Tuesday, 29 June 2010

save independent stores

This has been happening for a very long, long time now, but in recent weeks it has become more apparent to me that many great independent stores are being forced to close down due to the pressures of the internet and the unreliability and laziness of local customers. Not only comic book stores are struggling, but from what I have seen these are being hit the hardest. Video rental stores, book shops and record stores (I was shocked and appalled to find not one place to buy vinyl records in Oxford last week); all are affected, pushed into closing down. It's a huge shame.
I think, to be honest, this is a problem with a root in several different places.
The internet is obviously a key factor, as well as large chains like HMV and Forbidden Planet taking custom away from smaller outlets.
However, independent store owners are not blameless...taking a stubborn 'I'm not going to change' attitude doesn't help. It seems to make simple business sense to alter your working practices rather than risk losing your business. Make a website, make a blog, get in contact with the people you want to come into your store.
I am not a businessman, but I am a fan, and I know that it was pure dumb luck that I stumbled across my local comic shop as an eleven year old. It was exploration of the most exciting kind, pulling comics off the shelves based on their covers in that feverish experiment that gave way to asking for more, for knowledge. The knowledge that independent store owners can give will outstrip any emotionless internet site, their hidden gems far more precious than the random nature of graphic novels ordered by the chain bookstores on the high street. That time I stole in the comic shop every week is incredibly precious to me now and it should be available to more kids.
The owners of independent shops across the country are fueled by pure passion, not profit, and they deserve to be rewarded for that. So go into the small places, the secret places, and buy from the men and women who truly earn your custom.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

My Dark Materials: Lecture with Philip Pullman

So my fellow Masters students and I were treated to an audience with visiting fellow of the college Philip Pullman. Below is a rather fetching image of him and some fish that appears on buses around Oxford (he's on a freakin' bus! The man's a literary rock-star)

Pullman read from his new work, 'The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ', discussed his inspiration and intention with the book, and fielded questions ("ask me anything," he teased), from comic books ("I devoured them") to the gargoyles of Oxford ("they come alive at night and fight like cats"). His intelligence and wit is fierce, but he is humble and inspiring, throwing stories and anecdotes carelessly like only confident storytellers with a vault of ideas can.
Being preoccupied with the first draft of my children's book I plucked up the courage to ask a question. It was this...

Q: It feels to me like many classic children's fiction like 'Peter Pan' and 'Alice's Adventures through the Looking Glass', more specifically stories concerned with burdening adolescence, arrive fully-formed; as if they are effortless. The concept of intercision is so primal. (N.B. intercision is a fictional operation in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy that separates an individual from their dæmon)
How did you condense such grand ideas into a story that did not patronize or intimidate children?

Pullman: Do not think about your audience. Not one bit. When you are writing, you are the sole authority. (Laughs and growls) You are the tyrant! You are the despot! Writing is a dictatorship, and while it is in your hands, it must remain your vision. Once it is published people will analyse it, and criticize it, and burn it or worship it, depending on their feeling. But you must write it for yourself and trust that if the book has coherence, truth, wit and power, it will find it's own audience.

Simple but true. It was a great lecture and a fun day.