and sense of location was good.
  • Only one out of the 11 had bought the paperback and everyone else bought the Kindle version (mainly due to the price).
  • I had a lucky escape as, of the two regulars who couldn’t attend last night, one loved the book to bits and apparently thought it was one of the best things she’d ever read, and the other was more of a hardcore Christian whose views might not have been so complimentary.

Some general points to emerge about the book group:

  • Everyone is passionate about reading to different degrees (but some are more into the wine on offer!)
  • Ladies of a certain age like to talk about medical stuff: operations, procedures etc. Before turning to Gape, the discussion was on colostomy bags and exploding colons.
  • Said ladies also like to talk (a lot!). They like it so much that they don’t wait for each other to stop before they start to gabble over each other.
  • I think one of them was on powerful drugs.

Points about me at book groups:

  • My face proceeds through darkening shades of red and purple the longer I’m the centre of attention. I can feel it burning hotter as things proceed.
  • Beer doesn’t always relax me (I might need to start drinking earlier if I’m ever invited to another of these things).
  • Despite the friendliness shown by everyone, I couldn’t wait to get away. This made me feel ungrateful and dishonest.
  • When not talking about books, my reserves of conversation and small talk quickly run dry.
  • I still don’t know what to write when someone asks me to sign a book (is ‘Best Wishes’ friendly or impersonal?)

I kept thinking on the drive home about the closeness between the concept of ‘conversation skill’ and the fear that ‘conversations kill’.

Inspirations for Gape…

I’ve been busy putting up a series of images to illustrate some of the big influences on Gape. One of the problems of trying to be a bit more active on social media is having to take the decision of whether to duplicate content, so I’ll just post a link back to my Facebook page so that people can take a look if they are interested.

It’s been an fascinating little exercise in seeing just how many different sources fed into the book without me realising it at the time. But, don’t be put off by the references to Milton, Dante and medieval art. I stripped the bare essentials from these to construct my story – there’s very little that’s highbrow about Gape.

The images and references will continue to go up over the next week or so.