Photo credit: Helmi Okbara | Interview by Zoë Brigley
Hollie McNish, author of Slug (available in paperback from all good bookshops now) discusses her poem written in celebration of Independent Bookshop Week (18-25 June)
an apology and a warning to my local bookshops
almost every week a family member sends me a photograph of my book in a local bookshop they have snuck into to move my book into better view sometimes just a simple turning so the cover not the spine is on display once, my little cousin i assume, removed both bernardine evaristo and matt haig from the staff recommendations shelf and put me there instead last month, whilst i distracted the sales assistant with questions about graphic novels my friend kamila spread me all across the table reserved for faber poets only my mum is less sneaky will simply ask you if you have me if not, she’ll order in two copies i will beg her not to buy so maybe save yourself the time display my books out front or, i assure you, my family will turn up
Family and community seem to be important themes in this poem, and both are things that can’t be created by big corporations or sales targets. Is this what small or indie bookshops represent? A space for family and community?
I guess family in the wider sense of people you love or share your time with, and yes, community. So many bookshops I visit are such a hub of communal happiness within high streets, all with their own ways of bringing communities together, whether through in-house events or cosy children’s corners or staff recommendation walls. It’s all very personal, passionate, and caring. Most of all, though, I think so many bookshops provide a space for people to find solace or peace in, but a peace mingled with an overwhelming excitement of seeing just how much more there is to learn, to discover; how many stories there are out there waiting for you to begin, melt into. I can’t walk around a bookshop without getting almost joyfully panicked about the possibilities.
In terms of big corporations, my family’s business for years – great-grandparents to grand-parents to my dad in his teenage years – was running a local greengrocers and post office on the outskirts of Glasgow. So many of these smaller, local businesses where communities came together closed with the influx of big corporations. So it’s also a personal vendetta I have too!
I love the laughter in your poetry, how there is often a feeling of joy or deflating big institutions. Is that something that came naturally to you? Or did you cultivate that voice?
I think it came naturally. I don’t really like the idea of cultivating a voice in poetry, I don’t think that’s how I came to writing, I think it’s just my voice, the one I talk and think in. I haven’t ever sat down and thought about it too much. I’ve always just loved writing thoughts down into some sort of poetic form, and as far back as I have evidence through diaries and poems, it seems I have always loved and hated the world in fairly equal measure! If I don’t laugh often at the bits I find horrendous then it all gets a bit much really and my poems simply sprawl onto the page all angry and for me, not much use to anyone, myself included, which I don’t want. I also do just love to laugh and I laugh a lot. I always loved the dialogue in Roald Dahl’s Matilda where she’s asked what she thinks about books:
“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.Matilda, Roald Dahl
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”
I often think that barriers put up between poetry on the page and stage are quite artificial. How do you feel about that as someone who has tremendous success in both arenas?
Yes, this supposed divide in poetry seems to come up every other year as some sort of attempt at an exciting news story! It gets fairly boring! For me, like with many things we see as divided, there’s a spectrum. In poetry, I’d say there are the two, both very skillful extremes – poetry written purely for theatrical performance and very much to be heard or seen and never read, and at the other end poetry written purely for its look or layout on the page. I think most poets, or rather, most poems, fall somewhere in between. Every poem I have ever read aloud was written first on the page, but written whilst almost being though aloud – or even repeated aloud as I write and edit.
How will you be celebrating Independent Bookshop Week?
Mainly, I’ll be visiting some of my favourite bookshops to read poems in (my own and others that I love) and to buy books from. Other than that, I’ll be promoting indie bookshops a lot and badmouthing (or politely pushing folk away from) Amazon online across my social media!