Last week, Carol Ann Duffy did a poetry reading in Norwich and, at this event, very pretty cardboard booklets were given out to the audience. These booklets contained two poems - one poem by me and one by Catherine Benson. I was very chuffed to have a poem of mine in such close proximity to our fab Poet Laureate.
So, two things:
1. I am going to give away two of these booklets. All you have to do for the chance to win one is reply to this post telling me who your favourite poet, or what your favourite poem, is. I'll pick the winners on the 10th June by pulling names out of a hat [I'm happy to post worldwide].
2. My poetry collection, 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is going to be published in July by The Rialto [hurray!]. If you'd like to help me spread the word about the collection when it's released then that would be fab and I'd love you forever. I'm up for doing blog interviews, guest posts etc etc. If you'd like me to invade your blog, then drop me an email and we can chat. :)
Ok, so you might have realised that I'm a little bit obsessed with literature. But, if you're here, then I'm assuming that you are too. So that's ok.
So, today I'm going to talk book clothing. Who doesn't love books on their clothes? I like books on my EVERYTHING, including my cake [that's not my cake. I wish it was]. If you've got some then reply with images and links and all that jazz. I'd love to see them.
If you're looking for t-shirts, then the place to head to is Out of Print clothing. I have been lusting after some of their stuff for months. As a present to myself for 'Weird Things...', I bought two of them.
Here's The Color Purple t-shirt. [It was sunny this weekend, so after work it was officially Pimm's O'clock.]
'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' is going to Finland! I signed the contract on Friday, and it'll be published in the autumn by Nemo. Hurray!
In other news, I've seen one of the illustrations for the Swedish edition of 'Weird Things...'! [The American & Finnish editions will have Greg's original illustrations]. The Swedish edition will be illustrated by Henrik Langes and will be published in the autumn by Bokförlaget Lind & Co, under the title 'Bokhandels Blues.'
Customer: Doesn't it bother you, being surrounded by books all day? I'd
be paranoid they were all going to jump off the shelves and kill me.
"Can books conduct electricity?" "My children are just climbing your bookshelves: that's ok... isn't it?" "I don’t like biographies. The main character pretty much always dies in the end. It’s so predictable!"
"So funny, so sad... Read it and sigh." --- Neil Gaiman
Hello folks! Copies of 'Weird Things...' and 'More Weird Things...' are £8.99 plus postage. If you're outside the UK, click the drop down menu to select another postage option - I can post to anywhere in the world.
If you'd like the book dedicated to someone, please let me know in the 'instructions to buyer' box. :)
1 x Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops [UK edition]
1 x Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops [UK edition] & 1 x More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops [UK edition]
Wednesday 4th July: Bookmatch
Jardine Cafe and Bistro [with Wivenhoe Bookshop].
I'll be guest author here, so I'll be chatting about 'Weird Things...' and signing books, but there's lots of other cool stuff going on too.
Thursday 5th July: Coleford Festival of Words. Forest Bookshop. 2:30pm.
Talk, acting out of 'Weird Things...' and book signing.
Saturday 7th July: Alice's Day.
It's a massive Alice in Wonderland celebration in Oxford on the 7th of July. There are lots of amazing things happening. I'll be at Blackwell's for part of the day, taking it in turns with booksellers and other authors to read out the whole of 'Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass.' So, stop by for a listen, and for all other Alice related activities. I'll be able to sign copies of 'Weird Things...' there, too. Hurray!
[Alice is my favourite book, ever. Miles and I make a good Alice & Mad Hatter ;)]
So, yes. I hope that some of you will be able to make one of these! x
Pull up a chair, folks! The authors of the fabulous FREAKS! are here to talk to you about superheroes and standing out from the crowd (whether you want to stand out or not). Meet The Photocopier, a woman who can reproduce herself at will and who attempts to teach her daughter to do the same. Or the zombie hairdresser who is able to reanimate every time she dies. And the man who can break his way into his lover's dream.
The two lovely authors of this book are Caroline Smailes (author of 99 Reasons Why), and Nik Perring (author of Not So Perfect). Their book is a collection of flash fiction, each story about a person with one super power, and is dedicated 'to those who, if only for a moment, felt like they didn't belong.' It's a beautiful collection (there's a taster story at the bottom of this interview), and it's illustrated by Darren Craske.
All who reply to this post by 31st May will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of FREAKS!
So, Caroline, Nik: what super power would you have wanted when:
1. You were a baby.
Caroline: I’d have liked to have stolen all the memories of my grandparents, just before they died, and kept them safe until I needed them. I wish I’d known who they were.
Nik: I think I’d quite to have stayed a baby for a little longer. They were easier times.
2.You were at primary school.
Caroline: Freezing time. I was happy.
Nik: Shape-shifting. I would love to have been Luke Skywalker.
3. You were a teenager.
Caroline: Invisibility. Being able to fade into nothing, to stop the pain, to breathe on my own.
Nik: I think the ability to think things through properly would have benefited a teenaged me. I might have made some more sensible decisions then. But, what can you do?
4. When you left school.
Caroline: Time travel. I fell in love with a foreign man and ran away to foreign lands when I was eighteen. I lived there for a year. I think I lost myself during that time. I think I would have benefitted from a trip into my future, to know just how it would work out. I think I’d have squealed with joy and disbelief.
Nik: Leaving school was a strange one for me. I left high school after my GCSEs and went to college which, a few months in, I took ‘early retirement’ from. So I think it’d be something like slowing down time and not rushing to grow into something, anything, that wasn’t me. Or perhaps the ability of heightened perception. See, then I’d have realised that I was never going to have a career as a musician because, really, I just wasn’t good enough.
Caroline - what superpowers do you think mothers wish they could have? [Though mums are superheroes anyway!]
Caroline: I’ve thought a lot about this one over the years (and during sleepless nights). Teleportation would have been nice, to nip to the shops and back without prams and nappy bags and what seemed like an almost military operation at that time. And there have been other moments when I’ve wished that I could freeze time, for silence and a cup of tea. And duplication would be nice; I’ve three children, so I’d like to be in three places at the same time. But, right now, if I’m completely honest, I’d like to slow time down just a little and treasure every single moment with them. They grow so quickly.
When you were a child, which book-world did you wish you could be part of? Which characters did you want to be best pals with?
Caroline: The worlds created by Roald Dahl appealed, they fitted with my wonky view. And Roald Dahl’s Matilda would have been my choice of companion, because I think we’d have been friends, best friends.
Nik: When I was very little it would have been Thumbelina or Rapunzel, or any fairy tale (this probably hasn’t changed all that much!). Later, I guess it’d have been anything to do with the Narnia books. I loved them.
If you could give your favourite literary character a super power, what would it be and why?
Caroline: I would give Mr Twit the ability to walk on ceilings, and possibly the ability to have facial hair that cleaned itself. And why? Because I feel he’d be rather nice, if he was loved and groomed and talked to in a stern voice.
Nik: Wow! Great question! Gawd, I’m not sure. I think the reason that certain literary characters are my favourites are because of their flaws or the sticky ends they come to, and I’m not sure I’d want to change that, if it came down to it. That said, I think Victor Frankenstein could have probably used a bit of empathy…
Wonderful answers. Thanks, guys! x
A sneak preview of FREAKS!
[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]
'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' is teaming up with Independent Booksellers Week. We'll be offering the book at a discount to independent bookshops, and I'm available to do events. I've already got a few events lines up, so spread the word to your local bookshop, and I might see you there! Full details over here.
Happy National Flash Fiction Day, folks! A day, founded by the fabulous Calum Kerr, to celebrate short-short stories everywhere! There's a whole load of flash fiction up today at the pop-up FlashFlood magazine. You can also purchase 'Jawbreakers,' the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology I mentioned the other day, which has stories by me, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman etc.
Collections of flash fiction I'd recommend right now are:
Today is two years since my grandpa passed away. He was rather wonderful *points to the photograph above*. He liked music [all kinds], especially jazz. Whenever I walked into his house he handed me a glass of sparkling tonic. He said 'It must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that.' He played the piano. He traveled the world. He played golf, and he loved cricket. He smoked a pipe, and had an inflatable toy parrot which he perched on his shoulder after he'd had a knee replacement.
When he was older, he got Parkinson's. Parkinson's tries to steal people away from themselves. It's a nasty fight, and if you know someone who has it, then you might want to consider donating your brain to Parkinson's UK.
Anyway, Parkinson's was not my grandpa. My grandpa was 'Poppa' and he was excellent. A year ago, a poem of mine 'Ullambana' [The Hungry Ghost Festival] was published in The Interpreter's House. It's about him, and home. I thought I'd share it today. x
[the hungry ghost festival]
When we sat on the hills that looked
over my house
we saw Chinese lanterns we had not set
free. They had
no name on their sides, just orange.
They were a peaceful army.
These lanterns hold the name of a
copper for the way they carry
themselves. Two metals hinged at the
sides - a hip joint.
Like the Japanese flower physalis
alkekengi hangs upside down
and patiently waits there.
Your hands used to move like rice
'It must be jelly 'cause jam don't
shake like that.'
You went to China and brought me dolls
dressed up as air
I have Yashica photos of you building
nuclear plants, a pipe half
in your mouth
and Wellington boots that covered the
base of your suit.
For you, I signed a form to place my
brain in a jar when I'm
done with it. They will lift it from my
skull and see you.
If we were home now, I'd be looking out
my bedroom window.
When I was three an owl hit the glass
there and you can still
trace the outline of its feathers. I
did not see it fall.
The lantern was postbox red then. It
was a letter. At school we did
about the little match girl, and the
next year I played a gangster.
You didn't mind which I was as long as
there was music.
Over dinner my sister said to me 'When
did dragons become
and somewhere you were laughing. The
lamp rose as a dragon
If I were in London I would not see
but would light a candle. It's been a
as the crow flies. This year it is the
year of the rabbit.
I go and sit myself at the piano. Play
Honky Tonk parade.
1. Paper Aeroplanes's new single, Multiple Love, is rather pretty. Have a listen.
2. Over the next month you can find me at The Yellow-Lighted Book Festival [28th May], a signing at Waterstones in Wimbledon [Bank holiday Monday, 4th June, 1pm] and a reading and signing at Waterstones in King's Lynn [Saturday 9th June, 11am]. I'm also going to be at the Belfast Book Festival in June; I'll let you know details of that nearer the time.
4. I was very sad to hear that Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday. He was rather wonderful.
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” - Maurice Sendak.
4. I'm chuffed to bits to have been nominated for The Forward Prize this year, for Best Single Poem, both by The Rialto and Shearsman. Hurray for poetry!
7. As for what I'm up to at the moment [bar bookselling and 'Weird Things...', and poetry stuff, obviously], I am... writing a novel. EEK. It's in its very early stages, but I feel like I'm really getting to grips with the world I'm building, and getting to know my characters well. I had the idea for it back in November 2010, so it's been brewing in my head for quite a while. I am scared at the vast amount of work to be done but excited, too. & now that I've told you all I'm writing it, I'll have to keep going ;). So, if you see me hanging around on Twitter for long periods of time, feel free to tell me to bugger off and get on with it. Excellent.
8. “Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning. ”
Pull up a chair and make yourselves a cup of tea. The wonderful Jon McGregor is here [author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, So Many Ways to Begin & Even the Dogs]. He's going to be talking about his fantastic short story collection 'This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You' - and a bloody good read it is, too.
Everyone who replies to this topic by 15th May [no matter where you are in the world] will have their names put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Jon's short story collection.
Hi, hello. Nice to be back. You mean writing-wise, or just
generally in the life? Writing-wise, it's been all about short stories for the
last few years. But I see I'll be talking about that below. Erm, what else... I
did a lot of readings for Even The Dogs.
I was shortlisted - twice - for the BBC National Short Story Award, and came
second, twice. Which was fun. And I discovered Twitter.
Hurrah for Twitter, and hurrah for being shortlisted! Tell us about ‘This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone
It's a collection of short stories. They're all set in
Lincolnshire, and so are - hopefully - held together by a sense of place rather
than any narrative links. I wanted the reader to have the sense of these
stories happening to people who were within sight of each other, but out of
reach. Connected but not connected. I figured all that out quite late on
though; initially, I just kept finding ideas for stories in the unsettlingly
exposed and isolated landscape of the fens.
How long did it take you to write the collection? Which story was
the first to be written, and which was the last?
In terms of putting the book together, it was probably a
couple of years. But some of the longer stories were written much longer ago: In Winter The Sky is a rewrite of
something I originally wrote in 1999, and We
Wave And Call was first written in, I think, 2003. And some of the other
stories have been making their way on and off the desk for most of the last
decade. But the majority of the stories were written in 2010 and 2011, once I'd
got the notion of staying in the Lincolnshire fens.
The last one to be written? Probably New York, or at least the version of New York which is in the book and doesn't leave me at the mercy of
Do you have a particular favourite? [Mine are (because I couldn’t
choose just one) ‘Which Reminded Her, Later’ and ‘The Chicken and The Egg’]
Not a favourite as such. I'm glad that Fleeing Complexity is in there, as it's nice to be able to quote a
story in full when people ask about the book, and that story feels like it
encapsulates something about the mood and setting and tone of the whole
book. I also enjoyed writing I'll Buy You A Shovel, and have started
wondering whether I'm done with those two characters...
The second story, ‘In the Winter Sky’ uses both fiction and poetry.
What made you decide to do that?
Long story. There was a story, one of four which I'd
originally written in 1999-2000, which was published in Granta in 2002 and
which I'd assumed I'd be including in this collection. But when I looked at it
properly again, it didn't feel right - it felt like something I'd written when
I was 23, not something which I would write now. It felt like I'd be including
it just to pad out the pages. But it also tied in so nicely with the themes and
landscape of the book that it seemed a shame to leave it out. And yet I wasn't
at all sure I wanted to rewrite it; I've always felt that when something is
published it should stay put, stay as it is.
And then a very smart friend of mine read the story, and made
comments, and the comment she made at the point when the original version -
which is told entirely from the man's perspective - describes the man deciding
to marry the woman, was: "What did she think about it?"
And I realised that the woman was a silent character, and that a way
of rewriting the story - the way I should maybe have written it in the first
place - was to switch it round to the wife's perspective.
And so then, by way of
incorporating the original text, and addressing its excesses and weaknesses -
as well as by way of making parallel tracks of the man's and woman's
perspectives - I used the device of the journal/poem, complete with strikethroughs
and white spaces and changes of mind.
In the previous interview, you said [when talking about initial
publication]: ‘...After that I wrote a collection of
long stories (4 x 10,000 words) and sent it off to some agents. One of them
took me on, but the book was never published.’ Do you think we will ever get to
see this book?
See above, in a way. The original version of In Winter The Sky was one of these, and
has its problems. The other three have more problems. They're staying in the
Who are your favourite short story writers?
At the moment? Donald Barthelme, George Saunders, Lydia
Davis, Alice Munro, Maile Meloy.
I should also mention Lucy Woods, whose debut collection Diving Belles is really quite something.
Worth buying for the House Spirits
(Disclosure: Yes, it's published by Bloomsbury, who also publish
my books. But come on, it's not like I've got shares or anything..)
What are you currently reading?
Stories in the Worst
Way by Gary Lutz.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
A couple of weeks ago, I hopped on a train to Lichfield to go and sign books at the wonderful Book Barge. A BOOKSHOP ON A BOAT. It's owned and run by Sarah, who had stopped by Ripping Yarns at the beginning of April and asked if I'd come for a visit. I very happily said yes.
The boat is currently moored in Staffordshire, though Sarah sometimes ventures to other places - travelling along at the glorious speed of 4mph. I was welcomed with a very lovely cake.
Take a look around!
It's a beautiful place, and a wonderful concept. Also, being on a boat seems to open up a whole new kind of strange customer requests; Sarah has a few pages in the back of 'Weird Things...' all to herself, including:
Customer: Can you point me to your military history section
Bookseller: I'm afraid we're such a small shop that we
actually have one.
Customer: WHAT? No war section AT ALL? Have you no respect
Bookseller: I can order in any title you're after. Or
find a decent selection of war poetry and novels inspired by war.
Customer(ignoring this): You mean to tell me you
no shelf on weaponry?
Bookseller: I'm afraid not.
Customer: Are you a pacifist or something?
So, if you're near the Barge, or it's near you, then go and check it out! Give Sarah a hug from me, she's very lovely indeed.
Jen Campbell is the author of the best-selling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series. She's also an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is published by The Rialto, and she lives in London, where she works at an antiquarian bookshop. Her new book, 'The Bookshop Book' is forthcoming autumn 2014, and she is currently writing her first novel.
Forthcoming autumn 2014 (click for details)
From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.
Wednesday 15th October 7:30pm: Waterstones Castle Street, Norwich
Chat about 'The Bookshop Book'
Tickets are £6 or £4 for concessions and loyalty card holders, with £3 redeemable against a purchase of the new book on the night. Refreshments will be provided.
Wednesday 29th October
7:30pm: The Big Comfy Bookshop, Coventry.
Fargo Village, Far Gosford Street, Coventry, CV1 5EA
Audience Q&A and signing.