Jen Campbell is the author of the official Books are my Bag book for 2014; The Bookshop Book, which I finished reading on Saturday and very much enjoyed. I shall be posting my review of that on Wednesday, but suffice to say it is a wonderful celebration of book shops and book lovers the world over.
Prior to the Bookshop Book, Jen published short stories, poetry and the book Weird things Customers Say in Bookshops. Currently Jen lives in North London, and works in the Ripping Yarns bookshop.
I was pleased to get the chance to ask Jen a few questions about her work and her love of bookshops.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was six I wanted to be a lollipop lady. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I wrote in a notebook during break time, typed everything up on my typewriter when I got home, and sent my first manuscript off to a publisher when I was 11 without telling my parents (it was a short story about my dead hamster. Needless to say that didn’t get published. Thank goodness.)
Where and how do you write? – in a study, on a pc – with a pencil and a notebook?
I like writing in quiet places. If I’m writing poetry it goes straight onto my Macbook – because it’s a constant flow of editing, in a very different way to prose writing. If I’m writing non-fiction, I tend to type straight away, too. If I’m writing my novel, I write it by hand (so I don’t get distracted!)
What is your earliest memory of buying or browsing books in a bookshop?
I remember going to a bookshop in Sunderland called Hills and getting lost in Animal Ark books. We didn’t have many bookshops where I grew up (in the north east of England) but I remember spending a lot of time in the library. When I moved to Edinburgh for university, that’s when I discovered bookshops – because they have dozens spread out across the city, and they’re all marvellous.
What kind of books do you read?
Lots of different kinds! I’m a big fan of dystopian literature… I also love Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith… twisted fairy tales, poetry, books on the history of Japan… books about North Korea… I could go on for a while. Just give me the books.
Other than the shop you work in yourself, where is your favourite bookshop?
That’s a tough one (and a question I’ve had to think about a lot lately!). I don’t want to pick favourites but I will say that I think Shakespeare and Company in Paris is an example of a bookshop that’s doing everything right. They have a wishing well; a ‘Mirror of Love’ where customers can leave messages for other book-lovers; authors get to stay there; and their poetry section is an alcove inside separated by a garden gate.
What came first; your job at Ripping Yarns bookshop – or the idea for the Bookshop Book?
I worked at a bookshop in Edinburgh before I worked at Ripping Yarns, so the love of bookshops goes way back! I started doing a series of blog posts in 2011 called ‘Bookshop Spotlights’ where I featured interviews with booksellers around the world. Once my book ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ was published (in 2012) and I got to go on book tour, seeing so many amazing bookish places, I decided ‘Right. I need to write about this.’ There are so many wonderful bookshops around the world – bookshops on boats, on buses, bookshop TOWNS in the middle of nowhere with clusters of bookshops all along one street. The Bookshop Book looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents. I loved writing it. (I’m actually in the middle of book tour again, right now: http://www.jen-campbell.co.uk/events)
What is your attitude to the large online booksellers’ vs the independent booksellers that so many of us book addicts love so much?
Quite a simple one: if you want to buy books online, and you enjoy doing that then that’s absolutely your choice. However (and I hope that The Bookshop Book highlights this), bookshops are fabulous places with so much to offer. They are an experience. And if you enjoy that experience and actively use bookshops to discover books you didn’t know existed, please buy them in the place that you discovered them. It’s only fair 🙂
If there was one book or one author that you could force all booksellers’ to stock what/who would it be?
Su Blackwell’s ‘The Fairytale Princess.’ It’s beautiful. http://www.thehousedirectory.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/SuBlackwell4.gif
What part do you think book bloggers and other social media play in creating excitement and interest in new publications?
It’s another way to spread excitement and chat with like-minded people about the things we love, and it’s a great community. I run a blog over at http://jen-campbell.blogspot.com where I post recommendations and chat about the books I’ve been reading. I also do interviews with authors. I’ve just set up a Booktube channel, too, over at http://www.youtube.com/jenvcampbell – social media is a fantastic way to connect and discover. My first book, ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops,’ started life as a series of blog posts, so there we go!
What are you reading now?
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. I’m about half way through and love it so far!
I want to thank Jen for answering my questions, and for writing a book that reminded me (if I needed reminding) of the importance and magic of bookshops.