chasers of the light

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon, quite by accident, a poetry collection by Richard Siken titled 'Crush.' It shattered me into tiny pieces; it left me wondering how I ever got by before it; it made me feel so very many things. A copy of it lives by my bed. I loved it like I have never loved a poetry collection before and like I never expected to again.

And then I read 'Chasers of the Light.' 

Wow. Talk about feeling sucker-punched. This book is seriously beautiful. It amazes me, always amazes me, when people can use so few words to make me feel so much and this book made me feel SO MUCH.
I knew I would love it if I'm honest; it wasn't quite as out of the blue as my love affair with Siken. I'm familiar with Tyler Knott Gregson's work 'from the Internet' - I check his tumblr regularly and follow him on Pinterest. I have one of his poems pinned on the wall by my desk; this was always going to be my kind of book. I did not expect it to make my breath catch.

That's the one actually, that I printed out. I love it. I love it so much that I am very very tempted to order a signed copy of it from Tyler before signed copies is a thing he stops doing. I would love it framed on my bedroom wall, but anyway, that's another story. The thing is, that everything about this book speaks to me. The whole premise is glorious: Tyler came across an old Remington typewriter in an antique shop one day and right there onto the pages of a second-hand book he was buying, he typed a poem. Jesus. Right in the feels. 

The poems in what is known as 'The Typewriter Series' that make up the bulk of this book are stunning in their simplicity. 
Every word is carefully placed for maximum effect and I swear to you this book made my heart hurt, it made my breath catch, it made me feel like I wanted to cry because these poems are raw and beautiful and honest and they feel so  familiar. These are things that I have felt and these are words that speak to me; that feel weirdly like they are 'for' me. 

I don't know if Tyler Knott Gregson bared his soul writing these poems but I feel like he has bared mine.

Also it's really really pretty. Really pretty. 


The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl

Oh my. I am in book love (again, I know, sorry not sorry). People, you need to read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and you need to read it right now. I’m not even kidding.

I found it ironic that I should be blessed with wings and yet feel so constrained, so trapped. It was because of my condition, I believe, that I noticed life's ironies a bit more often than the average person. I collected them: how love arrived when you least expected it, how someone who said he didn't want to hurt you eventually would

I knew I wanted to read this book from the moment I first saw it in hardback with its beautiful rose gold embossed cover. ROSE GOLD EMBOSSED. It’s a like a sign from the book gods or something. It’s just so pretty. I was seeing it everywhere too, like it was calling to me, like some kind of siren. Come to me, buy me, read me, love me. I didn’t though, I held off for the paperback, partly to practice my self control but mostly because hardback books whilst always that bit prettier are also rather cumbersome when you like to read in bed. The second it was out in paperback though, it was mine. Then Jen announced it as her choice for the November Weird Things BookClub (which you can get involved with here. We’re reading HDM this month…) and I did a happy dance.

I don’t think there is anything about this book I don’t like. Not a single thing. I love it. I love it like I loved Eleanor and Park last year, like it’s gotten under my skin and made a home there; like it was written somehow for me. I didn’t want it to finish – I kind of felt like I needed to read it slowly, to get fully immersed in the intricate weave of magic and reality and let this love story wash over me. That’s what it is, this book, at its heart. It’s a story of love: familial love and romantic love; lost love and unrequited love; love that’s always just out of reach and love that’s unconditional; love that blinds you and loves that helps you to see;  love that makes your heart sing and love that makes it shatter.

It’s kind of like a fairytale, not a Disney and they all lived happily ever after type of story but a proper fairytale, dark and twisted and beautiful and raw. It’s about impossible love and about loss and heartbreak and the bitter taste of joy. It’s about people turning into birds and ripping out their own hearts and about ghosts that you can never quite get away from.

And it’s about a child, born with a pair of wings.

Fate. As a child, that word was often my only companion. It whispered to me from dark corners during lonely nights. It was the song of the birds in spring and the call of the wind through bare branches on a cold winter afternoon. Fate. Both my anguish and my solace. My escort and my cage.

It’s kind of incredible, the level of originality, the beauty, the agony, the magic, the everything. It’s pretty much everything I want in a book. It’s rich and full and painful and stunningly stunningly lovely. It’s angry and violent, and there is murder and suicide and pain and sex – consensual and otherwise – and sorrow (the title doesn’t lie, about anything) but it’s also lyrical and beautiful and wonderful. Walton’s use of language takes the pain she’s talking about and transforms it into something otherwordly. Her prose is rich and every word feels like it was carefully considered; the whole thing is just full of imagery that makes you feel like you’re there and subtle foreshadowing that has you feeling pulled in and pulled forward.
It made my heart ache in the most wonderful way. Life is painful, it’s just the way it is, and this book makes you feel every single thing that you’re supposed to feel; everything single thing those characters feel gets you right in the chest. It’s glorious.  

The first of many autumn rains smelled smoky, like a doused campsite fire, as if the ground itself had been aflame during those hot summer months. It smelled like burnt piles of collected leaves, the cough of a newly revived chimney, roasted chestnuts, the scent of a man's hands after hours spent in a wood shop.

It’s gorgeous. And I could quote possibly wax lyrical about it for A Long Time. But I’ll stop now, before it gets awkward. (Has it gotten awkward already? Oh God.) In a nutshell, this book is lovely, it’s a blend of impossibility and surety, it’s magical realism at it’s very best and it is a book that you really ought to read.

By this point Viviane Lavender had loved Jack Griffith for twelve years, which was far more than half of her life. If she thought of her love as a commodity and were to, say, eat it, it would fill 4,745 cherry pies. If she were to preserve it, she would need 23,725 glass jars and labels and a basement spanning the length of Pinnacle Lane.

If she were to drink it, she'd drown.

The Here and Now

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

Hmmm. I think I'm a little bit disappointed with The Here and Now. Probably because I read so much in this genre that my standards are extremely high; I love me a good dystopia and it has to be a good one to impress me.

Not that this was bad exactly. In fact it was actually rather good (as evidenced by the fact I read it in a day whilst say on my stall at Manchester’s Off the High Street Christmas Market.) The problem was, I think, that this story had the potential to be really great and it didn’t quite reach it. It always makes me rather sad when that happens.

The premise is excellent: the story is set in 2014 but the main character, Prenna, is from another time. She's from the year 2098 and has travelled back in time with her community of approx. 1000 people, to escape a plague that's threatening humanity.
Prenna’s spent the past four years since she arrived in 2010 trying to blend into society and trying to keep the rules laid out by the leaders of her community, rules based on fear that leave Prenna desperate to never be discovered. She’s under the impression – as you would be I suppose - that the community leaders have everybody's best interests at heart and that they’re trying to make things better. To fix what isn’t yet broken. However, (dun dun dun!) all is not as it seems.

When is it ever?

Time travel, evil baddies masquerading as goodies, a virus that threatens mankind, and a good old forbidden love story. Should have been so great.

Parts of it worked. I am in no way slating this book. It’s a pretty good exploration of important issues – most obviously global warming – and it explores these issues without ever really preaching. Far-fetched as parts of it are, there’s still a part of you all too aware that to go from where we are now to what Prenna has seen in the future isn’t that great a leap. You can't not consider the plausibility and doing so makes you realise that Prenna’s right: we very probably aren’t doing enough. I loved the idea of these people travelling back in time and things being so different and the juxtaposition of one world against another; all of that side of the story was interesting and relevant.
Then, the development of Prenna’s relationship with Ethan is lovely and honest – it’s not all hearts and flowers either, this is an honest to God look at an honest to God forbidden and impossible love, made all the sweeter the whole way through by how desperately tragic it is. All the angst people, all the angst.  I guess it’s going to happen, when you travel back from 2098 and fall in love with a guy in 2014.  S’never going to be an easy ride, is it? Brashares gets this spot on - the emotional intensity is palpable

So you have the romance and you have the whole time travel paradox side to the story, along with the underlying issue of the plague and where it came from and how to stop it and you know, all those things, they ticked all my boxes. I liked this book, I did.

I just...expected more. I just felt like I was being given a taste. Reading this book was like being offered one Malteser whilst the rest of the packet is left just out of reach. Which, holy terrible metaphor batman, I apologise. You get my meaning though, right? More Maltesers…

The main issue I had was with the narrative voice. I guess, if your protagonist is a teenage girl then I think you need to write her as a teenage girl. It didn't make sense for Prenna's narration to be as formal as it was, for her conversations with Ethan to be so lacking in teenage idioms and expressions.  Teenagers just don’t talk like that. Crikey, most adults aren’t as formal as Prenna and Ethan. Perhaps you could excuse it by saying Prenna's not from this time – things are different in 2098 - but still, Ethan’s a Time Native, and he didn't sound like any 18 year old I ever met. Often their conversations jarred a little – I was aware of it, pretty much all the time - and it made it more difficult to get into their headspace. It also made feel like there was no sense of immediacy, or urgency. Even when the spoilery Bad Stuff is happening, there's no real sense of tension, you're aware as the reader that Prenna and Ethan are working to a pressing time limit, but you don't feel like they’re in that much of a rush. It's weird.   
I had issues too with the characterisation, not so much with Prenna and Ethan (although Prenna was a little inconsistent) but with the secondary characters. The leaders of Prenna’s community are obviously asshats, and are clearly supposed to be the bad guys but there’s just no depth to them., you don’t get to find out enough about them or what they’re doing or why. To get behind Prenna’s fight you kind of need to know what and who it is she’s fighting against. And you don’t. And the big show down, the whole good versus evil thing towards the end of the book is such a letdown – because of that, because these characters have no depth and as far as we can see are evil just for the sake of it. 

I kind of felt like Brashare just doesn’t care that much – why not flesh things out further if she does. Tell me more about time travel, tell me about the effects of messing with the timeline, tell me more about this plague and what the time travellers hoped to achieve by going back 88 years, make your bad guys into fully realised characters instead of these one-dimensional people that take away from your story rather than adding to it. Make me care, I guess. The world is going to be hit by an environmental catastrophe in 84 years unless something drastic happens – make me care about that instead of just whether or not Prenna and Ethan get together in the end.

I guess, for a teen romance with a bit of a twist, it was good but when you consider it could have been so much more, it could have been an engaging and exciting story, it only reaches okay and that made it disappointing.

I received an early copy of The Here and Now via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Girl on a Wire

Everything could end at any moment. The difference between life and death was one breath, one second, one act. And that meant that life was worth everything, every minute of every day
Interesting characters, a slow-building love story and a circus. What's not to like? 

Oh, but I do love me a good circus story. 

It's an excellent subject for a YA novel I think actually, the circus. Or it is, if you assume that all the young adults out there are like I was when I was a young adult myself (I am not one, now *sobsob*). 

I used to dream sometimes, when I was a teenager, of living in a circus, of an old gypsy style caravan (thanks for that Rumer Godden) and of bare feet and The Big Top and the trapeze and a boy with messy hair and a cheeky grin (there was an Enid Blyton book with a boy called Barney who'd grown up in a circus. He had a pet monkey. I think it all stemmed from that....)

This book is pretty much ^^ that. And you know what? It's so refreshing to read a book like this, that's so different to the other (much of it excellent) YA fiction that's out there right now. Kudos to Bond for taking an age old formula and making it new again. Kudos to Bond for taking us to the circus.

Jules Maroni is sixteen. And she's a high wire walker. She convinces her family to take on a role in the prestigious new Cirque American, despite it meaning they have to work alongside The Flying Garcias - a trapeze flying family who have been their rivals for over two decades. Jules wants to ignore all the drama and just focus on being the best high wire act the circus has ever seen, but even she can't ignore the bad luck that seems to be following her around since the move, and the mysterious objects believed to cause bad luck that seem to be following her wherever she goes. Remy Garcia - yep, of The Flying Garcias - seems like an unlikely ally, but he's the only one she's got.....

I was an upside-down rose, a suspended drop of blood, a floating ballerina. I was alone on the wire. I was whatever I felt like being

This book ticks all the boxes. I'm such a sucker for all that it is, with it's slow burning romance and it's well thought out characters and it's exploration of the sub-culture of the circus. It's gripping and exciting and interesting and fine the whole love story is a tad predictable (and do we need to discuss how the main characters are called Julieta and Romeo and come from rival families, or should we just go with it? Let's just go with it.) but Bond more than makes up for that with her ability to build up some honest to God dramatic tension that has you holding your breath and torn between not wanting to turn the page and not being able to do it fast enough. 

You can't help caring about all these kids; you can't help being afraid for them; and you can't help rooting for them (Dita, let me hug you, you darling), and there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing  - some of them come from nowhere and leave you gasping - which kind of makes the ending fall somewhat flat. Always a shame when that happens is it not? That said, I was a little more 'is that it *sigh*' than 'OH MY GOD RAGE' at the end so don't let that put you off. S'a good book, I promise: the characters are excellent and can be related to, the story is real and honest and exciting and did I mention THE CIRCUS?

You throw caution to the wind, it may blow you away.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

“It’s all very well for a man to set out of his front door and tell his friend to wait while he walks the length of England. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish when you are the woman at the other end.”

I’m not sure if I ever blogged about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the rather wonderful story of a man who walks the length of England to visit an old friend who is dying. If I didn’t then I should have done, because Harold Fry’s story is intelligent and inspiring, moving and amusing and filled with a sense of hope. I loved it a whole lot and I have not a single qualm about telling everybody in the world to go read it.

I mention it now because I just finished Rachel Joyce’s latest novel.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey is a companion piece to Harold and tells the story from the other side.

Queenie Hennessey is in a hospice when she gets a letter from an old friend, Harold Fry. He’s coming to see her, he says, and he asks her to wait. Queenie doesn’t think she can wait, she is in the hospice to die after all, but Sister Mary Inconnue, gives her a reason to hang on; as she waits for Harold to walk from South Devon to the North East, with Sister Mary Inconnue’s help, Queenie begins to write to him.

This book is unbearably sad at times and it broke my heart into millions of tiny little pieces, but, at the same time it radiates that same sense of hope that I found when I was reading Harold.
It’s injected with a sense of humour that makes you huff out a laugh as your chest tightens, makes you smile as your eyes fill with tears and whilst the ending is (obviously) anything but happy, there’s a sense of satisfaction that Queenie’s life has gone full circle. The whole book from start to finish is nothing if not bittersweet: Queenie’s story; her memories of Harold; the other characters in the hospice with their own heartbreaking stories that bring a little colour to Queenie’s quiet life, it’s all so very very lovely and it all hurts, more and more as the book goes on. This book left my chest tight and my heart in my throat but I am so pleased that I got to know Queenie Hennessey.


in which I share some things I've read and liked.

Hey there blogosphere! What's that you say, you need something to read? Then this could be the blog post for you, because in a fit of boredom whilst The Boy was at the cinema this week, I took to the iPad (my preferred blogging device) and made a little post of books I have read recently and rather enjoyed.

Hang on a little minute first though. Have you read The Bookshop Book? No? Okay, but why? Go away and read that and come back to me.


Excellent. Then let's go.

Firstly, Cassandra Parkin’s The Summer We All Ran Away needs to take it's perfect self and disappear, frankly. It's unfair for it to hang around being that good and making the other books jealous. Seriously, this is such a good concept that has been flawlessly executed. I could not put this down and I am so excited for Cassandra's new novel, published next year.

When nineteen year old Davey finds himself drunk, beaten and alone, he is rescued by the oddly-assorted inhabitants of an abandoned and beautiful house in the West Country. Their only condition for letting him join them is that he asks them no questions.
More than thirty years ago in that same house, burned-out rock star Jack Laker writes a ground-breaking comeback album, and abandons the girl who saved his life to embark on a doomed and passionate romance with a young actress. His attempt to escape his destructive lifestyle leads to deceit, debauchery and even murder.
As Davey and his fellow housemate Priss try to uncover the secrets of the house's inhabitants, both past and present, it becomes clear that the five strangers have all been drawn there by the events and the music of that long-ago summer.

I finally got my hands on the second of Kat Zhang’s Hybrid Chronicles, Once We Were. (And did a small happy dance.) I pretty much devoured the first in this trilogy, so I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me so long to get round to book two, other than somehow, like a crazy person, I thought it wasn’t published yet. Book three was released in September of this year, so if you’ve not read any of these yet, then you can read all three in one go. You’ll want to.

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

The Shock of the Fall won Costa Book of the Year in 2013. I can see why. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, – it’s a long long way from being that, but it’s a good read. It’s well written and well paced and I am a fan of the back and forth stream-of-consciousness type writing style. The book tells Matt’s story – he’s a 19 year old boy with schizophrenia struggling to come to terms with the death of his brother Simon on a camping holiday ten years earlier. It’s honest and perceptive and dotted with just exactly the type of humour a book like this needs. S’good.The story is told by Matt Homes, a 19-year-old schizophrenic haunted by the death of his Downs syndrome brother, Simon, ten years earlier when the boys were on a family camping holiday. A tragic accident or did Matt kill his brother? 


The Girl With All the Gifts. Read this book. That’s all. Read it. It’s excellent.

I am such a sucker for pretty words and this book is full of them. It’s beautiful and intriguing and completely gripping.  E. Lockhart asks that people who have read the book don’t go all spoilery on the asses of folks that haven’t:

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE

And so spoilers here there are none. Sorry. I shall just say that this is a book that you should read

I love Khaled Hosseini so much. So very much so I was practically giddy with excitement when I came to read And The Mountains Echoed. It didn’t disappoint. The thing about Hosseini is that his books are wonderful and devastating in a billion different ways. He explores relationships so well, he travels through time so well, and he makes you empathise with his characters, even the ones you don’t care for all that much. The imagery is so vivid, each character so well developed and the threads of the narratives so intricate they take your breath away.  

...a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

It was in the tender, slightly panicky way he spoke these words that I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice; either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.

Two Boys Kissing

I found Levithan thanks to Will Grayson, Will Grayson which he wrote with John Green. I read Every Day, which I liked a whole lot, and then Jen (being a love) sent me this (which I need to send back actually, but anyway, not a thing anybody needs to worry about but me…) and again, I liked it a whole lot. Like Every Day, and like Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Two Boys Kissing is honest and thought-provoking and relevant. It’s everything a good YA novel should be.  

Seventeen-year-olds Craig and Harry are trying to set a new Guinness World Record for kissing.

Around them, Ryan and Avery are falling in love, Neil and Peter are falling out of love, and Cooper might be somewhere, but he is also, dangerously, nowhere.

Narrated, Greek-chorus style, by the generation of gay men lost to AIDS, this novel is a thematic companion to David Levithan’s groundbreaking Boy Meets Boy, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2013.

in which I do (some more) incoherent flailing

I cannot even with this book, I swear. I cannot. All ability to do anything other than flail around and key smash has deserted me, perhaps forever.

This book is my happy place, my spirit animal, my patronus. If a person could have a book as a daemon this would be mine. It's all that's good in the world.

Bookshops are (among other things) safe places, Jen says in the epigraph. I believe that to be true. Do you want to know another thing though? This book is a safe place. It's just...I CANNOT EVEN.

Try harder, Josephine, please.

Ok, so, you know when you love a thing and you have always loved a thing and you don't know how to articulate, quite, just how much or why you love the thing and then someone comes along and expresses all that you love about the thing perfectly for you, and suddenly it all makes sense? Suddenly you have an answer right there for whenever somebody asks you why you love the thing so much? That's what this book is. It’s the answer to why I love the thing.

Why do you love books Josephine, what exactly is it about bookshops? Ask me, go on. The answer lies within The Bookshop Book. I dare you to read this book and not want to visit every place that lives in its pages. I dare you to not fall harder into bookshop love than you are already. I dare you to not want to hug Jen hard enough to hurt for finally writing the book you've waited your whole life to read. I dare you. I double dare you.

This book is, simply put, the why’s and the wherefore’s and the how's of what it means to love books and bookshops.

It's a journey and an exploration; it's an adventure and an education; and it's…it’s a goddamn love story alright. It's a love story about one girl and her books and bookshops, and if you love bookshops even a tiny bit then it's also a love story about you.

I’d thought it would be one of those books I’d sort of dip in and out of you know, a bit here and a snippet there, and it is that – it lives on my coffee table and dipping in and out of it is exactly what I do, but it’s also a really fantabulous read. I picked it up and I curled up onder my patchwork quilt with my coffee in my Alice mug and I just could not put it down. Jen's love for what she writes about shines through every word, and she has this inimitable style, this way of writing that's just like having a conversation with her: this book is so well researched and Jen passes that information along with an enthusiasm that you can't help but be swept up in, you want to go to all these places and meet all these people and read all these books and do ALL THE THINGS. And it's just, it's a glorious book ok. I love it so damn hard.

I love it. So damn hard.

Author Visit: Jen Campbell Talks Bookshops.

If you’re a regular visitor around these parts (or follow me on Twitter) then you’ll likely be aware that I have been extraordinarily excited about Jen Campbell’s marvellous new book ‘The Bookshop Book’ – released yesterday and published by Constable (Little, Brown).
The official book for the Books Are My Bag campaign, The Bookshop Book is a love letter to books and bookshops the world over:

Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France. Meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains. Meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.
And that’s just the beginning.

From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine,
The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).
authors involved in the book include Brian Aldiss, David Almond, Bill Bryson, Tracy Chevalier, Cornelia Funke, Audrey Niffenegger, Ian Rankin, Jacqueline Wilson and more.

Jen, who graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in English Literature and now lives and works in London, is not only an all round ‘lovely person’ (and one of my faves) but also an award winning poet and short story writer. Her first book, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops was a Sunday Times bestseller. She’s dropped by my little corner of the blogosphere today to chat about All Things Bookshop. So, make a coffee, grab a slice of cake and pull up a seat.

Jen! Thank-you for stopping by.  Quickly quickly, before we start – let’s get warmed up with a quick fire round!

Coffee, tea or…?

Tea. Always tea.
English breakfast. Earl Grey. Lady Grey. Or Teapig’s Winter Red Tea. Thanks.

Favourite Film?

Shakespeare in Love or Spirited Away

Favourite book?

Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll (I can’t believe you made me choose!) (Jo: sorry not sorry!)

Summer or winter?

Winter! (Though preferably autumn. Boots and cardigans and log fires, yes please.)

Favourite Colour?

Mint green.

Last thing you ate?

Marmite on toast. (Jo: this is why I like you so much – your excellent food choices.)

Favourite holiday destination?

Somewhere windswept by the sea.

Ok, and now that’s done, onto the nitty gritty!

Where did the idea for the bookshop book come from?

I think it was born out of my ‘Bookshop Spotlights’ blog posts that I started in 2012, featuring bookshops I really liked. But really it was fueled after ‘Weird Things...’ was published and I spent a lot of time doing events in wonderful bookshops and talking to inspiring booksellers. I’d written about the weird things that happen to booksellers, but 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 love it.) My editor said: ‘Think about how you would write about that. How you’d capture it. Then send me something.’ So I did.

What is your earliest bookshop memory?

We didn’t have independent bookshops where I grew up, we just had a Waterstones. I think that’s why I fell for bookshops so hard when I moved to Edinburgh to do my degree. Suddenly there was so much to explore, and so many books to lose myself in. Oh and the smell. I’ll never forget the smell of Till’s bookshop in Edinburgh. The smell of vanilla and dust and stories from long ago.

Tell us about the best bookshop you've visited?

Oh, no. I can’t do that. I’ve answered the question about my favourite book, and that was painful enough! ;) (Jo: hmmmm, ok. I shall let you off. This time.)

And the one that your research has you dream-planning a visit to?

Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. (and hundreds more!)

If time and money were no object what would your perfect bookshop be like?

It would be a bit of a labyrinth. Maybe even an actual maze. A treasure hunt for books. I’d have it in the middle of a forest, with fairy lights everywhere.

The Bookshop Book is more than just your love letter to bookshops everywhere; it's that of booksellers and writers too. When gathering your research which book selling story made your heart sing? Feel free to give us a snippet

I love the history of Shakespeare and Co in Paris, and how its original owner Sylvia Beach stood up to the Nazis, refusing to serve them so that they threatened to burn her shop to the ground. I love Sarah Henshaw, who runs a bookshop on a narrowboat in the UK and is planning to bravely/crazily cross the Channel in it. I love that there’s a bookshop in Kenya that also sells cows. I love Fjaerland in Norway, which is a Book Town near the largest glacier in mainland Europe. It has bookshops in old buildings and sheds, and in the winter the booksellers use kick-sleds to transport books across the snow. I love... oh, I really could go on forever. You’re just going to have to read it.

I'm going to be reading every word, naturally, but the minute I open it, which author interview should I skip to first: which sticks on your mind, and how did it feel to sit down and talk books with people whose work  you love?

It was overwhelming, and I was so amazed that so many wonderful authors were willing to speak to me. Every author I spoke to was so passionate about books and reading (but then, I would hope they would be!). I can’t pick out one interview over another, but one moment I remember vividly is this. I met up with Audrey Niffenegger when she was in London and we had tea and cake and talked about our favourite places. She was describing Roger, a bookseller who she cares about deeply, who ran a bookshop in Chicago called Bookman’s Alley. She was talking about the souls of bookshops, and how she’s written about it in her graphic novel Library series: about these wonderful characters who come to a bookshop that’s closing down and collect its soul so that it can live on forever. And as she was speaking about that, and about Roger closing down his bookshop due to ill-health and how she wants to capture him in the stories she writes... I realised that she was crying. And it hit me full on, this realisation - which I did already know but had perhaps forgotten slightly - of the ties that bind us not only to the people we care about, but also to literature and the people who protect it with us. Of our need to tell stories, and share them so that they become part of our history - in the hope that the people and places we write about can live on and on, and never disappear.

I am in LOVE with the cover art. Tell us about how that came to be?

My editor and I had a discussion about how we’d like the cover to look (bright colours, text-based) and it was designed by a delightful chap called Leo Nickolls who has produced so many beautiful things (go look and see!). I’m so happy with it.

The Bookshop Book was a mammoth task and one that you should be proud of, how different was it to Weird Things?

Oh, so very different! ‘Weird Things...’ were books recording things I’ve heard and things I’ve said... it was a case of going through notes and sorting through memories. The Bookshop Book required massive amounts of research (though all of it rewarding) and it’s eight times the size of ‘Weird Things...’, word-count-wise, too. It’s a whole new beast.

What has been the best and worst thing about the whole experience?

The worst thing was the deadline (isn’t it always)? That’s both stressful and exhilarating - but obviously necessary! The best thing? All the wonderful people I’ve met. Also, after I handed in the manuscript, I posted a picture of the dedication page on the ‘Weird Things...’ Facebook page, and I got a message from The Book Nook in Texas with a photograph of their shop front. They’d loved the dedication so much that they’d written it across the shop’s window. That made me a bit happy-teary, I must say. (

Tell us about how you write? Is the room quiet or do you play music? Do you like your dog at your feet? What works best?

Oh the room is quiet. So quiet. Unless I’m writing poetry, then I listen to Dustin O’Hallaran. Loki (Jack Russell)’s sleeping in a corner. Penny-slow (tortoise) is normally trying to eat my feet.

What’s the oddest thing on your desk?

Nothing odd on my desk, I’m afraid. Just my computer and my phone. (And a half-eaten Crunchie bar, yum.) (Jo: I have Sebastian from The Little Mermaid on my desk. & a triangular highlighter that is almost impossible to use….)

What's next for you?

The novel. It’s eating my soul. I like it. (Jo: *happy dance*)

What authors have caught your interest lately, and why?

Donna Tartt (I’m so late to The Secret History party), Ruth Ozeki (such beautiful writing, and I’m all over novels featuring Japan) and have you seen the blurb for Kirsty Logan’s debut novel. Have you? Oh my.

What do you wish you got asked in these interviews, but never do?

What is your latest bookish discovery? (Today’s answer is The Book Ferret)

And because I always want to know the answer to this: what are you reading right now?

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun and Black Country by Liz Berry. 

If you’d like a signed copy of The Bookshop Book then you can order one directly from Jen, over here.  You can also find her hanging out at various places on the internet: