Friday, 18 April 2014



On Saturday I went along to Formby Books to do a signing. Fortunately Tonythebook (Higginson) had some of my books in stock because the order he had put in two days before, including my latest book, had not arrived. These things happen as many a novelist will tell you. The lovely Jane Costello was also there to meet fans and sign copies of her novels. I had met Jane when she came to talk to the North West Chapter  of the RNA a couple of years ago. Her latest book is called THE TIME OF OUR LIVES and in brief is about a group of girlfriends going on holiday abroad where all sorts of mishaps happen. Unlike my books it is set in modern times.  This link will take you to some photographs.

The highlight of the hour for me was when someone asked, ‘Is June Francis here?’ The lady asking was called Elsie and her family used to live in the street where I grew up off Whitefield Road in Anfield. She had seen the board outside Formby Books advertising that I would be there between 11-12. When she told her mother, another Elsie Clarke, aged 88, who still lives in Liverpool, she was given her orders to go and buy a signed copy of one of my books and make herself known. She had brought photographs of her mum and other members of the family. It was a real thrill, knowing that she and her mother remembered our family so well, especially my mother and brother, Don, and me. She took a photo of me for her mum and we exchanged email addresses.

      Several members of Formby Writers’ Group came along to chat, ask writing advice and bought some of my books. One of them, David, had asked me to read his manuscript several years ago and I’m pleased to say the book about his Irish childhood and growing years made it into print in the US of A.

     I must admit that talking of years gone by and being in a bookshop made me come over all nostalgic. I remember clearly my father first taking me to choose my birthday present - I think - it was my tenth birthday. I wanted a book but there were no bookshops nearby, so we visited the post office on Breck Road, the one near Belmont Road for those who might remember it.

     The books were all hardback and kept in a locked glass fronted cabinet. It was such a thrill getting my hands on the latest Famous Five book by Enid Blyton. Although I visited the local library every week, it was tremendously difficult borrowing a copy of Enid Blyton’s books because they were incredibly popular and never on the shelves.

      We had very few books in our house because there just wasn’t money to spare for such luxury items. My father had just one or two to do with art and sigh-writing and, of course, we had the family Bible that I think had been my grandfather Nelson’s. My eldest brother, Ron, possessed a book of WW2 spy stories, one on ju-jitsu and a copy of CORAL ISLAND. I think it was my brother Don, who had the TARZAN books. I sneaked them from their rooms because I was so greedy for reading material. I also read their comics: The Hotspur, The Wizard, The Dandy, The Beano, Radio Fun and Film Fun. But I also read School Friend and occasionally Girls’ Chrystal and The Girl.

      The year I was given my very first book, Dad bought me another for Christmas which again I was able to choose for myself from the Post Office’s locked cabinet. Of course, it was another Enid Blyton but one of the Adventure series with Jack and his parrot Kiki and sidekicks.

     Such books were so valued not only because I so love reading to learn and for escapism, but because my father would have had to save up to buy those books for me.

     Those visits to the post office became a twice yearly event which I looked forward to for months on end. When I was about fifteen I cadged an old orange box from the local greengrocer and painted it blue and used it as a bookcase. By then I had my own very limited library enlarged by the DAILY MAIL ANNUAL and SCHOOL FRIEND ANNUAL which my Aunt Flo and Uncle Bill, and Mam used to buy me at Christmas. I learnt the names of the planets from the DAILY MAIL ANNUAL, as well as the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas.  

       I never went inside a real bookshop until I started work and earned my own money. Working in Liverpool city centre I used to go out for a walk at lunch time and not far away was Wilson’s bookshop on Renshaw Street. The other bookshop I loved was Phillip, Son and Nephew’s in White Chapel. I would visit these shops and the book departments in big stores such as Blackler’s and Lewis’s, as well as W.H.Smith’s.

      Alas, not only have the best two bookshops in Liverpool closed down but so have Blackler’s and Lewis’s. As for W.H.Smith’s, it went and moved from the lovely building in Church Street where I used to do signings of my own books to the one in Liverpool One, which for me will never match up to its former home in Liverpool.

      On Tuesday by special request I visited Formby Books again. As it was a lovely sunny Spring morning, I sat outside the shop behind a table containing my books which had at last arrived and chattered to fans of my books and passers-by and sold quite a few books. This really is the way to do it, I thought.

     Alas, independent bookshops are getting fewer and fewer. The internet might have put us in touch with a larger market so we have more choice and e-readers do have certain advantages over paper books but they lack the wonder and magic I found as a child in public libraries, the old post office and our independent bookshops. It’s the same with supermarkets, books might be cheaper there but they don’t have the range that the independent have, mainly just bestsellers. Neither would I think of asking the staff for advice and to recommend a book. I know time can’t stand still - thank goodness or the working classes might never have the opportunity to learn to read - most of my great-great grandparents certainly couldn’t read or write - and there’s much I love about the new technology but there are some things that I will always feel nostalgic for and I don’t think I’m alone.