Lucia by Alex Pheby was featured in the TLS and the Irish Post this week with rave reviews.Read More
This was my second London Comic-Con (my first was this year’s May event) and it was just as hectic; a non-stop parade of bright costumes, over-excited whooping and serious bargain hunting. My own quest for the most reasonably priced Pokémon plushie resulted in me buying precisely nothing, but I did have a lot of fun doing it. I also learned that there are now far too many Pokémon for anyone to realistically catch ‘em all. I mean, where would you keep them? Other lessons learned this time: flapjacks are essential for convention survival; there is only so much comfort to be gained from a pink unicorn before you start posing it into amusing positions; and that MCM is the only place where pub security guards will give you a funny look for not carrying an elaborate weapon on your arm…
And while I can’t pretend to know much more about the comic world than I did last time, I have at least learned the names of a few key characters and boned up on my Attack on Titan. I was slightly more conversant in the language of manga than I was last time – give me another decade and I might even be considered competently knowledgeable. It’s also nice to see that Turnaround’s stand now has a good reputation among the punters (‘the stall that sells all the good manga!’)
Favourite costume of the weekend? Cactuar from Final Fantasy. Whom I initially thought was a giant courgette.
I spoke pretty extensively about my thoughts on the first London MCM of the year in May, so this time I’ve handed over to my colleagues to have their say on another fantastic weekend of comic madness…
For the last few years, I’ve felt a curious compulsion to watch the Tour de France, having previously shown no interest in it at all. Ever. Maybe it’s the comparative lack of football that’s on (this summer being a glorious exception). Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t quite afford to go on holiday to France for four weeks at a time. Or possibly it’s to do with the sheer brilliance, oddness, tradition and spirit evoked by approximately 200 lycra-clad blokes cycling approximately 2500km, the majority of which seems to be uphill in the rain. It is thrillingly bonkers.Read More
I’m going to lay this little disclaimer on the line right away: I am no expert on comics or superheroes. My flirtations with them as a child were brief and quickly superseded by books about dinosaurs. By the time I discovered football, Lego, bird-watching and Terry Pratchett novels, there was precious little occupiable space left in my tweenage brain to accommodate Spider-Man and his kinfolk. And when superheroes came roaring back into the public consciousness a few years ago with the release of a new wave of films (namely Batman Begins, the Spider-Man effort with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and the first of the 5,348 X-Men vehicles), I was there, but mainly for all the cool explosions.
However, this weekend at the MCM (Movies Comic Media) Comic-Con at the planet-sized Excel Arena, I dearly wished I’d absorbed at least some basic super-knowledge. Not that anyone cared about my painful lack of nous – everyone who I spoke to was friendly, non-judgmental and more than willing to impart portions of their formidable expertise. And the sheer range of dedicated fandom was quite extraordinary: a pageant of colour and noise. Never before have I stood out more wearing a grey jumper. The big attractions at our stall? Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition (Kodansha Comics, £42.99), the latest addition to a mega-phenomenon which is only going to get bigger (seriously: if you haven’t heard about it, you soon will). We also saw huge love for the ever popular Fairy Tail (Kodansha Comics, £7.99 each), and Sailor Moon series (Kodansha Comics, £7.99 each). And honourable mention must go to the adorable kitten Chi and her Sweet Home series (Vertical, £9.99 each), who had people of all ages making high-pitched noises all weekend.
Our favourite costumes of the show? It’s a tie between wheelchair-bound Iron Man (complete with weapon-loaded, yellow-and-red wheels), an intense girl sitting on the floor cradling a blue egg, and the man who, faced with so many choices of costume, settled for none and just wore a saucepan on his head.
As wave after wave of Pokémon, Super Marios, Spider-Men and, er, various princesses paraded past our stand, I began to get the nagging feeling that I wasn’t having as much fun as I could be having. Maybe I could just… nip over to the wig stall… and buy… a blue wig? Or a neon tail attachment? What were these confusing emotions? Why could I not get over the overwhelming urge to buy a four-foot stuffed Charmander? I think my inner geek, having been kept occupied with other things for so long, is now waiting to get out… So, if you’re reading this and you’d like to recommend me something in the way of comics new or old, series I should be watching or games I should be playing, then get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.Read More
Ah, Eurovision. It is a time of great joy across our fair landmass, a time when people from all creeds and nations can come together as one, to compete in the greatest (and only) continent-wide song contest and, most importantly, to laugh at the United Kingdom and its pitifully bland music. Every year the same thing happens: while the rest of Europe are gamely celebrating the most ridiculous aspects of their own cultures – throwing on elderly gangsta rappers, black metal druids and neon-painted techno matadors – there is an audible lull in proceedings as the UK entrant emerges. Quivery of lip and sensible of costume choice, like a recently-emerged hibernating animal daubed tastefully with glitter and foundation, he or she wheedles something about sharing a dream for a few minutes, there is polite applause in the stadium and Graham Norton says something about ‘best hope for years’ without really meaning it. Then, thank goodness, it’s back to the bonkers stuff for another couple of hours. There are many theories about why we do so badly: politics dominate these – but the simple truth is that we’re not as good as flaunting our madness as everyone else is.
My favourite part of Eurovision is the scoring section, when shiny newsreaders and/or entertainment correspondents from every corner of Europe attempt to say something witty in the home country’s language, while the hosts have a nervous breakdown. Typically the dialogue will go like this:
Exasperated Hosts: Hello (country we’re desperately hoping to reach)!!!
Over-Excited Entertainment Correspondent: Hello (host city)!!! You both look great!!! **Wonkily-pronounced phrase in host nation’s language**!!!
EH: Wow, thanks, I’ve never actually heard that saying before!!! Do you have your scores ready?
O-EEC: Oh yes we do!!! In fact we’ve just decided to use the exact same scores as last year and give our neighbours the highest mark, even though their song was utter drivel!!!
EH: Brilliant!!! Same time next year?
Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little and the scores are more flexible. One thing is for sure, though: We aren’t going to win this year. So why not reminisce about a time when Eurovision actually had some decent music, with the greatest band ever to come out of the competition: ABBA. The Abba Guide to Stockholm (Premium Publishing £29.95) is a fabulous resource for those interested in some serious Eurovision history, as well as a handy travel guide. And From Abba to Mamma Mia (Premium Publishing, £34.95) provides an intimate and uncompromising look at over 20 years of one of the world’s most successful pop groups. So maybe this year, instead of wincing your way through another tepid UK performance, pop the TV on mute and turn ‘Waterloo’ up to full blast on the stereo. Make sure you put the sound back on before the techno matadors appear, though.Read More
Despite the best efforts of parents to turn my fingers green when I was younger, I can’t garden. There just seems to be a fundamental concept that I can’t grasp. Oh sure, ask me to put a plant that’s already grown into the ground, and I will do it all day long (and, on occasion, I have). But actually persuading something to emerge from the soil, entirely at my bidding? That’s unknown territory: some kind of voodoo involving more than five minutes’ work, I suspect. My recent attempt at growing radishes on my windowsill resulted in a single hopeful seedling, which gasped desperately for sunlight, water and a knowledgeable owner; unfortunately I could only provide two of these things. After a few weeks I thought ‘there must be a radish under there by now’ and unceremoniously plucked it from the pot. There were no radishes. I had planted 18 seeds.
Traditionally the Easter weekend is a time when, instead of relaxing or spending time with their loved ones, people embark on staggeringly ambitious DIY or gardening projects (accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol due to it being a FOUR DAY WEEKEND). Gazebo-building! Pond-dredging! Rockery creation! Filling in the holes from last year’s attempted rockery! These are all wholesome family activities, even though they often result in the kind of permanent structural damage that can only really be repaired by professionals. Despite the risks of tipsy lawnmowing and such, many of us do not seem to learn, and will return to the backyard battleground once again this year.
We’ve had a rummage through our backlist to find some gardening titles to help you through the green minefield: first up is Ed Rosenthal’s Protect Your Garden (Quick American Publishing, £17.99), which provides tips on how to deal with common garden problems such as disease, pests and nutrient imbalance (the plant kind, not the had-to-much-roast-dinner kind). Next is Melinda Joy Miller’s Shamanic Gardening (Process Media, £14.99) which provides insights and historical facts about the gardens of ancient Asia, and how they can be applied not just to your garden, but to your whole way of living. In a similar vein, although perhaps a little more fiddly, is Create Your Own Japanese Garden by Motomi Oguchi (Kodansha Europe, £19.99) – practical tips for creating your own Zen paradise; which you might need after a weekend with the relatives…
If you’re lucky enough to have green fingers already, you might be planting some vegetables over Easter – but what to do with them? If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, why not try cooking raw? Lisa Montgomery’s Raw Garden (Hatherleigh, £11.99) contains dozens of recipes designed for quick and healthy cooking, along with some more unusual suggestions that are nevertheless tantalisingly tasty.
And finally, if you’re really pushed for space, why not take heart from The Little Book of Little Gardens (Dokument Press, £9.99) by Steve Wheen, the Banksy of guerrilla gardening. The self-styled ‘Pothole Gardener’ plants bright flowers in drab corners of London: potholes, roadside verges and industrial estates, which creates a haven for wildlife and brightens people’s day in the process. So if you’re not quite up to building a gazebo this weekend, you could always brighten up your neighbourhood with some sneaky flower-planting! Hopefully these books will set you on the right path to a happy weekend of pottering. And if you will insist on dragging the lawnmower out, just remember: don’t drink and mow.Read More
Last weekend, it didn’t rain. Not at all. Not even one drop. There was zero precipitation. The sun even put on a brief and frankly terrifying preview of what the weather might be like this summer: bright; warm; above 10 degrees. It was all too much, and I found myself eating outside for the first time since summer 2006 (this may be a small exaggeration. It was more like 2009). Halfway through my picnic – as I believe they’re called – a horrible realisation dawned: I hadn’t brought anything with me to read. Now, I don’t know about you, but this realisation generally tends to send me into a state of near-delirium. If it happens on the Tube, I will LITERALLY walk METRES to the end of the carriage to inspect a fragment of the Metro. But in the open air, there are no free newspapers, people. In the end, I was forced to have a nap. Tragic. To make sure a similarly horrible thing doesn’t happen to you over the next few weeks, I’ve drawn up a list of essential reads for the Spring. If you pop one of these in your handbag / man-bag, those balmy afternoons will be anxiety-free – and with a long Easter weekend coming up soon, there’s plenty of time to get into a great book.
If our weather isn’t quite doing it for you, then you might want to consider emigrating to Australia. But if reasons like “it’s cripplingly expensive” and “all my loved ones are here” prove too overwhelming, then allow the inhabitants of Barley Creek to transport you. In Lillipilly Hill (Text Classics, £8.99), Harriet Wilmot and her family leave dreary London for a new life in Oz. This is a sweet and adventurous novel, a perfect period drama with the heat turned up a few notches.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that period dramas aren’t for everyone, so how about some classic comic sci-fi? The brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (of Roadside Picnic fame)’s absurdist novella Definitely Maybe (Melville House, £10.99) features a scientist attempting to get on with his work, only to be interrupted by a series of escalating distractions. A fun read with a serious message about the efforts of authority to halt progress, this is sci-fi at its finest.
There’s nothing like a warm sunny afternoon to get wrapped up in a crime novel, and we’ve got the perfect title for those of you hunting the next Precious Ramotswe. Murder at Cape Three Points (Soho Press, £18.99) is the latest gripping volume of Kwei Quartey’s crime series set in Accra, Ghana – highly recommended for fans of sun-dappled murder scenes.
And if you’re after something a little… odder for your Springtime reading, then look no further than Jeremy P. Bushnell’s The Weirdness (Melville House, £12.99), an immersive, strange and frequently hilarious tale of a deal with Satan. Readable but never lightweight, this is cult storytelling at its finest.
Finally allow me to point you in the direction of a particularly lovely graphic novel: The Walking Man (Fanfare, £14.99) by Jiro Taniguchi, a bucolic rumination on ordinary life, with a serene, minimalist narrative and pitch-perfect drawings in the ‘quiet-manga’ style. Join our unnamed hero as he stops to contemplate; hopefully you will get some time to as well.
All of these titles are available from Turnaround now or in the next few days, so whether you’re book buyer or book browser, make sure you don’t miss out on these Spring things.Read More
It’s nearly that time of year again when we vow to do something special for our beloved mums, procrastinate about it for ages, and then buy her a box of chocolates from a supermarket: yep. It’s Mother’s Day (On the 30th of March. That’s THE THIRTIETH OF MARCH). So if you’re looking for something slightly more unusual than the second least-expensive bottle of wine at the corner shop, we’ve unearthed these two gems from our back catalogue.
Angelika Schrobsdorff’s You Are Not Like Other Mothers (Europa Editions, £12.99) is perhaps not the most traditional mother’s day present you’ll hear about in the next few weeks, but it is the most interesting. An epic tale of an unconventional woman and her life in 20th century Europe, the novel covers many events in the continent’s history, as well as recounting an uplifting personal story. Perhaps the perfect present for the literary mum who’s impossible to buy for!
Our second choice is Albert Cohen’s Book of My Mother (Archipelago, £10.99), a tribute written as a reaction to her death. But instead of mourning, Cohen vowed to write about the memories and happiness they had shared together. What emerges is a touching collection of fragments that amount not only to a personal testament, but a celebration of the love of every mother.
And if you’ve got a more, shall we say, irreverent, relationship with your dear old mum, then how about My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer (Penguin USA, £12.99), a series of updated fairy tales…
Whatever you choose to get for your mum this year, make sure they feel special. Then maybe you’ll get away with corner shop flowers next year, eh?Read More