Photo by Kortni Rudge
One of our favourite literary events is the Book Swap at the Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor, but because that's technically out of our usual range we've not really said much about it. When we heard that the hosts, publisher Scott Pack and author Marie Phillips, were bringing it to the London Review Bookshop on 5th August we practically fell off our chairs with excitement. The Book Swap is fun and unpretentious - plus, everyone leaves with something - if you've ever been afraid that a bookish night out would send you to sleep, we recommend you try this first. And to give you more of an idea what you're in for, let Scott give you the background:
For anyone who would normally rather run a mile than attend a 'literary' event, what's different about the Book Swap?
Well, we don't let the authors read from their books for a start. And the audience can't ask any questions about writing. I think most people find those elements a blessed relief.
We deliberately set out to create a literary event for people who were sick of them. What we have ended up with is a somewhat chaotic, irreverant and unpredictable evening that the majority of attendees seem to really enjoy.
But I suppose the main difference is the whole swapping thing. Everyone, including the hosts and authors, brings along a book and Marie and I attempt to help people swap them as the evening unfolds.
And if you did run a mile from our event you would be running a mile from cake.
The cake. Tell us about the cake.
Precisely. It started with my wife baking some almond macaroons for the first Book Swap. They were handed round the audience and that immediately got everyone in a good mood. So we decided to encourage more cake action and now anyone who brings homebaked goods along can get in for free. We usually have a surplus.
On stage will be myself and Marie Phillips who will be doing our usual bickering while attempting to chat with guest authors. One of whom will be James Miller, the other a surprise mystery guest (i.e. we haven't confirmed yet).
You normally do this in Windsor - do you tour for the rock n roll lifestyle?
It is no secret that both Marie and myself are hoping to build a strong groupie following which is bound to get quite competitive. She has the looks but I have the beard. It will be a close call. We love doing the Book Swap in Windsor and plan to keep our regular monthly slot there for as long as people want to come but we started getting requests to take it elsewhere and we couldn't think of a good reason not to. So after our stint at the London Review Bookshop we are planning to visit the Much Ado Bookshop in Alfriston, the Guildford and Portsmouth Book Festivals as well as the Bookseller's Association conference for independent bookshops (a notoriously debauched event).
Why did you start the Book Swap in the first place?
On a whim really. I read an interview with Twiggy (I must have been on the loo, can't imagine why I would have read it otherwise) and she was talking about clothes swap parties where women turn up with clothes they don't want any more and spend the evening undressing and trying on each other's outfits, leaving with entirely different clobber. I figured I'd never get invited to one of those (I don't even know Twiggy for starters) and it struck me that you could do something similar for books. My local arts centre didn't have much in the way of literary events so I asked them if they fancied trying it out and they very generously said yes.
Has its popularity surprised you?
Yes, if I am honest. Especially as our promotional efforts are so feeble. We have some handprinted flyers that sit on the counter at the Windsor Waterstone's, we tweet about it a bit and Marie and I mention it on our blogs. That's about it. It seems that our regular attendees have been spreading the word. We get quite a posse coming down from London every month which is a genuine surprise.
You've done some great things with the internet at The Friday Project, and now you're developing digital products for HarperCollins - plus your own blog. Can the printed word live in harmony with online?
Absolutely. People who love to read will do so wherever they are and in whatever format - the back of cereal packets, tube ads, printed books, iPads, Kindles, other people's tshirts, newspapers over shoulders. The new electronic media is just another part of the mix.
What are you currently reading?
I have a few things on the go. My bedside book is a stunning little hardback collection of writing about Japan called Kuhaku. I am halfway through Robert McCrum's Globish and have just started The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman.
And what should we read next?
If you want to give yourself a real treat then try The Blue Fox by Sjon. He is an Icelandic writer who has worked with Bjork in the past. The Blue Fox is just over 100 pages, most of which only contain a paragraph or two of text, but is one of the most haunting and beautiful stories I have ever read.
If you'd like to keep me in gainful employment then why not check out Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll by Alex Marsh which I have just published. It is very funny indeed.
Have you ever been sick on the tube?
Not yet, but as I write I am about to get on the District line. I shall report back.
The London Book Swap takes place at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, on 5th August at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £6 but if you bake a cake you get in for free. For more details see the London Review Bookshop website. You can also read Scott's blog or follow him at @meandmybigmouth - and the @firebookswap - on Twitter.