Yesterday, I caught the train down to London, to go to an event that I’ve wanted to attend for ages: the Firestation Book Swap. Hosted by publisher Scott Pack and author Marie Phillips, with a couple of guest authors, this is held every month at the Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor; but they’ve also had a few tour dates, and last night the Book Swap came to the London Review Bookshop.
The format of the event is a literary evening with a twist: no readings, but plenty of questions – some posed by the hosts, others written by the audience and drawn at random from a basket; the only catch is, the questions can’t have anything to do with books. There’s also cake, and plenty of it; you can actually get in for free if you bring a homemade cake. And, of course, there’s the swapping – everyone brings a book to swap, with opportunities to pitch yours (or have it pitched by the hosts) throughout the evening). So, with my copy of Tim Davys’ Amberville in hand, I went along.
My evening got off to an unplanned start when I managed to trip up in the road outside and cut my knee; my thanks to the shop’s first-aider who supplied the rather dramatic-looking bandage which I spent the rest of the night holding against the wound (to think I nearly took this book to swap, which would have been mildly amusing).
Anyway, the guest authors for this session were Patrick Neate (whom I’ve been meaning to read since I saw him at Cheltenham last year, and still haven’t) and James Miller (of whom I hadn’t heard before, but whose near-future thrillers sound interesting). Both were highly entertaining (as were the hosts), and the discussion ranged widely, from the question of whether reading was a dying art (Neate was fairly optimistic about this, Miller less so; certainly I found it dispiriting to hear about undergraduate literature students who haven’t read anything) and whether it’s more accepted in publishing for authors identified as literary to draw on elements of genre than it is for genre writers to break away from the ‘genre’ tag (unfortunately, I suspect this is the case, though it shouldn’t be), to the subject of the guests’ favourite cake.
Ah yes, the cake. This gets passed around the audience, and includes the traditional Firestation Book Swap cupcakes (decorated with the letters of ‘Firestation Book Swap’), of which I got the last one. It was delicious, as was all the other cake I tried.
And the swapping? I ended up swapping with Scott afterwards, and now have a copy of Geisha by Liza Dalby; a very different book from the one I took with me, and probably not one I’d have chosen to read otherwise – but, to me, that’s the whole point of going to an event like this. All in all, I had a great time, and would heartily recommend the Book Swap to anyone. If you can get to one, do.