Interview with Simon Key

Together with Tim West, Simon Key runs The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. I’ve mentioned the place a few times on the  blog. It’s an excellent bookshop that exclusively sells copies of my book –  and both Simon and Tim are very nice fellows, who always offer me cups of coffee and self-help manuals. They also do loads of interesting events made all the more unlikely by occuring on a sidestreet in N22.

Anyway, here’s the interview:

1) How did The Big Green Bookshop come about?

There was a Waterstone’s bookshop in Wood Green once. Me and Tim (the co-owner of the shop they call ‘The Big Green Bookshop’) used to work there, until one sunny day in August 2007, we we’re told the shop was closing in 9 days time. It was a bit of a shock, not only to us, but to our customers. This was the only bookshop in the area, and Wood Green is a highly populated area. We could have stayed at Waterstone’s, but instead decided that we should open our own bloody bookshop in Wood Green. So we did. And here it is. And we bloody love it

2) A lot of people think Wood Green is a dump, but you love it. Why?

Because I live here, I work here and I’ve met some of the most generous, honest and helpful people in my life here. Wood Green has a very strong feeling of community which is often overlooked. When we got the keys to the internet café that was to be the Big Green Bookshop I sent a message to our facebook group asking for people to help us with painting etc. The next day an army of volunteers turned up. We had people making us homemade biscuits, giving us lifts to and from building suppliers etc. and generally being lovely. I don’t think there are many places in London where this would happen.
3) What has been your favourite event at the bookshop?

We’ve done more than 70 events in the last 9 months, and there are a number that stand out. Tom Hodgkinson was probably my favourite. The editor of The Idler magazine is a bit of a hero (or Idol) of mine, and he turned up to talk about his ‘Book of Idle Pleasures’, an antidote to our non-stop culture. It was our first event and Tom was charming. He brought along his Ukulele and played a few songs too.

I’m putting together our events programme for this year at the moment, and there’s some bloke called Greg that might be doing a turn in a couple of months time….
4) What is selling well at the moment?

Haruki Murakami and Barack Obama in our shop, the all day breakfast in the café next door and getting a vertical line shaved in your eyebrow at the barbers a couple of doors up.
5) What are your favourite books?

The ever changing list is ever changing, but one of the permanent fixtures is Coming Up For Air by George Orwell, where George Bowling desperately tries to recapture happiness, long departed. Bleak, pessimistic and prophetic, the lad Orwell could certainly write a good book. Among others at the moment are Isle of Dogs by Daniel Davies (Dogging and CCTV) The Outsider by Albert Camus (bleak and pessimistic), Meat, by Joseph D’Lacey (seriously good horror), Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (14th century mystery tale, which I expect to be massive this year), The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (50ish pages long, and one of most powerful books I’ve ever read), Nights At the Circus (Angela Carter at her very very best), I Smell Esther Williams by Mark Leyner (cult US fiction, fast furious exhausting and exhilarating) and Snow is my Favourite and My Best (a brilliant Charlie and Lola story that my 6 month old daughter is beginning to tire of). Ask me again next month and it’ll be different. So don’t.

 6) Have you ever had a meaningful encounter with a celebrity? If so, what happened?

I met God a few times when I was a teenager, but he was all mouth and no trousers. I had a nice chat with Muhammad Ali when he came over to promote a book about 15 years ago. That was pretty awesome. I met Sophia Loren who was a bit of a drag, Spike Milligan who was hilarious, but I’ve never met any real celebrities like Eric Bristow or Pat Sharp. There’s still time.
7) If you had to make a mixtape of your favourite music for someone, what would be on it?

Probably some writing saying, ‘here’s a mixtape of some of my favourite music’.

Or… in no particular order;

Soldier Girl by The Polyphonic Spree
Janie Jones by the Clash
No One Knows by Queens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl on drums)
Suite Pee by System of a Down
Limassol (or Apply Some Pressure) by Maximo Park
Excellent Choice by the Horrors
In the City by Madness
Whole Lotta Love by led Zeppelin
Goodnight, Goodnight by Hot Hot Heat
Sylvia by Special Needs
Life’s A gas by T-Rex
She Is Beautiful by Andrew WK
Spiral Staircase by Kings of Leon
The Way It’s Meant To be by The Features
Horror Show by the Libertines
Albion by Babyshambles
She’s Attracted To by The Young Knives
My Little Brother by Art Brut
We Can No Longer Cheat You by The Cribs
Tell Me What You See by the Von Bondies
19 20 20 by the Grates
New Rose by The Damned
Shot Down by Nine Black Alps

It’s a 120 minute cassette

8) Why do you support Bristol Rovers?
I don’t know Greg, why do you support Arsenal?

(Note from Greg. Simon supports Bristol City, but I mistakenly wrote Bristol Rovers. What a fool I am)
9) Are you ever going to sort out your hair?

It’s gone beyond that now. It’s out of anybody’s control. I thought I’d grow it a little bit longer. Then, when things started getting nasty I thought a hair band would do the trick. Now it’s just too late. Now go, save yourselves, before it gets you too.
10) Can you cook?
If you want me to invite you round for a meal, there are better ways of doing it. I’m very lucky that my girlfriend Katie is an extraordinary cook, who not only produces exciting food every night, but also loves cooking.

I can cook, and I like to think I can construct a fair plate of food, but nothing in comparison to Katie. Do you want to come round for a meal sometime?

Thank you Simon. And here’s a photo of Simon alongside Alan Dobbie, the mayor of Haringey. The Big Green Bookshop had just won the award for Best New Business  in Haringey.


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