I thought it’d be nice to have change today. So instead of me banging on about my book, I’ve invited the very lovely Jen Campbell here to talk about hers which, incidentally, should make the Sunday Times Best Seller list this weekend – hooray! There’s a competition too – scroll down for that.
It’s called Weird Things Customers Say in Book Shops (it has its own Facebook page here) and, from the dipping into it I’ve done, it’s very cool and very funny indeed.
Hello and welcome to the blog. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Lovely to be here! Thanks for letting me crash!
So, ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ is your new book. Tell us about it. Who’s it for and what’s it about?
‘Weird Things…’ is what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of strange/bizarre/rude things said in bookshops. It’s for those who like bookshops & books, or have worked with the public, or just want a giggle!
Could you tell us a little about writing it? How did you start? How long did it take?
I first started writing them down when I was working at The Edinburgh Bookshop four years ago. It was triggered by this:
Customer: Hi, I was wondering, did Anne Frank ever write a sequel? I really loved her diary.
Bookseller: Her diary isn’t fiction… it’s fact… She actually died at the end.
Customer: Oh, really? That’s such a shame!
Bookseller: Yes, it was –
Customer: I mean, she was such a good writer! What a waste!
After that, every so often I’d write them down [you don’t forget those kind of things easily!]. Now I work at Ripping Yarns bookshop, which is an antiquarian bookshop in north London. Last May [after someone asked if I was sure we were a bookshop and not some other kind of retail place…] I started posting some of the ‘Weird Things…’ on my blog.
The links to the blog posts were thrown around Twitter by other bookshops publishers etc, and attracted the attention of Hugh at Constable and Robinson after Neil Gaiman had blogged about the ‘Weird Things…’ posts. Constable approached me asking if I’d like to make them into a full length collection, I said yes, and here we are!
What’s the best thing that’s been said in a bookshop while you’ve been there?
My answer to this changes all the time, ha!
“Do you have a list of books on star signs? I have a terrible feeling that something bad is going to happen, and I want to know if it’s been predicted!”
And what’s the weirdest thing you’ve said in a bookshop?
I’ve been asked this quite a bit recently and I really don’t know. I’m sure I’ve said something, but I can’t remember! I guess that’s the thing; if you say something weird, you don’t always realise that you’ve said something strange.
What one thing would you like to say in a bookshop but haven’t, as yet, been able to?
Well, like one of the people in ‘Weird Things…’, I’d love to get my hands on a copy of ‘The Book of Dust’ by Philip Pullman, so I’d like to ask a bookseller if they had that in stock. However, I’ll wait until he’s finished writing the book before asking if they have it in stock as, unlike the person in ‘Weird Things…’, I don’t think that antiquarian bookshops stock books from the future [it would be cool if we did!]
Do you think the Weird Things… could be a series? Do you think there’s room for bakers and butchers and the fine people of Ikea (for example) to have their own versions?
I think strange things get said all across the retail spectrum! People are wonderfully strange.
And, back to the writing of the book. Could you tell us a little about your process?
I suppose this book is completely different to everything I’ve written before. It was never supposed to be a book, so the fact that it’s become one is a [very lovely] surprise. I was working to a deadline for it, which is again different to my previous writing and I think the deadline did help. Normally, I try and make myself sit at the kitchen table for a couple of hours every day to write something, anything. I bribe myself with tea and biscuits. I’ve been a little naughty recently and with all the publicity stuff for ‘Weird Things…’, plus my day job, writing has had to take a back seat. I’m hoping to get back to the drawing board asap.
Any tips for any budding non-fiction writers? Any advice you’d give them?
I don’t know about tips for non-fiction writers. I know that ‘Weird Things…’ is non-fiction but, as I said above, it was never going to be a book, and I don’t generally write non-fiction: normally I’m a poetry and short stories girl. So, advice for writers in general: read. Read read read. Then read some more. Write regularly, even if it’s just a paragraph – try and do that every day. When you draft something, put it away and then come back to it. Change it. Edit it. Leave it again. When you’re at the stage where you hate it and never want to see it again, that’s probably when you’re done 😉
What’s next for you?
Poetry! My first pamphlet-sized collection, ‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ is going to be published in the summer by The Rialto. I’m also working on a full-length poetry collection, and have just started writing a novel. The idea of a novel terrifies me, but I’m trying to take it one small step at a time. It’s literary fiction, dystopian, in its early stages at the moment. I’m still getting to grips with it, but I’m excited about it. Lots of hard work ahead!
Thanks for coming on, Jen – and best of luck with your hungry ghosts!
AND… I have one copy of Weird Things to give away. Leave a comment in below and I’ll pop you into the hat. The draw will be made on Monday.