Tomorrow is the last day for 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' submissions from other bookshops. So, if you haven't sent your submissions in already then you should probably get on that. The ones chosen will have their quote and their name, plus address of their bookshop put in the back of my 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' book. We're looking for entries from all over the world!
I particularly liked this one from Maera in Ireland, which was sent in this morning:
Customer: If I were, to say, meet the love of my life in your bookshop, which section do you think they would be in?
Right. Other things.
Today is the publication day of Scott's '21st Century Dodos', so you might want to check that out. Scott will be popping by here on the 15th October to chat about it, too. I can't promise he'll behave.
[*Charlie's book has nothing to do with tortoises... giant lizards, yes, but not tortoises.] You can still win a copy of Charlie's book, and I'll be selling signed copies at the bookshop - I have three left, because I sold the others, so if you want a copy do drop by, or send me an email, and I'll post a copy out to you, wherever you are.
But but but, do not drop by this weekend because I won't be there [well, the bookshop will, obviously, and the lovely Marie will be there], but I will be in the New Forest. Miles and I are driving down tonight for three days, and I plan to read, and eat, and go for walks in wellington boots, and actually finish editing my short story collection because I have been naughty and not had the time to do it recently, what with bookselling and 'Weird Things' and all that jazz.
So, yes. Happy renewed summer to you all [I'm slightly narked about that, really; I'm a big fan of oversize woolly jumpers], and I'll see you all on Monday. I will be tweeting intermittently over the weekend whilst I eat my own body weight in cheese. Excellent plan. x
Happy Monday, folks. The Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Folio has now been published, including the winning poems from this year's competition, of which mine was one. My poem was appraised by Jo Shapcott which got me all in a bit of a tizz. It was a very lovely review:
"Jen Campbell's 'Kitchen': an imagined dialogue running so close to the edge that speakers and reads are transformed alike."
A very lovely thing happened yesterday. The very lovely Jane came by the bookshop and brought me this box:
and inside the box was this:
How awesome is that? She thought it was suitably outrageous and would feed my tea habit. And so it shall. So, with Cat knitting me some bespoke fingerless gloves [because I have ridiculous hands] and sending them all the way from Australia, and with this fabulous tea pot and cup, and all your lovely replies on here, I'm feeling the bloggerly love, yo. Thanks guys xx
PS. In the next week or so I'm going to make y'all a video tour of Ripping Yarns, for those who are far away and can't visit. *nods*
Everyone who replies to this topic by 10th October will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a signed copy of Charlie's book: 'Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People.'
No, we're not related [I thought I'd start with that as I've been asked it a fair few times now]. Now, today is the publication day of my fabulous agent Charlie Campbell's fab book 'Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People.' It's very very good. I loved it. Miles stole it off me and read it too and is totally a fanboy [slightly embarrassing]; whilst reading it he kept on stopping to read parts aloud to me across the table, even though, y'know, I'd already read it. Anyway, it's a rather good book like that.
Now, I did tell Charlie that if he didn't give me a biography I would put it as:
Charlie Campbell is a graduate of the University of Awesome. He has a black belt in karate, twelve illegitimate children and lives in a cupboard in Camden. On Sundays he plays in a rock bank called The Fashion Goats.
and guess what? He forgot to send me a biography. So perhaps he really does do/have all of these things... I have to admit I've never been to his house, so you never know...
Anyway- on with the interview!
Charlie! Take a seat. Make yourself at home, etc etc. Pitch your book to the masses.
Well, it’s a history of scapegoats, of people who have been blamed over the years for things they didn’t do. It takes in whipping boys, sin-eaters, medieval animal trials, and quite a lot more.
Give us a quote from the book.
The one I like the most is the one used on the jacket – ‘In the beginning there was blame. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and we’ve been hard at it ever since.’ It was pretty much the first sentence of the book that I wrote.
You said on The Monocle podcast [here [24 minutes in]] that you couldn't remember what sparked the idea for Scapegoat, but I'm afraid that's just not good enough. Make up a story for us. If it's helpful, you can include the following: Simon Cowell, a chihuahua, an electric violin, the Yorkshire dales, the Weapons of Mass Destruction, and The Queen Mother.
I’d been thinking about conspiracy theories (which fascinate me – though I am pretty sceptical about them) and I started wondering about whose fault everything actually was. And that got me onto scapegoats.
I love short general histories – Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress is one of my favourites; and Theodore Zeldin’s An Intimate History of Humanity is an extraordinary book. But I never thought I’d write one myself, until the idea of Scapegoat came to me. [Jen: I'm distinctly unimpressed with the lack of chihuahuas in that answer, but I'll accept it.]
The amount of research you had to do for this book is phenomenal. How did you go about it?
In a completely unsystematic way. I’d be reading one book, it would mention others, and my pile of reading just grew and grew. And the internet is an astonishing resource for writers – then it would be off to the British Library for the heavy lifting. I’m still thinking of things that I should put in the book and it’s 6am on publication day. There’s a lovely quote of Hilary Mantel’s, along the lines of ‘I never finish a book, it just gets taken away from me.’ I would agree.
There were also a few people who were extremely helpful with their ideas, for which I’m very grateful. And sometimes ideas would come from the most unexpected place. I remember reading a thriller which mentioned how many special forces missions failed because the soldiers were discovered by a small boy and his herd of goats. He kept cropping up again and again.
Which part of the book was the most enjoyable to study/write?
The chapter about the animal trials probably. E.P. Evans’s book The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (which was the main source for this section) never ceases to amaze me.
What's the funniest/most ridiculous 'blame story' you've heard in real life [not in your book]?
We all come up with them. And there are endless examples. Off the top of my head, I remember playing table football with someone at university. After he lost, he apologised, telling me that he’d just split up with his girlfriend. I did wonder what explanation he would make to himself when things really went wrong. Anyway, hopefully he’s found someone nice now, and wins constantly at table football.
How has being a literary agent helped you understand the writing process? Is it weird to have your own agent when you're used to being on their side of the desk?
Well it hopefully makes me a little more sympathetic to the writer, knowing what it’s like to invest so much into a book. When you’re involved in the publishing or bookselling industry, you see just how many other books are out there, and you revise your ambitions accordingly. Hopefully. And I don’t find it odd having an agent. I would say this, but they do a lot of unseen work.
What has been the most exciting part of the publishing process for you?
The first review was by Francis Wheen, and it was just lovely. I don’t know him, but have read (and loved) his books over the years. So it was very pleasing to find that he liked what I’d done. And my publishers, Duckworth, produced a really beautiful book. Getting the first copy was very exciting.
You used to be a fellow bookseller, in Paris no less [I'm not jealous, not jealous at all]. Tell us about your bookselling days.
I ran into someone last night who used to work at Shakespeare & Co. There are a lot of us clearly. It’s an extraordinary place – charming, romantic and chaotic. You would open a drawer and could find anything from the owner George Whitman’s half-eaten lunch to yesterday’s takings that he had mislaid, or a first edition of Ulysses (ok, there was only one, but I don’t think anyone ever quite knew where it was). The daily challenges involved people lighting fires at the back of the shop and then trying to steal the till; dealing with endless American tourists looking for a copy of A Moveable Feast (perversely, George didn’t tend to stock it), which they wanted with the shop stamp; and I once had cheese soufflé spat all over me in the course of my duties. I’m still not sure why.
On the subject of blame: out of interest, who/what do you blame for the number of bookshops declining? And, from your experience as a bookseller, agent and writer, where do you think the book/publishing industry is headed?
The demise of the Net Book Agreement was the real killer. But our government and legislators are to blame too. Unlike in many other countries, we have no protection for the independent bookseller. Supermarkets, chains and online retailers are able to secure much better terms from publishers, and that is entirely wrong in my view. The market isn’t always right, as the financial crisis has shown us.
But I’m actually pretty optimistic. I think electronic publishing is, on the whole, a wonderful development. There have been so many times when I have finished a book with a pang that it’s over. The idea of being able to buy another book by that author and have it right away… We’re quite a gloomy industry by nature, and this isn’t the first time the death of the book has been announced.
What are you up to when you're not agenting/writing?
What most people do, and playing cricket badly. A friend and I are starting a team of writers and I would love to get a book out of it – each player contributing a chapter. What it will be about beyond that, I don’t know. But cricketing writers, get in touch!
On my Book Forum we have The Book Tree, where members choose their favourite book and post it round to the other members. Everyone writes comments in the books as they read them. What book would you choose to send round the Book Tree, and why?
Catch-22. It’s the best argument that a book can be both serious and amusing.
Finally, what projects are you working on at the moment?
I am planning to write a short history of nepotism
In the beginning there was blame. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and we've been hard at it ever since. We may have come a long way from the days when a goat was saddled with all the iniquities of the children of Israel and driven into the wilderness, but is our desperate need to find some organisation, person or other to pin the blame on and absolve ourselves of responsibility really any more advanced? Charlie Campbell's book highlights the plight of all those others who have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, illustrating how God needs the Devil, as surely as Sherlock Holmes needs Professor Moriarty, or James Bond needs Blofeld. Every person and society needs someone to oppose. Scapegoat ranges from serious contemplation of Jesus and contemporary issues of Government blame-shifting to conspiracy theories like David Icke's that the Duke of Edinburgh is one of many giant shape-shifting extraterrestrial lizards who secretly run the world. Scapegoat is a tale of human foolishness, that exposes the anger and irrationality of blame-mongering while reminding the reader of their own capacity for it. Moving from the Bible to the modern Royal Family, from medieval Witch burning to reality TV, from the whipping boys of the Renaissance court to Blairite politics, this is a brilliantly relevant and timely look at social history that uncovers, in an accessible and entertaining way, countless stories of obsession, mania, persecution and injustice from the highest echelons of society to the lowliest outcast.
Also, I'll be selling signed copies at Ripping Yarns. They'll be here soon; they are winging their way across London as I type. So, if you'd like to buy a copy then do drop by. Or, if you're further afield [wherever in the world], drop me an email and you can pay the shop through paypal, and I'll post a copy out to you. [£12.99 plus shipping]
I was tweeting about these as they were being discovered, but you might have missed it, or you might not be on Twitter. Beautiful book sculptures made by an anonymous artist in Edinburgh have been found at literary organisations as 'Gifts in support of libraries, books, words, ideas.....'
The first one was the 'poetree' discovered at The Scottish Poetry Library [@byleaveswelive]
Next to the 'poetree' is a paper egg filled with words which, when put together, make out "A Trace of Wings" by Edwin Morgan.
After the first one was discovered, seven different sculptures have since been 'gifted.' They are all so beautiful and intricate. My favourite is probably the one given to the Edinburgh Book Festival. There's something so 'Alice'-like about it.
Over here you can see the lovely Anna of @EdinCityofLit talking about the discovery of the book sculpture given to Edinburgh City of Literature, discovered at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Whoever made these: I think I love you.
You can see all of the book sculptures in their glory over here.
Today it's National Roald Dahl day [hurrah!], so I spent a happy half hour this morning arranging all of our Roald Dahl books in the window, including a first edition of 'The Magic Finger.'
I adored Roald Dahl's books when I was younger. I also had most them on audio tape, too. I had to fastforward the musical introduction to 'The Witches' because it freaked me out too much; I used to wish I was called Matilda; I kept an eye out for friendly giants walking the streets at night; and I loved the version of Ian Holmes reading 'Boy.' Magical stuff. Happy birthday, Roald!
In other news:
Yesterday my editor sent me a preliminary sketch for the front cover of 'Weird Things.' It's looking pretty damn good. Obviously, I can't show it to you yet, so you're going to have to take my word for it. ;) Booksellers, you still have until the 30th September to send in your very own 'Weird things customer say...' - info on that is over here.
I've had some very lovely bookshop visits from blog/twitter people over the past week - from not only the lovely people of London [including John, who was running away from his fiancee for entering them for 'Don't Tell The Bride,' and who bought a load of Biggles books, Dickon, who came for nostalgia in with the Puffins, and Catherine who brought cookies], but also from further afield: two lovely blog readers from Georgia, USA, Mindy's husband over from Australia, and Mavis_Cruel from Northern Ireland, who made me blush to the extreme by bringing me a bunch of flowers. Thanks,guys!
I'm also considering hiring Mark Billingham as my PR person: he appears to be acting out some of my 'Weird Things' on his current book tour.
Re. other writing: I'm editing the second half of my short story collection 'The Aeroplane Girl', which is most fun, and I got the proof through for 'Fringe', a short story of mine that has been illustrated and is to be published in this year's edition of Short FICTION, out in November.
So, for now, I will bid you all farewell. I'll be back soon with more illustration news etc, and some more author interviews, too [a list of the forthcoming ones are over on the left hand column. You've also still got time to win a copy of Andrew Kaufman's book, 'The Tiny Wife' by clicking here].
Everyone [no matter where you are in the world] who replies to this topic by September 30th will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Andrew's fantastic book: 'The Tiny Wife.'
ANDREW KAUFMAN's critically acclaimed first book, All My Friends Are Superheroes, was a cult hit and has been translated into eight languages. Kaufman is also an accomplished screenwriter and has completed a Director's Residency at the Canadian Film Centre. He lives in Toronto with his wife and their two children.
Andrew! Howdy! Grab a seat. Get a drink. Eat some biscuits, but don't talk with your mouth full. Very important. So. How are you celebrating the release of The Tiny Wife? I’m over here in Toronto, so the festivities involve mainly a lot of Googling, Twittering and some perhaps obsessive checking of my Amazon numbers. I asked Scott [The Friday Project] to sent me pictures of the book in stores, and he sent the word out and now I’ve got tonnes of pictures sent by bookstore staff. Which is pretty awesome. I love people who work in bookstores [Jen: Shucks, thanks!]. They’ve basically made it possible for me to keep publishing…
Tell us about the book [and also about how pretty it is, because it is very pretty]. I mean, I've read it, and I love it – but sell it to the people who have yet to discover how wonderful it is. [Also, I should tell you that I read this book on the train from London to Edinburgh, and I was wearing a dress that was the exact same shade of red. By accident. I'd colour-coded my outfit with a book BY ACCIDENT. Amazing. Anyway, yes. Sorry. Back to you]. Tell us about The Tiny Wife. A thief robs a bank in the West end of Toronto, but instead of taking money he demands - and receives - the item of most emotional significance from everyone. Claiming he’s taking 51% of their souls with him, and it’s up to them to grow them back, the thief then exits. Everyone in the bank then begins to experience something unusual. One woman’s husband is a snowman when she wakes up. Another discovers that she’s made of candy. Our hero discovers that she has begun to shrink and she has to find out how to, and if, she can stop it before she shrinks away to nothing.
How long had you been working on it?
Well, some of the stories are really, really old. There’s one I remember writing shortly after Kurt Cobain died. But the manuscript came together in a little over a year. Which is very, very quick for me. (As a side-note, though, I wrote of big chunk, in fact most of the first chapter, i.e. the idea that really frames the whole work, on the train from London to Edinburgh. That was accidental too – just like your dress!) [Jen: Clearly we're both fantastic.]
What's your story of 'from writing your first manuscript to publication'?
Big picture? My first book was called ‘All My Friends Are Superheroes.’ When I started writing it I was struggling to be a film director, when I realised that I was never going to make any money making indie cinema. So, I said to myself, I might as well not make any money doing what I really want to do, which is writing.
I remember the exact moment when this happened. I was walking across the living room. It was snowing. I started AMFAS the next day. For this book, I met Scott Pack when I did the Book Swap a little over a year ago. We really got along, so he was the first person I thought of when I got the manuscript for the Tiny Wife done!
Did you buy anything exciting/poignant with your first writer's pay cheque?
I bought the suit I got married in. Not the shoes, or the shirt, or the tie or he belt. Just the jacket and the pants. It was not a very big cheque.
Which of your books did you find the most difficult to write?
The Waterproof Bible. It was not a pleasant experience. Lots of self-doubt. For the record, let me say that The Waterproof Bible is by far the best book I’ve ever written. Maybe ever will write. But man, was it a hard birth.
[Re: 'All my Friends Are Superheroes'] What would your super power be?
When I’m on – Inthemoment. When I’m not, Mr. Narrator.
If the thief from The Tiny Wife came up to you right now and said he wanted your most prized possession, so that he would end up owning 51% of your soul, what would you have to give to him?
When my son was born my wife gave me a Yard-o-led mechanical pencil, and when my daughter was born she gave me the matching pen. I carry both of them with me at all times in a green leather pouch. I would have had to have given that over. As for what that would have done to me – I don’t know. Without the love of my wife or the presence of my children I think I’d just start getting thinner and thinner until there was nothing left of me…
I met Neil Gaiman last week, and he was saying he's a massive fanboy of Ray Bradbury. I love how writers are still fanboys to those they consider 'higher' writers. Who do you fanboy over?
Richard Brautigan. I really love him. In Watermelon Sugar, The Abortion these are books that I know I shouldn’t love so much, that my tastes should be better and more sophisticated, but man, I really love them. For the record, and in a desperate attempt to make you think that I’m still cool, I’m also a bit of Salinger fanatic.
What are you up to when you're not writing?
You know, the usual. Bowling, driving around…
Talk to us about writing for film. What have you been working on with regard to that?
Right now it’s a TV show called ‘Curious and Unusual Deaths!” where, each week you get three of the most bizarre ways that someone has died and the science that explains it. It’s a pretty fun gig. For movies, I’m working with Topsail Productions on the script for the movie version of AMFAS [Jen: Eeek!]. I’m anxious to start working on a movie-script based on ‘The Tiny Wife.” I think it could be just beautiful.
On my book forum we have The Book Tree where members choose their favourite book and post it round to each other in a circle, writing comments in each others' books as they go. If you were to choose a book for the Book Tree, which one would you pick, and why? Lightboxes by Shane Jones. It’s a beautiful story and one of those ‘those who like it like it a lot’ books. I’d be fun to read the comments of those who just don’t get it right beside the ones where readers are being blown away!
And, finally: what are you working on at the moment?
I’m surprisingly close to completing a ‘Three Generations of Family Saga’ story. In this one, a grandmother gave each of her grandchildren a special ability at the moment of their birth, which have had the unforeseen consequence of completely ruining their lives. Right now it’s called ‘The End of the World and Everything That Came Next.” It could also be called ‘Shark Bites’ or “The Waterfields” or ‘Your Impossible Standards.’ At this point, I’m open to suggestions…
Jen Campbell is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series, and 'The Bookshop Book.' 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 is currently writing a short story collection. She runs a Booktube channel over at youtube.com/jenvcampbell
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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.