Smugglivus Smugglivus Guest Author

Claire North – A Comic-Store Romance

Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.

Who: Claire North, author of Touch, one of Thea’s favorite novels of the year


Give a warm welcome to Claire, folks!

You all know the place. The walls are lined with posters. Originals from 1980s B-movies, tentacled monsters from the deep. Signed pictures of space-wandering heroines and time-travelling adventurers. Shelves of action figures, some DVDs – the odd blockbuster, but more manga, obscure tales of zombie spacemen and daft vampire romps.

Then there’s the books, classic, revered titles, then the comics.

And then, there’s the people….

•A man, black leather jacket, crucifix, star of David and Wiccan pentagram slung round his neck; owns all the works of Alan Moore, including unwrapped editions kept sacred, and the more crinkled editions which as a child he read, naughty, under the blankets of the bed, eyes wide and mind reeling as the world was changed forever.

•Another man, younger, who one day realised that the X-Men movie was based on something else, and hates what they’ve done with the Phoenix storyline and decries the current depiction of Raven but has to keep reading, has to, because he loves this world, these characters, and he needs to know what happens next!

The Sandman

•A couple, conspiring together over Sandman and Lucifer, over Fables and Constantine. He didn’t think she’d like comics; she can’t believe he hasn’t read Ex Machina yet. If they ever split up, what happens to the collection will be a source of anguish. But for now, they browse the shelves, not just for the latest edition, but because this place has become something that they share together.


•Two children, ten years old, their minds have just exploded! Oh my god oh my god oh my god Batman and Superman and Spiderman and Runaways and and and and…

The boy doesn’t really like reading books. That’s what he said when he was nine, and when he was ten he found graphic novels, and by the time he’s fourteen he’s reading Tales of the Dying Earth because really, it’s just like comics isn’t it, only the pictures are inside your head.

The girl, perhaps a little more circumspect. “Mummy,” she muses, “Why do the super-women wear so few clothes?”

A parental dilemma ensues.

•The storeowners. They smile and nod at the punters who come in, scan barcodes – beep! – move boxes – thunk! – but if you smile at them while buying anything to do with Firefly, they may tentatively ask, have you also read this? You have? OH MY GOD DID YOU READ THE LATEST THING IT WAS AMAZING IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING sorry that’ll be £9.99 BUT IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING and you have to read this and that and also this because this is great although I didn’t like what they did here but it picks up again in the third volume and then in the fifth it’s just… it’s just… well, I won’t ruin it BUT IT WAS AMAZING AND YOU HAVE TO READ IT NOW. Would you like a bag with that?

Doctor Who (12)

•A fifteen-year old writer, brought to the shop by her disreputable twenty-nine year old authorial mentor. Her whole life she’s lived in West London, where even the baby buggies are made of fair trade bio-friendly hyper-engineered hemp, and now she steps inside and sees an entire shelf of sonic screwdrivers, and she clasps the TARDIS on a chain round her neck and has to be physically dragged away from the place before she can drool on the carpet.

•A disreputable twenty-nine year old scribbler, not sure she’s really cut out for this mentoring malarcky, remembering the first time she shuffled inside these doors as a fourteen year old, diverting from her usual path on the way home. In those days going to the shop was quite scary. Scary, because there weren’t many women hanging around, and the men were all old, and a little bit pasty, and the comics didn’t exactly depict women in the most…

… well, some things go slow….

… but despite being scared, she went inside and though she was only just getting into comics, she still remembers to this day the moment she rounded a corner and found the complete Masterworks SF/Fantasy series. Her jaw had to be carefully levered back off the floor, and for nearly an hour she sat there, nursing her careful savings of £15, trying to work out which combination of Ursula le Guin, Terry Pratchett, Iain M. Banks, Roger Zelazny, Brain Aldiss, Anne McCaffrey, Alfred Bester and Douglas Adams she could buy, and how long it would take her to save up another £15 to come back for the next.

The Dispossessed

And when she left that place, she hugged those books, which she couldn’t find anywhere else, and years later they’re still on her shelf now, along with this year’s favourite buys – the travelogues of Guy Delisle, the awesome that is Ms. Marvel, and the books of Ruth Ozeki, James Smythe, Monica Byrne and Hermoine Eyre.


And when she wants to remember what great writing feels like, when she wants a story that can be read any time, no matter how tired she is, which carries her, far, far away from this grown-up world and back to a joyous place, there they are.

And so is the place they came from.


  • Pixel Scroll 12/23 Baby it scrolls outside | File 770
    December 24, 2015 at 3:49 am

    […] (11) NORTH SMUGGLES. Meanwhile, at The Book Smugglers, Claire North contributes “A Comic-Store Romance”. […]

  • Ned Ludd
    December 25, 2015 at 6:39 am

    That is just a superb post and evoked so many happy memories of buying the first few Sandman, and the first time I discovered Earthsea, and discovering John Constantine’s cynical and magical world… Yes, I know the place, but you’ve made me see it a new way. Happy Christmas.

  • Justine S.
    December 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm


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