An Interview with Author Ian Samson

Posted: April 5, 2007 in Author Interview

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Ian Sansom is the author of a series of books featuring a librarian as a main character. A LIBRARIAN! Is there anything more wonderful than that? Not that I’m biased, or prejudiced, or anything. Wait, yes I am. But still, I don’t think too many book-loving arms would have to be twisted in order to appreciate the thought of a series of myseries with a librarian as the main character, especially when it’s THIS librarian.

Ian Sansom is also the editor of The Enthusiast, “Britain’s fastest growing non-literary literary magazine.” You should check that out, too, you really should. I have no bias on this one, aside from that which loves promoting really funny, really smart journals that write about my favorite topic.

I’ve read the first book in what’s proposed to be a ten-volume series of books featuring Israel Armstrong, a Londoner who moves to Tumdrum, Ireland in order to become a librarian for the district. When he gets there he finds the library closed and the books…. MISSING! This one’s titled The Case of the Missing Books.

Disillusioned, and with every intention of leaving on the first bus out of town, he instead decides to stay and stick it out, mostly because he really has little choice. Instead of the district librarian job, he’s given the town bookmobile, a broken down pathetic excuse for a bus that, on top of everything else, was stolen and re-sold to the village by a disgruntled former owner. As if this weren’t enough to send the average person screaming into the dark, he’s told he can’t even resign until he finds the missing books.

What follows is an absolutely hilarious series of inept and bumbling attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery, in a book populated by some of the most, shall we say “eccentric” characters ever to draw breath. Ink, whatever. You can’t not love Israel Armstrong. No, you can’t! I don’t want to hear any arguments.

Ian Sansom’s website can be found here.

An Interview with Ian Sansom:

LG: Were you a big reader as a child? Who or what were your major creative influences, growing up?

IS: I read very little as a young child; I was in no ways precocious. Indeed, the opposite. But once I got going, I worked my library card pretty hard. You were allowed 9 books per week but my mum negotiated a deal with the librarian so that I got to double my quota. That was great.

My major creative influence was probably Richmal Crompton, author of the Just William stories. In my opinion, at her best, Richmal Crompton is as good a writer as P.G. Wodehouse. I also liked Robert Louis Stevenson, the stories and the poems. And comics, of course; I used to read a lot of comics. After that, just about everyone and everything became an influence; I find it difficult to separate influence from life.

LG: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there an “AHA!” moment, or was it a more gradual process?

IS: I think Flann O’Brien speaks of writers becoming writers because of some ‘vocational malfunction’. That’d be about right. I can’t actually do anything else. I’ve tried a lot of other things, but I’ve always gone back to writing.

LG: What sort of writing schedule do you keep? How do you balance the creative life and life outside writing?

IS: My schedule is pretty simple: I write wherever and whenever I can. Some days that’s a lot, some days it’s very little.

I don’t know if ‘balance’ is quite the right word – ‘balance’ implies poise. It’s much messier than that in my household. Much, much messier. We have furballs in the fridge.

LG: Which contemporary writers do you admire? Reading anything good lately that you’d recommend?

IS: I tend not to admire other writers; I tend to admire people who are social workers, or nurses, or people working to bring an end to poverty and disease. I admire people who are determined to make the best of things.

I do like writers, though. I like Etgar Keret, for example. He’s good. Also, I read a lot of poetry. I don’t know why. Don Paterson. He’s a good poet. The books I like tend to be reckless in some way – odd, ambitious, curious. I like the idea that a book’s brilliance or beauty might be founded on nothing. I also like serious books that don’t signal their seriousness, though the risk with this, of course – and it’s clearly a risk I run myself – is that people don’t take you seriously at all. But I think it’s probably a risk worth taking.

LG: Do you identify at all with the main character in ‘The Case of the Missing Books’? Are you as enamored of books and libraries as he is?

IS: I am, of course, Israel Armstrong, my protagonist.

But then I’m also the antagonist.

And all the minor characters.

Madame Bovary, c’est moi.

LG: Aside from writing, what are your pastimes?

IS: Reading.

LG: What’s next for you after ‘The Case of the Missing Books’? What are you working on now?

IS: ‘The Case of the Missing Book’s is only the first in a projected ten book series of Mobile Library mysteries. So there’s lots to do; hopes and plans and desires that may never be satisfied. Book 2, Mr Dixon Disappears, will be published in American later this year.

LG: Finally, as a public library employee myself, what role have libraries played in your love of books and reading?

IS: I don’t want to sound too grand sentimental here, but libraries have made me who I am. They really have. I came from a family that did not have books in the house, so to be able to go to a library and get a book out, and not to have to pay for it – well, that seemed to me even as a young boy, and it still seems to me now nothing short of miraculous. Libraries are sacred places. And I think librarians are heroes: I salute you!

Thank you so much, Ian Sansom, for everything.

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