During the Bookwagon website building hiatus, I read Bookworm in which Lucy Mangan recalls and critiques her life through each of her irreplaceable books. Her books are irreplaceable to her, so that she has kept every title since childhood. Lucy Mangan estimates her home holds over 10 000 books.
Similarly, former children’s laureate, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, collects books; antiquarian and limited copies. Each is irreplaceable to her. Dame Jacqueline’s Surrey home has been converted to accommodate books, estimated to be 15 000 in number.
The Bookwagon experience
While Bookwagon HQ does not house as many books, both Mr Bookwagon and I recognise the bibliophile in each other. We have shelves and stacks of our own books, alongside copies of titles read for Bookwagon, and those yet to read. Additionally, we have a storage unit of books to sort through over the summer, that each title is more easily accessible.
In building Bookwagon, we made necessary accommodations to our home and routines. However, at every point, we’ve understood that our ‘forever’ books, like those we aim to match you to, readers, are irreplaceable. Like Lucy Mangan, we can measure our lives through books.
Many people connect moments in their lives with music, similarly. It might be a piece playing at an incidental moment, an event, or with special people.
During a Canadian road tour, Mr Bookwagon and I stayed overnight in Clearwater, a small British Colombian town. Our evening meal coincided with karaoke night. Many townspeople seemed to be there, including a homesick Mancunian, who had not returned to Britain for 58 years. He looked over his plastic lined karaoke selection before making his choice. His voice shook a little when he stood to sing. Our eyes watered and our hearts were sore. Although I had always loved Jimmy Webb’s ‘Wichita Linesman’, i am transported to a warm summer’s evening in Clearwater, and Jim’s singing, any time I have heard it play since that night.
At the risk of writing a cliché, books transport the reader similarly. Yet, it’s not to a memory or feeling, it’s to the setting, alongside the character, with his/her dilemma and feelings. I lived Pip’s determined fight in the incomparable Run, Pip, Run. The concluding book in the outstanding ‘Defender of the Realm‘ trilogy, Defender of the Realm: King’s Army: 3 had me perched on my feet on the sofa, agonising over Alfie’s ‘to the last claw or hoofbeat’ battle.
We have been fortunate to work with some truly wonderful children’s writers over the last couple of months. These are ‘pinch yourself’ writers, people whose words and images transport me. I am Wild; Emily Hughes created a book that is the beating heart of every reader, keen to return to her natural instincts and real character. Christopher Edge informs and fascinates in his outstanding titles- science fiction with a beating heart.
Jason Wallace challenges his readers with real issues, contemporary and historical, considered intelligently and respectfully- The Jason Wallace Collection. We are fortunate to be working with him again, this week.
Last week, five long time favourite writers led a festival at a school local to us. ‘Defender of the Realm‘ was one of the first books I selected for Bookwagon readers. I love this book, this series, as it has become. To share space with and meet its writers, Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, overwhelmed me.
Stewart Foster‘s The Bubble Boy had Mr Bookwagon reading late into the night. He spoke of the title constantly. Based on Mr Bookwagon’s praise, I rushed to read Stewart Foster’s subsequent title, All the Things that Could Go Wrong. It has stayed with me like a permanent bruise. The alternating stories of Alex and Dan are real, hard-hitting and meaningful. I was almost afraid to meet this title’s creator, such is the impact of this irreplaceable book.
I was late to read Lisa Thompson‘s The Goldfish Boy but indulged myself in its curious, intricate themes and unravelling in one sitting. What had happened to Teddy? By turns, I was convinced of the culpability of each character that Matthew watched. When The Light Jar was published earlier this year, I did not hesitate. I agonised for Nate, longing for his mother’s return, needing them both to be safe.
There are reluctant readers, those who adore nonsense, and others who love information, and then the pet lovers. All, and others too, will delight, as I did in James Campbell’s The Funny Life of Pets. Cat tickling will never seem quite the same to me, since reading this wildly funny and imaginative book!
While few songwriters receive royalties like Jay-Z or Lord Lloyd- Webber, there is an opportunity to earn an income from reproductions of songs, public performances, including radio play.
Meanwhile, most UK authors receive an annual income below the minimum wage. There has been a steady decline in their earnings year on year. A large number, like Jason Wallace, have another, full-time job. A majority are under pressure to produce the next title, a ‘hit’. A number feel that they are on probation, that they are ‘replaceable’ with so many other would-be writers waiting to take their place.
Yet Emily Hughes could not create what Christopher Edge, what Lisa Thompson, what James Campbell can create. Each is unique. Neither is the reader’s experience of each writer’s work the same.
What every writer does for us is glorious and irreplaceable.
Unless we want a world of mass produced unicorn books and ever reproduced Enid Blyton, David Walliams and Harry Potter titles, we need readers to understand writers’ situation. There was understandable despondency from writers, librarians and independent booksellers at the recent publication of Top 20 children’s book sales. The same writers and titles, regardless of literary merit, acclaim, or ‘forever’ quality were displayed. There is seldom the rich variety and breadth of writing available for children evident in these news releases. We are at risk of losing our heritage and creative wealth through a lack of real support and appreciation.
Big chains, huge wholesalers and mass publications have the power to annihilate reading choices, creativity and strength. By choosing to support your local library and independent bookstores, readers acknowledge that writers deserve proper payment, only achieved through positive action. Librarians and independent booksellers can knowledgeably direct readers to a wealth of irreplaceable, ‘forever’ books.
When writers visit schools, they merit the sort of welcome Bookwagon observes so often. Books have been read by enthusiastic staff, their visit announced to the school community, they are awaited and prepared for, and their arrival is celebrated.
It is a joy to meet with librarians and teachers who realise the irreplaceable, memorable and unique role of children’s writers. Visits by writers imprint on children’s memories. They offer a special connection with a books, and reading.
Librarians, and independent bookshops offer a door to children’s writers. We recognise their unique and vital role. It’s why we formed Bookwagon, that we might introduce our readers to wonderful books, by truly irreplaceable writers.