A Vintage evening: book previewing in Manchester

Posted 28 Mar 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Vintage inviteOne of the serious perks of being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week which I want to tell you about.

The Vintage 2018 preview event took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday evening.  It turns out that the bookshop has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.

So what happens? Well, you walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and his wife, who were fascinating.

Then the event properly started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea and the new one by Yuval Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.  If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.

Irvine WelshOK, now on to the speakers. Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book Dead Men’s Trousers.  This is a “twisted redemption” for his characters.

Then we had Damian Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which Damian Le Bashad links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?

Diana EvansDiana Evans came nest with Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the bulletproof stage".  I love fact as well that the book has a playlist.

Andrew MacMillanPoetry is a notoriously hard sell but Andrew McMillan, now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book, Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the pains of growing up generally.

Christie WatsonThe next speaker grabbed the attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going  to stay with me for a long time. Such is the work of Christie Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here.  She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can move  from gruesome morbidity to humour in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse, not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot to do it with Christie, she was that good.  There was a 14-way auction for the rights to this book and I can see why.

Abir MukherjeeAh, but then we had the infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose “Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India. It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read some now.

Abir then proved very popular in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

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Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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