Friday, 27 April 2012

"It's made from the threads your friends wove together."

Three things, before I disappear off to the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea to watch 'Spirited Away,' while the rain continues to fall outside. Ah. 

'Jawbreakers' [a short story collection with stories by me, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman etc] is now available to pre-order.

I was very chuffed to hear that 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' is going to be in the Sunday Times Bestseller list again this weekend. Hurray! Thank you so  so much to everyone buying the book, and to the lovely booksellers who are selling it! Big love.

Tomorrow, after a morning of bookselling, I'm heading over to Waterstones in Croydon, where I'll be signing copies of 'Weird Things...' 2-3pm. So, if you're in the area, and would like to stop by for a chat, then I'll see you there.

Happy weekend, folks! x
[I suggest you all go and curl up and watch a Hayao Miyazaki film, too!]

Thursday, 26 April 2012

I heard they gave her a strawberry heart

The new issue of Shearsman [91 & 92] has been released, which contains two poems of mine: 'Sirenum Scopuli' and 'I heard they gave her a strawberry heart.' Tony Frazer [the editor of the magazine] nominated one of my poems for The Forward Prize, which was very lovely of him. 

If you'd like to read the magazine, you can buy a copy over here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

a few things, and a virtual book event

Earlier today I talked about 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' on Insight Radio. You can have a listen to that over here.

I've got some more events planned for the book, which is great. I'll be updating the left hand side bar with those as details are finalised. I'm particularly excited about being invited to talk at The Wigtown Book Festival later this year - a bookish haven if ever there was one! Thank you also to those who came along to The Firestation Bookswap last week; it was a lot of fun, with some excellent questions from the audience [such as: if you could have any literary characters as parents, who would you choose? I chose Fantastic Mr Fox and his wife. Got to love Roald Dahl.] If you're a bookshop and you'd like me to come visit, then drop me a line.

Now, for those who can't make it to an event, I thought I'd have a virtual event on here. It won't be at a specific time, so you'll be able to see it whenever you like. Basically, I'd like you to email me any questions you'd like me to answer [they can be about anything you like; they don't have to be about 'Weird Things...']. You could Tweet them or leave them in the comment box, if you wanted to instead. Then I'll make a video where I answer them. I might even get Miles to help me act out some scenes from 'Weird Things...', too. So, yes, ask away! xx

ETA: Some questions received so far: 
1. How old is your tortoise? 
2. Can I hear your Geordie accent? 
3. If you had a daemon what type of animal would it be? 
4. You said you can't make good paper aeroplanes, but that you can make an origami box. Show us the origami box. 
[Excellent questions, keep 'em coming!]

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bookshop Spotlight #5: Riverbend Books

This is the fifth Bookshop Spotlight blog post. You can find the others over here:

#1 Ripping Yarns
#2 Constellation Books
#3 Storytellers, Inc.
#4 Belgravia Books

These posts are about showcasing bookshops all over the world and celebrating their wonderfulness. So, here's Jason from Riverbend books to tell you all about their award winning bookshop in Queensland, Australia. Who couldn't love a bookshop that has a bookshop dog... called Bernard Black?


Past events:

"We hold an annual Winter and Summer Bookchat, which is hosted by Suzy. The local community comes along for some light refreshments and to hear Suzy talk about all of the new books and our favourites in the store."

"Some of our favourite events include the Poetry Series that we hold about three times a year. Local and international poets visit and perform on our deck. We also had a Hunger Games Trivia Night that was a huge success."

Events we've got planned

"Coming up, we have a few Foodies events. We invite a celebrity chef to visit the store, often for a breakfast where they can discuss their book, their philosophy on food and take questions from customers. Some of the chefs we've had visit include Stephanie Alexander, Philip Johnson, Manu Feildel, Kylie Kwong, Luke Nguyen and Maggie Beer.

"We also have a Poetry Series currently running in conjunction with the Writer's Centre; we have a Parenting series coming up and a lecture series.

"Currently we are also doing a Weave + Wonder series for kids which incorporates story and art."

Introducing members of staff:

"Jen handles everything to do with schools, from orders to events.
Marilyn has worked here the longest out of any of the staff and is our children's expert.
Lyn is our manager. She keeps us in line and makes sure we get paid.
Jason is our social media manager and keeps the shelves stocked.
Maddie takes care of the new releases and our monthly newsletter.
Tanee handles all of the behind the scenes action, from receiving to returns and consignment.
Krysi handles all of our events and keeps things running smoothly."

Our favourite books

"The Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro [Jen: love this book!]
The Turning by Tim Winton
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster"

Our bestsellers

"The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Silk by Alessandro Barico
The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Schaeffer"

[Jen: This is amazing]

How we interact with the local community

"A large portion of our community comes to our monthly bookclubs at the store. When Riverbend first opened, we never had any bookclubs, but the demand was so strong that we had to create some. We currently have five bookclub groups (called Riverbend Readers) that meet regularly, plus a couple of knitting bookclubs (Knits & Novels). We have a YRead bookclub for the Y Gen and a Johnre bookclub for blokes. We had to put a limit on the number of people in each group for logistical reasons and membership into the bookclubs has become highly competitive over the years, with long waiting lists.

"Our bookchats involve a group coming to the store and a member of staff talking to them about a range of titles we recommend. We usually combine this with morning or afternoon tea and we have everyone from school groups to bookclubs to regular customers attending. We do over 100 bookchats every year."

The layout of the shop

"Riverbend is a converted house, which sits on a slight hill. It was raised to the street level and built in underneath. A couple of customers have visited and told us that they used to live in the house before it changed to a store. There is also the slightly scandalous history of the house being used as a brothel! Once upon a time there was a red light above our side door!

"Inside the store, we have our new releases laid out at the front, with our "pretty books," art, interiors, cooking, along a long wall. Then we have a big children's section with a reading nook and a large container full of books for children to read. This is probably the most frequently visited area of our shop.
The back part of the store is mostly fiction, including fantasy, crime and some history and biographies as well. We have a large area of polished wooden floor with a couple of central tables and chairs. Aside from casual use by browsers, we use these tables for bookclub meetings, social media classes and bookchats. Our bookchats involve a group coming to the store and a member of staff talking to them about a range of titles we recommend. We usually combine this with morning or afternoon tea and we have everyone from school groups to bookclubs to regular customers attending."

"Our social media classes are held monthly and are introductory classes in facebook and twitter for anyone who would like to be brought up to speed.
"We also have a large front deck, surrounded by tall bamboo which is used by our Teahouse customers during the day. We use the deck at night for private functions and our own events. The bamboo really shields us from the main road and gives a cosy intimate feeling to the space."

How many books do you have?

"More than we have shelf space for!"

Plans for the future?
"Building community links and working to support literacy in local schools the shop will run some events.
Some fund raising events for the Indigenous LIteracy Foundation which began its life at Riverbend. More information available at"

Any funny stories about the shop?

"We have a bookstore mascot called Bernard Black. He's a dog (not sure of the breed) and occasionally visits for storytime readings of Hairy McLarey."

[Jen: I am dead from cute]

"We have a teahouse and a customer asked for glutton free cake one day!"

Thanks, Jason!


Sunday, 22 April 2012

miss eliza's skeleton factory

My poem 'Miss Eliza's Skeleton Factory' has been published over at The Prose Poem Project [Volume 2 Issue 4]. If you'd like a read, click here, turn the page to the contents page and click on the poem title [I'm on page 81].

Today I did a happy dance. That is all. [squee!]

Thursday, 19 April 2012

"I don't recommend washing your face... because you might drown."

So, today, all I'm going to do is introduce a person to those of you who don't know her [how do you not know about her?!]: the wonderful Jenna Marbles. Internet Queen of Hilarity.

I realise this has nothing to do with books, BUT if you like 'Weird Things...' then you obviously like a giggle. So... here's a giggle. I highly recommend you check out her other videos and subscribe if you don't do so already. Excellent.

Don't watch this whilst drinking tea, because she makes me laugh until I snort tea out of my nose. Which is hardly attractive, but kudos to her for my laughter-induced-disgustingness.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

National Flash Fiction Day

I'm back in London after spending a wonderful day/night at Blackwell's in Oxford, writing poetry inspired by their bookshop, followed by an evening event about 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' Thank you so much to those who came along! It was a lot of fun, especially reenacting some of the scenes from the book. I'll write a proper blog post about it soon. ETA: You can view a snippet video of the night over here.

Tomorrow you can find me at The Firestation Bookswap in Windsor from 7.45pm. All details at this link here. Event is free is you bring a homemade cake [otherwise £5]. If you're in the area, then do come along :)


& now for something completely different:

On 16th May 2012, it is the first ever National Flash Fiction day! To celebrate, an anthology of flash fiction is to be published, and the organisers of National Flash Fiction Day asked for people to send in submissions. I'm extremely chuffed to say that a short-short story of mine has been accepted for publication in the book. The story is called 'Jawbreakers', and that's also going to be the title of the book as a whole, which is just lovely. Other contributors in the book include Ian Rankin, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, David Gaffney etc [full list here]. I've been sent a proof and the book looks really lovely. This in particular made me do a very happy dance:

I adore Ali Smith, and I am extremely honoured to have my writing in the same book as hers. [It was a moment of major fangirl squealing!]

'Jawbreakers' will be published in print and e-book format at the beginning of May. I'll post details when it's out if anyone would like to track a copy down. Hurrah for flash fiction!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Poetry at Agenda

Happy Friday, lovely people. You can find three poems of mine over at Agenda right now, if you fancy a read. Below are some extracts. 

The Other Woman

Eve takes a bite, and spits
lime acid between the parted grass, and to hell with this:
this moulding green, finger tips tripping on fig leaves cut
and coloured, splayed, sun-dialled and pinned...

Read the full poems here on page 20

memories of your sister in a full-body wetsuit

Letters had been found in bags. Cut and stick newspaper notes
like it’s the movies. So we took her away.
She looked out of place against the motor. It was its corners,
and her hair as she pushed the back seats down flat to sit. Like a tank.

Read the full poems here on page 21.


The conversation flashed
across the pool of yearning soles: fish for
thought and upturned stomachs with seams and stoppers
that turned and rolled.

Read the full poem here on page 23


'Memories of your sister...' is a poem from The Hungry Ghost Festival.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend. x

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Edinburgh owns my heart. I think it always will do. I'm currently on a train back to London after spending two lovely days there. I did my degree at Edinburgh University, so lived there for four years, and I'd really love to move back there some day. Miles and I climbed up Arthur's Seat, and really didn't want to go home.

Although we've had to head home, we have stocked up on essentials.

Thank you to those who came along to the signing at The Edinburgh Bookshop yesterday - it was fun to chat! If you couldn't make it, they are now selling some signed copies of the book.

After the signing, as the first part of the book is set at The Edinburgh Bookshop, Vanessa threw a little party, which was most lovely. There was fizz, book signing, gossip, some portions of chips beforehand [eaten hurriedly in the doorway, hiding from the rain], and general loveliness.

The lovely Ian Rankin stopped by.

The beautiful Viv French was there, and I was very excited that Tania Hershman was able to come along, as she's currently in Edinburgh doing some writing.

Much wine was had.

[Edinburgh Bookshop photos by ChrisDonia]

It was fun. Thank you Vanessa!

Events coming up in the next week: 

I'm going to be signing books at The Book Barge in Staffordshire this Sunday, 15th. A boat that is a bookshop! A wondrous thing. [Moored at Barton Marina, DE13 8DZ] So, stop by any time between 2pm and 4pm for a chat. It'd be lovely to see you if you're nearby. 

Next Tuesday, 17th, I'm doing a day of being writer in residence at Blackwell's in Oxford. There's an event at 7pm, where I'll be talking about 'Weird Things...', perhaps reenacting some parts with the help of other booksellers, and also reading some poetry. The event is £2 BUT if you follow Blackwell's Oxford on Twitter, and quote 'aeroplanegirl' at the door, then you get in for free. If you're in the area, come and say hello :)

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who has bought a copy of 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' so far. You are lovely people and, if I could, I'd bake you all a cake. Really, I would. 


Saturday, 7 April 2012

'Weird Things...' Book Launch

Thursday night was the night of 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' book launch, at England's Lane Books. I spent most of the evening running round like a loon [which, I think, is generally what happens when you're the host], so the evening went by in a bit of a blur. However, it was a very pleasant blur filled with champagne and cupcakes, which are Very Nice Things.

Here are a few photos.

Greg [illustrator extraordinaire] on the left standing with Hugh [wonderful editor].

Hugh's lovely daughter with 'Weird Things...'

And here she is doing Greg out of a job [that's a pretty awesome illustration right there!]

The other half of the lovely Brothers McLeod [Myles], on the right, with my fabulous agent, Charlie.

a few more...

signing books [though not the big one, as that's not mine!]

& me and Greg. Lovely, lovely.

There are a few more pictures over here.

Yesterday I was bookselling with quite a bit of a hangover. However, I was very entertained by two customers who reenacted scenes from 'Weird Things...' in the middle of the bookshop... in French. Kudos.

Today 'Weird Things...' has a very nice mention in The Guardian, and the FT. I'm also over at Caroline Smailes's blog talking about the writing of the book, with the chance to win a copy, too!

At the moment I'm on a train en route to Newcastle [where I grew up], and from there to Edinburgh. If you're in Edinburgh then I'm going to be talking about 'Weird Things...' and signing books at The Edinburgh Bookshop on Tuesday 5:30-6:30pm. It would be lovely to see you there! x

Friday, 6 April 2012

Author Visit: Vanessa Gebbie

So, today, there's something of a blog swap going on. The lovely Vanessa Gebbie is here to talk about her fantastic book 'The Coward's Tale,' and I am over on Vanessa's blog talking about 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' If you are in the UK/Ireland then there's the chance to win a copy of 'Weird Things...' by replying to that blog post.

So, grab a cup of tea and enjoy both interviews!


Everyone [it doesn't matter where you live] who replies to this post by 15th April will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Vanessa's wonderful book 'The Coward's Tale.'

Hi Vanessa. Welcome back!

So, the last time you were here you were telling us about ‘Storm Warning.’ You’ve been a very busy bee since then. Tell us what you’ve been up to. 

I was a strange time back then. As ‘Storm Warning’ was published in November 2010 by Salt Modern Fiction,  and as a houseful of friends was drinking my cellar (er, my boxes of booze from Tescos) dry at the launch party, I was  also celebrating the sale of my novel ‘The Coward’s Tale’ to Bloomsbury. So my collection of conflict stories was kind of eclipsed. 

But the next few months was an exciting time, working with my editor on tweaks (thank goodness, that was all that was needed),  learning about the copy-editing process and the proof-reading process, discussing the design of the hardback cover (fantastic to see this coming together), learning about marketing and publicity plans. ‘The Coward’s Tale’ came out in hardback in the UK in November 2011. It came out in the USA in a different but stunning paperback jacket in February this year, and now I’m partying in the ether for the UK paperback. It’s good fun. Don’t think much of the beer, though. 
But it’s just one of the thousands of things I’m up to. Writing the next novel, teaching creative writing a lot, writing poetry and being a poetry student, planning a far-away residency for 2013, acting as travel agent for a group of writers visiting the WW1 battlefields with a military historian later in the year, and revamping my short story text book ‘Short Circuit’. The end of the year finishes with a four-week writing retreat in a Scottish castle - I have a Hawthornden Fellowship. I shall need it. 

Give a run down of ‘The Coward’s Tale’ for those who haven’t read it yet.

The critic A N Wilson, when he chose it as his novel of the year in The Financial Times, said it was “ an extraordinarily lyrical, moving, funny evocation of a Welsh mining town and its inhabitants as seen through the eyes of “the coward”, who witnessed the collapse of the Kindly Light pit. A poet’s novel, really.” 

But how to describe it? Hmm. OK - 

A boy called Laddy Merridew nearly misses his bus stop, and stumbles into a close-knit, slightly strange but troubled Welsh mining community.  He’s come to stay with his gran, who cleans the library, while his Mum and Dad sort out a broken marriage - but he doesn’t really understand what’s going on. He’s lonely, bullied at his new school, and needs friends. 

Laddy strikes up an extraordinary friendship with old Ianto Jenkins, ‘The Coward’. Ianto is the town 
beggar and storyteller, and he knows all about the town’s past. Laddy soon recognises that certain people in the town have funny tics, or their names are odd, or they live in a strange way. He listens as Ianto is persuaded by the townsfolk, thanks to a toffee or two, to explain these oddities through his stories, which are funny, sad, impossible, heart-rending, always extraordinary.

All the stories seem to go back to one day a few generations back, when the local coal mine, the inappropriately named Kindly Light Pit, collapsed. 

But whereas Ianto will happily relate the strange tales of the townsfolk, he obviously knows more than he’s telling. 

He has never told anyone what happened to him that day, when he was only a lad himself.  Will he finally tell his own story? 

Ta da!

Was it the characters or the plot which formed in your head first?

Characters, character, always the characters. I only discovered what the novel was about in the final year of writing. It took  six years in all. 

Which characters in the book are your favourites, and why?

Aagh! That’s like choosing between your children. I love them in different ways, all of them. 

What was the most exciting part of the novel writing/publishing process. And what was the most frustrating?

Writing is hard. I don’t think it is ‘exciting’, really. Maybe those few moments where it flows like water, and seems effortless, but that doesn’t happen much any more. Those are the moments that make it extraordinary - it will always excite me when something ‘takes off’ and I am just typing as fast as I can to keep up with a storyline I didn’t consciously invent. Still love it though, and wouldn’t be doing anything else.

The most exciting part is when a reader who you will never meet is so moved by your work that they write to you to thank you for writing it. And when those messages come from Wales - that is even better. 

Frustrations are legion with the writing process. How long have you got?!

What’s the one thing you wish publishers understood more about writing? 

That most writers are solitary animals, not suited to turning themselves into performing seals. Performing seals can’t paint their dreams in words. And they smell. 

And what’s the main thing you think writers should be aware of about the publishing process?

That your book is just one of thousands. And it is a product. It has to sell. If it doesn’t, you can expect to be out on your ear. 

You’ve just been to Athens [jealous!]. Tell us aof bout that.

I was there to speak at the launch of an anthology. 

In October 2011, EUNIC (EU National Institutes of Culture) in Greece invited a female writer from each of several EU countries to write a short story exploring the issue of gender equality. I was the UK writer for the project - the others were Rea Galanaki (Greece), Marta Pessarodona (Spain), Dacia Maraini (Italy), Rina Katselli (Cyprus) and Annette Mapson (Norway). 

The project was in collaboration with the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, Greek Ministry of Interior. An anthology of our stories was published in Greece, and launched in Athens on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Entitled ‘Six Women, Six Voices’, the initial idea had been to publish all the stories in Greek alongside each piece in its original language - but the economic situation meant that the whole project was under threat at one point, and in the end, funding was found to ensure its survival in Greek.

Oh I loved Athens. I had such a great few days thanks to The British Council- Athens is an extraordinary, deeply resonant place. Knocked spots off many the other European cities I’ve visited.

Although of course - happy to be proved wrong... 

You’re writing poetry at the moment. How did you get into that? Who are your favourite poets?

I love words. I love sounds, meanings and double-meanings, quirks and oiks.  It’s just another thing to do with words, so I’m happy.  I love reading poems, they say such a lot in so few words, it’s mind-blowing. 

The great ones open up in your head like flowers.  

I’ve written some poems, had a few published, a few entered cheekily into comps with no idea whether they were any cop, some have done OK. Some not. At the moment I am working with poet Pascale Petit at Tate Modern, six evening workshops after hours, in an exhibition - it is an extraordinary thing to be doing. 

Want a poem? Here you are... don’t ask me what it’s on about...

The Harpies

 I met the greyest of women from Golders Green. 
“I tell you, she said, “I am looking for peace. Please listen to me.” 
Her hair and clothes crackled. Her teeth chattered
with a sound like ice shattering. This was one
of many who spoke on the strangest of days,
who said my face was a well for their grief,
my eyes were mirrors against which they might flail and die.
Such weeping. They leached the world of its hues,
these women, whose sadness bent their spines in two.
As always, when faced with horrors, I did not want to know.
As always, when faced with horrors, I did not want to know
these women whose sadness bent their spines in two.
Such weeping. They leached the world of its hues.
My eyes were mirrors against which they might flail and die.
Who said my face was a well for their grief?
Of many who spoke on the strangest of days
with a sound like ice shattering, this was one:
her hair and clothes crackled, her teeth chattered,
“I tell you,” she said, “I am looking for peace. Please, listen to me...
I met the greyest of women from Golders Green...”

Lovely! What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

1. Next novel. 
2. Poetry.
3. Short Circuit 2nd edition with new chapters by Scott Pack, Stuart Evers, Zoe King, Tom Vowler and a few other wonderful writers and editors. 
4. Teaching. Love that. ( Just heard that a student who worked with me for a week last   May has a story in this year’s Fish Prizewinner’s anthology - her first publication. That's what makes teaching so great. )

  1. Planning 2013 residency.
  2. Working with an illustrator on a collection of themed flash fictions - we’ll probably publish that this year. I’d like to know what that is like. 

Then, it will be 5 books in 5 years. And more importantly, I will have had experience of working with a great independent publisher (Salt) a great mainstream publisher (Bloomsbury), experience of publishing stories and poems online, and in print journals, and self-publishing a carefully collated and edited collection. Can’t  hurt, in today’s world, can it!?

I want to complete the second novel - faster than the first. I’m sure my agent will be pleased to hear that!

Thanks, Vanessa!


The boy Laddy Merridew, sent to live with his grandmother, stumbles off the bus into a small Welsh mining community, where he begins an unlikely friendship with Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar-storyteller. Ianto is watchman over the legacy of the collapse many years ago of Kindly Light Pit, a disaster whose echoes reverberate down the generations of the town. Through Ianto's stories Laddy is drawn into both the town's history and the conundrums of the present. Why has woodwork teacher Icarus Evans striven most of his life to carve wooden feathers that will float on an updraft? Why is the undertaker Tutt Bevan trying to find a straight path through the town? Why does James Little, the old gas-meter emptier, dig his allotment by moonlight? And why does window cleaner Judah Jones take autumn leaves into a disused chapel? These and other men of the town, and the women who mothered them, married them and mourned them, are bound together by the echoes of the Kindly Light tragedy and by the mysterious figure of Ianto Jenkins, whose stories of loyalty and betrayal, loss and love, form an unforgettable, spellbinding tapestry. The Coward's Tale is a powerfully imagined, poetic and haunting novel, spiked with humour. It is a story of kinship and kindness, guilt and atonement, and the ways in which we carve the present out of an unforgiving past.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Official release date! Weird Things! Ian Rankin! Moomins! Cupcakes!

Copies of 'Weird Things..' have been winding their way into bookshops over the past week, but today is the official UK and Commonwealth release date for 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops', which means that it should now be available in all bookshops where it was pre-ordered. Hurrah!

Here are two things which made me grin.

I can confirm that Ian is a well-behaved bookshop customer. I can't vouch for Moomintroll.

Yesterday two lovely German customers came into the bookshop, spied 'Weird Things...', each took a copy and sat down on the floor to read it, laughing and talking to each other in German. Although I have no idea what they were saying, it was rather fun.

I've got some more events lined up for the book, which are listed over on the left side of the blog *points* <----. Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to be doing a blog tour, stopping by various places to chat about 'Weird Things...'. I'll edit this page with links, as and when those posts go up:

Today I'm over at Scott Pack's blog here, answering some extremely hardhitting questions.

Tonight is the launch party for 'Weird Things...' over in Hampstead [we couldn't have it at Ripping Yarns, as you can only fit about three and a half people in our bookshop at any one time]. Miles and I drove all the wine over yesterday, and last night I baked an army of cupcakes, so I'm pretty sure we're all sorted. I'll post some photos from the book launch in the next few days.

Thank you, wonderful bloggers for being so supportive and lovely. It's very surreal that something which started here as blog posts eleven months ago, is now an actual book-shaped thing that people are buying. Life is weird. But lovely.

Lots of love. xx

Monday, 2 April 2012

Bookshop Spotlight #4 Belgravia Books

This is the fourth Bookshop Spotlight blog post. You can find the others over here:

#1 Ripping Yarns
#2 Constellation Books
#3 Storytellers, Inc.

These posts are about showcasing bookshops all over the world and celebrating their wonderfulness. I'd like to welcome Emily from Belgravia Books to tell you about their lovely new bookshop in London.

"Belgravia Books is London’s newest independent bookshop, and opened in September 2011. Why open a bookshop? Well, we were already in the book business as publishers of translated French fiction, Gallic Books. The shop gives us an outlet to sell our own books, as well as celebrate those of other independent publishers and boost the profile of translated fiction generally. Two of our existing staff, Alison Savage and Guy Ramage, had many years’ experience of bookselling (my own was limited to a Saturday job during A Levels), so we had a good foundation to start from when choosing stock; creating displays according to Ali’s patented pyramid method; mastering the nitty gritty of discounts and databases.

"It’s been a learning curve for me, Gallic Books’s In-House Translator and now with Chief Stationery Buyer and Receiver of Books added to my CV. I have the fun job of picking pretty cards and notebooks, and the less fun job of unpacking deliveries and checking them into the system. I seem to be stricken with a curse and no box I open passes without incident – there’s always at least one battered book inside that requires a phone call, a form filled in, and before you know it the morning’s gone. Still, sitting translating all day every day might drive me to madness, so breaking it up with other tasks is a good thing.

"We’re ramping up our events programme now that we’ve hosted a few and learned what works well. We had a great crime event with three very interesting women authors, Ann Cleeves, N.J. Cooper and M.J. McGrath. They know each other well and their discussion flowed very naturally, ranging from how many drafts they do to how much sex their protagonists have (or don’t have). We’re doing several events with smaller presses like Peirene and Stork Press, which is dedicated to new writing from Central and Eastern Europe – the launch of Madame Mephisto, the tale of Magda the drug-dealer, will be held here on 19th April, accompanied by a live jazz band. We’re also bringing over many of our own Gallic authors, which started with Francois Lelord, author of the Hector series, in March.

"Events are a good way of getting ourselves known locally. We still get one or two people every day popping in and marvelling that a new bookshop has turned up on their doorstep; the owner of a local deli told us it takes at least a year for that to become a less common reaction. But we’ve already got some wonderful regulars who do their best to support us, bringing their friends in and even helping to hand round the nibbles at events. There are some real local characters. One of the most memorable so far was the lady who had been out foraging and come back with an enormous puffball mushroom, which she insisted we take a slice of. Guy was the only one brave enough to take it home and cook it, in butter, like a steak, as recommended by the customer; he lived to tell the tale."

Thanks, Emily!

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