Wednesday, 19 October 2011


We're delighted to be hosting a number of Oxford University Press authors for Manchester Science Festival.

The events take place over the next two Saturdays and they are free: no booking is required. Just turn up. We did this last year and it turned out to be interesting, beguiling and thoroughly relaxing. We'll have sofas for the early birds. Oh and free wine and nibbles.

Here's what's happing on the first Saturday...

Science Saturday 1: October 22nd. 11am – noon
The Private Life Of Atoms
Peter Atkins, author of Reactions, explains the processes involved in chemical reactions by introducing a 'tool kit' of basic reactions, such as precipitation, corrosion, and catalysis, and shows how these building blocks are brought together in more complex processes such as photosynthesis.

Science Saturday 1: October 22nd. 2pm – 3pm
A History In 40 Moments
Utterly beautiful. Profoundly disconcerting. Quantum theory is quite simply the most successful account of the physical universe ever devised. The pursuit of its implications has been the driving motivation of physicists for 100 years. Jim Baggott traces the story, the personalities and the rivalries, through 40 turning-point moments.

Science Saturday 1: October 22nd. 3.30pm – 4.30pm
Quantum Field Theory And The Hunt For An Ordinary Universe
Forty or so years ago, three physicists - Peter Higgs, Gerard 't Hooft, and James Bjorken - made the spectacular breakthroughs that led to the world's largest experiment, the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Played out against a backdrop of high politics, low behaviour, and billion dollar budgets, Frank Close tells the story of their work and its implications!

Here's what's happing on the second Saturday...

Science Saturday 2: October 29th. 11am – noon
Essays From The Cutting Edge
From 19 talented young scientists comes an exciting volume of essays about the future of science, including cutting edge research across a wide range of fields. William McEwan will report on his contribution, DNA synthesis and the creation of molecular tools.

Science Saturday 2: October 29th. 2pm – 3pm
Relativity For All
Andrew Steane will give a lively and visual introduction to Einstein's theory of relativity. He brings to life the excitement of this fascinating subject for a general audience.

Science Saturday 2: October 29th. 3.30pm – 4.30pm
Mathematics, Magic And Playing The Guitar
Pure mathematical gold! David Acheson, author of 1089 And All That, makes mathematics accessible to everyone. This entertaining journey through the subject includes some fascinating puzzles and is accompanied by numerous illustrations and sketches by world famous cartoonists.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Teenage sex. Kids taking drugs. It's all happening at Blackwell's.

At least, it was last night when Melvin Burgess took centre stage at a Manchester Salon discussion about writing teenage fiction.

Bookwitch has this excellent write-up of the evening, which includes fried gold, such as:

"I should have known better than to incite Melvin Burgess to canoodle with the Gruffalo."

"Melvin looked pretty in pink, which is a refreshing colour on a man."

And, of course, photographic evidence of Melvin and the Gruffalo. You'll have to click through for that.

Thanks must go to Melvin for being brilliant, to the Salon for providing such an interesting debate and to everyone for coming along.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


READER! READ FASTER! is taking a little break because half of us are catching up on a little vitamin D at our Spanish villas.

To keep you entertained for the next few days, here's our Dave with a replacement head.

This is McSweeney's Issue 36, which is a 275-cubic-inch full-color head-crate containing a selection of booklets from the likes of Michael Chabon, Jack Pendarvis, Wajahat Ali and soon-to-be-adopted Mancunian Colm Tóibín.

Dave also has a real head, but it's less interesting.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Melvin Burgess will discuss his new novel Kill All Enemies in Blackwell's Manchester on September 6th.

He is best known for the award-winning novel Junk, which dealt with teenage heroin use at a time when Trainspotting was hitting the headlines, and for his novelisation of the film Billy Elliot. Kill All Enemies tells the story of a 14-year-old caught in violent family life.

This will be a discussion with a difference. Melvin Burgess will join Manchester Salon in picking apart fashions in literature and to what extent novels reflect and shape our impressions of society.

We will examine the process of writing gritty, realistic novels and how important the process of being immersed in the subject can be for developing stories.

Date: Tuesday 6th September
Time: 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Venue: Blackwell's bookshop, Manchester
Tickets: £5 (£3 conc) available from the shop or from Manchester Salon

Friday, 12 August 2011


Deep voice: "Last time on Cover Judging Contest". Cut to a heavily edited montage of these blog posts.

As if two rounds of our epic Cover Judging Contest weren't enough, here is round three. All you have to do is vote on your favourite book cover, as listed below.

The winners from all four rounds will go head-to-head in a final that promises high tension, tearful debate and a higher than average volume of paper cuts for a sleepy summer afternoon.

Vote by using the form at the top of this page, or, for those reading in black and white, leave a comment below.

As with with the rest of the series, we advise you click on a cover to nuzzle your eyes deep into its full-size wondrousness.

Soul Stealers by Andy Remic

A sassy, but true-to-life depiction of lesbian albino vampires that communicates a powerful mix of lust and terror.

Enfance by Nathalie Sarraute

What is he/she thinking? What is he/she wearing? Who is she/he? All that we know is that it's a child.

Les Thibault II by Roger Martin De Gard


Global Shadows by James Ferguson

Rewards repeat viewing. Now look again. And again.

Fighting Bull by Nigel Farage

The gently eccentric Nigel Farage bearing the modern day equivalent of the sword and shield - the megaphone and Union Jack novelty umbrella.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Voting in round two of our Cover Judging Contest is over. Blimey. This is dragging on. No. No. This is wonderful. We're having the time of our lives.

The joint winners were the worryingly un-PC Obama book and Dave Egger's hairy Wild Things, both with 33% of the vote. This pair of, quite frankly, freaks go through to the final.

Roll on round three where, as D*Ream once sang, ur the best thing. No. No. Wrong single. As D*Ream once sang, things can only get better.

Monday, 8 August 2011


Our intrepid trawl of book covers continues with the second round of our Cover Judging Contest.

We have a stack of favourite book cover designs and we are asking you to look through them and vote for your favourite. Using the power of an ultra-modern blog poll, last time you gave the nod to some penguins looking at a dead bear. Nice. I hope you're happy with yourself.

Only four this time, due to the overwhelming quality on display. Have a look at the covers below and vote for your favourite. Either leave a comment or use the poll at the top of this pageVoting now closed: click here for the latest. We'll give it a couple of days, then move on to the next round. After four rounds, we'll have a grand final.

Oh and we strongly recommend you click on a book cover to see a larger image. Go!

Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers by Ishmael Reed

There are not a lot of covers awe-inspiring enough to drown out an n-bomb, so on behalf of nervous white booksellers everywhere, I'd like to thank Ishmael Reed for personally commisioning this tour de force.

This is Not a Pipe by Michel Foucault

Included in this list because of its ugly, thoughtless design. This is a great example of how not to do a book cover. Chosen as a cheeky, ironic addition! ;)

The Wild Things by Dave Eggers

Made hairy due to an odd industrial printing error.

Tout Terrain by Tim Swain and Christiane Salvador

An iconic piece of French design. Unflinchingly modern and empoweringly accessible. .


'Tis the year of our Lord 1865 and steam and smog chokes the skies of this great cursed city of Manchester.

Queen Victoria sits upon a mechanical throne in a gas-driven airship which hovers invisible over Piccadilly Gardens.

A construct powered by Faraday's lightning has taken her place in London. The real Queen prefers Manchester now, where her riches are made in creaking cotton factories and other, darker, stranger, hidden places.

But she is bored and needs a book to read.

Springheel Jack, the Queen's spy and sometime-lover, digs deep into Mancunian tunnels finding strange beasts within; the city's criminal underworld of rippers and thieves who sport mechanised limbs and practice the dark arts of the secret cabals.

Gallant and dashing, he strikes them aside with his cane, his flashbang top hat and his rapier wit, following the gaslight signals to the home of Lord Blackwell, scribe and bookkeeper. If he makes it out alive, the Queen has promised him a dirigible of his own and his next jaunt will be to the moon.

Lord Blackwell, half man half robot, drinks a draught of crude oil and takes in the aspect of his new book display.

Before him lie bizarre tales of courageous inventors, foolhardy scientists and brass-plated romance. It pleases him. He beholds the future in all its rusty, creaky, electric beauty and commands the reanimated corpses that he calls his staff to open up shop for business.

Springheeled Jack will be with him soon and he expects a hefty return for all his hard work. He smiles and flakes of rust fall from his lips.

He names it Steampunk, and the future, he thinks, is a bright, brassy one.

The Five Favourite Steampunk Long Stories as Chosen by the Honourable Lord Blackwell of Manchester

The Boneshaker
Cherie Priest

At the start of the Civil War, a Russian mining company commissions a great machine to pave the way from Seattle to Alaska and speed up the gold rush that is beating a path to the frozen north. Inventor Leviticus Blue creates the machine, but on its first test run it malfunctions, decimating Seattle's banking district and uncovering a vein of Blight Gas that turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, Blue's widow, lives in the poor neighborhood outside the wall that's been built around the uninhabitable city. Life is tough with a ruined reputation, but she and her teenage son Ezekiel are surviving - until Zeke impetuously decides that he must reclaim his father's name from the clutches of history.

The Difference Engine
William Gibson, Bruce Sterling

The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with Charles Babbage's perfection of his Analytical Engine. The Industrial Revolution, supercharged by the development of steam-driven cybernetic Engines, is in full and drastic swing. Great Britain, with her calculating-cannons, steam dreadnoughts, machine-guns and information technology, prepares to better the world's lot ...

Infernal Devices
K.W. Jeter

When George's father dies, he left George his watchmaker shop... and more. But George has little talent for watches and other infernal devices. When someone tries to steal an old device from the premises, George finds himself embroiled in a mystery of time travel, music and sexual intrigue. The classic steampunk tale from the master of the genre. With a new introduction by the author, and an afterword by Jeff Vandermeer.

Richard Harland

"... a page-turning, pulse-pounding read" - Kirkus reviews
"WORLDSHAKER is a punchy, thought-proviking novel, a pacy adventure story" - Caroline Horn


The Time Machine
H.G. Wells

A Victorian scientist develops a time machine and travels to the year 802,171 AD. There he finds the meek, child-like Eloi who live in fear of the underground-dwelling Morlocks. When his time machine goes missing, the Traveller faces a fight to enter the Morlocks' domain and return to his own time. THE TIME MACHINE remains one of the cornerstones of science-fiction literature and has proved hugely influential.

This blog post was written by Dave Hartley.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Ben Bradley's antarctic cover of Well-being & Death won round one of our Cover Judging Contest.

43% of you were won over by the cute empathy of the penguins and the cute deadness of the geographically anomalous panda bear.

Optics' sub-Tron nightmare came second with 28% of the vote, while the Word Art wonder of In The House came third with 15%.

Stay tuned our second of four rounds. We're having fun, right?

Thursday, 4 August 2011


At Blackwell, we argue for hours every day about book covers; specifically about the magic quality that transforms a merely good book cover into a transcendental work of art.

We have collected quite a large number of our favourite book covers, in an effort to define that elusive quality, using the power of an ultra-modern blog poll.

Have a look at the covers below and vote for your favourite. Either leave a comment or use the poll at the top of this page. We'll give it a couple of days, then move on to the next round. Voting now closed for this round. Click here for the latest cover judging fun.

There will be four rounds, culmunating in a final featuring the winners of each round.

There is a chance that a promotion based on this information will follow in the shop, which would, probably, qualify as the best sales promotion in the history of trading.

Click on a book cover to see a larger image. Vote now!

Well-being & Death by Ben Bradley

This book has haunted me ever since it came into the shop.

Optics by A H Tunnacliffe and J G Hirst

This book is about, I guess, the process of seeing. Seems ironic.

Отцы и дети. Накануне. “Мировая классика“ (Иван Тургенев)

Спасибо за потрудившись посмотреть это!!!!! К сожалению, это ничего не значит!!!!!!!!! :)

Linguistics for Beginners by W. Terrence Gordon

Based on a true story, this cover depicts a famous meeting between a red-head girl with a basket, and an Inuit. The evocative water-colour wash in the background represents the bubbling, innocent romantic attraction that transcends linguistic boundaries.

In the House by Margaret Johnson

Don't really want to dilute this cover's power by writing anything about it.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Keanu Reeves' Ode To Happiness starts with him pouring a "sorrow bath".

This collector's item (it's pricey but very, very nice) has just arrived in stock. It's a strange, sad tale in a children's style, but aimed at adults.

The best way to describe it is from online reviews, which have been generally positive:

"I saw this book and instantly had to have it because of how many Sad Keanu cut outs I've put around the office."

"Whenever I start to feel self pity I pull it out and go through the 20 pages."

"I'm going to become friends with Keanu, write a book for him and make millions off his Fans. That would be Excellent..Pun intended."

"He is iconic, ineffable & magical."

"Not a big fan of the artwork although it did remind me of the Chinese paintings that are done in black ink."

"Very disapointed, Keanu wasnt as deep as I thought.."

So there you have it. Keanu Reeves' Ode To Happiness. Not as deep as you thought. We stock it. Come get it before it sells out.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Edit: Manchester poet Anna Percy will now join us instead of Louise Bolotin. Get well soon, Louise!

Social psychology expert Nina Powell will join journalist Louise Bolotin at Blackwell's to discuss if reclaiming words can empower women.

'Slutwalks' spread across the globe after a Canadian police officer advised students to avoid "dressing like sluts". Were these protests the best way to combat serious sexual assault? What is modern-day feminism's place in today's world?

This is a Manchester Salon event. It will take place at on July 19th at Blackwell University Bookshop, The Precinct, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9RN. Please arrive around 6:30pm for drinks and nibbles, ready for a prompt 6:45pm start - expected to finish just after 8:15pm.

Tickets are £5 (£3 concessions) payable in advance, which entitles you to a £3 discount for anything bought from the us in the evening. Purchase tickets in advance, using the PayPal Donate button on the Manchester Salon website (feel free to donate on top of the £5 ticket), in-store or by phone (0161 274 3331) from us.

Oh, and the organisers say (tongue firmly in cheek, I expect): "Dress appropriately..."

Monday, 11 July 2011


A surprise best-seller last week was Dawn French's A Tiny Bit Marvellous.

Well. It wasn't much of a surprise. The book, now out in paperback, is shifting bucketloads nationally and was the biggest-selling debut novel in hardback last year.

But we like to think of ourselves as more academic than novels written by celebrity comedians. No offence, Dawn. You are a million steps higher than M*ch**l Mc*nt*re, but rather than your book being about an ageing mum trying to understand her kids, we'd quite like a book about:

- the psychological interactions between the lead characters in the Comic Strip film Five Go Mad in Dorset;

- Strategic brand management of the chocolate orange, tying in with the ongoing ownership dispute between her and Terry;

- A debate on the intellectual property ramifications of her impressions of Madonna, Hannibal Lecter and members of the Spice Girls;

- The theology of the Vicar Of Dibley and its place in the historical story of rural Britain;

- An analysis of the media, in particular the story of a young musician who enters a TV talent contest but falls for the wrong man and risks losing her friendsh-- oh wait, that's the plot of Katie Price's Crystal. Sorry.

Monday, 4 July 2011


Here are the answers to the authors quiz we posted on Friday. It was an absolute stinker, but we make no apologies because it makes us look way more intelligent than wot we is.

If you want to have a go at the quiz before you read the answers, try not to look at the text below and click here instead.

1. Any nonce forlorn 1926-1964 = Flannery O'Connor

2. Clinical Jokes 1937- = Jackie Collins

3. Dice hell 1954- = Lee Child

Fascinating fact: In his latest novel Worth Dying For, the villains are from dice-capital of the world, Las Vegas. The book is not worth dying for.

4. Erratic, shady 1926-1992 = Richard Yates

5. Gulp dairy drink 1865-1936 = Rudyard Kipling

Fascinating fact: Rudyard Kipling mentions milk in at least two stories and three poems.

6. Lavishly apt 1932-1963 = Sylvia Plath

7. Macabre lust 1913-1960 = Albert Camus

8. Nøse job 1960- = Jo Nesbø

Fascinating fact: Jo Nesbo has not had a nose job as far as we know, but a plastic surgeon does turn up in his 2010 novel The Snowman.

9. Oh bum, hairball 1914-1997 = Bohumil Hrabal

Fascinating fact: Hrabal owned many cats.

10. Virile pom 1919-1987 = Primo Levi

Fascinating fact: In his 2003 biography, Ian Thomson suggests Levi took up mountaineering to express his virility.

Friday, 1 July 2011


Something for your weekend.

Here are ten anagrams of the names of people that fall under the catagory of '20th century authors', although quite a few are still churning out the books and the one marked with a * published a major work near the end of the 19th century.

As a hint, the dates indicate their birth and, if relevant, their death dates. It's a mix of high and low brow. All authors are first name / last name: none of those fancy people that are known by initials.

Answers? On the blog on Monday [edit: click here for the answers], so you have all weekend to figure it out. Happy muddling!

1. Any nonce forlorn 1926-1964

2. Clinical jokes 1937-

3. Dice hell 1954-

4. Erratic, shady 1926-1992

5. Gulp dairy drink 1865-1936 *

6. Lavishly apt 1932-1963

7. Macabre lust 1913-1960

8. Nøse job 1960-

9. Oh bum, hairball 1914-1997

10. Virile pom 1919-1987 (that's an m, not an r-n, you pervs)


Thursday, 30 June 2011


It is with great regret that we announce that from the end of November 2011, Aardvark café will be leaving Blackwell's. Our café will then trade under new ownership.

The introduction of a new café will go a long way to ensuring the long-term future of the bookshop itself.

Blackwell's remains committed to bringing to the universities of Manchester a truly independent approach to bookselling, where almost all buying decisions are made by the people who serve you every day. A café will continue to provide a social heart to much of this activity.

We hope you enjoy many more coffees with us as we go through this time of change.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Monday sees an unusual partnership between two bookshops to mark Martin Amis' last few months in Manchester.

At Amis' final public event at Manchester University's centre for music and drama, the Oxfam shop on Oxford Road will run a joint bookstall with Blackwell Manchester. There will be plenty of discounts on the night.

Martin Amis will explore themes of American independence with special guests, author Will Self and Times literary editor Erica Wagner. You can find more about Monday's event here.

Booker-nominated Colm Tóibín will succeed Amis as professor of creative writing in September.

  • Oxfam, meanwhile, launch the Oxfam Bookfest at the weekend. One of the events will be the Bad Language reading night on July 17th, 7.30pm at Apotheca, Thomas Street. It will feature, among others, booksellers from Blackwell Manchester. We love it when a plan comes together.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


We recommend:

We say:
A wonderful curiosity of a novel about a townspeople besieged by February and his endless winter. Full of beautiful imagery and original, fresh writing.

They say:
"Reading Light Boxes made me feel like I was walking through a series of strange rooms that I'd never been in before." Chris Killen

To be read:
Sitting on a raincloud, next to the dying embers of a log-fire at a time that was vaguely the mid-19th Century. With a brandy. Call us on 0161 274 3331 or tweet us @BlackwellMcr and we'll reserve a copy for you.

Monday, 20 June 2011


As we all know, when choosing a book, the most important factor to consider is how good the author's name is. Authors with great names have to work harder to live up to them.

We present for your very serious consideration our favourite author names. We hope to compile a reader's chart, so please leave suggestions we have forgotten (and I am sure there are hundreds) in the comments section.

10. Willard Van Orman Quine

You know a philosopher isn't going to indulge you with aphorisms or pop culture references when they have a name so severe you feel admonished just reading it.

9. Didier Daeninckx

One of the perks of being French is that you can add a new letter to your surname at any time.

8. William Carlos Williams; Ford Madox Ford; Jerome K. Jerome

Ok, ok, we get it.

7. Orly Castel-Bloom

6. Umberto Eco

If you want your son to grow up to be a world-renowned medievalist, naming them "Umberto Eco" is a pretty good move.

5. Marcel Mauss

Everyone's favourite cartoon rodent anthropologist.

4. Rabindranath Tagore

Not content with a first name that sounds like the sort of thing you'd expect a dragon to be called, Tagore also cultivated a highly authoritative beard.

Pictured: Tagore, aged 14.

3. Shlomo Sand

His work on Jewish history might be highly controversial, but slowly reciting his name is without doubt one of the best ways to hone your James Stewart impression.

2. Rainer Maria Rilke

Ok, it's just a lovely name.

1. Miguel de Unamuno

The day that saying "Miguel de Unamuno" doesn't do it for me anymore is the day I ditch names entirely and assign everybody a reference number.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


We recommend:

We say:
Dark and very funny. Brilliant writing from the bus driver from Stockport.

They say:
"A very simple story which shouldn’t go unread." Richmond Review
"A cross between Auf Weidersehen Pet and The Brothers Grimm." Spike Magazine

To be read:
In a sloping field, preferably not near a fence. Call us on 0161 274 3331 or tweet us @BlackwellMcr and we'll reserve a copy for you.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Be careful what you wish for on Twitter.

Last week, we sarcastically tweeted: "Strange. With all the Take That fans in town, the expected surge in Dostoevsky sales seems not to have happened."

In response, tweeter Mister Cinnamon declared an interest in reading Dostoevsky *and* going to Take That. Our counterparts in Oxford then wondered if Mister Cinnamon had read Dostoevsky *at* a Take That concert.

This seemed to be a step too far for the cinnamonned one. And so, not to be outdone, your friendly independent bookseller Blackwell Manchester took up the challenge.

Blog chums, this is especially for you. Here is a picture taken on Saturday night by our artistically confused deputy manager.

Take That. Dostoevsky. Job done.

Small print: We realise this is not proof of the book being actually read at the concert, although about a third of Notes From The Underground was read, trust us!

Friday, 3 June 2011


We have an impressive range of cycling books in stock. Now summer has arrived, it's time to tell you about books you can read with the wind in your hair and an elastic band around your corduroys.

This list is a small selection of what we on display on our ground floor. If you want any of them reserved, give us a bell on 0161 274 3331.

Please do not read and cycle at the same time. You'll look silly.

Chris Sidwell's Bike Repair Manual

Keep your steed in peak condition. By 'steed', I obviously mean 'bicycle'. This is full of jargon-free advice that will help you maintain your bike. Includes new maintenance techniques for disc brakes and hints and tips for mountain-bike suspension. And it's pocket-sized.

Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman

A comic thriller regarding an unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle. A true allegory of the absurd. Distinguished by endless comic invention and its delicate balancing of logic and fantasy.
Jerome K Jerome's Three Men On The Bummel

This is a journey as picaresque as Three Men In A Boat,  constrained only "by the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started". I'm not sure what a 'bummel' is. I didn't like to ask.
Eben Weiss' Bike Snob

Hipsters. You've seen them in the northern quarter, right? Blogger BikeSnobNYC looks at cycling's bizarre range of practitioners. The must-have bible to the mysterious world of cycling.

Michael Embacher's Cyclepedia

A celebration of the best bicycles designed over the past 90 years. Not just the Tour de France, but also high-tech machines, ice bikes, collectors' rarities, and bikes that only exist in the future. Maybe not that last one. A great gift.

Tommy Simpson's Cycling Is My Life

Tommy was the first Briton to pull on the fabled yellow jersey of the Tour de France. This is his autobiography, written the year before he died aged just 29. He was one of the first cyclists to admit to using banned drugs, y'know. Fascinating chappie.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Modern Buddhism
Wednesday May 24th 6.30pm
Free entry
Book event for Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's Introduction to Buddhism has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide. His new book Modern Buddhism represents a synthesis of all his life's work and teachings. This event will provide a general explanation of how to apply the essence of Buddha’s teachings in daily life.

Monday, 23 May 2011


A weekly author Q&A series that folds back authors and breaks their spines. In the last of this current series, we question Nik Perring, whose collection of short stories Not So Perfect will be followed by Freaks!, co-written with Caroline Smailes, in spring next year. He is the headline act in this Thursday's unmissable Flash Mob Literary Salon for Chorlton Arts Festival.

Q. What's your 3rd favourite novel of all time? And why?

Dear Everybody’ by Michael Kimball, without question. And why? Because it’s brilliant.

Q. What is the longest conversation you've ever tried to have with an animal, and what was it about?

That would have been with a cat, I think. I was asking it why it wouldn’t talk. The cat was stubborn and the conversation, lengthy and one-sided.

Q. If your books could be printed on something other than paper, on what would you print them?

Tissue paper, so the reader’s tears of joy (despair) would have something suitable to fall on. And it could also be useful if they didn’t like my words.

Q. Let's have a Madchester-style revival but for fiction writers instead. Who gets to be Bez?

Well, I would say me, but I can’t dance. So, let’s see. Someone iconic, someone important and someone fun. I’m going to say István Örkény, because I bloody love his Café Niagara story.

Q. What's the best colour for a book cover? No, really. I like red.

Blue. Mine’s blue. So blue, without question. Definitely blue, so long as it’s that particular shade. If not, then black. With yellow on it. Like Slaughterhouse 5, because that’s ace. Red’s nice too.

Q. Plug any current book or project you're working on: please use as many long words as you can.

Long words? I’m not sure how many I know.

Well I’d like to espouse the acquisition, by as many bibliophiles, or non-bibliophiles as possible, of my monograph of short fictions, entitled, consummately appropriately, Not So Perfect (Roast Books), and also encourage the acquisition, around the vernal equinox of 2011of a differing compendium, namely, Freaks! (The Friday Project – HarperCollins), which I have co-authored with fictionist, Caroline Smailes.

In other words: I would like to plug my short story collection, ‘Not So Perfect,’ and also Freaks!, which is due out in spring next year, which I’ve co-written with Caroline Smailes and that’s been illustrated by Darren Craske.

Conversations With Humans will be back with a second series of interviews in a few months.

Friday, 20 May 2011


From the past four weeks, here are our top sellers from the overarching genre of science fiction, fantasy and horror.

5. JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit

"A finely written saga of dwarves and elves, fearsome goblins and trolls! an exciting epic of travel and magical adventure, all working up to a devastating climax." Observer

4. George RR Martin's Clash Of Kings

"Martin captures all the intoxicating complexity of the Wars of the Roses or Imperial Rome in his imaginary world... one of the greats of fantasy literature." SFX

3. Priest's Inverted World

"One of two or three of the most impressive pure-SF novels produced in the UK since World War Two." Encyclopaedia Of Science Fiction

2. George RR Martin's A Game Of Thrones

"Fantasy literature has never shied away from grandeur, but the sheer-mind-boggling scope of this epic has sent other fantasy writers away shaking their heads." Guardian

1. Tom Fletcher's Thing On The Shore

"An atmospheric, entertaining book that, with its criticisms of corporate culture, manages to be about something more than just monsters." SFX

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


A weekly author Q&A series that rummages into the handbag of authors and finds an out-of-date Tesco clubcard voucher. This week, we question Jenn Ashworth, author of A Kind Of Intimacy. Jenn will launch her new black comedy Cold Light, along with Tom Fletcher's The Thing On The Shore, at An Outlet on May 13th, 8pm. You can also see her at the unmissable performance project Station Stories later in May.

Q. What's your 3rd favourite novel of all time? And why?

Recently I have been really impressed with Russ Litten's Scream If You Want to Go Faster. I don't think I'm old enough to have a favourite of all time. Or even a third favourite. But the books I keep going back to, amazed, are Moby Dick, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina.

Q. What is the longest conversation you've ever tried to have with an animal, and what was it about?

Every day I have long conversations with my cats. I'm in the house a lot either on my own, or with a little baby that doesn't answer back yet. So some of the conversations last days. They are usually about what I am writing at that minute, or rants about some domestic failure of mine. The cats are called Freddy and The Nolan Sisters. Freddy is a much better conversationalist, but the Nolans are genuinely good listeners.

Q. If your books could be printed on something other than paper, on what would you print them?

The rice paper that the outsides of those flying saucer sweeties are made of. Edible books!

Q. Let's have a Madchester-style revival but for fiction writers instead. Who gets to be Bez?

I don't know what this question means. Who is Bez? (scuttles off to google) Sorry. I am still no clearer. I am prepared to fail this question. I feel a bit embarrassed now.

Q. What's the best colour for a book cover? No, really. I like red.

Yes, I like red too. I have a red chair and red bookcases so I reckon a red book would do nicely. Although 'teal' is also a firm favourite of mine. If I was at home reading, red would do nicely. Although if I was out and about, teal would be better as it would match more of my outfits.

Q. Plug any current book or project you're working on: please use as many long words as you can.

This is tricky. I'm such a bad speller I usually make it a policy to avoid long words. I am awaiting the publication of my second novel with trepidation and chickenheartedness. I am industriously working on my third, which is about a family made up of one disconsolate son, a gravid daughter, a homeward-bound proselyting brother, an almost-philandering father and a passive-aggressive, hypochondriac mother. I am also carrying on with my pedagogical pursuits.


We don't get a huge number of children our way, but we do get lots of parents.

You will find our children's department near our cafe. We do stock all the classics, such as Narnia and Potter (yes, that's now a classic whether you like it or not).

We also try to be a little different.

So you'll find books full of black spots (600 of them), or books that are more hole than page, and even this unique secret smiley book (pictured).

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


A weekly author Q&A series that braves the paper-cut of author's wit so you don't have to. This week, we question David Gaffney, a prolific Manchester-based author who wrote the Edge Hill Prize long-listed The Half-Life of Songs. He is one of the stars of this month's Station Stories.

What's your 3rd favourite novel of all time? And why?

To establish accurate rankings of my favourite examples of certain cultural genres, I use a blend of the basic alternative vote system and a favourable characteristic matrix score. For example, to establish my third favourite novel I would calculate the number of favourable characteristics of my first favourite crime novel, my second favourite American novel, and my third favourite English literary work, add them together, divide by three, and then rank them by the favourable characteristics total score of each. So my third favourite novel is of course The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills. If you all try this at home the answer is always The Restraint of Beasts – it’s weird.

Q. What is the longest conversation you've ever tried to have with an animal, and what was it about?

When I was15, I spoke to my younger sister’s budgerigar for a long time about an unrequited love I harboured for a girl called Angela Watson who lived down past the farm. I was out of my head on drugs most of the time back then, living in the edge really, and the budgerigar seemed to speak back to me, and it spoke a lot of sense - about life, and cages and mirrors, and it was a really existential experience, and it asked me if I had thought about getting some big mirrors for my bedroom, because this strategy had really worked for the budgerigar, it meant there was no need to worry about searching for a real companion. I took this on board and lived like that until was thirty three, until one day I hired a professional cleaner to sort out my mirrors and fell in love with her.

Q. If your books could be printed on something other than paper, on what would you print them?

I have always wanted to have my books printed on Margaret Thatcher’s dead body because I’m really left wing and cool and I really hate Margaret Thatcher cos she really fucked the country up in the eighties - didn’t she drop bombs down mines and kill Yorkshire people and invent poll vaulting, and things like that? She was terrible. In fact I would like the printing process to actually be the thing that kills her - the little needles with ink in them would also have poison in and Margaret Thatcher would gradually die a slow death from having my short stories injected into her skin.

Q. Let's have a Madchester-style revival but for fiction writers instead. Who gets to be Bez?

Bez is a hollow cheeked Marraca shaking drug-addicted dancing fool – so who other than Julian Barnes himself, whose louche activities with the ladies and experiments with illegal substances are well documented, and whose well known book the Naked Lunch is full of racy, suburban wife swapping, mountain biking, and reefer baking, and is like a distilled bottle of Bez’s spirit in book form.

Q. What's the best colour for a book cover? No, really. I like red.

I did actually look into the effect of a book’s colour on sales when my book Aromabingo came out and it was pink. It wasn’t selling so well and this was clearly down to the colour of the cover not the content so I had a look at the top one hundred fiction sellers and it turns out that dark green is the best colour for fiction. There’s no question about it.

Q. Plug any current book or project you're working on: please use as many long words as you can.

My latest book The Half-Life of Songs is being performed live at Manchester Piccadilly station by a choir of insects, amplified and sound manipulated by digital artists. This is happening this month - see for more information.