Thursday, 31 October 2013

Guest Post: Catherine McNamara's Imaginary Bookshop

Recently I read and reviewed Catherine McNamara’s Pelt and Other Stories. You can read my review here. Catherine has kindly agreed to take part in the imaginary bookshop Q&A.


Hi Catherine, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection, Pelt and Other Stories and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper. 
  • What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?

I would just call it ‘S’. For Stories.

  • Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?

In Venice, near where I live, in a crumbling Venetian palace with four or five storeys, wonky marble floors, exquisite stucco ceiling scrolls and balustrades over the water. I’d like a view of the open water and San Giorgio Maggiore on the far side of the lagoon. Oh, and big gilt-framed mirrors, decadent velvet settees, marble-topped tables. Loads of shelves and some big walnut tables for writers to spread out their work. No internet connection whatsoever. And a way off from San Marco so only aficionados would be tempted to walk.

  • Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.

I’d like a stage for some small live music events, readings and discussions. On the top floor with its splendid views. Of course there would have to be a cocktail bar up there too. I’d love to have the resources to bring over writers from faraway places, arrange a small annual festival where writers and agents/publishers might meet up. I’d love to have my own printing press and produced short runs of beautiful stories – in Venice there is an age-old papermaking tradition. I’d also run a yearly literary prize and offer the winner a long writing séjour on the island.
There would have to be excellent coffee corners on each level. Then there would be a juice bar downstairs, healthy food and access to literary magazines, in a room that has been painted with stories by wonderful writers, absolutely everywhere. I’d like there to be some writing desks on the middle floors, for people who don’t have a comfortable place to work, and I think I’d even like to provide couches in some of the rooms over the courtyard out the back (the palazzo would be a warren), where aspiring international writers might like to stay in exchange for helping out (like Shakespeare & Co in Paris).

  • What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?

Well, I’d like money not to have to matter. And to be able to run the joint on love and passion. I once ran a bar/gallery/book exchange and it’s no easy thing to deal with suppliers, employees, problems. So I’d like to be relieved of financial pressure – ha!
My bookshop would also be open all night, so that insomniacs could curl up and read, so that dawn revellers could flop on divans and talk about books as the sun bloomed in the east. I’d love a turnover of book lovers: the morning writers at desks consulting reference books or devouring writers they admire; those who love literary reviews with their cappuccino in a corner in the late morning; the lunch crowd poring over their recent purchases. Maybe some workshops upstairs in the afternoons.

  • What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?

In my bookshop there would be no textbooks, technical books or books about computers. I would have a whole floor for short story collections. I would have a classical floor. A floor of foreign novels. A floor of forgotten but brilliant books. I would pin reviews everywhere, encouraging clients to supply them too, have my employees who would of course be book lovers write personalised reviews – I love those. I’d have a weekly meet-up of readers called ‘Word of Mouth’, where people pass on book recommendations and have to explain the appeal of a book. Like Shakespeare & Co – this is starting to sound snooty – I’d probably have to ditch other languages and stick to English. Yes, that’s what I’d like – small, large and international publishers in English.

  • Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?

Short stories. Because no one is ever brave enough to place them centrally in a bookshop. And many people you speak to enjoy them immensely, but are just not given access to new and existing titles.

  • If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?

I’m so undecided. Grace Paley or Ernest Hemingway or Ken Sara-wiwa or T.C. Boyle. I guess I’d love to have Katherine Mansfield read from her work. That’s all really. I think she would be mesmerising.

  • A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?

Hmm. I’m not very pushy with my work. I get rather embarrassed. Plus, surrounded by brilliant story writers I adore, I would probably start mumbling something meaningless. I might start telling one of my tales or say something silly like.. Do I look like a pregnant Ghanaian woman? Or a fat Brit on a snowboarding trip to the Dolomites?
It’s probably best that I just point to my swish cover.  

  • What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

Oh, that’s easy. Tarte au citron.


Buying links:
your friendly independent bookshop

Catherine's bio:
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana.  Her collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, was published in September 2013. Her stories have been published in Wasafiri, Short Fiction, ‘W

ild Cards’ a Virago Anthology, A Tale of Three Cities, Tears in the Fence, The View from Here, Pretext and Ether Books. She lives in Italy.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Book Review: Pelt And Other Stories

Pelt And Other Stories
By Catherine McNamara 
Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing
ISBN: 9781909357099

Pelt and Other Stories is a clever short story collection which will transport you across the world in eighteen stories, from Africa to Europe via Australia.

There are unspoken tensions in each story. The narrators must deal with dirty family secrets and lies, neglected childhoods, misunderstood love and isolation. Our narrators must do anything to stay ahead.

McNamara delves into the way relationships between our families and our lovers hold us together and the way tradition forbids some relationships. McNamara explores both sides - in Pelt, we see a relationship struggling to work between a western man and a local African woman but both go against tradition. Whilst there are also stories showing the way people tip toe around tradition and try to hide away their passions. In Janet and The Angry Trees, Luca takes his girlfriend to live as a carer at his parent's house. He leaves her in charge of his parent's care and drives back to his wife.

On the surface, McNamara has many protagonists who appear weak and can be pushed to the side but McNamara explores the way characters fight back. In Pelt, the opening story, the narrator is pregnant with the baby of a Western man. However, his estranged wife is in town and the pregnant girlfriend is put on the backburner while they go off to posh hotels. But our narrator will not let her partner escape that easy and she shows him that she's not for bossing around.

McNamara also explores the relationship people have with their country, particularly Africa. In some stories, we see the character return to their home country and find that they are an exile. They have lost the connection that they once had with the land. The way modern life and social mobility has pushed tradition aside is a strong and interesting theme throughout this intelligent short story collection. Displacement and the need to reattach to a new homeland drives many of the characters. McNamara makes sure that each journey is engaging.

McNamara's strong short story collection can easily be read in a few sittings or even dipped in and out.

***Catherine will be stopping by on Thursday to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A***

Pelt and Other Stories is available from your favourite book retailer. 

The author was kind enough to send me a copy. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Book Review: All Dogs Are Blue

My review of All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo De Souza Leao is now available on the The View From Here site. 

You can review the review here > All Dogs Are Blue

This book will definitely be in my top reads for 2013!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First Drafting, Fast Drafting

I am 26k into the first draft of my novel. (I dread to think what my word count would be for personal and work emails - probably a couple of novels). That's 26k since January - for some people that is probably a low figure and to others it's a high figure. I think this number is OKAY - I don't write full time because I have to work full time and there is also a life to lead.

I haven't been planning on this novel. Not until this week. This week I sat down and write a one sentence summary of each chapter. The planning has helped - I can see the direction I want to head and my motivation is an all time high to get this novel finished. I want to put my member of the 'slow writer's club' on hold and attempt to finish this first draft.

I have been reading about 'fast drafting' and I have also been reading about NANOWRIMO (writing 50k in November). I just want these words out of my head and onto the page. They are going to be shitty sentences and I know for certain that there could be whole passages that do not make sense but hey, it's a first draft! No one is ever going to see those words!

So, deep breath, I am going to attempt to write as much as possible on my novel next month. Scary!

Do you have any tips for getting the words on the page?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Guest Post: Jonathan Taylor's Imaginary Bookshop

Recently I read and reviewed Jonathan Taylor’s ‘Entertaining Strangers’. You can read my review here. Jonathan has kindly agreed to take part in the imaginary bookshop Q&A.

Jonathan has recently published his short story collection, Kontakte. Jonathan kindly sent me a copy and I’m looking forward to diving in!

Hi Jonathan, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper. I thought I would give you some questions that you may not have already answered.

  • What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? 
Kafkaesque – it’s a bit of a cliché these days, but it’d at least warn possible customers what lies within.

  • Where would your imaginary bookshop be located? 
Somewhere in the fog. My father once took us to a strange, quiet, higgledy-piggledy bookshop hidden in the fog on the Isle of Man. We just happened across it one day, whilst driving around, lost. But we could never find it again. I’m not sure it existed on fog-less days. You had to be lost in fog to find it.

  • Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc. 
I’d definitely want a bar, perhaps one which served drinks from books. But also just a space where people could sit, loll, relax, reading from their chosen books. Maybe a comfy bed, for those who like reading in bed. Bookshops are beginning to understand this now – that people want to test drive books before they buy them, and that means you need space for lolling – which is how books are read – not just standing. Maybe a small team of mime-artists too, who are ready to act out to order (in costume) any scene the customer is reading.

  • What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones? 
It would be deliberately disordered, even chaotic. There would be tunnels leading nowhere, shelves on the stairs, books in the wine cellar, wine in the book cellar, passageways behind bookcases, caves with monsters in them, lost rooms with skeletons of old shop assistants. That way, the layout of the bookshop might itself enact some of the stories within. In short, bookshops should have a certain higgledy-piggledyness, and mine would be ultra-higgledy-piggledy.

  • What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch? 
I’d ditch all the sections, and just have a general A-Z (at least for the books which can be classified alphabetically) – or even just a general free-for-all-everything-mixed-up-kind-of-tombola-bookshop. Obviously, it’s not possible to get away from ‘genre,’ but – if we’re talking about an ideal bookshop – it’s a lovely dream to think of a place where all books are treated equally, where fiction, non-fiction and poetry books are all free to mingle and chat with one another, where someone who comes in for a textbook on Human Biology walks out with a nineteenth-century novel, someone looking for a ‘serious’ work of literary fiction walks out with the new Peppa Pig Annual. Hence, higgledy-Piggledy ( = bad pun).

  • Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why? 
Ah, again, I’d be tempted to get rid of a display table, because (as so many chain bookstores demonstrate) it’s such a hierarchical way of prioritising some books – often written badly by celebrities, or rather not written by them, but by their ghosts. But if I were forced to have a display table, I’d want it to be as miscellaneous and eclectic as my brain.

  • If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Dickens – no doubt about it. As is well-known, Dickens was a great performer of his own works. He was a mesmeric reader, by all accounts. He really wanted to be an actor – and that shows in his writing, which is full of memorable voices, booming rhetoric, comedy, pathos. That’s the kind of reading I want to hear – something of the theatre. Maybe I’d also invite his cantankerous contemporary, Thomas Carlyle, along too – not for his opinions (which were often dreadful), but for his spluttering rage. There’s not enough spluttering rage in twenty-first-century British writing – too much of it is measured, beautifully controlled, gently melancholic, slightly passionless. Perhaps Carlyle and Dickens might come back from the dead and sort that out.

  • A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection and your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? 
I don’t know. I think maybe I’d ask them what kinds of books they like first, to see if mine fit in somehow with those predispositions. If they say they like black comedy, irony, music, horror, violence, rhetoric, satire, humour, pathos, or ants – then maybe the books are for them. If they say they like American self-help psychology books which bludgeon people into compulsory optimism, maybe my books aren’t quite their cup of tea. Having said that, I can easily give good reasons more generally for buying books: as things stand, books are an incredibly cheap (too-cheap, I think) form of entertainment and pleasure which last longer than takeaways, frappes, wine, computer games, or sex – most of which are much more expensive.

  • What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop? 
Chocolate cake, with chocolate icing on top, and chocolate sprinkles, and then another layer of chocolate cake. A bit like the one in Matilda – which, personally, I always thought sounded delicious. I’d have tried eating all of that too.


Jonathan Taylor is author of the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), the memoir Take Me Home (Granta Books, 2007), and the short-story collection Kontakte and Other Stories (Roman Books, 2013). He is editor of the anthology Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt, 2012). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University, and co-director of arts organisation and small publisher Crystal Clear Creators. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is