Saturday, 26 December 2020

Ten Years of YA Yeah Yeah - And Looking Forward to Beyond The Big 5

I've been blogging here at YA Yeah Yeah for 10 years today. To celebrate, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back briefly, and look forward in a little more depth.

The last ten years have been a massive change for me - when I started the blog I'd been reviewing books consistently over at The Bookbag for a year or so, I was teaching in a secondary school, and I'd just moved out to live in a flat by myself in England.

Fast forward ten years, and I've now been reviewing books (admittedly somewhat less consistently, due to promotions and things cutting into my time) for 11 years, am married, and living in America with my wife and her parents (for now; pandemic messed up with our plans to a fairly massive degree!) In that intervening decade, so many amazing things happened through YA Yeah Yeah. I was a judge for the YA Book Prize alongside massively knowledgeable people. I appeared on Down The Rabbit Hole twice, once interviewing Siobhan Curham and once discussing romance. My favourite children's bookshop Tales on Moon Lane employed me part-time for a couple of years. And I organized countless drinks get-togethers for bloggers to meet authors including Angie Thomas, Sally Nicholls and Nick Lake. (Massive thanks to Louie Stowell, who set up #DrinkYA with me, and Julianne Benford who co-organized so many!)

Most importantly, I made a huge amount of wonderful friends. (Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I haven't seen most of them for about a year. Due to the move to the US, I probably won't see most of them for another year or more. I'm so glad we have Zoom!)

As a site, I kept YA Yeah Yeah going throughout, but changed it in many ways as the decade progressed. This was partly intentional, and partly less so. I didn't have an overall plan for the site other than 'write about things I liked'. Often, that meant I talked about books, but I also included other things. For various reasons, I never really looked into advertising on the site, or SEO. (Ten years ago, people generally seemed less okay with the idea of making money out of a book blog. As for SEO, I considered trying to learn, but could never find the time!)

Due to currently not have a full-time job (although I'm available for online maths tuition at very reasonable rates!) I now have the time to look at something a little different. This isn't a replacement for YA Yeah Yeah, which I'll still be running. However, it's where most of my blogging efforts will be featured for the foreseeable future.

If you're following me on Twitter, you've probably seen my tweets about Beyond The Big 5. I've set up social media accounts, and am currently working on a new website. (As well as Twitter, you can follow me on Instagram and Tumblr, although I haven't started posting on either account yet.) I haven't officially announced the site launch date, but at some point in January, it will go live!

The idea of Beyond The Big 5 is to promote books that aren't released by the five companies who dominate publishing today. I've had more time to read books this year, and more time to read other people's blogs. Understandably, the majority of social media buzz and blog posts tend to be about books from those big publishers. (Apart from anything else, their imprints release so many books!) I wanted to create a site that would showcase some of the independent publishers out there and their books. I've spent a while planning this, and a fair amount of time contacting publishers, publicists and authors. I'm really excited by the line-up I have planned so far for 2021 - although there's plenty of room for others. I'll be interviewing people about new and backlist books, providing monthly showcases for releases, and running a variety of features.

I'm especially excited to be launching in mid-Jan with features celebrating smaller-press books past and future. In one, I'll look back - with guest posters - at 101 great books of the last decade from non-big 5 publishers. In a second one, I'll talk about the books in 2021 from these publishers I'm most looking forward to, as will numerous guests. I'm also going to have lists of books you may like in a variety of genres.

(My aim is to launch with at least fifteen lists of books that I'd either personally recommend, or people I trust have said are great. So whether you're in the US or the UK, you'll be able to click on a page and find something like "20 YA contemporaries", "15 YA books from Latinx authors", or "10 YA graphic novels" and be linked to Goodreads pages to find out more.)

The plan is to merge my long experience of blogging and newfound SEO skills to create a site which will introduce readers to books they might have missed. (And, if I can eventually earn money from ads, I'll be pretty happy!)

Having spent more than I'm used to spending on setting this up, I'm open to donations to help with hosting costs etc. If anyone wants to buy me a virtual coffee, I'd really appreciate it! What I'd love more than anything, though, is for people to engage with the @beyondthebig5 Twitter account. Tell me your favourite books from small/mid-sized publishers, suggest features you'd love to see, or send me cute pet pictures. (Because, after all, it's ALWAYS time for cute pet pictures!)

And, of course, if you're following, you'll be the first to know when I confirm the site's official launch date!

Here's to 2021 being full of amazing things for everyone reading this.

Finally, a massive thanks to the fabulous Sarah for the gorgeous illustration in my logo above!

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Indie Advent: Eldritch Soda on The Friends of the Library bookstore in Rockville, Maryland

I'm delighted to welcome my wife, the wonderful Eldritch Soda (I tried to get her to change her name to Eldritch Dean, but no luck, sadly) to talk about her former workplace, The Friends of the Library bookstore in Rockville, Maryland.

The front of the store is crowded with piles and carts of to-be-examined book, movie, and music donations. The aisles between bookcases are narrow, with even more carts full of books for sale that won't fit on the shelves. It's been about a year and a half since I've been there, but in my memory I swear some of those bookshelves are so tall they touch the ceiling. And every bookcase is absolutely groaning, heaving, full of books. To a certain type of reader, the Friends of the Library bookstore in Rockville, Maryland, is heaven, full of unexpected treasures and community connections. I both volunteered and worked at the store, shelving books as a volunteer and then sorting and pricing donations and helping customers find what they wanted as a paid employee.

The store was divided into many different sections, and because of the small space, some unexpected juxtapositions occurred, enough that when I was in library school I considered writing a final paper on the store. The store's unusual layout (like a Warfare subsection that only went up to the Middle Ages, with more recent warfare materials shelved with their respective wars, or a Religious Studies section that included everything but Judaism and then a separate section entirely on Judaism) also let us highlight very specific subgenres and emphasize connections, as well as putting some books in multiple areas (like The Diary of Anne Frank in the Memoir and Judaism sections),which made these cross-genre books easier to find. We had evolved. We had escaped the clutches of Melvil Dewey and the Library of Congress to form our own paradigm.

We were usually so pressed for space that new additions to each nonfiction shelf were just put where they could fit rather than wrestled into any sort of order. (The same was not true for fiction, by the way--I think customers might have mutinied if we'd tried that.) The lack of any required order also allowed for some whimsy--I still remember amusing myself one day by putting James Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds directly next to a book called The Folly of Crowds. (Google claims the second book doesn't exist, which just demonstrates even more the magic of used bookstores--you can find books that Google hasn't even noticed there.)

In addition to these juxtapositions, I loved how the store, more explicitly than the Barnes and Noble a few minutes' drive away, was able to reflect the community it served, on a very granular level. For example, this part of Maryland is home to a large Jewish population (hence the separate Judaism section), and Judaism wouldn't get anywhere near as much room in most other bookstores or in libraries. As expected from a used bookstore located just outside Washington, DC, the store also received many political books. I never spent much time at our sister store, now in Wheaton, Maryland, and currently closed due to the pandemic, but given the varying demographics in different parts of the county, I can only assume that similarly idiosyncratic sections, ones which differ from Rockville's, can also be found in the Wheaton store when it's open.

The primary function of this bookstore and its sister store is to raise money for Montgomery County Public Libraries, but many US library systems as well as some libraries in other countries have a similar group. If you're interested, see if there's anything you can do to work with your local group.

BIO: Eldritch Soda is a writer, pop culture critic, and poodle enthusiast. Find her at her blog or on Twitter at @eldritchsoda.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Indie Advent: Chris Brosnahan on The All Good Bookshop

I was a huge fan of The Big Green Bookshop and was sad to see it move online, but delighted when co-owner Tim announced The All Good Bookshop! Sadly, COVID-19 stopped me visiting before leaving the UK, but I can't wait to get to it when we get back, and this piece by Chris Brosnahan has made me even more excited to visit. Over to Chris...

I love the All Good Bookshop because of what it represents. How many bookshops could open two weeks before the first lockdown and be carried through the year by the community they're part of? 

The All Good Bookshop is a community-owned co-operative in Turnpike Lane/Wood Green. After the much-loved Big Green Bookshop closed down its physical store and went online-only, it left the area without a bookshop. And the Big Green Bookshop had been a real cultural hub for the area - personally, I'd run a writing group and comedy nights there for years. This was a void that needed filling. Bookshops are amazing things for the local area.

A few of us suggested a co-operative to Tim West (the former co-owner of the BGB) and a massively busy kick-off meeting showed that other people were up for it. A committee was formed and shares started to be sold. The entire funding of the shop was done by customers. Some through small, low-interest loans, and some through buying share packages. Nobody’s expecting to make a fortune through the shares (although the lifetime 10% discount you get for being a shareholder could save you one).

Later in 2019, the first All Good Bookshop was a reality, in a small shed in the Blue House Yard (a temporary art and small business space that many of us hope will stick around).

In March 2020, the All Good Bookshop found new premises in Turnpike Lane. Members of the committee (including myself) turned up to empty, clean and decorate the former beauty salon, and turn it into a bright, colourful new bookshop. It opened its doors... and almost immediately closed them due to Covid.

Tim came up with the idea of local delivery on his bike. And books were a useful thing during lockdown, so everyone won. In fact, Tim was given an award as a 'Haringey Hero' during lockdown, helping to keep spirits up during a difficult time.

Once lockdown lifted, people started finding the new bookshop. Some small events even took place before that started to become more difficult again. But between orders, collections and deliveries, the shop has actually thrived in 2020, despite the worst possible launch timing.

All of this has only been possible because of the community. It's a wonderful new bookshop, entirely crowd-funded. Once the Covid times are over, we're looking forward to it becoming a cultural hub for the area as well.

On top of that, it’s a damn good bookshop. Tim (and Carmel, who has also brought her experience from the Big Green Bookshop) have a great approach to building stock. They started off with a fairly small number of books, to see what sells. But, also, because orders are such an important part of the shop’s trade, they’ll regularly order extra copies of what people order – like a real-time version of Amazon’s ‘other people also liked…’ feature. So even the stock is crowd-sourced.

To me, the All Good Bookshop represents the best of local communities. And it shows just how important bookshops are to those communities.

I’ve bought more books in 2020 than in most years – more time at home will do that. I like browsing, because I see stuff I wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise.

Most recently, I’ve picked up a few independent graphic novels. Flake, by Matthew Dooley, was a wonderful read, and I’ve just ordered Adrian Tomine’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist.

Chris Brosnahan is a writer and film-maker in North London. He's run a writing group for 10 years this month, which you can find here. He can be found online at his website and on Twitter.


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Indie Advent: Amy McCaw on The Barrister In Wonderland Bookshop, Retford and The Rabbit Hole, Brigg

Really pleased to welcome my friend Amy, author of the upcoming Mina And The Undead - which I'm super-excited for - to talk about not one but TWO bookshops today!

The Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop

As soon as I walked into The Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop, I knew it would become a favourite. The décor is absolutely gorgeous, with a tea party on the ceiling and lots of other quirky touches that create a fun, cosy atmosphere. There are inviting displays of books as soon as you walk in, including a selection of signed books. I clicked with the owner, Helen, immediately and love talking children’s books with her!

The shop specialises in new children’s books from birth to YA, and there’s a small range of preloved books. I walked out with a huge bag of books and even more recommendations.

They provide a subscription service for either six months or a year. The lucky recipient gets a different book every month that is tailored to their interests. I signed up for my baby – it’ll be lovely for him to get a new book in the post every month!

Visiting The Barrister in Wonderland is a special experience, and I can’t wait to go back!

The Rabbit Hole

Another one of my favourite bookshops is The Rabbit Hole in Brigg. The children’s section is a bright, airy space that feels so welcoming from the moment you step inside. There are play tables and beautifully presented displays of books, with an amazing range of books for all ages from babies to YA. Further into the shop, there’s a well-stocked section of adult books, and you can find preloved books, CDs and vinyl on the second floor.

One of the things I love about this shop is the passion and knowledge of the owners, Nick and Mel. They are well known for working with local schools and connecting with authors, and have even set up a reading group that has followed a group of children from primary school to secondary. Through lockdown, they have found innovative ways to keep author visits going, allowing thousands of children to connect with their favourite authors.

The personal connection and amazing service are two of the many reasons why I’ll keep going back to The Rabbit Hole!

Amy McCaw is the author of the upcoming Mina And The Undead (UCLan Publishing.) She also blogs at YA Under My Skin and can be found on Twitter at @YAUnderMySkin.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Indie Advent: Sophie Kirtley on The Rocketship Bookshop, Salisbury

I love the ingenuity of author Sophie Kirtley in today's Indie Advent post, a 10 step countdown of fabulous reasons to shop at Salisbury's Rocketship Bookshop!

Sophie Kirtley with The Wild Way Home in front of The Rocketship's stained glass window.

What makes The Rocketship so very special? Let the countdown commence:


10 – Children’s Books 

The Rocketship is all about books for children from newborns right up to big kids like me. (There are some carefully curated grown up books too – if you insist!)


9 – Expertise 

Lovely Jo Boyles is the mastermind and the heart behind this wonderful bookshop, and boy does Jo know her kids’ lit!


8 – Friendliness

Jo is very wise, and she’s also very friendly. From tiny tots to great grannies she and her team will welcome you so very warmly.


7 – Signings

And not only customers are welcome, authors are too. My debut novel, The Wild Way Home, came out in July and The Rocketship was one of the first bookshops where I actually saw my book on display. Feeling a bit shy and wally-ish I introduced myself and and asked if I could sign any stock; Jo and her partner instantly made my imposter-syndrome melt away! I think this lovely, kind-hearted, genuine welcome is why The Rocketship has so many lovingly signed books in stock. 


6 - Beauty 

And not only the books are beautiful - there’s even a stained glass window, as shown above!


5  - Labyrinthine Hugeness

The Rocketship looks teeny-tiny from the outside, but inside there are stairs and cellars and hidden rooms… and each one is full of glorious books… and each one is full of glorious pages… and each one is full of… (you get the idea!)


4 – Books-by-Mail

If you don’t live somewhere pop-in-ably close to lovely Salisbury then The Rocketship can even deliver. The website lets you buy online and your book will arrive all beautifully wrapped too – couldn’t be more perfect!


3 – Lockdown

The Rocketship launched just this year. Right on time for all the delights that 2020 has flung our way. I curse this ill-luck on The Rocketship’s behalf – not fair at all! Yet, no matter what, this bookshop has not let 2020 get the better of it. I’m sure it has been a real struggle for Jo and her team, but they have risen to the challenge with such style, grace and determination. (Round of applause please!)


2 – Inclusiveness 

Small-town Wiltshire is not exactly the most diverse place in the world! Yet The Rocketship is determined to tell every story and to give every young reader the chance to see themselves reflected in the books they read… and to read beyond their own existing world view. BIG Hooray!


1 – Did I mention the glorious, varied, delightful BOOKS?!


The Rocketship Bookshop - We have LIFT OFF!

Sophie can be found at her website and on Twitter. She is the author of The Wild Way Home.

Rocketship Bookshop

Bridge Street





01722 237172

Lu Fraser, Dashe Roberts, Kirsty Applebaum & Julie Pike signing their books

Display of Chitra Soundar's books You're Safe With Me, You're Snug With Me and You're Strong With Me.

Sophie Kirtley and Jo Boyles

Display of books

Friday, 18 December 2020

Indie Advent: Holly Rivers on Housmans Bookshop

The Twelve Radical Days of Christmas (AKA support Housmans Bookshop this winter!)

 by Holly Rivers

(Picture credit:


“On the twelfth day of Christmas, Housmans Bookshop gave to me...


12 Progressive magazines

11 Peace diaries

10 Inclusive kid’s books

9 Protest badges

8 Bags of Zapatista coffee

7 Inspiring memoirs

6 Radical zines

5 Tote Bags!

4 White poppies

3 LGBTQ+ stories

2 Online readings


And a.... ‘Pits and Perverts’ T-Shirt!


Holly Rivers is a queer children’s author who’s debut book Demelza and the Spectre Detectors (a story of a young female inventor who can communicate with the ghosts of the dead) was published by Chicken House in Feb 2020. She’s currently editing her second book for Chicken House.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Indie Advent: Charlotte Eyre on Booka Bookshop, Oswestry

Thrilled to have the wonderful Charlotte Eyre talking about a bookshop really close to my heart today. Oswestry's Booka Bookshop is the closest indie bookshop to my parents' house. They visit it significantly more than I do and always tell me how fabulous events they host are; I've always been incredibly impressed by the selection in the shop whenever I have managed to get there.

When I was teenager I thought Oswestry was a boring town. There was a Tammy Girl and a Woolworths, a small-ish park and a nice café-cum-gift shop, but that was about it. There certainly wasn’t enough to do when looking after French exchange students, as I once had to do, and Oswestry’s attractions paled in comparison with Shrewsbury, which was only half an hour down the road. 

So I was pleased learn that many years later (in 2010, I think) Oswestry was getting its own, independent bookshop. It soon became a place my family and friends all raved about endlessly. The coffee! The books! The Christmas shopping events! You must come Charlotte, they said, let’s make a trip and go. So even though I have never lived anywhere near Booka (I now live in Croydon) Carrie and Tim’s bookshop has quickly become my favourite indie. I’ve gone for coffee and cake, joined a mum and baby reading group, seen Sathnam Sanghera and Damian Barr speak about their books, and bought endless presents for other people. Carrie and Tim’s inventiveness is astounding – from book clubs and events to this year’s At Home With Four Indies, they do so much more than sell books.


What have I bought from them? Everything and anything, really. Children’s books for my kids. Novels for my parents. Books about current affairs for my sister. And they have bought things from Booka for me: as I type this I can see a gloriously illustrated version of The Divine Comedy my mum bought me after I spotted it on the shelves. I’m also fond of some jokey mugs that mix classic novel titles with the names of local villages. You have to be from Shropshire to appreciate it, I think.


Oswestry isn’t boring. It probably wasn’t that boring in the late 90s (I was a teenager after all) but Booka has certainly added to its charm. Carrie and Tim demonstrate what independent bookshops do best and that is create a community around books in their town. I used to worry that Waterstones would open a branch in Oswestry and kill Booka’s trade but now I think that even if they did it wouldn’t matter. Booka is so beloved by the community it will keep going for a long time.

Charlotte is the children’s editor of The Bookseller, where she writes about the children’s book market for the magazine and interviews authors and illustrators. She programmes the annual Bookseller Children’s Conference and runs Pitch Your Story, a newsletter for aspiring authors and illustrators. She can be found on Twitter at @CharlotteLEyre.