Monday, 18 February 2013

what I've been up to when not at the bookshop...

1. Giggling at this.
2. Reading wonderful books by this publisher.
3. Writing my novel. A lot. I still have The Fear, but it is no longer owning me. Thank you, Mr. Kaufman. (The novel, in case you were wondering, is dystopian. It's about a group of women. That's all you're getting for now.)
4. Getting excited about it being lighter in the mornings - hurrah!
5. Getting ready to go to Paris next week - double hurrah! We've been once before, and very excited to be going back.
6. Trying (and often failing) to write a poem a day this month with my lovely pal Bri and some other fabulous American poets.
7. Eating far too many Malteser MaltEaster Bunnies. Yes, I know it's February. Shhh.
8. Getting freaked out by Black Mirror.
9. Preparing for the launch of More Weird Things..., which is two months away. Hurrah! You can take a look at the events I'm doing over here.
10. Having fun on Tumblr.
11. Going to bed. Goodnight! x

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Author Visit: Claire King

Today is release day for the fantastic 'The Night Rainbow' by Claire King. I've read it, and really loved it. Claire's here to chat to you all about it. So, make yourselves a cup of tea and have a read.

Everyone who replies to this post before midday Thursday 21st February will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of 'The Night Rainbow.'

This giveaway is open worldwide! x


Hi Claire! Welcome to the blog - please make yourself at home. 

Hi Jen! Thank you so much for inviting me! Lovely place you have here. 

Congratulations on the publication of your first book, ‘The Night Rainbow.’ It is excellent, and also very beautiful. Are you all excited? Nervous? Ready to dance around?

Thank you very much! I’m very excited, and yes I think I must be nervous although I’m not really sure about what anymore. The first reviews coming in have been lovely, so I can breathe a little! All I want, as I’m sure most authors do, is for readers to enjoy the time they spend with the book.

Tell our lovely bloggers a little about 'The Night Rainbow.' 

The Night Rainbow is a story set in southern France, and told from the point of view of five and a half year old Pea, whose family has been hit by a double tragedy – the loss of a baby and the death of her father. Pea needs her mother, but Maman is floored with grief, and also very heavily pregnant. In the height of the August heat-wave she retreats to her room, leaving Pea as the responsible one in the house. Pea and her little sister Margot run wild in the meadows, and it’s there that they meet Claude. Maybe they have found a new papa? That might make everything better? 

It’s a story about the tenacity of children, about loss and recovery and – I think – most of all about hope.

You’ve won awards for your short stories. Did 'The Night Rainbow' begin as a short story? How did you approach the writing of it? Did you do it in sections, or did you approach it as one large piece?

The Night Rainbow was always going to be a novel. I could ‘feel’ it from very early on, if that makes any sense at all? When I started to write it, I started with the climactic scene close to the end, and pretty much worked my way backwards until I’d got to the place it should start. That might sound very odd, but that way I was always asking the question, ‘How did we get here?’  

How long did it take you to write?

It took about a year of actual writing, although there were a few months of thinking that went into it before that. I wrote about 1000 words per day. If you add that up you’ll get to 3 months. The other 9 months were edits.

Place plays a massive part in the novel. How has living in France affected your writing, and why did you decide to move there?

We moved here because we were thinking of ‘settling down’ and we knew it would require a change of pace if we were going to have children and raise them the way we wanted to. When you decide to make a change like that in life, a lot of other questions about life come up at the same time – what sort of adventures do you want? What’s important to you? We kept possibilities as open as possible, and settled on an adventure in France. Both of us worried a little that it wouldn’t work out, but we had enough money for one frugal year, and we could always come back to the UK if necessary. That was eleven years ago…

One way living here has affected my writing is in the way I think about language. Having to think and speak in French somehow ruptured my thought patterns. I find myself questioning word choice, and co-opting some French ideas into my use of English. I found the same thing watching my daughters learning to speak (in both languages). The way they construct words from parents, teachers and friends and use that as a base to make their own speech patterns is both thrilling and inspiring. As Louise Doughty described it in one of her novels, when they learn a new word it’s as though they’ve grown a new finger, and they wiggle it to see how it works. 

What’s the publication story of 'The Night Rainbow'?

The story itself is quite short. I sent it out, and in my first batch of agents I had two requests for the full MS very quickly. One of them, Annette Green, almost bit my hand off for it. When you meet a literary agent who is so enthusiastic about your book, it’s just an amazing feeling. Annette sent it straight out to a shortlist of publishers, and after a couple of tantalizing months, and a face to face meeting, Bloomsbury – who just loved the novel, but had very full 2012 lists – offered for 2013, a two year wait. But again, if you meet a publisher that you feel good about, and who absolutely loves your novel, well some things are worth waiting for.

In a close, parallel universe, none of this never happened. The Night Rainbow either just never found the right agent, or else the publishers’ lists were all full, or they already had a similar book, or they just didn’t want to take the dual risk of a ‘quiet’ novel with a child narrator. Part of me still walks in that parallel universe, because part of me still can’t believe that I made it here.

What are your plans for around publication date?

I’m going to be in London, celebrating with family and friends, starting with Chinese New Year on Sunday, then my mum is coming down from Scotland so we’ll spend some time with her. On Wednesday, the day before the official pub date of 14th February, I’m having a party at Daunt books.  

Launch parties are by no means obligatory, especially for debut novelists, but I’m a big fan of ceremonies in life. They mark important moments, and this really important moment for me. It’s something I’ve been working towards pretty much my whole life. 

I’ll be up in Yorkshire later at the start of March for a book signing in the Little Ripon Bookshop and holding a small drinks party for Northern folk. That’s as far as I’ll get on this trip, but I’m hoping when the paperback comes out the book will be relatively well known and I’ll be invited to a few more bookshops!

Are you allowed to tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

I can’t say too much as no-one has had sight of it yet, but it’s an existential love story set on a houseboat on the Canal du Midi near Toulouse. I’ve been editing it for a long time, but I’m still not ready to hand it in to my agent. I was hoping it would be done and dusted before the launch of The Night Rainbow, but it’s not, and there’s no point rushing it. 

One thing I’ve learnt is that a novel should be the best you can make it, the closest to your idea of what you want it to be, before you submit. Even if you already have an agent and a friendly publisher. Best foot forwards, always!

Sounds advice! Thanks, Claire, and good luck! x

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Thursday 21st February will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of 'The Night Rainbow.'

This giveaway is open worldwide! x

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

for all your bookselling-gif-and-lol-related needs

For those of you on Tumblr, I've set up a 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' account, for all your bookselling-gif-and-lol-related needs.

For example:


Image and video hosting by TinyPic

More over on the Tumblr page. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

new website

I am new to the world of website building, but have finally got round to making one. This blog will stay where it is, don't worry. The website is for information on books and events and all that jazz. You can find it over here:

Any feedback/suggestions for improvement are very much appreciated.

In other news: 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' was front and inside page of The Bookseller on Friday, which was very nice indeed.

Hope you all have a lovely week. x

Monday, 11 February 2013

Author Visit: Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Happy Monday, all!

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Sunday 17th February will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Carolyn's fantastic book The Boy Who Could See Demons. 

NB: This giveaway is open worldwide


Hi Carolyn! Welcome to the blog - please make yourself at home. 

Thank you for having me :)

I’ve recently read your second novel, ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ and enjoyed it very much indeed. How would you describe it to those who haven’t read it yet?

Thanks a lot, so glad you liked it. I’d describe ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ as a quirky psychological drama about a young boy, Alex, from Belfast whose best friend is not only invisible, but happens to be a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen, who’s keen on bread and butter pudding and changes form a lot. When Alex’s mum attempts suicide yet again he becomes involved with child psychiatrist, Anya, who has her own issues after her daughter’s mental illness. Anya must assist Alex in understanding the reasons why Ruen exists in his mind, but she also has to confront the possibility that Ruen is real after all. My work is principally interested in survival and in characters who have tough obstacles to overcome, and in Alex’s case he must overcome his childhood.

Place (Belfast) plays a big role in the novel. You grew up in Belfast - how do you think this has influenced you?

I never thought I’d write about Belfast. I have such complicated feelings about the place and have never found a successful way of articulating my relationship with it at all. It’s a personal thing. I grew up in a council house in a ‘loyalist’ area. A solider was shot dead in a street next to ours and a family thrown out of their home for being Catholic. I heard bombs going off and have many memories of being caught up in bomb scares. I never worked out why it all went on; because I grew up with it, the situation was something I tolerated rather than questioned, at least until I reached adulthood. I moved to Sydney when I was 21 and left Belfast for good at 26, after graduating from my PhD at Queen’s University Belfast. I feel frustrated by the situation there, and yet the place has deep emotional roots and family ties. I think this is articulated in the course of the book.

Your first book is ‘The Guardian Angel’s Journal’. What’s your publication story?

‘The Guardian Angel’s Journal’ started life as a poem that I couldn’t finish. I was very frustrated by it and recognized that the problem lay in the form – it didn’t want to be a poem, but it wanted to be something. I’d attempted novels when I was in my teens and had written a ‘practice’ novel in 2008, but when the idea for the book – about a woman who dies and comes back to earth as her own guardian angel – developed I wrote a sample chapter to take to a networking event with editors and agents in London, which literature organization New Writing North invited me to in July 2009. I didn’t hear anything and followed up the publishers and agents I’d submitted the first chapter to in early September. One of the agents said she didn’t have the sample and could I send the first 50 pages? I sent her this, and she wrote back within 24 hours saying she liked it and could she see the rest? Well, I hadn’t written the rest but I didn’t want to say that – so I asked her to give me a couple of weeks, cleared my schedule, begged my mother-in-law to mind the kids and wrote like hell. 11 days later, I finished it. The day after, my agent – Madeleine Milburn – signed me up. By November 2009 I had a 2-book deal with Little, Brown/Piatkus and about 10 foreign languages. Every week Maddy would be emailing to say ‘oh, I just got you a deal in Romania’. I just could not believe it. 

Do you have a writing routine? 

It changes all the time. I have four children aged 6, 4, 2, and 6 months, and they get top priority when it comes to my time. My mother-in-law kindly babysits when she’s not working, so I’ve just worked very intensively for the last few months on a new novel. I’m taking the next wee while ‘easy’, which for me translates as a handful of poems a week and much scribbling in my notebook of new ideas. Basically I write as and when I can, though I imagine when my children are all at school I’ll settle into a daily routine with a lunch hour, etc. Right now my life involves so much juggling that it would probably look like utter madness to an outsider, but I can’t not write.  

How long did it take you to write ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’? You must have done quite a lot of research for it. 

The first draft took 3 weeks, the rewrite, about 4 or 5 weeks, with 8 months between the two versions (Jen: Wow!). I did tons of research, including interviews with top psychiatrists and a visit to an inpatient unit in London. I used to be an academic and have a lot of research experience, which has enabled me to research my novels efficiently and quickly. I have a good sense of who to ask, what to read, where to look and, particularly, when to stop, though I found I could have researched this topic forever!  

If you had a demon - or several - what would they look like? 

I think they’d look beautiful on the outside and would sympathetically tell me I’m a complete failure at every given opportunity.

Your poetry collection ‘Inroads’ is published by Seren. Could you perhaps give us a snippet of one of the poems?

Certainly! I pruned down the collection from its original state quite a bit, so that the ones that remain in there are my favourite. But ‘Yesterday, I failed’ is particularly special, because it came out on paper in a single draft after a really awful incident where I, um, failed badly at something. It’s probably the closest poem to my voice, too. It’s quirky and tragic and playful. Every time I do a poetry reading there’s a moment where the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh or sigh for me. Invariably, they end up laughing. Here’s an extract:

I failed, and the failing was great thereof.
I failed all the way to the sulphur cliffs of cynicism, then bungee-jumped.
I shot a hole in one in failure.
I failed and changed the course of history.
I failed admirably, catastrophically, unremittingly, relentlessly, 
deliciously, spaciously, and with the dexterity of the common 
I did not merely stall, pause, or change my mind –
I failed, like any serious attempt at oil painting in a wind machine.
I failed, but the crops did not.
I failed in a field, and filed as I fooled.
I walked right up to failure, kicked it in the shins, and insulted its mother.

Do you find you have to be in a different state of mind to write poetry rather than prose (I know I do, so I’m projecting here a little ;)). What’s the difference in the way you’d approach a poem vs prose?

Absolutely, it takes a different state of mind. Or rather, writing a novel consumes me so entirely that I can barely function. It is just so intense that constructing an email during that period proves difficult, never mind a poem. So yes, I have writing periods for each.

What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

I just finished my third novel, which blew my mind, though now I’m on tenterhooks as I await my agent’s response to it. In a while I’ll turn my attention to finishing my second poetry collection, BOOM!, which is coming out next year, and also promoting the US version of ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ which comes out this August. It’s a little different than the UK version…

Intriguing...! Thanks for stopping by, Carolyn, and all the best with the new novel!


Twitter: @cjesscooke


Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Sunday 17th February will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Carolyn's fantastic book The Boy Who Could See Demons. 

NB: This giveaway is open worldwide

Thursday, 7 February 2013

things what I've read recently and rather liked

Here are some books I've read recently and rather fallen in love with. Hopefully something here may catch your eye (or all of them!).

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly 

This book made my heart happy. I love a twisted fairy tale, and here are several beautifully intwined. Think Alice and Pan's Labyrinth and Return to Oz. This is David, and he loves books. They talk to him. His mother has died and his father has remarried (oh, the real-life wicked stepmother!). Only she’s not so wicked, David just resents her, and he resents his new half-brother, too. Out in the world there’s a war brewing, and the fighting outside and the fighting in David’s head soon become confused. When a war plane crashes in his back garden, David finds himself stepping from his own garden into a forest - somewhere he’s never been before. Here there are wolves born from Red Riding Hood, a Crooked Man who promises he can help him, and whispers of terrifying creatures and women that live beyond. So begins David's quest. Everything he's read in books, and everything that he hasn’t, has come to life - and nearly all of these things seem to want him dead.

Grow Up - Ben Brooks

'One thing I have learned from being alive for seventeen years is that people like to touch things very much. Things that people like to touch: Vaginas. Expensive things in shops. Jelly that is not ready to eat yet. Cigarette lighters. Necks. Dead things. Dogs. Piercings. Toddlers' cheeks. Snow. Each other's knees.

People also like to touch death.'

This book is hilarious. It's also very dark. Meet Jasper. He's very anxious. He goes to see a psychiatrist because his mum thinks he's racist. He isn't. He just likes making people believe stuff to wind them up. His best friend is Tenaya. She's sad at the moment. Jasper's life ambitions are to sleep with Georgia Treely, convince the police that his stepdad is a murderer, not fail his AS Levels, and also win the Booker Prize for the novel he's writing in the shed. Oh, and to forget that the incident with Abby Hall ever happened. Yes. It's wonderful. Please read it.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I need some time to heal. This novel hit me quite hard. Somehow, as he normally does, John Green finds the perfect balance between the funny and the tragic. I think this is the best I've seen him. This is the story of Hazel and Gus. They are teenagers who meet at a cancer support group. This is a story about where we belong in the world, and what we will leave behind. It's about small infinities and big infinities. It's about feeling scared, and not wanting to be a grenade - realising that no matter what you do, you're going to hurt the people who love you because you can't make them not love you.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”

“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.”

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”

This falls into the former category.

Goat in the Snow - Emily Pettit

I first heard of Emily Pettit when I was looking through the Goodread Finalists in the Poetry category a couple of months ago. I tracked down a couple of her poems online to see if I'd like them (the reviews on Goodreads were very favourable), and decided to order myself a copy from the States. I'm glad I did; the first poem confirmed that I was going to enjoy this book:

'...I want to know more about 
normal accidents, owls misplaced in the arctic, breathing in code, 
dead fish on the sidewalk, extinction in the meadow, 
red wings collapsing.' 

The narrators of these poems are always seeking information whilst, at the same time, trying to instruct the reader in abstract ways: poems entitled 'How to lose lost objects,' first line: 'This is a memory of a house, so no one lives here.' Intricate, wonderful riddles to shed light on a different way of looking at things: 

'How to be irresponsible 

You've forgotten where you put your map 
of the basement. Remember the basement? 
It's under the house. If you still had a shadow
it'd be dancing on top of the basement.' 

It's a fantastic collection, with beautiful lines such as: 

'There are a couple of places 
in which human activity is generally missing.
It's hard to fit into a hummingbird's bill. Clouds refuse to carry us. 
There are quiet parts of our brains' 

'If this is breaking your heart / close your eyes.'

Fair Copy - Rebecca Hazelton

The perfect balance of old and new. On her 29th birthday, Rebecca Hazelton decided to take the first line of every 29th Emily Dickinson poem, and use it as an acrostic to write her own piece. She said that this helped her engage with Dickinson's poems better; the themes unravelling in her own work. This book is just beautiful. It made me want to read it inside a cave, or under the sea; it has such magical qualities:

'The wind was a man who carried me 
high over the world in his elbow crook 
Eggshell he called me, fingernail girl 
wrapping me tight in his breast pocket.' 

None of these lines feel forced as an acrostic; the words slot into place with such precision. Every word is exact. 'This is pretty, pretty your sleeping body, / hair shocked out against the pillow, / eyes closed, lashes like a girl's. / Men in sleep aren't boys, but aren't / exactly men, either - they soften / revert to animal, / curled up beast.' 

I think my favourite poem (though it's hard to choose, and no doubt I'll change my mind later), is 'The Nearest Dream Recedes, Unrealised', which begins: 

'Then we set up a sort of camp beneath the sea, 
hung shells stuffed with phosphorous plankton, 
emitting a cool green light - by which to read.'

An Island of Fifty - Ben Brooks

Yes, another Ben Brooks. Slightly in love at the moment.

This is a wonderful experimental novella. It's almost like poetry. In fact, it is poetry. It defies form and narrative. It's about a group of people 'advancing' in civilisation but in a way that makes them fall apart. It's about island, but about how everyone there is an island themselves. It's about industrialisation and greed and slavery. It's about the differences between men and women, and the differences between towns and the countryside. It's got elements of Virginia Woolf, and of Animal Farm. The text is also in all different sizes. I thought, at the beginning, that this would really bug me, but it didn't. After a while I rose and fell with it; like the tide. It's written almost as a religious text, headed with 'books' such as 'hunger', 'light' etc.

Hunger II

Marsha stalked the bears through
mountains. Miles behind her red
eyes and soft footfalls as she traced their
paths. She crouched beside the mouth of
their cave. The night fell scarlet around
her, clouds drew together and made a
solemn temple in the sky. Gates opened
& a thousand sparrows made quick
their escape.
The bears slept
, cradling each other's bodies
the insanity of the
. She crept in & slit their throats
with a rock from the floor. Their heads
were slowly removed & she climbed into
the body of the bear.

Marsha slept wet with tears and blood
inside the bear.

I'm looking forward to rereading this book already.