Friday, 4 April 2014

Are Your Books Real Friends?

I love this article I stumbled across in one of our old Girls' Own Annuals in the bookshop today. It's from 1930, and is called 'Are Your Books Real Friends?' by Winifred S. Telford. It contains such gems as: 'If you are already a book-lover, you will not need any urging to get intimate with your books. Put aside a special place for your book friends and do not place a single volume there until you feel real delight in its society; until you feel some real communion with its spirit, and have gained something from its pages that has helped you to a happier, nobler view of life.'

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Bookshop That Floated Away

Sarah Henshaw is one of my favourite people. She runs a bookshop on a boat. The boat's name is Joseph (though it's officially known as The Book Barge), and she opened it in 2009. She even has a bookshop rabbit by the name Napoleon Bunnyparte. He's rather cute.

When Sarah first had the idea for turning a 60ft narrowboat into a bookshop, she approached banks asking for start-up loans. Trying to be original, she presented her business plan to them in the form of a book, complete with fake reviews and pictures from Wind in the Willows to show how wonderful the bookshop would be once it was up and running. She even included illustrations of Cleopatra’s barge (from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra):

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were lovesick with them. 

The Book Barge was going to be amazing, the business plan declared; it was going to be the stuff of legend. “Help us do this!” Sarah grinned.

The banks raised their eyebrows, sighed, and said no. 

So, with help from her family, The Book Barge opened anyway. You can normally find it in Lichfield but, in 2011, when business wasn't going well, Sarah decided to have A Great Adventure. She decided to up sticks for six months and take the boat over 1000 miles around the canals of the UK, selling books along the way. The Book Barge didn't have a kitchen, a bathroom, or a loo, so she bartered books for these things instead, advertising her whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook, asking for food, the use of a shower etc and giving people stories in return. 

A little over a year ago, Sarah decided to start writing about those mad six months of her life, battling with canal locks and boat robbers and slightly mad customers (you might have spied a few quotes from Sarah in the back of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops). And today, her book The Bookshop That Floated Away is published by Constable & Robinson. I'm so happy that you can all rush out and buy it, and I really urge you to do so. The book is hilarious, and Sarah's a bit of a bookselling hero. 

Go on, go track a copy down. It's bloody marvellous. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Children Say The Best Things in Bookshops

It's true.

Whilst customers say odd things sometimes, children say the best things: sometimes heart-warming, sometimes hilariously bizarre, because their imaginations are rather excellent.

Here are some of the things that have been said to me by children in our bookshop.*
*Prepare for the warm fuzzies.


Little boy: When I grow up, I'm going to be a book ninja!
Me: What's a book ninja?
Little boy: I can't tell you. It's a secret. 


Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books. 
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are. 
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.


Little girl (pointing to a cupboard under one of the bookshelves): Can you get to Narnia through there?
Me: Unfortunately, I don’t think you can.
Little girl: Oh. Our wardrobe at home doesn’t work for getting to Narnia, either.
Me: No?
Little girl: No. Dad says it’s because mum bought it at IKEA. 


Little girl: I've written a book. 
Me: Have you? What's it about?
Little girl: I don't know. It's in my head. I haven't read it yet.


Little boy: Mummy, who was Hitler?
Mother: Hitler?
Little boy: Yeah. Who was he?
Mother: Erm, he was a very bad man from a long time ago.
Little boy: Oh. How bad?
Mother: He was like... he was like Voldemort.
Little boy: Oh! That’s really, really bad.
Mother: Yes.
Little boy: (Pause) So... did Harry Potter kill Hitler, too?


Little girl: I like books because they're like the stories in my head ... but better... and with more dragons. 


(At the bookshop, a young boy came up to the counter, beckoned to me, and whispered):
Young boy: Just so you know, there's a vampire hiding behind one of your bookcases.
Me: Oh, is there?
Young Boy: Yes. I heard it. I've read about them, and I know what they sound like.
Me: I see. Thank you for letting me know.
Young Boy: You're welcome. (Pause.) Also, try not to anger it. They can be very aggressive.


(A young girl is looking at some pony books)
Me: Do you like horses?
Young girl: Yes. When I grow up I’m going to have a pony.
Me: That sounds like fun.
Young girl: Yes. And it will be better than all the other ponies.
Me: How come?
Young girl: Because mine will have a purple tail. And roller-skates. 


Young boy: You should put a basement in your bookshop. 
Me: You think so?
Young boy: Yeah. And then you could keep a dragon in it, and he could look after all the books for you when you're not here.
Me: That's a pretty cool idea. Dragons breathe fire, though. Do you think he might accidentally burn the books?
Young boy: He might, but you could get one who'd passed a test in bookshop-guarding. Then you'd be ok.
Me: ...You know, I think you're on to something there. 


Little girl: I like bookshops. They are houses for stories.

image image
Some of the above are extracts from my books, 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' and 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.'

Friday, 28 March 2014

in which I love the world

Hello my beautiful blogettes!

Do you know that it is four and a half weeks until my manuscript deadline for 'The Bookshop Book'? I am a mess of stressful excitement (that's a slight exaggeration.) Mainly I'm worried about missing out something very important (imagine if I missed out my own bookshop, how hilarious would that be? Probably not so much).

Anyway! I am happily drowning in bookshops, and books about books, and books about bookshops that I bought in bookshops (SO META). On Monday I'm going to Hay on Wye (I can't believe I've never been before). I'm road-tripping it with the lovely Sam who runs Books & Ink Bookshop in Banbury, and I shall be leaving the house at 5:30am. I am ready for all the books.

Next week I'm also chatting to Bill Bryson about his favourite books and bookshops, and I've been talking to Hank Green (of VlogBrothers awesomeness) about why he thinks bookshops are important places, too. I am seriously so excited to share this book with all of you when it's published in October. I feel so lucky to have been able to research amazing bookshops, and talk to authors passionate about them, as well as being completely inspired by people like Luis Soriano - who runs a mobile library on the back of a donkey in Colombia.

Yep. That's right.
Sometimes, the world is just an amazing place.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. x

Friday, 21 March 2014

first loves, real mermaids, and Chinese paper lanterns

Happy World Poetry Day, folks!

Did you know that, in Shakespeare's day, it was common practice to dig up dead bodies and burn them, to make room for the newly dead? Cheerful, eh? Shakespeare wasn't a fan of this, so he wrote a 'curse poem' to go on his grave, to stop anyone digging him up:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.


So, to celebrate World Poetry Day, I've made a little video of me reading my poem 'Kitchen.'
(NB: As far as I'm aware, this poem isn't cursed.)

(If you're viewing this in an email, you might have to click here to view the video.)

I am also offering free worldwide postage on my poetry collection 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' for the rest of the month. (It's published by The Rialto, and it's about first love, real mermaids, and Chinese paper lanterns .) It's £5.50. To grab a copy, just hit the button below.

Lots of love


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Author Interview: Kirsty Logan (and book giveaway!)

Today is the release date of The Rental Heart and Other Fairy Tales by the wonderful Kirsty Logan. It's twenty tales of lust and loss. These stories feature clockwork hearts, lascivious queens, paper men, island circuses, and a flooded world. The collection is published by Salt, it's bloody brilliant, & Kirsty's here to talk about it.

As well as it being the release date for The Rental Heart, it was also announced this week that Kirsty's novel The Gracekeepers has been bought by Harvill Secker. Hurray!

Everyone who replies to this blog post by Sunday 23rd March will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Kirsty's book. This giveaway is open worldwide. 

Kirsty, welcome to the blog! Tell us, how long have you been writing?

Since I was a little-bitty thing, making up stories to try to drag some of my mum's attention away from my baby brother, who had blonde curls and rosy cheeks and was generally a tiny giggling angel. Meanwhile, I was a grumpy dark-haired pouting child in the Victorian style, and not nearly as likeable. So I wrote stories instead. I won my first writing contest when I was 8, for 'The Tale of Felicity Fieldling', a not-very-subtle Beatrix Potter rip-off. I was in the local paper and won £50 of book tokens.

What, for you, has been the most exciting moment of your career so far?

See above (book tokens). Since that day I've always wanted to be paid in book tokens, but for some reason it hasn't happened.

What's your favourite fairy tale?

Donkeyskin. It's so dark and strange, but it has a logic that I love. Before dying, the queen makes her husband promise that he'll only remarry if he finds the woman as beautiful and charming as he finds the queen. The king searches for years, but then realises that the only woman he loves as much as his wife is his daughter. To avoid marrying her father, the princess makes an impossible demand: a dress the colour of the sky, a dress the colour of the moon, and a dress as bright as the sun. She gets them, and runs away dressed in a donkeyskin, staying hunched and dirty. Finally, of course, a handsome price falls in love with her, etc. etc. happily ever after.

I'd love to retell it, but it's just too dark – and I'm saying that as someone who's written about fraternal incest, miscarriage, and a woman who gets bricked up in a wall as an anchoress until she dies. I love the beauty of Donkeyskin contrasted with the utter desperation: the father's terrible decision to marry his daughter, and the daughter's panicked flight in the filthy animal skin. It's a visceral and horrible story – and yet it has such odd magic too.

What books are you most excited to read this year?

Anneliese Mackintosh's Any Other Mouth: a new, hard-hitting Scottish Bell Jar for 2014. Kerry Hudson's Thirst, which will be such a departure from her semi-autobiographical debut and will give her a chance to shine. Tana French's The Secret Place – I love all her books, and I can't wait for this one. Then there's the new Emily Mackie and Sarah Lotz and Rainbow Rowell and Roxane Gay and Lauren Beukes… I could go on all night! So many good books to look forward to.

If you could go away for a week, to write, where in the world would you go?

To the sea. I've gone on writing retreats all over the Scottish coast: Cellardyke and Belhaven on the east coast, Farr up north, the isle of Skye off the west coast. The sea always inspires me. It brings me back to myself.

Tell us about your novel.

The Gracekeepers is about a circus boat in a flooded world. It's got a dancing bear who is just barely tame, birds in cages that mark mourning, a grief-stricken acrobat, a revival ship with an enormous Virgin Mary painted on the side, a fire-breather and a sinister clown and a ringmaster who literally has glitter in his blood. I loved writing it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Dance to 90s hip-hop with my rescue puppy Rosie (she doesn't dance, exactly, more runs around and bites her squeaky doughnut toy), lurk around the stacks in the university library, go on Sunday adventures with my girlfriend Annie, read children's ghost stories (Leon Garfield and Chris Priestley are dark as fuck and really inspiring), crochet a blanket while watching Veronica Mars, have friends round for a crafternoon, lie on my bed and listen to riot grrrl on big headphones.

What do you want to write next?

I've already got my next four books planned out! I'm currently working on my next book, 'A Portable Shelter', as part of the Gavin Wallace Fellowship. It's a collection of short stories all linked by a frame story – like those children's horror books that had lots of different stories told by a bunch of storytellers at a sleepover or by a campfire. I love those books. I think we all have a 'portable shelter' inside us, made up of the stories we read and our own memories, which we can retreat into whenever we need comfort or guidance. I'll be exploring that idea, as well as Scottish and Scandinavian folk tale tropes (witches, sea monsters, selkies, werewolves, etc.) and various types of loss.

Next it'll be a novel, Little Dead Boys, which is a ghost story about a lesbian couple with dark secrets, very modern and gritty and Glasgow-set but with a magical realist, Gothic feel; then a story collection, Girl With the Most Cake, inspired by Hole's Live Through This album; then a novel about pro-wrestling. I'm so excited to write them all, though when I think about it, it'll take six or seven years for me to write them all! I plan to alternate between novels and short story collections, as it seems to sate my need for both short, sharp shocks of story and the more immersive world-building of novels.

Hopes and dreams?

To be honest, I've already surpassed any dreams I had! Having my stories out in the world, and then my novel picked up by Harvill Secker, and potential publication deals all over the world: it's more than I ever imagined. I'm so grateful, and it all feels so unreal. I'm just waiting to wake up.

Kirsty Logan is an award-winning writer based in Scotland. Her fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies all over the world, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, displayed in galleries, and translated into French, Japanese and Spanish. Kirsty has received fellowships from Hawthornden Castle and Brownsbank Cottage, and was the first writer-in-residence at West Dean College. She has previously worked as a bookseller, and is now a literary editor and freelance writer.

Everyone who replies to this blog post by Sunday 23rd March will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Kirsty's book. This giveaway is open worldwide. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

oh dear, there's something in my eye...

The Book Nook in Texas have written a quote from 'The Bookshop Book' on the window of their bookshop. And now I'm a little bit emotional.

(The Bookshop Book is out in October)