Firestation Book Swap

Thank you one and all at the redoubtable Book Swap
It’s not the Costa or Booker, but, man,
In terms of cake it is the top.

Marie collects questions to ask;
Scott conducts the revels
For Gareth’s book on Billy Parks
And mine on Euston Devils.

So if you want to tip the top
Of this literary nation
You can cream an inpirational crop
Down at the Firestation.

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It’s not your conventional book event when you are served a cup of tea live onstage lounging in front of a panoply of home-baked cakes.


I love the Firestation Book Swap. I’ve been along every year to their Portsmouth Event and was chuffed to be invited to the mother ship, in Windsor’s Firestation Arts Centre, on Thursday. Despite floods in biblical style, a creditable audience turned up with some excellent books to swap. I came away with Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (in return for Larkin’s Collected Poems), while Gareth gave away Life and Fate (throwing in a copy of his own first book) to get Alone in Berlin.


The audience, as well as baking cakes and bringing books to swap, are asked to contribute questions. So, in contrast to the book panels at festivals, you can have little anxiety about preparing for questions such as:

What animal would you like to be?
(Blue Whale, Dolphin with puffer fish addiction)

Beer or wine?

Favourite Cheese?

If you could travel in time (not in the Tardis), would you travel forward or back? (a question written on origami-folded paper)


General warmth and bonhomie pervades, goaded along by the lively abuse between hosts Scott Pack and and Marie Phillips. Oh, and we did talk about our books, I suppose.

Gareth Roberts’ Whatever Happened to Billy Parks is an engrossing examination of a life: warm and searching, it explores the melancholy of bygone talent and squandered youth through the prism of age and illness, with a fond portrait of the 1970s.


I gabbled on about my own Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square, with its uncertain watchmaking detective, mixing social critique with steam punk, and enough specialist knowledge of the underground system to know that the Leinster Gardens tube façade in Sherlock’s final episode is, just about, real enough, built to accommodate the turntable that turned the engines at the Paddington end of the original Metropolitan Line.


And cake. Oh, cake.

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Long live the Book Swap. I shall return.

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