Books, books, glorious books…in praise of Indie Book Stores…

There we were, the 6’5″ nephew and myself, leaving Waterstone’s, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, UK last year without buying a book. What a triumph of willpower over two lots of biblio-addiction! And then –  a title caught my eye: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops”

This book is irresistible!
This book is irresistible!

“Hang on a minute”, I said to the nephew, ” just a quick look. I won’t buy it, honest…”

However, after a fast flick revealed the following gems offered by its author, Jen Campbell : ‘Can books conduct electricity?’ ‘Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?’ ‘Excuse me… is this book edible?’ I gave in. Yes, Reader, you have guessed correctly. I bought it – and went on to have the best laugh I had had for ages, perusing (as one five-star reviewer memorably put it )‘… some absolute howlers from the misinformed beast that is the general public…’

This affecting little tale is offered to demonstrate two things. One, the fundamentally irresistible nature of books to book addicts, in this case the nephew and myself.( It is always a great comfort to share book addiction with a fellow spirit). And two, the importance of having a good bookshop in your local area into which you can stroll any time you feel like distracting yourself from Life’s Onerous Challenges (fill in according to your particular current oppression). If there is also good coffee on offer, so much the better.

The above will explain why I could barely contain my excitement over this summer on finding out that an independent bookshop, ie a new branch of Waterstones,  was returning to Byres Road, Glasgow, about fifteen years after our much loved and lamented local John Smith’s bookshop had fallen victim to the march of regress.

The shop has received a warm welcome from shoppers in Glasgow’s West End. “Almost every single person who has come in has complimented the staff, the store and the fact that we’re here,” reported bookshop manager Xavier Jones-Barlow shortly after the shop opened on 29th August. The following day, I was fortunate to capture a moment of fun and frolic whilst passing by.

No, not Hallowe'en...
No, not Hallowe’en…

 No, I was assured, it wasn’t Hallowe’en in a time warp. It was a book launch. Waterstones has started as it means to go on!

What is the indie book situation where you live? I’d be most interested to know. I found a cheering article from earlier this year on USA’s The Daily Beast, titled Indie Bookstores Are Finally Not Dying , which carried the following optimistic comment: “In reality more bookstores have opened than closed in the last couple of years in the U.S. They have always been and will always be anchors in many communities.”

So – let’s all go out there and support our local bookstores, shall we? And the next time I visit your  friendly and brilliantly well-stocked Waterstones store, Xavier, I promise the nephew and I will buy at least one book each…


500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/”Witches” Photo copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


5 Things Your Mom Didn’t Tell You About Book Blogging

I’m really enjoying following Robert’s quirky, fun, informative blog, and found reading this post very useful – apart from anything else, it confirmed my own dark suspicions about writing book reviews!

6 Things That Suck About Reading

I’ve just discovered a brilliant blog and since I am short of both time and inspiration this week, thought I’d share this typically forthright, witty and original post from Robert. Sorry, don’t know his second name….

That toad, writing: still here after all these years….

Well, it’s clear from a number of emails and a few comments received, that “Why must that toad, writing, squat on my life?– part one –  hit the spot with a number of fellow writers! My favourite story for luring the reluctant writer to the toad-dominated desk was the one about the luscious bacon sandwich, all crispy with lashings of butter on extremely tasty sourdough bread, made the night before and left, wrapped in foil, sitting on the laptop as an irresistible morning bribe. Try it!

( yes, maybe there is a vegetarian option.Just haven’t come up with it yet….)  

My Writing Cave
My Writing Cave

photo: Anne Whitaker

Now, as I was saying….

For the first seven years of self-employment, my writing skills were channelled and honed some more. I wrote case notes for my counselling and astrology client files, confidential reports for GPs and psychiatrists, and endless handouts for my assertiveness training courses and astrology classes. Students were presented in every class with flurries of A4 sheets in a rainbow of colours. Goodness only knows what they did with them all.

“ You should be an English teacher, or a writer, Anne,” said a student one day.“ This astrology lark obviously doesn’t fulfill your literary side!”

“ Thanks for a very helpful and illuminating suggestion,” was my sarcastic reply.

By the early nineties, the writer in me must have decided that hiding her light under a bushel of other professional pursuits was no longer sufficient. In 1992 I had my first submission for many years accepted and published by a feisty new Scottish feminist magazine called Harpies and Quines ( their name briefly got them into a fight with Harpers & Queens!)

Between 1992 and 2001 I had some forty pieces of journalism, articles and essays published in a wide range of magazines, journals and newspapers from The Mountain Astrologer(USA) to Scotland’s award winning newspaper The Sunday Herald. I was the agony aunt in their “Mindworks”  supplement during the summer of 1999.

Then, at the end of 2001 I keeled over completely following a prolonged family crisis which triggered a menopause from hell. My sabbatical was mandatory; for months I could barely get out of bed. Life was a matter of surviving not merely from one day to the next but from hour to hour, racked as I was by acute anxiety, flushes, palpitations, chronic insomnia and exhaustion – all brought on by burnout and a severe hormone imbalance.

Did this shut the writer up? Not a bit of it. For the first six months, as a central plank in my sanity-saving strategy, I kept a daily ‘Gratitude Journal’. No matter how bad the day had been, each night I wrote down six things for which I was grateful, no matter how small.

For nearly two years I kept an imagery journal, to record the astonishing guiding imagery which arose spontaneously without any conscious intention or effort on my part. I still keep a brief daily diary and a weekly perspective journal.

Nine months after collapsing, I felt able to stagger into my office one or two afternoons a week. The very slow completion of my first book over the next year gave me a creative focus, which was a huge help in the protracted process of recovery. The book is titillatingly titled “Jupiter meets Uranus: from erotic bathing to star gazing– but is in fact a research study of the individual and collective manifestations of the 1997 Jupiter Uranus planetary conjunction, set in its mythological and historical context. It was published by the American Federation of Astrologers in April 2009.

I had a variety of articles on various topics published during 2001-7, and spent much of 2007 completing the first draft of Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness: a sceptic’s take on paranormal experience”, a memoir and rational analysis of thirty years’ intermittent (and not very welcome) paranormal experiences. Then came the setting up of this blog, which to my great amazement has now been going for over five years.

I serialised Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness on the blog from 2o10-12. It was so well received and commented on that I decided to publish it as a downloadable pdf. Note: available now!

And then, last year, under the spare bed in my husband’s study gathering dust, I found the manuscript of a children’s poetry book I had written thirty five years ago which was beautifully illustrated by an artist friend, Albert Ennemoser. Then, publishers loved it but said “Sorry, it would be too expensive to publish”. So we forgot about it and got on with life.

Now, thanks to the web – and digital printing –Rumbold Raven’s Magic Menagerie” , eighteen short poems featuring an eccentric, colourful assortment of animal characters: Dorelia the extinct Dodo, Feeble Fred the dozy frog, delightfully dreamy Salome Seahorse, and wellyboot-wearing Tiger Tigbaloo to name but a few, is now published.

Its first well-received incarnation is in pdf form, available from this blog. Hopefully, the print version will be out very, very soon, courtesy of BookViral. I am really looking forward to that! And so is granddaughter Lola, the inspiration for the book’s resurrection, to whom the book is dedicated.

And what next? Well, I have a few ideas bubbling away. The toad is croaking seductively in my left ear, even as I write…..I don’t think he will ever go away…..would I want him to? What do you think?

900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Why must that toad, writing, squat on my life?

I hope you find this outline/cautionary tale of a writer’s life entertaining. No doubt it will have more than a few resonances for other members of the writing community, whose careers and writing paths have most likely had their own peculiar turns and twists! Your comments/anecdotes are welcome.

That Toad Writing

That Toad Writing

image by Paul F Newman:

The poet Philip Larkin asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”

How I empathise! That toad, writing, has squatted on my life more or less since I was born.The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.

At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.

This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from “King Solomon’s Mines” to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!

King Solomon's Mines First Edition

King Solomon’s Mines First Edition

My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:

“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?

What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “

These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No”  .

During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I  had a‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.

I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Courier’s Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.

Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping.

In my next college job, I became obsessed with writing handouts on literature and effective language use, inspired by a male colleague who also loved writing handouts for his students. I fell in love with him. My energies moved from sending my work out for publication, to staying in at night and juggling passion with passionate handout composition. The ‘Personally Speaking’ column was stoical in the face of my neglect.

There were other diversions, leading to my final college job before sacrificing all for my art. I was living in Bath in England – where, incidentally, I met a strange little man in a launderette who drew up my horoscope and predicted yet another career, as an astrologer. Hmmmm, I thought….Just before leaving that college to return to my native island to Be A Writer, I had a very scary encounter with a man who might have been a murderer. This became the subject of my first play.

The years in social work honed my writing skills further – writing reports was a central part of the job. Adoption assessments, fostering assessments, Children’s Panel reports, social enquiry reports for the courts: I happily turned my hand to them all, gaining a degree of notoriety amongst my colleagues. They usually hated writing reports. I loved it.

“ Look at Anne,” my  first boss used to say, as I hid out in a corner of our open plan office, trying to find some peace to compose my latest masterpiece. “ She is seriously weird. You’d think she was Franz Kafka, the way she crouches over that bit of paper!”

To be continued….


850 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page