Friday 6 April 2012

at Jen's

And today we are having a party at Jen Campbell's -
 she of the amazing '100 Poems in a Weekend' for a charity dear to her heart, she of the forthcoming poetry pamphlet 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' with Rialto - and, the reason for her being here today - the even more amazing 'Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops',  out soon! 

And, lucky people, I have a copy to give away -  
         But me, moi and myself, I am lucky enough to have a copy for me!  'Weird Things' really is a scream. It is a lovely hardback, perfect for pressies, guaranteed to raise a giggle - and I am stocking up - perfect to take with you to friends, instead of (or as well as) a bottle of plonk. Go on - you know you want to! See end of post for a giveaway offer. 
       Jen and I decided to swap parties - Jen is here celebrating 'Weird Things...' and I am there, celebrating paperback Cowards. 
       We both whizzed questions across - and had a  natter. She is here, and I am there - see?

Vanessa - Hi Jen - I'd imagine you have a nice answer for most odd queries - but has a customer at your bookshop ever said anything that has left you really gobsmacked?

phone rings
Me: Hello, Ripping Yarns bookshop. 
Customer: Hi, if I order a book and pay for it over the phone, could you bring it over to me? I just live round the corner. 
Me: Are you unable to leave your house?
Customer: Well, no... but it's raining. 
Customer: What's your name?
Me: Jen. 
Customer: I don't like that name. Can I call you something else?

V: No! What did you say? Er - don't answer that! Tell me -what is it that leads readers to remember say the colour of a cover, but not the title or the writer's name? (as in 'I saw a book the other day, it was blue. have you got it... etc) Is there something the publishers or indeed the writers could do to help this?

Jen: Well, that tends to happen to me the most in the antiquarian bookshop where I work – so I guess that's more understandable as people are looking for books they read decades ago. Though expecting us to find it on a colour alone is another matter!
In the world-of-now [as well as back then!] covers are extremely important [I'll love Greg forever for the cover of 'Weird Things...']. People say 'don't judge a book...', but we do. If we're in a bookshop and we don't know what we're looking for, and we don't recognise the author's name when we spy a particular book, then the cover [or a catchy title] is what makes us pick it up to read the blurb. Publishers and writers already know this, but some customers probably need to realise that booksellers are unlikely to remember the title of a blue book that was sitting in the window two and a half years ago. 
V: Are you concerned that a customer might recognise themselves in the book?!
Jen: I don't think it's the kind of situation where you would recognise yourself. There are also no names or identifying features in the book. I doubt many of the people quoted go into bookshops regularly, especially if they think we sell bread, screwdrivers, ipod chargers, and if they themselves either hate the smell of books, or simply want to see if we have a secret drug stash hidden in the storeroom. [We don't, by the way, in case you were wondering!]
V: If money was no object, and if you could have funds for a year only, what kind of bookshop would you invent? And where would it be?
Jen: I would open a bookshop right slap bang in the middle of Hampstead Heath. It would sell all manner of books, and we'd have a cafe outside selling plenty of cakes, and people could buy books and sit on the heath and read and it would be wonderful [ theory ;)]. And, at least then, the person in 'Weird Things...' who stuck her head round the bookshop door and said 'Is this Hampstead Heath?' would be spot on!
 V: Would you ever have an online bookshop? If so why? If not, why?
Jen: At Ripping Yarns we sell some of our antiquarian stock online, because we can't rely on north London wanting to collect old children's books, but we do that through necessity. We do it so that we can keep the shop open. The only way I could see us having an online only bookshop is if we had to close, and sell off the rest of our stock [*sob!*], and that would just be a short term thing. I wouldn't ever open a bookshop that was only online. For me, bookselling is all about the bookshop. I love the interaction with the customers [yes, all of them ;)]; I like hand-selling books, helping children buy books from month to month and so getting to know the kind of things they like to read. It's great!
V: You recently did an amazing challenge, to write 100 poems in a weekend. I loved that, by the way - and the poems too! would you do this again? And what do you draw from the experience that will help you in your writing? Have you got any books left to sell - if so give me details.
Jen: Thank you! All the pamphlets sold, so I don't have any left I'm afraid, but all of the poems are ONLINE, over here.  I'd definitely do a writer-type charity event in the future to raise for the EEC International, though. The poem writing weekend was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, especially the first 50 poems [I went to bed on the Saturday night having only written 42, and panicking quite a lot], but it was also great fun. As for it helping with my writing, I have used some of the ideas I unearthed and let them grow into different things. A couple of the rewrites have been published and placed in competitions. 
My first poetry collection, 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is going to be published by The Rialto this summer, and I'm rather excited about that. 
V: Brilliant. Thanks Jen - great to natter, and loads of good luck with the book - I hear it will have a US edition - that's fab. Lets hope it catches on - there are a lot of countries on this planet of ours, a lot of bookshops, a lot of nutty customers!

GIVEAWAY: Now, lucky people - if you would like a copy of this hilarious hardback, just leave us a comment here. And I will put names in a hat, and send.  Yay! (UK/Ireland only, sorry!)

and Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops has its own facebook page here


  1. Count me in for the giveaway! Having kepy up with all of Jen's original "weird things" posts on her blog it would be lovely to see them in print!

  2. I've been looking forward to 'Weird Things' being published since Jen first announced it. Can't wait to read it!

  3. I love the quotes I've heard already from this book, so please put me in the hat. I work in a cinema, we get the odd odd-ness, but they pale in comparison to Jen's experiences.

    Great interview - thanks, ladies.

  4. Here's hoping for a little bit of luck - can never have enough copies! My friends NEED them!

  5. Congratulations on your book and all your poetry, Jen.:)

  6. Woo :) A give-away! I'm always up for one of those, especially when it's Jen's awesome book which I am dying to get my hands on :P

    I loved the interview, and the idea of a blog swap for the day!

  7. I've recently ordered a copy myself but this is definitely one to give to my bibliophile friends so the more copies the merrier. And I am so looking forward to getting my own copy as the teaser samples have been so good. kudos

  8. Put me into the draw for this book, can't wait to read it. Richard

  9. Ah Jen, I am with you on opening a bookshop like that...but it needs to be there always!

  10. I've said it somewhere else already. I want this book and probably will not be sharing it!

  11. Great interview, thanks Vanessa and Jen! It was an excellent idea to collect these anecdotes in a book.

    Two important elements of humour are surprise and superiority. We're surprised by these silly questions and requests and feel superior. We laugh. But these are only snapshots and don't tell the whole story. We all have our bad hair days, embarrassing moments and silly questions. It doesn't mean we're stupid. It just means we're humans. And equals. I think.

  12. And the winner is Dragonrat Jewellery!

  13. I know I'm too late for the giveaway, but just found the post and it made me smile on what is, in fact a grim day! It's true that many of us lurk in bookshops not only in search of some elusive tome, but also just to ear-wig those questions and general chit-chat! In fact, I might cheer myself up with a wander down to Waterstones! Lovely blog :-)