Sunday, 8 April 2012


A warm welcome, if you please, for the lovely and talented Jen Campbell, whose brilliantly funny book is out now.

Welcome Jen. So, tell us a little bit about this bookshop where folk say weird things.

Hello! Well, the middle section of the book is set at Ripping Yarns, where I currently work. Ripping Yarns is an antiquarian bookshop in north London, opposite Highgate tube station. It's been a bookshop since the 1930s, and is now owned by Celia Mitchell. Celia bought the bookshop in the 80s, and it was reopened by Michael Palin and Terry Jones (hence the name 'Ripping Yarns'). We sell all manner of old books, and that seems to attract some very odd requests. Some days I think we have a Monty Python curse.

It sounds like a rather cool place to work. Do you ever worry you'll turn into Bernard Black? Or Manny?

Well, I haven't started drinking during the daytime, or making jackets out of Post-Its...yet. Our lovely customers tend to correct the balance and restore my faith in humanity. If we had a freezer in the shop, however, I might keep a wine lolly on reserve...just in case.

A little about the book, if you please.

The book is split into three sections: the first is set in The Edinburgh Bookshop, a lovely  independent bookshop in Bruntsfield where I worked whilst doing my English degree. The second is set at Ripping Yarns, and the final section of the book is a collection of Weird Things... quotes from all over the place: USA, Australia, Germany, South seems customers are saying strange things in bookshops the world over!

And perhaps a snippet or two of what we can expect.

Most certainly:
(Phone rings)
Bookseller: Hello, Ripping Yarns bookshop.
Customer: Hello, I've got some books I'd like to sell.
Bookseller: Sure. What kinds of books do you have?
Customer: Oh, boxes and boxes of stuff. I've got some children's books, some comics, some old magazines and newspapers, an exercise bike, a couple of art books and some cookery books, too.
Bookseller: What was the one in the middle?
Customer: Erm. Old magazines.
Bookseller: No, the one after that.
Customer: An exercise bike.
Bookseller: Yes... we won't be wanting the exercise bike.
Customer: Do you have security cameras in here?
Bookseller: Yes.
Customer: Oh. (customer slides a book out from inside his jacket and places it back on the shelf)
Customer: Who wrote the Bible? I can't remember.
Customer's friend: Jesus.
Customer: Hi, do you sell Christmas trees?
Bookseller: No...
Customer: Oh. I thought it was worth asking because you've got lots of Christmas books in the window.

The illustrations are great. How did this aspect come about?

Twitter played a big role in the creation of Weird Things... They started out as blog posts, the links to which were thrown around Twitter by other booksellers, publishers and book lovers. Neil Gaiman then mentioned them on his blog, which is how Hugh [my editor] came to hear about them. He contacted me and my agent asking if I'd like to make them into a book.

Later, Hugh asked if I had any illustrators in mind, so I openly asked for recommendations on Twitter. Someone suggested Greg and Myles (The Brothers Mcleod, wonderful BAFTA-winning chaps), tagging them in the same Tweet. Greg and Myles thus heard about Weird Things..., went to read the blog posts and messaged me saying they thought they were very funny and they would definitely be interested in illustrating the book. It went on from there! I really do love the  illustrations, especially the crucified bunny rabbit. (And, no, I'm not going to explain why there's a picture of a crucified rabbit... you're going to have to read the book yourself to find out!)

Jen has kindly given me a copy of her book for one lucky reader to win. Just leave a comment below and I'll pull a name out of a hat-like object in a week or so.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops is published by Constable and Robinson.

Jen Campbell, 25, grew up in the north east of England, graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in English Literature and now lives in London. She's a published poet and short story writer. Her first poetry collection, The Hungry Ghost Festival, will be published by The Rialto later this year. She blogs at


Tinman said...

I'm starting to feel like a stalker following you round the blogs but it's interesting to see the different takes on the questions asked by the various bloggers. You'd think they'd all be very similar but there is a refreshing variety

Frances said...

Lovely interview, thank you. I remember in Borders once seeing Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray displayed on the shelf under R for author name.
And I know Ripping Yarns - a great bookshop! Seem to remember you have a good stock of Jennings books.


I was a bookseller so I know the MAD requests that can happen.
'Do you have that pink book? You know, the one by that woman.' etc. etc.

Sounds like a great book; I enjoyed the interview.

Tom, put me in the hat!

Triss said...

I read all blog posts about this funny little book. Every time a get more hilarious quotes, my favourite is the one, in which the customer asks for a book signed by Shakespeare :)

stacym said...

I work in a library, and I can totally relate to such weird questions. Thanks for the interview. I'm really looking forward to this book!

Katie M. said...

I work in a bookstore, not an antiquarian bookshop, but a bookstore nonetheless where I get the strangest requests. A co-worker actually showed your blog to me, and I must say that it's completely fascinating, entertaining, and I can relate to the majority of the things that happen to booksellers (except for the incidents with bikes... I've yet to have an incident involving bikes). Congratulations on your book success and good luck in all of your future ventures!

Stella said...

Please pick me... I love Jen's poetry and wish her well with this amusing book....

Stella said...

Please pick me... I love jen's poetry and wish her well with this book

Chris said...

That exercise bike quote is genius, slipping it in the middle hoping that nobody will notice. Would love to read more of this - put me in the hat please!

Sophie Playle said...

Would love this book :)

Hannah said...

I found Jen's blog just after getting my first job at a bookshop. Helped me realise that it wasn't just strange people in my town, but that bookshops seem to attract these kind of people and comments. Very excited to read the book!

Haze said...

I just had to leave a comment in the hope I'll find out why there's a crucified bunny illustration:)

Book looks great, got it pencilled in for Christmas presents this year... thinking ahead!