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Sunday, 16 October 2011

When Bookshops Meet Electric Authors (with a nod to Murakami) by Dan Holloway

So I was talking to some of the lovely people here about bookstores, and saying how I was lucky to have a great relationship with not one but two of my local stores, The Albion Beatnik and *the* Blackwell’s, both in Oxford. And I was saying how both relationships had been forged not despite what I do online with ebooks and all kinds of things digital, but because of it. They said that’d be a really good thing to blog about, the way embracing digital can work for the author and the store.


(l-r me, slam poet Lucy Ayrton, Sophia Satchell-Baeza of Dissocia, and Oxford International Women's Festival and Oxford Pride poetry MC Anna Hobson pose outside The Albion Beatnik for the poster for This is Oxford, wherein we take over Blackwell's for the night on October 18th)
And I thought yeah, fantastic, and I can talk about some great shows I’ve got coming up at those stores at the same time.

Only.

How could I possibly talk anything else when we’re two days away from one of the most talked-about publishing events of the year and more to the point something I’ve been chewing my nails off about for two years: the release of the English translation of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84?


(I love Murakami so much that my novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall could be described as Norwegian Wood set in Eastern Europe. The cover, which depicts an art installation form the book, was designed to conjure the ethos of Murakami's UK paperback titles)

What to do? Go for a run? Boil some spaghetti? Hide down a well? Spend the whole post reeling off Murakami references?

And then one of those convergences happened. A couple of us were talking on twitter with the lovely Euan from Blackwell’s, badgering him about what he was planning to do to celebrate 1Q84 (several US stores have announced the kind of midnight openings I haven’t seen since Harry Potter). Within an hour or so, this was the result, a jazz and cocktail evening with 3 for 2 on all Murakami books and local fans all pitching in with readings of their favourite Murakami moment.


(Rabid Gravy does a unique electronica remix of Kerouac at this year's Not the Oxford Literary Festival at The Albion Beatnik)


Hmm. Rewind time. For over two years I have enjoyed a fabulous relationship with The Albion Beatnik, the best bookstore I’ve ever been in (one of my many waxings lyrical is here). It’s a relationship based on a common love of passion for the arts (the store is the cultural hub for a whole raft of collectives, publishers, and zinesters). And it’s a relationship built more on what I do online than physical books. Well, there’s the fact I hang out drinking sencha out of a Sylvia Plath mug and slowly working my way through their Anais Nin stock, but the basis of our working (as opposed to lounging on their sofas shooting the breeze with them) relationship is that the store lets me put on all kind of live shows as well as stocking my books, and in return I send everyone I possibly can through the door, and those events bring new audiences both online and in person. I benefit from the fact they are a must-go-to destination for people who love all things Beatnik. They benefit from the fact that I’m rather gobby around the internet.





(New York writer/model/photographer/publisher Katelan Foisy entertains Oxford at Lilith Burning, a wonderful laid back mix of art and literature we put on at The Albion Beatnik in 2010)

Maybe it was to be expected that an innovative independent would be welcoming of our online activities. But earlier this year, I was delightfully surprised how Oxford’s most famous bookshop, Blackwell’s, embraced my online antics. This spring, The Company of Fellows was for some reason enjoying popularity with a Kindle audience (it has sold around 6000 copies so far). Right in the middle of this, I came across the following, a competition run by Blackwell’s to find their readers’ favourite Oxford novel. I posted on Facebook ad twitter, and to my consternation, a group of its fans voted for it and it won, despite not being on the original list.

Which put them in a rather awkward position. What to do with this upstart from the interwebs? Well, what they did was make a poster for the book and give it a table display, selling 70 copies of the paperback. Rather than deciding I was an oik, the lovely Euan, Zool, Steph and the lovely Blackwell’s team took me under their wing and decided it made rather a jolly story. They even invited me to take part in Rising Literary Stars, a panel on which I got to sit next to some fabulous debut authors like the wonderful Rachel Genn, and one of my heroes, Lee Rourke.

(l-r Rachel Genn (The Cure), Naomi Wood (The Godless Boys), John Butler (The Tenderloin), Euan Hirst (Blackwell's tweeter in chief), Lee Rourke (The Canal), and me)

The night brought together a shop I have to confess I’d thought of as academic-oriented (maybe because I was constantly maxed out on my store card during my student days) and readers and writers of contemporary urban literary fiction. To the benefit of both, I hope. And the lovely people of Blackwell’s enjoyed it so much that on Tuesday they’re letting me have the run of their world-famous Norrington Room for This Is Oxford, a show featuring the very best of Oxford's thriving underground literary scene, the poor fools!. And on Thursday it’s Murakami night.

So there we are. Bookstores and Murakami. It doesn’t get better than that. So where does that leave the electric author? An author should work to build their platform. And they should also be at the heart of their local literary community (or at least that part of it where their readers hang out – though it doesn’t hurt to cast the net wider).

7 comments:

JO said...

They must love you, Dan

See you Tuesday. (Then everyone will see how fab Emily Harrison is!)

Dan Holloway said...

Really looking forward to hearing her. And seeing you again!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Electric authors come down from the ethersphere... go, Dan!

Dan Holloway said...

It's one of those things where there's actually a Derrridean kind of internal resistance within the digital movement that creates a greater rather than a lesser emphasis on high quality face to face relationships and physical skills (artisan chapbooks, zines etc), and to mix my philosophies I have a feeling it functions very much like an ouroboros - the more one goes to the digital end of things the closer you also are to the grass roots and the physical. At the moment I'm writing a cellphone novel, which is one of the interesting new forms to have emerged out of the digital world, but I'm also doing more live readings than ever, and making photocopied pocket poetry books

Dennis Hamley said...

Dan, Thursday at Blackwells sounds great and I shall be there. I like the Ouroboros analogy and must spend time teasing out its implications - which at the moment seem entirely good for us and, I think, for books generally. The ebook community will make its own luck.

Dennis Hamley said...

I meant Tuesday, tomorrow.

Dan Holloway said...

I shall look forward to seeing you! Yes, I agree that things are looking good for books in general - the key to making the situation work I think is for the pressure back towards what one might call the grass roots to go the direction of artisanship and passion for what is good about the book, rather than going the way of retrenchment and defensiveness. The comparison I usually make is to the food industry, where there is a huge amount of good practice in blossoming a diverse, traditional, independent scene as well as a little of the not-so-good (I think campaigning against supermarkets isn't particularly helpful [whatever one's ideology], whereas campaigning for freshness, health, diversity of flavour, expertise of manufacture, and low food miles could teach a lot). And whilst a lot of "traditional" food shops (high st butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers) have gone to the wall, the food retail indusytry has flourished by adaptation, diversification, and passion for a positive agenda - it makes those people who are still talking about the demise of High St bookshops *per se* seem way way behind the curve. On the other hand, the excellent example you gave in your last post shows that there are people thinking really hard and smart about exactly what it is they want to save and why. As an aside, I think we should stop using the word "save". On the one hand it implies a sense of resignation, and on the other it focuses on the wrong thing - I don't want to "save bookshops", I want to get communities passionate about words and stories. I don't think it does the case any good to portray bookshops as objects of heritage rather than an integral part of something essential for our future. I think it's that key thing a lot of the food industry has got right