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.
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.