Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Bookshop Book

Today Jen Campbell is visiting the blog and answering some questions about her writing, her work in a bookshop and her new book, The Bookshop Book, published by Constable (Little, Brown). Jen grew up in the north-east of England and went to Edinburgh University. She now lives in London where she works at an antiquarian bookshop. Her first book, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops was a Sunday Times Bestseller, and she’s also an award-winning poet and short story writer.

How long have you worked in a bookshop?
Seven years now... I think! I started at a new independent bookshop in Edinburgh (The Edinburgh Bookshop), working part-time when I was a student, and now I work at Ripping Yarns, an antiquarian bookshop in north London.

Is it something you always wanted to do or is it something that happened by chance or serendipity? 
I’ve always loved books and writing. To me, bookshops are magical places full of infinite possibilities. The emotional ties we have to stories fascinate me, and as a bookseller working to match people up with books and worlds that they might fall in love with... well, that sounds like a pretty damn good job to me. Mix it together with being a writer, too, and I’m a happy lady.

You write poetry and prose. Which came first and which do you enjoy the most? 
Poetry came first, though I love them both. (Please don’t make me choose!)

How did you get the idea for The Bookshop Book?
I think it was born out of my ‘Bookshop Spotlights’ blog posts that I started in 2012, featuring bookshops I really liked. But the idea really took hold after my first book was published. It was called ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ and was a collection of all the bizarre things that get said to booksellers: misheard book titles and children asking if they could get to Narnia through our bookcases (when I said no, they nodded wisely and said that their furniture didn’t work for getting to Narnia either, and that their dad said it was because their mum had bought it at IKEA.) Bookselling is a bit of a mad world. I love it.

I spent a lot of time doing events for ‘Weird Things...’ in wonderful bookshops, talking to inspiring booksellers and sharing bookish tales. And while I’d written about the weird things that happen to booksellers, I hadn’t written about the magical feeling of bookshops and how books affect people. I hadn’t spoken about the history and wonder of ‘houses for stories’ (which is what one of my youngest customers calls bookshops, and I adore it.) My editor said: ‘Think about how you would write about that. How you’d capture it. Then send me something.’ So I did. I wrote a proposal about a book that explored all the fantastic bookshops around the world: bookshops on trains and on boats, and even bookshops in the middle of a jungle. A book that had interviews with authors about their favourite places, and facts about the history of the written word. And my editor liked it, so The Bookshop Book was born.

What was the hardest thing about compiling The Bookshop Book?
The deadline... I think (isn’t it always)? And the vast amount of material I could choose to research (which is also a positive). And the fear that I’ve missed out something very important. (I don’t think I have... I hope!)

What are you working on now/next?
I’m writing a novel. It’s eating away at me (which I think is a good thing.) I’m hoping to finish it by next summer. It’s not about bookshops, but it is about the power of stories and the frightening things they can make us believe. I’m excited about it.

Jen’s website

The Bookshop Book



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