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.

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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 www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.

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