Thursday, 3 September 2015

Ayisha Malik's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we have a new Imaginary Bookshop participant. Ayisha Malik has kindly agreed to take part in the Q&A. Today is also the publication of her debut novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is the first title in a brand new imprint from Bonnier, called Twenty7, which only publishes work by debut novelist, first in ebook and later in paperback

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Hi Ayisha, congratulations on the publication of your novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged! Thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The Lazy Gal’s Library. (So lazy, she can’t even be bothered to spell ‘girl’ correctly.)

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
In some kind of nook in London, where you have to go through narrow side-streets and walk down a flight of stairs before you enter this grand, be-cushioned place.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
In true essence of the bookshop, perhaps a place to nap: some comfy sofas that double-up as beds with a nice warm fleece. Oh, and a fireplace.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It’d be open twenty-four hours a day for those night owls. Seeing as there will be a napping area, they can read and then switch off their bedside lamp for a snooze before they start their reading day all over again.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I’m not sure which I’d ditch (maybe self-help) but I’d have a special section for, unsurprisingly, epistolary and diary form novels. A lot of people don’t like these forms, but I think they can be the most exciting type of narration. There’s a raw honesty in letters and diaries that perhaps you can’t quite attain in a normal narrative structure. If done well it’s the spilling of emotion, carefully balanced with the unravelling of events through the eyes of the narrator that’s deeply personal and engaging.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
All my favourites, of course. But if we’re being specific then a table full of clever satires and comedies: the type that make you laugh out loud and maybe even cry.

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?
Only being able to choose one is a bit harsh. I’m going through a Nora Ephron stage though so it’d have to be her. I’d want her to divulge to writers how to make a reader laugh, while making strong and poignant social, as well as deeply human, observations. Then I’d make her stay and churn out hundreds of more books so that we’d never run out of Nora Ephron.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I don’t think I’m a very good self-publicist so I’d probably direct them towards another book I love and give them my book for free. This way they can’t come back and trash me for it if they don’t like it! And if they do like it then I’ll always be that lovely author who gave her book away.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Nutella cake. Obviously.

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Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature at Kingston University and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between being managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and writing. Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is Ayisha’s debut novel.


Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik is published by Twenty7 in ebook on 3rd September (£4.99) and paperback in January (£7.99)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Book Review: Lillian on Life

By Alison Jean Lester
Published by John Murray
Available in paperback and ebook

Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester’s debut novel is fantastic and you should read it.

If you mixed together Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Mad Men then you would end up with Lillian – witty, sharp and willing to bare herself to the world . Life has not turned out as she has expected or more importantly what society expects – no marriage, no children but Lillian, 57, has had a career spanning from New York, London, Paris and Munich plus she is never short of boyfriends.

Lillian takes a breather from the married man in her bed, and her demanding cat, to reflect back on her life. The short chapters, are split into rich and vibrant topics as she examines the life she has had. These chapters, are almost like essays and could stand alone if you wanted to dip in and out of the novel at random. I told myself that I would read one more chapter but Lillian on Life is too addictive. Lillian casts herself away from the conservative constraints of her upbringing and in to a world full of changes – from driving sports cars around France, to dinner parties in Munich.

Her glamorous life, in post-war America and Europe shows how women have gained more choices in their lives, but are still struggling to break away from society’s expectations. Lester has created an unforgettable character who is full of elegant and edgy quips, fierce, independent, strong-willed and an inspiration. I adored this book, and I really think everybody should read it.

There is one downfall – this is the author’s debut novel – I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long for another book.

You can buy Lillian on Life from your favourite bookshop.

You can read Alison's response to the Imaginary Bookshop here.

I was sent a copy via bookbridgr.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Alison Jean Lester's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we have a new guest for the Imaginary Bookshop...

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Hi Alison, congratulations on the publication of your novel, Lillian on Life which I loved! Thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Dead Fish and Parrots. I realize that sounds unpleasant, but I’m attached to it. It’s actually the title of an imagined book my husband and I talked about producing when we first got together. He’s a photographer, and has some fascinating, arresting, funny photos of dead fish, and one of a parrot. I wrote a poem about dead fish and parrots. Maybe we’ll get to it one day. Even though it’s an odd name for a bookshop, it’s memorable. And it would be a real motivation to make the bookshop itself really attractive.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
I’d like it to be anywhere that is in desperate need of a good bookshop. I’d like it to be an oasis.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Dead Fish and Parrots would be made up of three distinct rooms: one for fiction and one for non-fiction, with a café (daytime) and bar (evening) set between them. Non-fiction titles can be a real downer for fiction-readers, so I’d like to protect them. Non-fiction readers shouldn’t have to feel strange about walking through the fiction section without stopping to look, so I’d give each room its own entrance from the street. Fiction and non-fiction readers could mingle in the café/bar, or ignore each other, as they wished.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
In the café/bar, you could only be served if you brought your own cup or glass. This would have two great advantages: No need for me to invest in cups and glasses, cabinets and dishwashers (human or mechanical); and everyone would get their drink in their favourite vessel. It’s a great conversation-starter, and it tastes better that way.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I think lots of books are garbage, but only to me. If someone is enjoying it, it’s not trash; it’s a treasure. So I wouldn’t insist on literature. However, I draw the line at business books, self-help books, and cookbooks. So much of that can be found online, in more concise form. People would be welcome to bring the electronic version in on their e-reader and sit in the café with it, if they really felt they had to, but those things belong in the office and the kitchen and take up too much space in a bookshop. They’re distracting too. The moment you see a book about cake you stop thinking about reading.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Because it’s so interesting to learn what writers read, I’d contact the favourite authors of my clientele and would have the table feature both a few of those authors’ books and their own favourite books. The featured author would change every two weeks.

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 would find out which very successful writer had been through the most difficult editing process imaginable, and I would invite them to come and speak about that experience. Writing is such a joy. Rewriting is such a challenge. Choosing whom to please is the nasty cough of the writing life. I know that my clients who were writers would benefit from learning how this successful writer had found their way to getting the best book out of themselves more than my clients who were readers would benefit from hearing this writer read.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Lillian on Life, and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
“Lillian might delight you. She might sadden you. It will be very interesting to see which one it is.”

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I would search high and low for the most luscious vegan cake in the land. I’m not vegan, but I’d want all my vegan friends and family to be able to partake. I’d enjoy sharing a knowing smile with them when people kept exclaiming, “What a wonderful cake! So rich and creamy!”


Alison Jean Lester is an American writer living in Singapore. Lillian on Life is her first published novel, but of course she has written many other unpublished ones. Her short fiction has appeared in Ecotone and Good Housekeeping (US). More information including her thoughts on writing, a video of her improvising a story, and a photo of her dog can be found at www.alisonjeanlester.com. Her Twitter handle is @A_J_Lester.



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You can buy Lillian on Life from your favourite bookshop.

My review will be appearing soon but here's a teaser - this is a brilliant, addictive book!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Books read in July

Books read in July
Not sure how that happened but only two books were read in July...but lets skip over this fact for now!

Writing in July

Redrafting is a s-l-o-w process but I'm enjoying it - new ideas for the novel pop out of nowhere, chapters start in different places or are completely different from their original draft.

Chapter seventeen has had at least five beginnings, and several more middles but I think I have worked out the shape of this chapter. It's still going to need lots more work but I think I have finally cracked this chapter.

Books read in July

The Seed Collectors - Scarlett Thomas
dysfunctional families, surrealism, affairs, drugs and gardening are all mixed into Scarlett's latest novel. You can read my review here.

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami
I bought this back in February with some birthday money after reading The Strange Library. I really enjoyed this book and I know I'll probably be looking to read some more Murakami - any recommendations? Just like The Seed Collectors, this book also explores the concept of consciousness, the things we do to find internal contentment. This book combines utopias, buildings with no concept of physics and its surroundings, and characters who are lost in their urban environment.


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Book Review: The Seed Collectors

The Seed Collectors
By Scarlett Thomas
Published by Canongate
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

The Seed Collectors, Scarlett Thomas's latest novel, is more than it seems.

On the surface it is a middle-class family saga about the Gardener family. The previous generation were lost during an expedition, leaving behind the following generations to pick up the emotional pieces. But if you dig a little deeper then you will find a book about the mystery of consciousness, horticulture, meditation, the push and pull of modern relationships and guess what - the book is funny too.

Great Aunt Oleander has died, leaving behind very rare seeds for her family. These seeds can either bring instant enlightenment or death. The choice is down to the characters and they are all struggling to make up their minds.

Clem, Charlie, Bryony and Fleur along with their families must deal or even not deal with their dysfunctional way of life, and decide on what they should do with their seeds.

There are surreal moments as the characters try to reach their personal nirvana either through using the seeds, drinking or sex. These desires spin out of control sending each character into a personal blackhole. Fleur must deal with Oleander's guru business to lost celebrities, Bryony battles against her weight and the power of drink while Charlie can't get over losing the love of his life.

Thomas is fantastic at creating complex characters who, at times, are not likeable. I know some people only like their characters to either be good or sinister but I prefer characters who reflect real life along with their contradictions, confusion, fears and hopes. Thomas has created characters who are lost in modern life just like you, me and everyone around us.

The Seed Collectors is an enjoyable book which combines family dramas with the complexities of consciousness without making you feel stupid or bored.

Scarlett Thomas fans will love The Seed Collectors as many of the themes are a further exploration from previous novels. New fans will enjoy this novel too!

You can buy The Seed Collectors from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by Canongate.