I've just come back from a few days away in Northumberland. It's true what they say about the county being England's best kept secret: stunning (and empty) countryside, fantastic beaches and fascinating market towns abound, one of which is Alnwick (pronounced Annick for those not of these shores.) Harry Potter fans will recognise the castle (also featured in other films) but bibliophiles like me will ignore all that and make a beeline for Barter Books.
Housed in the old railway station, it is a dream for second-hand book browsers. Not only is it bigger than most such shops but there's a cafe which means you could spend all day there--and believe me, I was tempted. Unlike the usual musty poky corners (which I also love, incidentally) Barter Books is hospitable and comfortable--plenty of squashy sofas even though it is clearly a bustling business. Despite its age and contents, it doesn't carry too much of that old books aroma, although many of the books are foxed. Another delight is the huge mural which depicts a gathering of famous writers past and present. I particularly enjoyed seeing Virginia Woolf chatting away to Jane Austen--and Alan Bennett seated a little detached from the crowd, watching. Oscar Wilde was, of course, holding court. I'm not sure whether I liked the small toy trains whizzing about above the shelves but they proved a popular attraction to many. Anyway, I bought a modest ten books (ranging from those green Virago Classics, a couple of Helen Dunmore's back catalogue, a book on the wool industry in medieval England, another about medieval women writers--both research for my next novel in the pipeline.) and promised myself to return as soon as possible.
Incidentally, it was at Barter Books that the, now famous, government Keep Calm and Carry On poster was discovered a few years ago. This was never issued but was intended to be displayed if Hitler had invaded Britain. It's the old-fashioned, stoical, Captain Mainwaring style sentiments that appeals today.
Finally, normal blogging will resume asap. I haven't forgotten my short-story sessions and I have several books I'd like to review plus lots more observations about writing and publishing. But until then, well, just...