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: