George lived in a small town where everyone was obsessed with Spice Bags. Well, nearly everyone. You may have heard of a Spice Bag before. You may have even tried a Spice Bag.
A normal Spice Bag can be crunchy or soggy. It’s made up of crispy fries and spicy chicken bits and, depending on where you buy it from or what day of the week it is, perhaps some peppers or onions or chillies. Normal Spice Bags are sold in chip shops and Chinese takeaways up and down the country. I think most of you will agree, with the greatest of respect, that most Spice Bags are more or less the same.
But this story is not about a normal Spice Bag. Nor is it about a normal boy. No, far from it. Reader, this is a story about the real Spice Bag and a rather exceptional 10-year-old boy. Very few people have heard this story. I feel it my duty to share it with you.
The real Spice Bag was named after the most widely recognised man in George’s town: the impossibly tall and bony Mr Spicebag. People simply could not get enough of the Spice Bag. They ate Spice Bags for break- fast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. It was all that they lived for and, as a result, Mr Spicebag was without a doubt the most worshipped man in town.
So, what was it about the real Spice Bag that people craved, you so impatiently ask? Well, that’s just it. Nobody knew. I didn’t know. And you certainly don’t know because you’ve just started reading this book. But one thing is clear – everybody loved it.
As with many stories, this has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I always prefer to start at the beginning.
It starts with our George, a pleasant and polite boy who lived with his family – his dad, his mum and his older sister, Lucy. George was, how you say, a ‘pip-squeak’. A ‘runt’. A ‘little twerp’, if you will. He was as scrawny as he was kind, with fair hair and a freckly nose. He was a decent sort who deserved a decent life. Unfortunately for him, however, he lived in a town where the vast majority of people were greedy and nasty. There is no doubt at all in my mind, Reader, that this centred around everyone’s obsession with the Spice Bag.
George’s town was not always so addicted to Spice Bags, you see. In fact, it had been a very normal town only a few years earlier, much like yours or mine. People jogged, cats purred and dogs pooed (and almost no one cleaned it up!). Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened (which, as you will learn, is not necessarily a bad thing).
Following the arrival of Mr Spicebag’s chipper, the town turned into a strange one. For a start, it was always raining, but there was more to it than that. There was a dark and heavy atmosphere that George could not quite put his finger or toe on. The people skulked from home to work, work to home. The only interruption was the trip to the adored local chipper, Mr Spicebag’s.
George’s parents were horrible. In fact, it was safe to say that George’s parents were the cruellest, nastiest, meanest parents in town. They even had a plaque on their gate to prove it. It read: HERE LIVE GEORGE’S PARENTS – THE CRUELLEST, NASTIEST, MEANEST PARENTS IN TOWN.
After living in the town for just a week, George’s parents became obsessed with Spice Bags. In no time, it was all they could think about. They would insist on George serving them food (Spice Bags, of course) at any hour, day or night. It was far too often that the poor boy would be turfed from his cosy bed in the middle of the night to fetch more Spice Bags. As a result, the house absolutely stank of grease.
His parents were also incredibly lazy and never lifted a finger. They would bark order after order at George as they scoffed down their Spice Bags. It was up to George to wash the floors, and paint the house, and hoover the stairs, and feed the cat, and wash the dog, then wash the cat and feed the dog, all on top of his homework.
But worst of all, George’s parents did not even feed him properly. To them, food was a privilege, not a right. They would eat Spice Bag after Spice Bag and the only thing they would allow George to eat was cold, watery porridge.
It was as if they went out of their way to feed him the most disgusting dish they could think of. More importantly, however, porridge was cheap, which meant they could buy more Spice Bags for themselves. Whatever the reason, their choice of diet for him meant that George was one of the few people in town not addicted to Spice Bags.
George’s dad was a judge whose job it was to shout a lot at people. He was extremely good at this job and, because he was so lazy, he often held court in the family’s living room, or kitchen, or really wherever he fancied, rather than bother to go to court. Sometimes George’s dad would shout at people from the toilet.
During the day, criminals would line up in single file outside whichever room George’s dad had chosen, waiting their turn to be shouted at. Some would pass the time playing cards while others enjoyed mass brawls. George’s favourite criminal was Fran, an 85-year-old woman, who had taught him how to play the harmonica. Fran had been found guilty of GTA (Gran Theft Apple) on many, many occasions, having been caught robbing an orchard 365 times in the previous year.
Both of George’s parents were large . . . very, very, very large. This was due entirely to their complete obsession with the Spice Bag. They looked like two people who had taken part (successfully) in an elephant-eating contest after those elephants had taken part in a pizza (-with-extra-cheese) eating tour-nament.
‘What shall we have for breakfast?’ George’s dad would ask.
‘SPICE BAGS, of course,’ his mum would reply, and off they would trundle.
Then at lunchtime George’s mum would say, ‘Oh, I’m starving! What shall we eat?’
‘I think a Spice Bag would slide down quite nicely,’ his dad would declare. ‘Quite nicely indeed . . .’ and off they would plod to Mr Spicebag’s.
And after a long day of barking orders at George, his dad would say, ‘Gosh, I’m feeling rather tired after such a hard day’s work, and you know what, I still feel hungry.’ ‘Yes,’ George’s mum would agree, her belly gurgling enthusiastically. ‘Yes, I am famished.’
And, well, you might have guessed what was on the menu. You’re getting the hang of it – the Spice Bag!
Sometimes, George would suggest, ‘How about some- thing healthy? Some lettuce, maybe?’
‘Some lettuce, maybe?’ his dad would mimic in a high- pitched voice. ‘Oh, my name’s George and I’m a spoilt little boy who talks back to his parents! ’
‘The amount we do for you,’ his mum would add. ‘We put a roof over your head, working our fingers to the bone to give you a good life!’
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except the roof. Admittedly, their house did have a roof.
‘Now out with you and get twelve Spice Bags EACH for your dad and me!’ his mum would shout.
‘Yes, get going before I eat YOU!’ his dad would add before throwing George out the door, much like an Olympic shot-put thrower.
Then there was George’s sister, Lucy, who didn’t seem to care about anyone or anything. She avoided their parents as best she could, spending the day looking at her phone and blowing bubble gum. George thought that one day Lucy could set up a very successful business blowing huge bubbles and floating people around, a bit like sightseeing by hot air balloon. Someone else would have to give the tours, though, as Lucy hardly ever spoke – she only texted.
George and Lucy used to be great friends, but one day Lucy got a bit taller and a bit meaner and decided that she was too cool to hang around with him. This bothered him at the time but now he was used to it, although he hoped that one day they would be friends again.
Curiously, George’s parents hadn’t always been so horrible. They used to live in a different town altogether before George’s dad had been made a judge. Before the big move, and before their absurd obsession with the Spice Bag, George’s parents used to take him and Lucy out on walks by the sea or they would go to the park and play football, and they always had time to listen to him. His dad used to tell him funny bedtime stories about penguins flying aeroplanes or horses pretending to be zebras to get into Z-rated films. His mum used to tuck him into bed so tightly that he knew he was safe from rolling onto the (pretend) burning lava floor beneath. However, like Lucy, they had become meaner. This bothered him at the time and it still bothered him if he was being honest. He felt alone and at night he often cried until his pillow felt quite damp.
But life would not always be so lonely for George.
Halfway up the Stairs was absolutely thrilled to be nominated for Children’s Bookseller of the Year (UK & Ireland) . It was an honour to be the only Irish nominee on the list, with the eight other nominees based in the UK. You can see information about all the nominees here
The awards took place (online) last night 13th May 2021, with Lenny Henry presenting the award for Children’s Bookseller of the Year (see video below). Our team of Trish, Amanda & Meriel dressed up for the occasion and raised a glass of bubbly to celebrate. Moon Lane in Ramsgate, Kent were worthy winners on the night but we were so happy to be nominated after just a year and a half in business. Judges praised the remarkable resilience of all nine shops on the shortlist for this award. “These booksellers have had a traumatic year, and it’s incredible to find that they have emerged from it even stronger.”
Watch Lenny Henry present the award at the 16 minute mark here
Choose a three month or six month subscription for a child in your life. Fill in our short questionnaire (link above), and our expert booksellers will choose one book a month according to the information you have given us. A subscription is a great gift for an avid reader and also is a wonderful idea for a small child, to expose them to fantastic new tales. The book will be wrapped and posted in the first week of every month – a gorgeous gift to land on your doorstep! (Also available on a click & collect basis.) We will include a Halfway up the Stairs tote bag with their final book.
To order a subscription in time for a book to be delivered in December, please ensure your order is placed by Friday December 10th. If you would like to place an order for a subscription as a Christmas present after this date, we will send the recipient a tote bag and a card to tell them their subscription will start in January 2022
A once off gift to send to a child in your life! Choose from four values – €25, €50, €75 and €100. Tell us a bit about the child (link above) and we will choose books and gifts according to the information you give us. They will be beautifully wrapped and packaged in an eco friendly gift box. You can also choose your own books from our website or in store and buy a gift box to package your books in.
Please ensure orders for personalised gift boxes for Christmas are placed by Friday, December 10th
Eight wonderful books have been chosen for the shortlist of the 2021 Children’s Books Ireland Awards. Best of luck to all these amazingly talented authors and illustrators. The nominations are as follows:
Online talks and conversations celebrating Irish and international children’s books, writers and illustrators, hosted by Sarah Webb, in conjunction with Halfway up the Stairs.
Discover new Irish and international children’s titles and hear experienced children’s writers and illustrators talk about their craft.
Love children’s books? Want to connect with and learn from talented Irish children’s writers and illustrators? Want to kick start your own creativity and/or write a children’s book? Join us!
Tickets are €5, and are redeemable against a speaker’s book. Buy tickets here.
Our first Children’s Book Salon took place on 14th January. We were joined by Natasha Farrant, Chris Haughton and Dave O’Callaghan. Natasha spoke about the inspiration for her Costa award winning novel “Voyage of the Sparrowhalk“. Chris Haughton read from his latest book “Maybe…” (out in March), and Dave O’Callaghan (from Eason) told us about exciting new titles coming this year. Trish Hennessy spoke about Halfway up the Stairs’ top 20 bestsellers of 2020. Ruth Ennis wrote up the event and you can read her blog here.
Our next event takes place this Thursday 28th January. We will be joined by authors Paul Howard, Emma Carroll, Lesley Parr, Alan Nolan and Lorraine Levis. Buy tickets here!
I am so proud of this list of our top selling titles for 2020, especially the fact that 15 of the 20 books are by Irish authors, and that an Irish language book is included! These are all books that we recommend and hand sell on a regular basis. I am especially proud of the fact that so many of the books on this list send a strong message of kindness and tolerance which is particularly relevant in these difficult times. There have been quite a few changes since our Bestseller’s list from our first full year in business, published in October 2020- see here.
1. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Gift Book). This is one of the most beautiful books you will ever lay your hands on and it makes a wonderful gift for anyone and everyone in your life. It is a particularly special gift for anyone going through a tough time. You can also buy a limited edition tote bag here.
2. The Dead Zoo by Peter Donnelly (picture book, Irish). A beautifully illustrated and joyful book, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, told in one of Ireland’s favourite museums. Peter kindly dropped in to sign lots of copies!(Published September 2020).
3. Elsetime by Eve McDonnell (age 9-12, Irish) – we have dubbed this our book of the year! This historical novel is a page turner, with time travel, friendship, peril and humour thrown in too! Eve visited us on publication day, and signed loads of copies , and gave us some wonderful momentos! (Published September 2020).
4. Follow the Track all the Way Back by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Ben Mantle (Picture Book). We are donating €5 from the sale of each copy of this book to Greystones Cancer Support, in memory of little Oisin Linehan from Greystones, who sadly passed away recently, age 2. This was Oisin’s favourite book and it tells the story of a little train who gets lost but finds his way back to his parents.
5. The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle (age 9-12, Irish). This was the book chosen for our first (and only…so far) 9-12 bookclub. It is based in Arranmore, Co Donegal and is a clever, page turning adventure mixing magic and legend with sibling rivalry and a boy coming to terms with big changes in his life. There are two books in this series, with a third due to be published later this year.
6. Here we Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Picture Books, Irish). This is our go-to recommendation for a new baby present. It was written for his baby boy as a way to introduce him to Planet Earth. It is beautifully illustrated and conveys a message of kindness.
7. Boot by Shane Hegarty (5-8, Irish). The first in the series, this was the book we chose for our first (and only!) 7-9 bookclub. It tells the story of a lost robot, who only has two-and-a-half memories trying to find his owner. Funny and heartwarming. We were very lucky to have Shane come to visit us to sign the latest book in the series – The Creaky Creatures.
8. While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Picture Book, Irish). A touching and perfect picture book for these times, very popular with grandparents, aunts and uncles. (Published June 2020)
9. Dog Man: Grime & Punishment by Dav Pilkey (age 5-8). The latest in the hugely popular Dog Man series, which saw us take in our highest number of preorders to date! There were squeals of excitement from many kids when this book arrived into the shop! (Published September 2020).
10. Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp (age 5-8) – the Pig series is the most popular series in the shop. Children love the mischief of Pig and his friends and the fact that there is LOTS of poo and farts! Emer was due to travel from the UK to launch her latest book “Pests” in April in Halfway up the Stairs but alas, this event was cancelled due to COVID-19.
11. A Place called Perfect by Helena Duggan (age 9-12, Irish). Helena very kindly came to visit St Laurence’s NS in Greystones in November 2019, and as you can see her book proved to be very popular! It tells the tale of a town that is not quite as it seems.
12. Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough & Jim Field (age 5-8, Irish)- the first in the series, these books are both funny and heartwarming, and hugely popular!
13. All to Play For by Donn McClean (age 9-12, Irish). We were very excited to stock this great book by local author and sportswriter, Donn McClean. It is Donn’s first children’s book and it tells the story of Anna coming to terms with the loss of her father, new beginnings and lots of exciting sports action too. Donn visited us when the book was published and signed lots of copies! (Published August 2020).
14. What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers (Picture Book, Irish) who wrote this wonderful new book for his daughter. With glorious illustrations and quirky humour, this book carries a strong and important message about tolerance and love. (Published October 2020).
15. Only a Tree Knows how to be a Tree by Mary Murphy (Picture Book, Irish). A beautiful book celebrating our individuality and promoting tolerance. (Published March 2020)
16. Break the Mould by Sinéad Burke, illustrated by Natalie Byrne (Guidance, Irish). A guide on how to take your place in the world, this important book helps children to accept themselves and to be comfortable in their own skin. (Published October 2020)
17. Poppy & Sam’s Animal Hide and Seek by Jenny Tyler, illustrated by Stephen Cartwright (Baby & Toddler). A wonderful touchy-feely, lift the flap book with strong durable pages and exciting things to spot.
18. Have you seen the Dublin Vampire? by Úna Woods (Picture book, Irish). The cutest vampire takes a stroll through Dublin – with vivid illustrations and simple text, this book was a huge hit for Halloween and continues to sell really well. Again, we were very lucky that Úna came to visit and sign her gorgeous book (Published September 2020).
19. The Great Irish Science Book by Luke O’Neill (Reference, Irish). This oversized reference book contains incredible illustrations, easy to digest facts and is a book to be treasured.
20. Geansaí Ottó by Sadhbh Devlin, illustrated by Róisín Hahessy (Irish, Irish Language Picture Book). How wonderful to have an Irish Language book in our Top 20 bestsellers! A gorgeous book about a Mamó who keeps knitting jumpers for Ottó! Again, we were very lucky to have Sadhbh drop by to sign copies of her fab book! (Published August 2020)