August 28, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Film & TV

7 great films you might not know were based on books

You’re a big reader, sure, and of course you like films. You’re a well-rounded individual. It’s fair to say that, over the years, some amazing books have been turned into brilliant films. Ok, so not all have been so lucky, but we didn’t actually mind Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby

But anyway, here are a few films we’ve enjoyed that you might not know were actually based on books. If you did, well done.

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The full list of ruddy good films based on books you might not have been aware of:

  • Drive (based on Drive by James Sallis)
  • Rambo: First Blood (based on First Blood by David Morrell)
  • Brokeback Mountain (based on Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx)
  • Forrest Gump (based on Forrest Gump by Winston Groom)
  • The Prestige (based on The Prestige by Christopher Priest)
  • Jaws (based on Jaws by Peter Benchley)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (based on Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King)

Which have we missed? Let us know: @StareAtBooks

August 21, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books

John Connolly’s top cultural picks

John Connolly is one of the most accomplished and successful crime fiction authors around, and we’re huge fans of his Charlie Parker novels. But now, writing with his partner Jennifer Ridyard, they have turned to science fiction and have created the rather brilliant Chronicles of the Invaders series. The first part, Conquest, is available in paperback from the 28th of August, so we thought it was the ideal opportunity to sit down with John and find out a few of his cultural highlights. Here are his selections…

Band: This is such a tough one.  Because I’m going to see her in concert in September, Kate Bush would be a big one for me.  Wuthering Heights was the first single that I ever bought.  But I’d also have to include The Blue Nile, as A Walk Across the Rooftops might well be my desert island album, and Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters/ Sun Kil Moon as well.  Oh, and Neil Young.  Right, I’ll stop now.

Artist: There’s a wonderful artist named Neil Shawcross, now resident in Northern Ireland, who I’ve got to know in recent years.  He manages to make oil paintings look like watercolours that have kind of run in the rain.  He’s also been working on a series based around the covers of classic crime novels, and he very kindly did a couple for me this year, including The Maltese Falcon and The Chill.  He’s brilliant.  If I can, I’d also like to mention Rob Ryan, who designed the cover for my novel The Book of Lost Things.  He’s a genius with paper.

Film: Depends upon my mood. I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and early Laurel & Hardy…

Book: Again, that’s one that changes with my mood.  I think Bleak House by Charles Dickens may be the greatest novel in the English language, but I’d also put The Three Musketeers, Wuthering Heights, and The Good Soldier on my list of favourites.  Oh, and the Jeeves & Wooster stories of P.G. Wodehouse.

Writer: James Lee Burke is the greatest living author of mystery fiction, and I wouldn’t be writing without him.  He’s also the genre’s great poet of landscape.  Ross Macdonald, now deceased, was another important one for me.  He’s the first great psychological novelist that the genre produced.

Drink: My tastes have changes as I’ve grown older.  I can’t really drink beer any more – or certainly not lager; I’m okay with a couple of pints of decent microbrew beer – so I tend to fall back on wine.  My other half is South African, so I’ve fallen for their wines in a big way: Springfield, Meerlust, Thelema, Iona… They all make fabulous wines, and compared to the Americans or the Australians they’re good value.

Places and Holiday destinations: Portland, Maine, where most of my books are set.  I fell in love with it when I first went there to work back in 1991, and when I wanted to give my detective, Charlie Parker, a place to which he could return after trauma, it seemed natural to pick somewhere for which I have an affection.  Galleries, bookstores, great restaurants, movie theaters – it’s kind of perfect.  And it’s by the sea.

Food: Cajun or Thai.  My family ate the blandest of foods when I was growing up, so ever since then I’ve been engaged in a process of reacting against my childhood diet.  My father wouldn’t even eat rice.  My mother once gave him some rice for a change, and he didn’t speak to her for three days.

Team and sport: Liverpool.  I’ve been a fan for about 37 years now.  I still can’t get a season ticket, though.  If anyone from LFC is reading this…

Conquest is a cracking read and was one of Amazon’s Top 10 YA novels for 2013 when the ebook came out last year. It’s not just for YA fans though, so if you’re looking for a new sci fi series it’s well worth checking out. It’s published in paperback on August 28th, and you can order a copy HERE

John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard – Conquest
And follow John and Jennifer on Twitter. They’re cool.

best bookshops in london

August 19, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

The Best Bookshops in London

The bookshop of today is a very different beast to its chunky, crumb-flecked cousin of yesteryear.

With print book sales in decline, they’ve had to evolve – becoming thriving hubs in communities and offering book-lovers ‘that something special’ that online retailers and supermarkets simply can’t.

So here’s a list – in no particular order – of our favourite bookshops in London at the moment – from Charing X Road to Dulwich, East London to Crystal Palace. There are many more, of course, but we can only count to seven, sorry:


1. Dulwich Books

Location: Dulwich (duh)

Dulwich Books is literally the best independent bookshop in the whole of this fair land we call the United Kingdom (and Ireland), having been awarded Independent Bookshop of the Year at this year’s Bookseller Industry Awards. And it shows, too: with a jam-packed events programme (including big names such as Sarah Waters, Antony Beevor and John Lanchester, to name but a few), a busy children’s section, along with an owner who truly loves books (that’s right, we know who you are, Sheila…). Dulwich Books really is the place to be if you love literature and happen to find yourself south of the Thames. Go there now, silly.

Follow Dulwich Books on Twitter


2. Brick Lane Bookshop

Location: East London

When you plonk a bookshop on one of the most famous streets in London – nestled amongst vintage markets, Mexican-themed bars and second hand furniture shops – it’s safe to say there is a certain weight of expectation placed upon your head. The options seem endless: do you kit the place out like an Amish stable; an ironic ode to 80s glam rock; a ramshackle Victorian pump station, perhaps? Thankfully Brick Lane Bookshop manages to be hyper-cool without selling its soul – a classic and impressive window display featuring the books they love, and a bustling, intimate shop floor with tables stacked with the latest tomes, along with classics, local history (which Brick Lane has in spades), as well as maps and stationary. A truly welcome break from the vintage shops, dive bars and street market on a weekend.

Follow Brick Lane Bookshop on Twitter


3. The Bookseller Crow On The Hill

Location: Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace has much to offer, including an average football team, its own bus station, and the athletics track where Michael Caine filmed the “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” scene in The Italian Job. But it’s for a very different reason that we venture to this often overlooked residential area of South London. The Bookseller Crow on the Hill is a cracking shop with a brilliant atmosphere, well stocked with signed editions and with an impressive events calendar. Co-owner Jonathan is also well worth following on Twitter, too:

Follow The Bookseller Crow on Twitter


4. Foyles

Location: Central London

With branches scattered across the capital like little nuggets of bibliophile gold, Foyles is a perfectly nice chain of bookshops. However, the real big gun in their artillery is in fact a bloody huge one: their new flagship store on Charing Cross Road, which opened earlier this year. Imagine Narnia, but full of books. And then double it. Over 200,000 titles on four miles (FOUR MILES! That’s like from Wakefield to Dewsbury!) of shelves, and with a team of over 80 clued-up booksellers, if you can’t find the book you’re after here, it probably hasn’t been written yet.

Follow Foyles on Twitter


5. Goldsboro Books

Location: Central London

Some readers are happy with a battered old second-hand paperback, and good luck to them. But for the true book connoisseurs out there, there’s only shop to visit in this great city. Operating in the West End since 1999, Goldsboro Books are specialists in signed first edition books, and visiting their shop is always an absolute treat. Shelves full of beautiful books, with the really special stuff kept safely in little cabinets. Just don’t forget your credit card, because you won’t be able to resist spending a fair bit. Oh, and they all also do a cracking launch party, with:

a) a guarantee of no rain
b) plenty of wine
c) (if you’re lucky), an appearance from owner Dave Headley’s awesome dog Mia

Follow Goldsboro Books on Twitter


6. West End Lane Books

Location: Hampstead

Awesome on Twitter; a fantastic author events programme; beautiful wooden floorboards: all seemingly incongruous items, but all of which can be said about West End Lane Books in North London. Perched on West End Lane (hence the name, we imagine…) near West Hampstead tube station, this is a bookshop for true book-lovers old and new. Even the lovely Mariella Frostrup gave them the thumbs up. Join their book club to receive discounts on club picks, or just wander about in that beautiful fug of wood and books – it doesn’t matter, it’s all perfect.

Follow West End Lane Books on Twitter


7. Stoke Newington Bookshop

Location: Stoke Newington

After you’ve grabbed a pint of Vicar’s Surprise Craft Ale with Jonty in Dalston and helped Jemima carry her antique toboggan back to her Hackney squat-cum-juice bar, you deserve to head over to Stoke Newington and their thrilling book emporium. It sounds like a cliché, but I have genuinely never been there and not bought something. It’s always a good place to go when the Stokey literature festival is on – they’ll have all the speakers’ books on display so you don’t have to pretend you’ve read them. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay them is that I have on more than one occasion bought a book directly off the back of a staff recommendation. Lovely stuff.

Follow Stoke Newington Bookshop on Twitter


Are we missing some of the Best Bookshops in London? Let us know then, for God’s sake:

August 19, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Food

A Life in Whisky – How Ian Buxton became a whisky expert

Picture the scene: it’s winter. It’s cold outside, and the rain is hammering down. But you’re inside, sat on a comfy armchair (possibly leather, it’s up to you) by a roaring fire, and you’re sipping on a fine dram. Nice isn’t it?

We love a good whisky, and we like to pretend we know what we’re talking about when it comes to picking out the good ones, but we really don’t. Luckily, we know a man who does. With the latest book in his hugely successful 101 Whiskies series (101 Legendary Whiskies You’re Dying to Try But (Possibly) Never Will) available now, author Ian Buxton explains just how he became a whisky expert…

I started working in whisky by accident. We were living in London and working for a brewery company when my wife and I decided to bring our young family back to Scotland where we had grown up. I wanted to stay in the brewing industry but there were no jobs available so I opted for a position with a whisky blender instead.

I loved it! Within two years I had joined one of Scotland’s top single malts as their Marketing Director and some while after that set up my own consultancy business in brand development (I still do some of that). Then another accident – I was asked to write an article for the launch of Whisky Magazine. They liked that and asked for more, and then more. I still write for them and a number of other magazines as well these days.

So that led to more and more writing and eventually my first book. Along the way I set up an industry conference, imaginatively called the World Whiskies Conference; bought a derelict distillery (just a small one and very derelict, I really wanted the house next door but the distillery came with it); wrote some more books including the first in the 101 Whiskies series, which surprised and pleased us all with how very well it sold and generally got myself into the position where people paid me to do things that I enjoyed.

I wish I could tell you that there was a cunning master plan, but it started by accident and carried on in much the same way, with the odd incident along the way. Hard though it is to credit now, whisky was pretty much in the doldrums when I started, with vodka and white run (OK, Bacardi) very much the fashionable choice. They still sell lots, of course, but in the last few years whisky – all sorts, not just Scotch – has become incredibly chic once again, with many younger drinkers and female drinkers acquiring the taste. The level of consumer knowledge is impressive, or, if I’m being honest, sometimes quite frightening – it keeps me on my toes!

The great thing about the industry is its history, depth, heritage, international appeal and inherent sociability (that’s several great things). While companies do compete, they do so in a well-mannered way and it’s not unknown for a distillery to help out a rival if a vital piece of equipment breaks down. There’s a friendly community of writers and, today, enthusiastic bloggers who meet at industry tasting events, compare notes and pass on news and gossip. Generally, lots of gossip goes down well with a dram or three.

I really believe that 101 Legendary Whiskies is the best in the series. It’s got the most varied stories, the greatest characters and the most depth (don’t let this put you off buying the first two if you haven’t already!). I greatly enjoyed writing it and was able to explore some wider themes and issues. It isn’t just for ‘whisky buffs’; I think anyone who likes a good story can dip in and find something they’ll enjoy.

I couldn’t have written it without a life steeped in whisky and I hope that you can share the pleasure it’s given to me.

Follow Ian on Twitter: @101Whiskies

And watch Ian discuss 101 Legendary Whiskies You’re Dying to Try But (Possibly) Never Will

And you can buy the book HERE. Happy drinking!

August 13, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books

Irvine Welsh and friends at Book Slam, London – review

On a cold and rainy night in East London, spirits were high among the litarture-loving Bethnal Green collective, as Book Slam returned to the capital with an all-star cast for their biggest event yet. Here’s what we made of the evening (don’t worry, we loved it)…

The venue:

We might look tough and all that, but, believe it or not, we know nothing about boxing. So when we were told that this was to be held in the ‘iconic’ East London boxing venue, York Hall, we didn’t really care. However, this was a truly spectacular place to stage a literary event. Packed to the rafters and with a boxing ring for the stage, it was an inspired choice by the Book Slam team and worked incredibly well. Bravo guys.

doc brownCompere for the evening, Doc Brown

The line-up:

To call this line-up star-studded would be a bit of an understatement. After introductions from the evening’s compere, Doc Brown, relatively new kid on the block (and one-time street brawler/drug dealer/general badass who has now turned lovely) Bill Hillmann kicked the evening off with a reading from his debut novel The Old Neighbourhood. From the snippet we heard, it definitely sounds like one that deserves further investigation.

Next up was something slightly surreal, as Junior ‘The Hitter’ Witter, a World Champion boxer, sparred with some other boxing guy, whilst the Hype Dance Company performed an excerpt from a new piece of theatre, ‘Savage Beauty’. Strange, but surprisingly engaging.

After a brief interval, we were then treated to the genius that is Viv Albertine. The legendary guitarist from The Slits read excerpts from her memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Hilarious, bold and totally honest, she spoke about her battle with cancer, getting back on stage, and having sex with someone else for the first time since leaving her husband. Holding the whole venue in the palm of her hand with ease, she fully deserved the huge ovation she received when she left the ring. An absolute hero.

Viv Albertine© Faber & Faber

The task of following Viv wasn’t an easy one, but if there’s anyone who could handle that then it’s Kate Tempest. And handle it she did. Her fierce brand of spoken word, including a performance of a piece from her album, Everybody Down, went down an absolute storm, and the way she dealt with a ‘heckler’ (a man who was actually saying her album should win the Mercury Prize, but couldn’t quite be heard properly) was bloody hilarious. Her apology to him was very sweet too. A unique talent who everyone should go and see if they get the chance.

Kate Tempest - Everybody DownKate Tempest’s album, Everybody Down (© Big Dada)

After another beer break, it was time for the main event: Irvine Welsh. Reading from a forthcoming book of his, A Decent Ride, Welsh absolutely stormed it. Brutal, coarse, horrible in parts but bloody funny, it was classic Welsh. Everyone loved it, and it was the perfect way to round off an incredible evening.


All the performers brought something great to the table, but for us it was Viv Albertine who was the unexpected star of the evening. She’s just amazing.

Low points:

Queues at the bar were long, and the food stall quickly ran out of what smelt like some delicious jerk chicken. But we can forgive Book Slam; this was by far the biggest event they’ve held, and it feels mean to complain about little things when they got so much right.

In summary:

Any event that brings this many readers and incredible performers together gets a big thumbs up from us. A top night was had by all.

irvine welshIrvine Welsh headlines with style

For more info on Book Slam, follow them on Twitter (@bookslam) and visit their website.

thriller book covers

August 13, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

Thrillhouettes – deconstructing 4 recent thriller book covers

A book cover – in most cases – tells you everything you need to know about a book.

And the sky-heavy, silhouette-adorning action thriller is no exception.

In our new feature ‘Thrillhouettes’ we’ve focused in on – and deconstructed – the silhouettes of heroes on 4 recently published action thriller book covers – and we want you to tell us which is your favourite.

Please vote for your favourite using the form at the bottom of the article. We’ll pick one lucky winner, who’ll bag a special gift (books, mostly…).


1. Jack Reacher

Book: ‘Personal’ by Lee Child

Tagline: As if Reacher needs a tagline, you fool.

Our thrillhouette breakdown: He’s standing in the middle of the road, for God’s sake! But Reacher doesn’t care – even his shadow is cowering below him, look. He’s glancing to the left, but I don’t think it’s to check for oncoming traffic; it’s because he’s seen a threat, and after a swift ocular pat-down he’s ready to move in for the kill, I’d imagine. What a nice building that is though, I hope it doesn’t get damaged. Be careful please, Reacher.

Verdict: A classic in high-contrast black and white.
Personal Lee Child

2. James Bishop 

Book: The Hunter’s Oath by Jason Dean

Tagline: ‘They targeted his family. Now he will target them.’

Our thrillhouette breakdown: Bishop’s family has been targeted and, having decided to target his family’s targeters, Bishop is walking here with real purpose. He’s looking over his shoulder as if to say ‘where are you?’, but with a hint of ‘I will find you’. He’s cautious but clever. The jacket and scarf combo really accentuates his already bulky frame, which truly makes him a portrait of intimidation and determination – and a man to be feared.

Verdict: Badass, even before heavy rain.
The Hunter's Oath Jason Dean

3. Cormoran Strike

Book: ‘The Silkworm’ by Robert Galbraith

Tagline: ‘By the author of the international Number One bestseller Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Our thrillhouette breakdown: Cormoran (who presumably borrows his name from an unused Deatheater) is arguably more thoughtful than our other heroes, and this is reflected in the downward tilt of his head (either that or he’s watching his step on those pesky cobbled London streets). Unusually, he’s also adopting the casual hands-in-pockets, which indicates a brooding confidence and quiet swagger.

Verdict: Cool, calm, collected, careful, cobbles.
The Silkworm jk rowling

4. Joe Hunter

Book: ‘The Lawless Kind’ by Matt Hilton

Tagline: ‘Has Joe Hunter finally met his match?’

Our thrillhouette breakdown: If Jack reaches and Cormoran strikes, then presumably Joe… hunts? That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here. What brings you to the desert, Joe, save for this barefooted lady you’re following? Is she going to be your girlfriend, Joe? Who’s going to save the world while you’re on Tinder, Joe?

Verdict: Lady’s man, desert style.
the lawless kind matt hilton

Vote for your favourite and win!

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August 12, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books

Luis Suarez book cover reveal – ‘Crossing the Line: My Story’

The new Premier League season kicks off this weekend, but one man who won’t be appearing is Luis Suárez. Last year’s PFA Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner has set sail for pastures new, having signed for Spanish giants Barcelona this summer after an interesting World Cup campaign with Uruguay.

Although he won’t be there to make his mark in England’s top league with Liverpool anymore, you can be certain he will still be in all the headlines, especially once Barcelona’s Champions League campaign kicks off (and once his ban has ended…). Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Suarez is an incredible footballing talent with a fascinating story.

Yes he’s controversial, yes he’s made some big mistakes and yes, he has ‘crossed the line’, so to speak. But this is his chance to tell his side of the story and explain what it is that triggers his less savoury moments on the pitch and what drives him to be such an incredible player. From the streets of Salto to the World Cup finals, via bans, bites and beautiful goals, it’s a fascinating read, regardless of who you support.

So, without further ado, here it is: the Luis Suarez book cover for Crossing the Line: My Story

Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line is published by Headline on October 9th. You can pre-order a copy of here.

August 11, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Books

10 of the greatest fictional double acts

Every story needs a hero. And a villain. But why limit it to just one? Every so often, a story comes along with a duo so strong that it’s impossible to think of one half of the team without the other. Here, in no particular order, are ten of our favourite fictional literary double acts…


Holmes and WatsonSherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson (created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

What better way to kick off than with quite possibly the greatest detective duo in all of literature? Whilst Sherlock may not quite be the most-filmed fictional character of all time (that honour belongs to that pesky Dracula guy), his adventures with Watson have been brought to life many times over the years, with the likes of Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and, most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch all donning the famous deerstalker. But despite all the TV and film versions, it’s the books that will always be the real stars. The incredible chemistry between Holmes and his trusty companion is what drives these stories along, helping to make them truly timeless.

Bonus fact: The Sherlock Holmes Museum, officially at 221b Baker Street in London, is actually at number 239. Cool.


Cato and Macro (created by Simon Scarrow)

Cato and Macro, or Quintus Licinius Cato and Lucius Cornelius Macro, to be precise, have starred in twelve stories together since Under the Eagle was published back in 2000. The no-nonsense, all-action heroes have done battle across the globe, all in the name of the Roman Empire, and this is sure to continue in their thirteenth adventure, Brothers in Blood, which is out this October.


Eli and Charlie, the Sisters Brothers (created by Patrick deWitt)

We loved Patrick deWitt’s second novel, The Sisters Brothers. Narrated by Eli Sisters, it charts his mission to assassinate a mysterious stranger, accompanied by his brother Charlie. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, this puts a new spin on the classic Western in a way that is violent, funny and utterly engaging.


Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

Mr Croup and Mr Vandermar (created by Neil Gaiman)

Two of the most memorable characters from Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece Neverwhere. The short, fat and scheming Croup and the gangly, slow-witted Vandermar are the grotesque pair of assassins that haunt poor Richard Mayhew as he struggles to survive in London Below. They’re truly, properly horrible.


Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee (created by J. R. R. Tolkien)

In a fictional universe full of intricate and fascinating relationships, it’s the friendship between a Hobbit and his gardener that is at the heart of the Lord of the Rings story.

Bonus fact: the name Gamgee comes from a type of surgical dressing invented by surgeon Joseph Sampson Gamgee in the nineteenth century. Fancy that.


Andy McDermott - Kingdom of DarknessNina Wilde and Eddie Chase (created by Andy McDermott)

The first husband and wife team on our list, Wilde and Chase have been travelling the globe on epic adventures for several years now, with their 10th adventure, Kingdom of Darkness, out at the end of August. If you’re looking for a blockbuster read, McDermott’s books should be next on your list.


Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist (created by Stieg Larsson)

Scandi noir has been hugely popular over the past few years, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of the titles that really helped to kick this trend off. Apparently over 75 million copies of the Millenium trilogy had been sold by the end of 2012, which in all honesty is ages ago, so who knows how many have been sold by now. A bloody lot though, that’s for sure. It’s fair to say Salander and Blomkvist have been pretty popular then, and once you get reading these books it’s easy to see why.


Jekyll and Hyde Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (created by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ok, so not strictly a duo as they are the same person, but this classic by Stevenson is one of the most fascinating studies of a split personality disorder order ever written.

Bonus fact: according to some sources, Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in something between three and six days whilst on a massive cocaine binge.


Jonathon Payne and David Jones (created by Chris Kuzneski)

Action-packed stories that will knock your socks off and make you laugh along the way, Kuzneski’s Payne and Jones series has been hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

Oh, and if you’re a Kuzneski fan, his other series, The Hunters, will be hitting the big screen soon.


Will ShakespeareMacbeth and Lady Macbeth (created by William Shakespeare)

A bit of a different husband and wife team than Wilde and Chase. We can’t really have a list celebrating fictional characters without sticking a bit of Shakey in there can we? From one of his darkest works, Macbeth is the man who gives in to his wife’s goading and commits dastardly regicide. We all know how that turns out for him. Oh, and don’t say his name out loud if you’re an actor. Bad stuff will happen.


Fred and George Weasley (created by JK Rowling)

Twin brother wizards who set up a joke shop. That’s living the dream, right there.


Who have we missed? Let us know: @StareAtBooks