Wednesday, 31 August 2011

What I talk about when I talk about talking about things.

Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don't 'network' or 'promote.' Just talk. - Neil Gaiman

This is me, talking. Hello.

Today I was given a strange thing to consider. Well, not really to consider, as much as to get my head round. What if you know that in a number of years you might not be able to see anymore? How do you deal with that?

Firstly: I'd like to make a change to the law which means that all audio tapes are, in future, recorded by Alan Rickman. I think that's a given, really, and an entirely reasonable response. I shall be writing to David Cameron about it first thing in the morning. I fully expect him to make it his top priority. 

Secondly: well. Blimey. I'm not sure there is a secondly that isn't extremely rude. In fact, I think it's 0:52 of this video here.  

So yeah. Those who have been following this blog for a while might have read my post about 'Why I Write.' I have a genetic condition called EEC Syndrome, a syndrome caused by a defect in gene p63, a gene in charge of cell reproduction. It causes clefting [more or less of certain things], which means I have missing fingers, toes, teeth, a cleft kidney, and cleft tear ducts. I was born with syndactyly, ectrodactyly, and I've had dozens of operations [the most recent just three months ago]. 

Today I went to see my geneticist to discuss new research which has proved that people with EEC who have eye problems sometimes lose their sight. The p63 gene programs the cornea, which reproduces itself all the time. Eventually it mutates, reproducing differently, until it doesn't reproduce properly at all. Cornea transplants don't work because those with EEC are programmed to destroy the new transplant with damaged cells. 

I've been referred to Moorfields [where I had eye operations as a baby], and a specialist eye geneticist in Northern Ireland. I'm on the waiting list should there be problems and any trials come up. I'm putting my faith in stem cell research. And if it doesn't happen to me, it's still happening to people like me. 

And I'm sitting there, and in my head I'm laughing - because it all sounds so ridiculous, doesn't it? I mean, you piece the science together and it makes sense, but, really - what? 

I'm in a very surreal place right now.

I guess I wanted to say: this is what's happening with me right now. There aren't any 'weird things' or googles or poetry or whatever in this post. This is just what I did today. I've been told things before: I've been told 'you can't' and 'you won't'. I've heard the word 'disability'. And, fuck it, quite frankly. People get knocked down, and, after a think and a hug, they stand up, and they bloody well keep walking.

Even if I do end up walking into the nearest wall because I can't see it. 

Shit happens, doesn't it?  

Lots of love to you all x 


ETA: 19th October: I am now doing a fundraising event to raise money for the research centres who are looking for a cure for this degenerative eye condition. You can find out more information about that over here.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

an evening with Neil Gaiman

If you were on Twitter last night, following the #NeilatEB tag, then you would have heard me tweeting at the event we were hosting with Neil Gaiman, organised by The Edinburgh Bookshop

It was a fantastic evening held in 'The Crypt' below St. John's chapel at the far end of Princes Street. I got the train up to Edinburgh yesterday morning, waved to Arthur's Seat, had a mooch around the Book Festival [which had a man dressed as The Mad Hatter outside, hurrah], and had a lovely booky lunch with Becky and Anna. I do miss Edinburgh [I did my degree at Edinburgh Uni and so lived up there for four years].

In the evening, Vanessa and myself, and the Edinburgh Bookshop team, set up The Crypt, got Neil's books ready, and then at 7:30pm, Neil arrived, had a cup of English tea, and we had a lovely evening of informal questions; Neil read from 'Smoke and Mirrors', did a signing, and there was more tea [followed by wine]. I gave him a big thank you hug for tweeting and blogging about 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' [ETA: and now giving us a quote for the cover of the book!] Here are some snippets from the evening:

Q: What is your favourite genre to write in?
Neil: Anything can make my heart sing.

Q: When you get an idea for a story, what comes first: a person or a moment?
Neil: Sometimes you get the story by working backwards... not the way you'd expect. 

Neil: I'm very lucky, because when I was younger I got to interview lots of interesting authors who were at the pinnacle of their careers by writing one genre only, when they wanted to write others. So [being able to write and publish many genres] - I'm lucky... Some authors are like dolphins; you can train them. You teach them a trick and they get a fish, so they do the same trick again to get another fish. You wouldn't go to an otter show. If you teach an otter a trick, and give it a fish, when you offer it another fish it will do something completely different. I think I'm an otter author.

Neil: One thing that does motivate my writing is guilt [laughs]. The next book I'll probably do will be an adult book, because I love the people at Headline publishing, and I think I owe them another one.

Neil: I quite like being edited, but with American Gods, the editing process was not about making it a better book; it was about making it a shorter book, because of the price of paper. 

Neil: At the moment I'm writing a short story that's now out of control. It's driving me mad in a way that nothing has since Coraline. Coraline was only supposed to be 3000 words! 
Vanessa: Coraline terrified me. 
Neil: Well, then this one might terrify you, too. I'm writing a story... I think it's a kids' story. It's got a child as the main character, but there are lots of creepy things, and murders. 

Neil: When writing: the obsession comes first; then comes the book. 

Neil: I like writing on the go; I'm very good at turning off the world.

Neil: I have a custom-made jacket. I told them I wanted a jacket with lots of pockets so I could put pens in them, and inside jacket pockets big enough for a large Moleskine. [pulls a notebook out of inside jacket pocket]

Neil: I love collaborating because I can't reread my own work for pleasure, whereas I can pick up Good Omens and chuckle at it. A collaboration, when it works, lets you laugh at your own jokes.

Neil: For the very first time, recently I went illustrator-shopping for a book I've written called 'Chu'sday' about a baby panda who sneezes. I wanted to come up with a picturebook that could be published in mainland China [as none of my others have been]. However, the tragedy with illustrators is that most of the ones I'd like to work with are dead.'
[sorry, any excuse for me to get this cute thing linked: CLICK]

Neil: After this work in progress, the next book will probably be American Gods Two.
Everyone: Oooooooh.

Q: What's with you and bees? You've won awards for your bees, right?
Neil: Well, I have, for the past four years, won county prizes for the honeycomb my bees produce.... having said that, my bees this year have been crap. I got cocky the year before because we got all our bees through the previous winter, but last year the temperature dropped to -30c in December, and all my bees died. 

Q: Would you ever write a 'British Gods'?
Neil: Yes. In fact, there's a story at the back of the new edition of American Gods which is set in Scotland, and that was meant to be the first of three novellas - the second set in Yorkshire, and the third set in London. 

Neil: My favourite myths are the ones that have managed to creep into myth through the back door. The myth that is only just a myth, 'The Pear Drum', was my inspiration for Coraline.

Q: How did you come up with the button eyes in Coraline?
Neil: You know, it would be lovely if you could book an appointment with yourself in the past, to say 'look, in the future, you're going to come up with this idea in a book, and please please just pay attention when you do, ok?' But, you can't, and I don't know where that idea came from. 

Q: If you could write a letter to your sixteen year old self, what would it say?
Neil: ... Don't wear that. 

Q: Lots of people worry that they've spent their entire lives doing a job that they hate. You do a job that you love, so what do you spend your time worrying about instead?
Neil: What a great question. I don't really know. I just know that, when I was younger, I thought, I could be in my seventies and in a hospital bed, dying, and I could think to myself: 'I could have been an author.' And I wouldn't ever know if I was lying to myself... so I had to try and do it, to find out.

Neil: If I wasn't a writer, I'd love to run a really really old bookshop and be one of those people behind the counter who glare at everyone who comes in. 
[I duck under the table and hide]

Q: What's your best writing advice?
Neil: Number one: finish things. Number two: write. Just write: I'm not being funny, but so many people say to me 'I'd love to be a writer, where should I start?' and you should start by writing. 

Q: Why is your book 'Blueberry Girl' called that, and not the name of any other fruit?
Neil: Blueberry Girl was written for my friend Tori Amos when she was pregnant. ... She'd asked me if I could write a prayer, or a poem, that could go up in the baby's room, so I did. And Tori called her bump 'The Blueberry', so it became 'The Blueberry Girl.'

Q: Are you going to write another episode of Dr. Who?
Neil: If we'd discussed me writing another episode of Dr. Who, I wouldn't be able to tell you. 

Neil: I forget that I have so many followers on Twitter, and that I'm not just talking to a collection of good friends... and then I tweet a link, and I break the internet. 


Neil: In a world where Google can give you thousands of answers, a librarian will always bring you the right one.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brothers McLeod to illustrate 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops'

This is all very exciting. I can confirm that the lovely Greg McLeod, from Brothers McLeod, will be doing the illustrations for my 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' book. BAFTA nominated illustrator Greg and writer Myles have been directing animations since 2000 and have worked with BBC, Tate, RSC, ITV, MTV, Channel 4. Here's Billy Shakespeare!

I did a little dance around the bookshop this afternoon when Hugh [my lovely editor] sent me the email [ok, it was a big dance, not a little one]. You can find Greg and Myles on Twitter over here. I leave you with an animation of theirs. [Make me a cup of tea someone, please! English breakfast, milk, no sugar. Thanks!]


Wednesday, 24 August 2011



 Folks! Thank you very very much to those of you who sent in entries for a top 'Weird Things Customers Say in Other Bookshops' for the back of my 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' book. We've got some real gems. [I attractively snorted lemonade out of my nose whilst reading some.]

In fact, we enjoyed them so much, that we want to make this list longer. SO we're reopening the submissions for the book for those who hadn't heard about it last time. And not only that, but we're opening them up to booksellers - EVERYWHERE. Worldwide. [If you have a bookshop in space, you may enter too. Extra kudos to you.]

Please send in your best 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' to Set the conversation out in a script format [as seen in my posts here]. Please include your name, contact number, and the name & location of your bookshop.

Deadline: 30th September.

If you're not a bookseller, do pass this message on to your local bookshop! Tweet them. Drop them an email. Go in and talk to them. Let's make this a book for booksellers and booklovers alike.



[PS. As for those who have already sent quotes in; we'll be contacting you all shortly - thank you!]

[PPS. At the moment this edition is to be published in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, but we will be pitching to other places very very soon.]

Monday, 22 August 2011

weird things people google to get to this blog

Happy Monday, all. I've been amused recently by the google searches which have landed people on this blog. I just don't understand how some of them ended up here, either. Bizarre. Anyway, they're worth a giggle. Have fun!


'Female Black Books Dylan Moran Jen Campbell offspring.'

'how to make sex toys for women'
[I realise this one in because of the 'Weird Book Titles' post, but still].

'John Hegley: I neeeeeeeeed you.'
[Yeah, I'll er, pass that message on.]

'Was Rupert the Bear friends with Robin Hood?'

'Do gay people have sex in bookshops?'

'Fantastic things to say'
[Why, thank you]

'Stop rioting! I'm trying to study!' 

'Jen Campbell: giantess.'
[I hate to break it to you, but I'm only 5ft5

'Is it weird to put my book in a tumble dryer if I drop it in the bath?'
[.... yes]

'I have some of Adolf Hitler's old clothes. Can I sell them online?'
[Dude, be my guest]

Friday, 19 August 2011

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops #8

I hope you are all enjoying this revamp of the summer which seems to be upon us. I plan to dance merrily around London town tomorrow. Perhaps with a mojito. & Next weekend I'm off to Edinburgh to visit the lovely people from my old bookshop, and to give Neil Gaiman a massive hug for blogging about 'Weird Things.' That will be fun, too. I'll blog about that when I get back.

So, if you missed it: I have a book deal for 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' - hurray! I have now completed the manuscript - hurrah!.

Thank you, too, to all booksellers who sent in their own 'Weird Things' for the 'Top Weird Things From Other Bookshops' at the back of the book. I've picked out the ones I really like, and I'll be getting back to you all when I've had confirmation from the right people.

So, now, we're discussing illustrators, which is awesome. As for release dates, I don't have a firm date yet but I think we're looking at early 2012 for the UK/Aus/NZ edition.  My agent and I are also sorting out the pitching of the book for the States and various places in Europe. So, it's all exciting stuff! When I have more news, you'll be the first to hear about it. You can also keep up to date by 'liking' the official facebook page.

In the mean time, I thought I'd leave you with a couple more 'Weird Things.' I've left you without them for a fair while now.

Have fun!


[Due to the forthcoming book release of 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops', I've removed some of the 'Weird Things...' quotes from this blog. 

You can still find some here and here, and you can find all the information on the book over here]. 

Thank you. xx

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Happy Things

After yesterday's post on the London riots, I wanted to make a post about the things happening in London at the moment which make me happy.

Waterstone's in Ealing put this sign on their window: 'We are still open: if they come and steal books, they might actually learn something.' I love you, whoever wrote that sign. Please marry me.

Friday Project [Harper Collins] tweeted this: 'Any indie bookshops been hit by the riots? Drop us a line and we'll send you a box of free books.'

Here at Ripping Yarns bookshop, we're open again for business. So, stop by or, if you're far away, you can find us here too.

The Riot Clean Up is in full swing. People of London are pulling together to show that they outnumber the people who are looting, and rioting.

 The clean-up in Clapham (Pic: Twitter via @Lawcol888)

You can look at the Riot Clean Up website to see where to go if you want to help out.

On boarded up shops in Peckham which had been destroyed by looters, people came and decorated them to make it look like this:


and now, the board is so full of reasons why people love Peckham, it looks like this:


This is the real London. And we will win. x

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

I heart London.

I had every intention of keeping Ripping Yarns open today, but I'm writing this to you from my house, because I've had to close up.

There were a few riot vans passing early in the day heading away from Archway, but then seven riot vans all appeared at once heading in the other direction, and several police on foot. There was a very uneasy vibe out the place, several shops had closed already and pulled their shutters down, I'd had no customers in the shop all day, there were groups of people starting to form near the woods... so I decided to close. We're also next to Wood Green and Tottenham. You can read The Big Green Bookshop's post on the riots. Some idiots also decided to use the unrest to perform a hate crime.

I'm now home, listening to police sirens in the distance.

I love London. The people doing this are not representative of our city.  It's all crazy, and it makes me very very sad.

I'd like to take this opportunity to quote from a letter sent to a small girl by Adrian Mitchell (my boss's late husband, the fantastic poet). We found this letter amongst his papers a few months ago. It is so relevant today:


...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. 

Yours, with love



Please support @Riotcleanup. Stay safe, everyone.

Jen xx

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Author Visit: Chris Wakling

Today is the final day for submissions from UK and Irish booksellers for 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' So, if you've yet to send yours in, then do it now!

In other news:

Today, What I Did by Chris Wakling is out in the UK. It's a wonderful book, and Chris is here to talk to us about it. So, pull up a seat, have a read. Drop a reply. And if you don't win the copy of the book - then go and buy one!

All who reply to this thread before August 20th will have their names put into a hat, and the name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Chris's What I Did.


Chris! Welcome!

Thank you for having me.

So, you’ve been a very busy bee. Two books out this year. Blimey. Tell us about them both, please.

They’re different, that’s for sure. And they represent four years' work, which just happens to have concertinaed into one publishing summer. THE DEVIL’S MASK is a dark, historical mystery set in Bristol after the abolition of the slave trade. WHAT I DID is a tragicomic literary novel about a six-year old whose
father smacks him in public, with disastrous consequences.

How much of Billy in ‘What I Did’ is drawn from how your children behave? Child logic is something that really fascinates me, and you’ve got Billy’s character so spot on.

My son was three when I began work on the novel, and six (the same age as Billy, the novel’s protagonist) when I finished it. I owe him a debt not only for the inspiration he provided, but for his editorial help. (When I was able to pull his nose out of the Lego box, I ran the odd passage past him, to ‘No, he’d never say that, EVER’ useful effect).

But although my son and Billy share characteristics, of course they’re not the same. Billy is both an exaggeration and a refinement; he’s a character. He’s no more my son than I am Jim (the father in the novel): we’re alike in ways, too, but happily I’ve never done anything to warrant a social services investigation.

Part of my reason for writing the novel was to make myself slow down and think hard about what it is like to be a child. Having my own children helped me in that enormously. The extreme present-tenseness of childhood, its frequent misunderstandings, the constant jump-cuts within trains of thought, the bipolar yo-yoing from elation to disconsolation and back again: it all plays out in my kitchen day to day, and it’s also in the book.

If you could sit Billy’s dad down in front of you right now. At the beginning of the book. What advice would you give to him?

We all make mistakes, we all overreact, and – particularly when we suspect we’re wrong - we all hate interference. But it’s Jim’s attitude to the latter which propels him and his family to the brink. I’d tell Jim to let the world in.

What do your children make of you being a writer? Do they think it’s cool? What’s the weirdest thing they’ve said to you about it?

Children normalise everything - to a heartbreaking extent - so mine think being a writer is … normal. My son once asked how many of the six thousand or so books on my shelves I’d written. He looked pretty crestfallen when I singled out the ones with my name on the spine.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Andrew Kaufman’s THE TINY WIFE. It’s fabulous, and tiny. I’m also reading Hari Kunzru’s OF GODS AND MEN, which is big, and also great.

What’s your ‘my first book publication’ story?

I’d chucked in my job as a city lawyer to write my first novel, and I’d gone to Australia to do it. I knew my agent was pitching the novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Night-time in Australia, obviously. I slept on the sofa with the phone on my chest. It rang. My agent told me she’d had a couple of offers. I did a little dance (we had people staying) then walked down to the wave-thumping beach and toasted the moon.

Where/when do you find you’re most productive with writing?

I’m normally hardest at it in my study just before 3pm, when I have to stop and collect my kids from school.

What are you up to when you’re not writing?

I look after my children. I travel (and write for The Independent’s travel pages). I also tutor creative writing courses for The Arvon Foundation, and work as the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol University. And I enjoy mountain biking, among some other pretty goddamn hearty pursuits.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad was a fighter pilot, and I liked writing, so I wanted to be a writing fighter pilot, obviously.

On our Book Forum we’ve got a Book Tree, where members choose their favourite book and we post them round in a circle. Everyone gets to read everyone’s books, write in them etc, so when we get our books back they’re filled with comments by everyone else. If you were to choose a book for our Book Tree, what would you pick and why?

I have to be honest and say, right now, that I’d choose WHAT I DID. The central question in the novel – is it ever right to smack a child? – elicits a strong response from readers. I’d love to hear what the members of your Book Forum think.

&, finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

I’m working on a new novel about child abduction. And I plan to carry on writing until I die.


'This is family life at its most believable: warm and messy, bored and raging. WHAT I DID is every parent's nightmare, but will make you burst out laughing too. I loved it.'
(Emma Donoghue, author of ROOM )

'I loved it! Staggeringly good. Terrifyingly good'
(Lisa Jewell )

'Hugely impressive, gripping, funny and thought provoking'
(Emily Barr )

'Excellent . . . Dark but uplifting'
(Alex Preston )

What I Did is available here

Chris Wakling website / Follow Chris on Twitter