I'm very glad that the blog post below made so many of you chuckle. I've decided to do a monthly round up of very silly things that people say in our bookshop - more often if there's a sudden flurry [which, it seems, is not unlikely].
I have quite a lot of writing news at the moment. So, let's go:
I've also got short stories in the next issue of Inkspill Magazine and Fuselit. I've just done the final edits for my short story 'Fringe' which is to be published as a chapbook in the next issue of Short FICTION. But what I'd especially like to give a shout out to right now is the new issue of The Rialto. Ah. Yes. It has two poems in from myself, as well as poems from wonderful ladies Anna Woodford, Hannah Lowe and Christina Dunhill. You can see interviews with Anna and Hannah by clicking on the links on the left hand side of this blog.
The Rialto is a wonderful publication and I'm chuffed to bits to be in it. You can order it online now, and it'll be in shops next week. Newcastle folks: I'm informed that copies of The Rialto  will be in Blackwells, next to Haymarket metro, as of some time this week, so get your bums over there. x
[& I'll be back in just over a week with an interview with the lovely Tania Hershman]
I love our customers, I really do. But some days we get some strange people in our shop. Here are some gems I'd like to share.
Customer:: Hi... erm... are you a library?
Customer: Excuse me, do you have any signed copies of Shakespeare plays? Me: Er... do you mean signed by the people who performed the play? Customer: No, I mean signed by William Shakespeare. Me: .....*headdesk*
Customer: Hi, I'd like to return this book, please. Me: Do you have the receipt? Customer: Here. Me: Erm, you bought this book at Waterstone's. Customer: Yes. Me:.... we're not Waterstone's. Customer: But, you're a bookshop. Me: Yes, but we're not Waterstone's. Customer: You're all part of the same chain. Me: No, sorry, we're an independent bookshop. Customer: .... Me: Put it this way, you wouldn't buy clothes in H&M and take them back to Zara, would you? Customer: Well, no, because they're different shops. Me: Exactly. Customer:... I'd like to speak to your manager.
Person: Hi, I'm looking for a Mr. Patrick. Me: No one of that name works here, sorry. Person: But does he live here? Me:... no one lives here; we're a bookshop. Person: Are you sure?
on the phone Me: Hello Ripping Yarns. Customer: Do you have any mohair wool? Me: Sorry, we're not a yarns shop, we're a bookshop. Customer: You're called Ripping Yarns. Me: Yes, that's 'yarns' as in stories. Customer: Well it's a stupid name. Me: It's a Monty Python reference. Customer: So you don't sell wool? Me: No. Customer: Hmf. Ridiculous. Me: ...but we do sell dead parrots. Customer: What? Me: Parrots. Dead. Extinct. Expired. Would you like one? Customer: Erm, no. Me: Ok, well if you change your mind, do call back.
Customer: Hi, if I buy a book, read it, and bring it back, could I exchange it for another book? Me: No... because then we wouldn't make any money. Customer: Oh.
Me: Ok, so with postage that brings your total to £13.05. One second and I'll get the card machine." Customer: No. No, absolutely not. I demand that you charge me £12.99. I will not pay for anything that starts with thirteen. You're trying to give me bad luck. Now, change it or I will go to a bookshop who doesn't want me to fall down a hole and die. Ok?
Pizza Delivery Man [entering the shop with a large pile of pizzas and seeing me, the only person in the bookshop]: Hi, did you order fifteen pizzas?
Me: Hello, Ripping Yarns Bookshop Man: Hello, is that Ripping Yarns? Me: Yes, it is. Man: Are you there? Me: How do you mean? Man: I mean, are you at the shop now? Me: Erm... yes, you just rang the number for the bookshop and I answered.
Customer: Hello, I'd like a copy of 'The Water Babies,' with nice illustrations. But I don't want to pay a lot of money for it, so could you show me what editions you do have so I can look at them, and then I can go and find one online?
Customer: Do you sell ipod chargers?
Man: Hi, I've just self-published my art book. My friends tell me that I'm the new Van Gogh. How many copies of my book would you like to order?
Woman: Hi, my daughter is going to come by on her way home from school to buy a book. But she seems to buy books with sex in them and she's only twelve, so can I ask you to keep an eye out for her and make sure she doesn't buy anything inappropriate for her age? I can give you a list of authors she's allowed to buy. Me: With all due respect, would it not be easier for you to come in with your daughter? Woman: Certainly not. She's a grown girl, she can do it herself.
Customer: Do you have any books on the dark arts? Me: ...No. Customer: Do you have any idea where I could find some? Me: Why don't you try Knockturn Alley? Customer: Where's that? Me: Oh, the centre of London. Customer: Thanks, I'll keep my eyes peeled for it.
Customer: I'm just going to nip to Tesco to do the weekly shop. I'm just going to leave my sons here, is that ok? They're three and five. They're no bother.
Customer: I read a book in the eighties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?
Man: Do you have black and white film posters? Me: Yes, we do, over here. Man: Do you have any posters of Adolf Hitler? Me: Pardon? Man: Adolf Hitler. Me: Well, he wasn't a film star, was he. Man: Yes, he was. He was American. Jewish, I think. Me: ...........
The book is now out in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand published by Constable and Robinson.
It's also out now in US/Canada published by Overlook Press. [translations are available in Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, German, Chinese and Russian. With translations forthcoming Greek]
My short-short story 'My First Love' has been released today in a limited edition Paper Aeroplanes CD. Their music is fantastic and all kinds of beautiful. There are only 99 CDs, so if you want one, get your mitts on one here.
I got a lovely email today to say that a short-short story of mine, 'Origami,' is going to be published in 'New Sun Rising' - a collection of stories, poems and manga which is being released to raise money for Japan.
A small way off, a girl on a horse sits half hidden in the shade, hair tied in a string of cloth. Lucy, who yesterday was peeling stickers - hearts and fairies, stars - onto 'I love you' notes' [from 'Things Fall Apart']
'From There To Here' is Michael Mackmin's second pamphlet from Happenstance. The collection has an overall feel of nostalgia, and moves its way through the countryside, occasionally stopping to make observations about passers by or look over its shoulder at the years before. At dark family secrets - at people desperately trying to express a moment or a feeling that contradicts their family role. The pace of it leads you into a peaceful sense of security, before suddenly putting an obstacle right in your path that looks at you and says 'go on, who am I? Please look at me closely.'
'His heart hiccupped in his chest like the lump of a pulse in a lizard's neck. What of it?'
I'd read Claire's poetry before, in a pamphlet from her MA programme over on Read This, and was very excited to see that she'd had a pamphlet published with Red Squirrel. I did like it very much. Favourites for me, were 'Memory of August, 1999':
'I'm thirteen and a half, and have resolved to be a redhead
til the day I die. I'm sitting on the stainless steel sink,
red-handed, developing like a photograph.'
and the title poem:
'I seem to draw them to me.
They come, stuttering like tugboats
in the dusk - sea-legs unsteady
as they set out their course
across the bar-room floor.'
From humour, to personal, and even to sci-fi, this a great little pamphlet to get your mitts on.
& Getaway Girl by Terry Ann Thaxton, which is a brave, compelling, terrifying examination of abuse and tangled memories, told whilst visiting the surroundings of the events the narrator describes. It's been a while since a poetry collection forced me to read it all in one go, but that's what this collection did - I devoured it last weekend, and I'm not sure I even stopped to make a second cup of tea. I look forward, but am at the same time scared, to read it again and slower. Dissecting it properly. In the mean time, it's going to continue to hover just over my shoulder, by the window. With this eerie grin on its face like it knows that I'm watching.
I hope I'm not giving away a Edinburgh Bookshop secret here, but when I worked there, a very common phrase to hear was 'When I grow up, I want to be like Vivian French.' And I do. This is why. Pull up a seat, y'all!
Vivian French was best known in school for being extremely skinny and for talking a lot. At school she developed an attachment to words and later became an actor, then a storyteller, and finally a writer of children's books. She is the author of more than two hundred books. Ms. French lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has four grown daughters.
Viv! Please select from our selection of sparkling drinks, grab a tiara and sit yourself down. Welcome!
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here, and I apologise most sincerely for my late arrival. Got a bit held up by a couple of nasty nasty deadlines on the tracks. So dead were they that they glowed like a long dead salmon ...
How long have you been writing for children? What is it about writing for that particular audience that you love so much?
Um. Depends on what you mean by writing for children (Don’t quibble, Sybil!!) I wrote a number of plays for adults to perform for kids way WAY back in the day (a couple were performed at the young Vic, but mostly they were used by touring companies) but my first children’s books were published in 1990. (Eeek! Ancient history, or what?) Why do I love writing for that particular audience? I’m not sure that I know. Maybe because I have so much freedom to try different things; I range wildly from very early years to young secondary, fiction and nonfiction, and I enjoy it all. Usually the book I love best is the one I’m currently working on. Incidentally, I’m told it’s bad for your career to dilly about like I do. Apparently it means ‘Viv can’t be classified.’ Is that so very bad?
You'll have to take that one up with Ms. Morgan ;) What's the best thing a child has said to you about one of your books?
That the words made pictures in their head so clearly that they didn’t need the story to be illustrated.
What would you like to say to those [ahem idiots ahem] out there who go 'Oh, yes, writing for children. Well, it's a lot easier that writing for adults, isn't it?'? You can be as flowery as you like!
Usually I have a rictus grin that I apply when this kind of remark gets made, but what I’d LIKE to say is, “Ho! Yes! You’re absolutely right. It’s just like being a surgeon. Tricky when it comes to adults, but kids? No probs. An eight year old with appenditis? A five year old with a hernia? Give it to me. I’ll whip it out.”
Tell us about The Tales of the Five Kingdoms.
Lordie lordie. Where do I start? It’s a series that begins with The Robe of Skulls. Lady Lamorna, an evil (well, moderately evil) sorceress wants a long black velvet dress ... but she hasn’t any cash, so she decides - with the somewhat dubious help of a troll, Gubble, to go in for blackmail ... and it all kicks off from there. There are Ancient Crones who are wise, and kings and queens who are anything BUT wise, and a scruffy prince called Marcus who ends up as the hero. And there’s Gracie Gillypot, who’s a Trueheart - and a bat called Marlon who thinks he’s Marlon Brando ... and that’s just in the first book. I’m on the edge of finishing the fifth, and that has giants (amiable, but it takes a remarkably long time for them to process information) and my nastiest villain yet - Fiddleduster Squint. He has a shadow that can slip away from him, and act as a spy ... and I’ve thrown in a few zombies, and have brought back Queen Bluebell; she’s one of the very few royals who enjoys adventure.
Which series have you enjoyed writing the most, and why?
The Tales from the Five Kingdoms.. I get depressed when I get near the end, and I’m dying to start on the next one. I’ll really miss them when they’re done and dusted. Why do I enjoy writing them? I can have fun, and play with ridiculous names (Mercy Grinder, Saturday Mousewater, Foyce Undershaft) and situations. (A house where the doors move up and down, a path with a mind of its own, a fiddle playing zombie ... ) Also I can write about feelings and emotions; will Gracie and Marcus end up together? What does it mean to be a Trueheart? And I guess I’m having a gentle investigation into the nature of good and evil.
Who is your favourite illustrator, and who [who you haven't yet worked with] would you like to collaborate with?
I LOVE working with illustrators and, hand on heart, I don’t have a favourite because they’re all so different. I’m lucky enough to tutor from time to time at Edinburgh College of Art in the Illustration Department, so I get to meet up and coming illustrators - and they’re sensational. Who would I like to collaborate with? I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve already worked with Barbara Firth and Charlotte Voake, and so many of the greats ... but I worship at the feet of Maurice Sendak. Not very likely, though. I’m a bit of a fan of Anthony Browne. That would be pretty amazing. Or Petr Horacek is a rising star ...
Your play Baby Baby toured Scotland in 2009. That must have been really exciting. Are you working on any plays at the moment?
Oh and ho and hee hee hum. Yes, is the answer, but I’m WAY behind on a couple of scripts I should have finished last year. Such badness.
I loved that poem of yours which you read out in Edinburgh last year, the one that was published in Ambit. Could you perhaps share it with us? Do you write much poetry?
Not a great deal - I get a bit bashful about it as so many people are SO much better than I am. There was another poet reading on that occasion, you might remember, and she’s is amazingly good! And I don’t mean Susie, although I admire her very much. I do love rhyme, though. And I’m not being tricksy about your question; I’m just not quite sure which poem you mean as there were two from Ambit. (Two, and only two, it has to be said, although I think I had a few in another collection once. Long long ago. Before telephones were invented. Oh, and I DID have a poem read on the radio when I was six. Or seven?)
Shucks, Viv, stop it. I'll get that poem out of you later.
You leave such a bloody hectic life [writing plays, novels [over 200 published!], doing writing workshops, working at ECA]. Do you have a band of fairies helping you out? How do you manage to get yourself organised and make sure that you're able to write as well as doing everything else?
Organised???? Hollow laugh. If I wasn’t so ashamed of it I’d send you a photo of the hideous pit I work in. Tottering piles of books and papers and letters and junk and address books and old diaries - I’ve even got a second computer buried somewhere that I haven’t seen for quite a while. I do work very odd (and sometimes long) hours - luckily my long suffering daughters are all grown up, so they don’t need socks washing and so on (not that I was much good at that, actually, but it’s worked out well - they rebelled by being SUPER organised and efficient!!) and my amazing husband does most of the cooking. Just as well; left to my own devices I eat beans out of a tin while typing. (Or rice pudding. So nutritious. Not.) And I have no qualms about abandoning cleaning/ironing (what’s that?) /washing up if I need to do something important - like have lunch with a friend!
On our book forum we have The Book Tree, where members pick their favourite book and post it round to each other in a circle, writing the books they read as they go. In the end, everyone gets their own book back filled with comments from everyone else. If you could join in with out Book Tree, which book would you pick and why?
That’s such a great idea, but is it a favourite book in general or specific to the author? I’d probably choose Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall. I think it’s perfect. SO simple, so full of emotion, but never ever saccharine. For adults, I’d suggest Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. If it has to be one of mine, I guess it would be Singing to the Sun. It’s a collection of my own fairy tales, and I’m proud of at least one line. “Long long ago, before time was caught and kept in clocks ... ” [ Love it! ]
You and I love indie bookshops, especially The Edinburgh Bookshop. Could you give a shout out to indie booksellers and why you think they're important in the book world?
Oh wow. Where do I start? Indie bookshops are the Chelsea Flower Shows of the book world - so much on display that you never EVER see anywhere else. We need more more MORE!!
And, finally: what are your plans for the future?
I have to start a new series this month, called Cloudy Towers ... then there are the corrections on The Quake of Giants ... a picture book to write with the very VERY talented Catherine Rayner [yippee!]... at least two play scripts to finish (oh, the guilt!!) ... a new project with ECA to discuss ... and a knitted teacosy to finish. Oh, and a whole lot of early readers for Orion. I’d almost forgotten. And I have a sneaky suspicion I’ve forgotten something important, but I’m sure someone will remind me ... at least, I hope they will. If they read this, could they please tell me?
That looks like a lot, but it isn’t really. My agent gave me a spreadsheet (!!!) so I tick things off as I finish them. Well, I would if I could find the spreadsheet ...
All is not well in the crumbling castle high above the mountain village of Fracture. The sorceress Lady Lamorna has her heart set on a new robe. It is a very expensive new robe. To get the cash she will stop at nothing, including kidnapping, blackmail and more than a little black magic. But she reckons without the heroic Gracie Gillypot, not to mention a gallant if rather scruffy prince, two chatty bats, the wickedest stepsister ever, a troll with a grudge - and some very Ancient crones.
The Robe of Skulls and other Tales of the Five Kindgom books are available on Amazon.
As I've mentioned before, we are currently sorting through Adrian Mitchell's archive, where there are boxes and boxes of wonderful letters, notes, poems and plays. His wife, Celia, unearthed this letter today, and we wanted to share parts of it with you all. Today in particular, we feel it's extremely relevant.
This is part of a reply to a schoolgirl who had written to Adrian in the late 90s, telling him that the idea of war frightened her.
Thank you so much for writing and sending me your letter. It was a bit like reading a letter from myself fifty years ago (I'm now a cheerful old grandfather of 65, still campaigning for peace, in fact my wife and I are going to a meeting about Iraq tonight at the House of Commons.) Yes.
You've got a great imagination, which is a burden and a blessing... Some people might say - turn your back on all the suffering in the world, for war and starvation and torture and oppression to go on. I think that's wrong...
...But you must be strong. It's not good thinking about the dark side of the planet obsessively or all the time. Your imagination should also delight in the beauty and warmth of the people and creatures around you, the joy and often absurdity of life.... It is important not just to have feelings about the horrors of today, but also to think and study hard to discover - what can be done to change all this? What can I do to change it?
I don't mean that you alone can abolish all the evil in the world magically. But maybe through your songs, or poems, you could change the lives of thousands of people you've never met. Or maybe you'll be a doctor and add to the healing part of the world's population, rather than the destructive side...
...I was a child in World War Two. I was really too young to be afraid then, even when the bombs were falling, for I didn't believe that it would ever happen to me. But many times since I have been afraid, for myself and my family, for my country and for the whole world.
But fear isn't the answer. Courage and hard work is the nearest I can find to one... I share your fear sometimes that the whole world seems to be in flames. Well, we better learn to be good firefighters and save all the people we can.
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.