"My" short story display case, and Janice Galloway, Tania Hershman and others…

Lee Rourke blogged yesterday about his book “Everyday” being sold in a branch of Waterstones. And he had the photo to prove it!

Yay! It’s “my” short story display case.

Today Tania Hershman also blogged about it, because her fantastic collection The White Road and Other Stories is there too.

I love the fact that I get to maintain a short story section in the shop. I change it often, try to keep it fresh and enticing, but I always keep Janice Galloway‘s collection “Where you find it” in there. You may or may not recall me blogging about how much I LOVE this book here and here. I am delighted to say that we have now sold 50 copies. How cool is that!

I also keep Sylvia Plath’s “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” there, because, well, it’s Sylvia.

You will currently find Tania Hershman, Lee Rourke, Claire Wigfall, William Trevor, Charles Bukowski, Katherine Mansfield, Richard Yates, Miranda July, Vanessa Gebbie, Ali Smith, Alison MacLeod, Neil Smith, Tao Lin, Sara Maitland, Jhumpa Lahri and Jay McInerney in the case. We have sold out of Lorrie Moore for now.

Short stories are coooool.

And the bad…

If last Saturday was traditionally the busiest, this Saturday was the grumpiest. What the fuck was wrong with everyone? In they came in their hoards, searching out bargains, spending their chrismas gift cards, grim faced and utterly pissed off. I don’t get it. Nobody forced them to go shopping, presumably they have had a couple of days off work, and unlike me were still off. They had money to spend, and there were (still are) some ace bargains to buy.

Nothing was good enough. If a book was half price it still wasn’t a bargain. If it was hardback they wanted paperback, if it was paperback they wanted hardback. A man furiously jiggled a baby in a sling whilst firing questions at me, as soon as I tried to find the answer on the computer he would hiss “I have to go, I have a baby”, and then ask another question.

A stereotypical dirty old man mumbled that he wanted something I couldn’t hear, and finally spelled out E R O T I C. I took him to the erotic fiction shelf and left him moaning to himself. All this time a christian (yes, he told me he was) man circled my counter for over an hour, pausing occasionaly to tell me how much he appreciated the help I gave him. His breath was foul, and I recoiled each time he puffed more thanks my way.

My utter twunt of the day award goes to the woman who came in and asked to exchange a book. She had no receipt but it was a book we stocked she said, and she wanted to swap it for another by the same author. No problem. She told me I probably wouldn’t know the author, as she has quite unusual taste. Righto.

It was Murakami.


I know who he is, I told her. Which book did you want?
She said she didn’t know the title but that it was something running.
Oh, I said, that’s going to be on the third floor in sports.
No, she replied, it’s fiction. FICTION.
She ennunciated each letter.
No, it’s about running. I said. I felt myself get hot and red and pissed off. It’s called “What I talk about when I talk about running.” Running is a passion of his.
He is a FICTION writer she insisted.
Yes he is, but he has also written this non-fiction book, so we don’t keep it in the fiction section.
I have read lots of Murakami, he is a fiction writer.
Yes, and I sell fiction books, I work in a bookshop, and I know what I am doing! The book is in the running section in Sports.
Oh, well, I don’t want it then.
And she left.
No apology, no embarrassment.

Still, at least no-one soiled themselves this week!

Update with no cohesion

1) I am saying “fecking Christmas” way too often.

2) Saturday (aka the busiest retail day of the year) the computer system at work was down. This meant that all enquiries had to be answered by the whirring of my own brain. It was rather amazing to see how much I did know, my mind must be utterly cluttered with titles and authors of books I haven’t read and have no clue about.

3) A customer poohed himself. He obviously was a man with some special needs, for which I have sympathy. The stench of his shit however was foul, and remained long after he left the shop. It set the tone for the day.

4) I was interview number 5 on Chris Killen’s blog.

5) I am reading DeLillo’s “White Noise” and getting on with it much better than the dreaded “Underworld.”

6) I am loving PathWords on facebook.

Bookshop dialogues today

Me “Do you have an email address?”
Customer “I don’t believe in them.”

Colleague ” We are offering 20 percent off all non-discounted books today.”
Many customers at different times “I’m not interested.”

Customer “Do you have the book Hickery dickery dock?”
Me “I can’t find that listed. Do you know who the author is?
C “No, but it’s just been published. You must have it surely? I mean this is ridiculous.”
Me “And it’s definitely called HDD? I can’t find that title listed anywhere.”
C “Yes. Oh for heavens sakes” Tuts. Rolls eyes.
Me “I’m sorry, but…”
C “Oh no, hold on, it’s not called that, it’s called Pop goes the weasel”
Me “Riiight. Yes, we have that.”

Customer “Have you got Maeve Binchey’s latest in paperback?”
Me “No, it has only recently been published in hardback, it’s not due to be paperback until next year.” (I did give a specific date)
C “Have you got Bernard Cornwell’s latest in paperback?”
Me “No, sorry, that has also just been published in hardback and isn’t due to be in paperback until next year.”
C “Have you got the latest…”
And so it went tediously on!

And a customer anecdote from a colleague. Every week a customer would come in and ask “Have you got any books about Toy Story?”
And the assistant would always show him the same couple of Toy Story books, and the customer would leave without buying anything. Then to coincide with a special Toy Story release the book buyer ordered in lots of Toy Story related books, and created a display case with them all in. When the customer made his weekly enquiry the assistant took him over to the case. The customer looked at it for a minute then said “Have you got any other books about Toy Story?”

Two bookshop conversations (a tiny glimpse into the world of a bookseller.)

Grey haired, tall, loud, brusque man “Where do you keep your essays?”
Me “What were you looking for?”
“You know, not made up stuff.”
“Hmmm. What subject? History? Politics? Literary criticism? Biography…?”
“It’s for my son. He’s 15 and doesn’t like made up stuff. I want essays.”
“Well, on the 4th floor we have xyz, on 3rd we have xyz, on second we have xyz…”
“Oh just forget it.”

Mid 30’s woman examining Sony reader ~ “You know what would be good?”
Me ~ “Nope.”
“If they invented something that could say the words of the story aloud.”
“Erm, like a talking book?”
“We-e-ell, we do sell cd’s of books. They are just here.” Gestures towards audio books.
“No. NO. With pictures too. For children.”
“Oh, right. How old? We sell books with cd’s for children on the next floor up.”
“No. Not books, The pictures are too flat. Moving pictures, and a story.”
I think, hmmm, call me crazy, but doesn’t that sound like a television?

Why would a writer assume that just because their words are printed in a book people will read them?

My colleague asked me that on Saturday. He said he is surprised by how deluded some authors can be. They seem to think that because their book has been published by x,y, or z, they have reached the climax of their writerly journey. The baby is born, on shelves, so therefore people will buy it. The truth is different. Much as people complain about 342’s everyone loves a bargain, so when a shop offers that if you buy a couple of these you can have a free book it works very well. How many new unknown authors get into those promotions though?

Reviews help massively, customers often come in clutching torn out bits of newspapers and magazines, or ask for something they have heard mentioned on the radio. But what if you can’t get a review?

In-store signings can be ghastly to watch if the author doesn’t have an established fan-base. The author sits at a table, books piled hopefully around them, smiling at customers, and often doesn’t sell a single copy.

It’s so difficult, a series of hoops that a writer has to keep jumping through. It’s not enough to write dazzling prose and hand it over to a publisher to publish and publicise. The author is expected to sell it. The journey has been long, the words struggled over, edited, rewritten. The manuscript submitted in hope. Joy at publication must be enormous, but then what next, how is a writer to get their work noticed?

On Saturday an “unknown” (meaning not one of the big names) children’s author came to the shop. He arranged a table on the ground floor with copies of his 2 books on and a hand made sign explaining who he was. David Alric is an older man, well dressed, polite, quiet. He is the author of two books The Promised One, and Valley of the Ancients. I can’t explain what he did, but he sold over 70 copies of his book. He approached people, gently, talked a bit about the book, and over they came to the counter, smiling, and bought a copy. Nobody was harassed by him, everyone was delighted. He had no bells, whistles, gimmicks, just his stories. He explained to me that once he told people the stories, they were interested. There is an article in The Telegraph’s archives about him.

This originally self published man reckons to sell between 70 – 100 copies of his books each Saturday. He says it takes 4 1/2 minutes to make one sale, so there is a limit to how many he can in one day.

Fascinating, I think. And I wish him continued success.

John who?

When a customer asks for John Carrawack I should know they mean Jack Kerouac right?
And Margaret Stoppard is of course Miriam. Tori turned out to be Torey. Sink is Schlink.
I couldn’t think who the reclusive Irish woman who died was, but I did know “The kite book”, “Something with a sun in the title”, “The diary of Miss Jones”, “the Indian woman who wrote a novel that is a film” and lots more.
Sheez, another super sleuth Saturday in the bookstore.


Matt loved William Burroughs. Matt loved cut ups. I don’t really understand either. Matt was hugely enthusiastic about Burroughs, and frequently referenced him. Rubbishly I have never read him myself so pretty much all I know is what Matt has shared with me. Matt also used cut ups throughout his life, musically (literally splicing tape), creatively…I’m not sure exactly.

Anyhow, I haven’t told anyone at work about Matt, I’m too wobbly, too likely to dissolve, so I just go in and get on. Yesterday my colleague shoved a book in front of my face and said “It’s Burroughs, it’s cut ups,” or some such, and then he said “It’s Matt isn’t it, look, it’s Matt” which was really the most bizarre thing. I think I must have looked a bit stupid, he then elaborated “The cover was all shiny, now it’s matte.” 

Say what?

A young woman came into the bookshop and asked for ‘Annie’s spectacles’. I repeated it, she repeated it again, I typed it into the computer, nothing came up. I assumed from the title that it was a children’s book, but I asked the customer, just to be sure.

“No, it’s a play,” she said.
I hadn’t heard of it, but hey ho. I checked a different search engine. Nothing.
“Annie’s spectacles?” I said again.
“It’s very famous,” she said.
I shook my head. 
“Nothing’s coming up.”
Then suddenly, penny drops, ahh, “An Inspector Calls”.

The usual, except this time I’m being a bit gushy.

 Sometimes I feel lucky. I know I moan about the bookshop, or rather, the customers, but really, it’s pretty cool bananas.

I work one day a week at the moment, in the coolest bookshop I know. Not only that, but I work in my favourite section; fiction. I work with some very funny, intelligent and lovely people. I honestly really like my managers! I wanted a short story section and they said sure, go ahead, order in what you like. Seriously. It’s fun. I also get proof copies to read, and discount on books I buy. 
So, a little ‘yay’, today.
The usual customer arse though.
A  well dressed older man and his wife bought 2 hard back books priced £16.99 each, but with orange stickers on the front that said there was £4 off, plus a book at £6.99. He watched me put it through the till, and the way it works is that the discounts come off automatically at the end. So he saw £16.99, £16.99, £6.99 go in, and queried the total. I am used to that, I understand it, do it myself in other stores, “Did it take the discount off?”
So, I smiled, I said yes, the total was  £32.97, and would have been £40.97 without discount. I tried to make it clear. He paid, I packed his bag, asked if he wanted the receipt in the bag or not. He took it, and scanned it. I waited.
Now, if he had said something along the lines of ‘Oh, sorry, I don’t see the discount’ or whatever I would have carried on not minding. But of course he didn’t. He triumphantly shouted “Hold on! You haven’t taken the discount off. I told you you hadn’t. Look here.” And he showed me the receipt, and I pointed out the places where it showed the discount, and he blushed, but didn’t apologise, and moved slightly away from the counter.
Unfortunately for him his wife hadn’t heard any of this, she’d wandered off for a while, but she returned, and wanted to browse the books at the counter, and smile at me, and make little friendly comments. So he was stuck, awkwardly ignoring me, feeling daft I hope.
And that’s what I don’t understand. Mistakes happen, we’re all human, why do people ever feel the need to be shitty about the tiny things in life. There are so many big, crappy things that can happen, how on earth do these people cope with real problems?