Thrills and Spills at The Snow Witch Launch

There were more thrills and spills than planned for at the launch for Matt Wingett’s The Snow Witch on the night of Saturday 28th October at Blackwell’s bookshop, Portsmouth as part of the Portsmouth Darkest season.

Thrills came in the form of Eilis Philips’ singing and guitar playing. Her extraordinary clear and powerful voice cast a spell on the audience that set the tone for an evening dedicated to Wingett’s magic realist story that is set in Portsmouth. Eilis’s first song of the night, also called The Snow Witch, was directly inspired by Matt’s novel, with a haunting melody backed with icy chords on the guitar that caught the mood of the novel brilliantly.

Two readings from the novel were given by Matt, and Eilis treated the audience to another song before a break for book signing.

Spills came when Dr Karl Bell, Darkfest organiser and co-host of the evening, slipped from the stage on his chair, sending him in a slow motion backward somersault to the gasps of the audience. Dr Bell recovered his poise with humour and grace, and, like a trouper, the show went on.

Despite the impromptu acrobatics, the Q and A session was lively, covering questions as varied as the use of myth in storytelling, symbolism in the novel and why Portsmouth is a fascinating place for telling tales. With ironic humour, Matt and an audience member penned a new slogan for the city: “Portsmouth, not as sh*t as you think,” which raised a laugh all round.

Bookshop manager Jo West was on hand to help the evening go with ease, where many people bought multiple copies of the book, while others who had received preview copies described how compelling the story is.

The evening was also enriched on this Hallowe’en weekend by audience members arriving in wonderful outfits that reflected the Darkfest theme.

A great evening, and thanks to all concerned.

The Snow Witch is available in paperback and hardback from Blackwell’s Bookshop, and from the shop on this website.

No doctors were harmed in the launching of this book.

“By Celia’s Arbour” Classic Victorian Portsmouth-based novel to be republished

Press Release: 6th January 2016

“By Celia’s Arbour”, a classic Victorian novel set in the old walled town of Portsmouth is to be republished in a brand new edition by Portsmouth-based publisher Life Is Amazing.

The story gives an authentic account of the town in the 1840s and 1850s by Sir Walter Besant and James Rice. Besant grew up in Portsmouth in those years. The book has many surprises for the modern reader.

“Most people don’t realise Portsmouth was one of the most heavily fortified towns in Northern Europe,” says publisher Matt Wingett. “The area now called Old Portsmouth was hemmed in on all sides by massive town walls built up into powerful defences since mediaeval times.”

The town was surrounded by a moat, and a Mill Pond on the Northern side separated Portsmouth from the Gunwharf.

In this setting, the story tells of three young people growing up together in the town. Leonard and Laddy are both secretly in love with Celia, and when Leonard leaves Portsmouth to make his fortune, he charges Laddy to look after her. Laddy is tested by his own sense of honour, the evil machinations of a bloodthirsty villain and threats to his own life which stem from his past.

“The thing that jumps out at the reader is the extraordinary detail about the town,” says Matt, “From the elms growing on the town walls, through to the scenes of soldiers marching through the streets and fields surrounding the town, from the bustling life of the High Street though to the eccentric characters living here, the town of Portsmouth comes to authentic life. It gives a window on to a world we would never have guessed existed looking at the streets today.”

“By Celia’s Arbour” is published on 31st January, and will cost £14.99.

Preorders are available on this website.

Lake Allen’s “History of Portsmouth” republished

Lake Allen - The History of Portsmouth, 1817There was a period a few years ago when I worked as a rare bookdealer. I got all sorts of goosebump-raising works of cultural wondrousness, such as a 15th Century illuminated manuscript, or the 2nd Edition of the King James Bible. What I never could find was Lake Allen’s 1817 work, The History of Portsmouth.

I checked the auction records only to find one had never come up for auction in the last 50 years. No originals were for sale. It took me 10 years to find a proper, pukka first edition.

When I got hold of it, I was pretty impressed by the effort the young Lake Allen had put into the book. He wrote it when he was only 18 years old, living on Portsmouth High Street with his grandfather, Lake Taswell. Taswell was himself something of a local historian, who wrote The Portsmouth Guide, in 1775 and revised it as The New Portsmouth Guide in 1790. The fact is, though, these were pamphlets. Lake Allen’s work was the first comprehensive survey of the town’s history.

Lake was genuinely proud of his association with Portsmouth, and because it’s such a rarity, I decided to make a modern edition with foreword and added footnotes.

The book above is what we’ve produced, with an engraving of the King James Gate that I found in an antiques shop in Portsmouth on the cover.

I hope you like it!

You can order your copy here: Lake Allen – The History of Portsmouth

 

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