'We keep a typewriter at the back for customers to punch out poems'

The Local Spain
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'We keep a typewriter at the back for customers to punch out poems'
Terry among the books at Desperate Literature. Photo: Sophia Smith Galer

In this week’s instalment of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to Terry and Charlotte, the couple behind Desperate Literature, Madrid’s newest bibliophile hangout.


After working together at the famous bookshop Shakespeare and Company in Paris, this Yorkshire poet and glamorous Frenchwoman arrived in Madrid in early summer to run the city's newest international book store.

What is the ethos behind Desperate Literature?

The website line reads, "Desperate Literature strives to be a space where good literature serves as a vehicle for dynamic cultural, linguistic and social exchange between Madrileños, extranjeros and travelers from around the world," and this might sound like a long shot, but we hope, in our own humble way, to be doing something along these lines. 

What distinguishes you from other bookshops?

Well, we live here, in the back, so that's something a little different, we think.  Because of this, though, we want the bookshop to serve as part of the community, as a literary hub but also a place people can come for a chat or a helping hand, to drop their keys for a friend.  You become part of local life, and we really love this.  

We do lots of little things to encourage this, like inviting people to play chess or get drunk with us, and we also host passing writers and travelling book folks. We'd also like to think that our selection of books sets us apart, especially in English and French.

The international bookstore is on Calle Campomanes near Opera  Photo: Sophia Smith Galer

Tell us more about the boozy shelf?

​This is the brainchild of another of the shop's founders, Craig Walzer, and we think it came about because he got frustrated at not being able to serve any alcohol in his Greece store, Atlantis Books, and so he invented this neat trick.  

You can find Fitzgerald, Donleavy, Algren, Plato, H.S. Thompson, Joyce, and whatever we think passes, really. We're only too ready to be convinced that something qualifies...

How do you think Madrid compares to Paris, when it comes to the literary scene?

Well, we've only been here a short while and we're still settling in, so we'd be hesitant to make any grand claims, but we actually noticed something of a similarity between the two cities.  We immediately felt comfortable, surrounded by all the books and bookshops Madrid has to offer.  

There's something to be said, also, about the change that's happening in the book industry, and how this seems to be reflected in the types of bookshops you can find in both cities.  With the monumental rise of on-line retailing, there's a certain manner of austere bookseller that feels outdated, because no matter how cheaply books can be bought on-line, or how many e-readers circulate, what Amazon and the like can't provide is community, a space. Also, small-scale printing seems to be on the rise in both cities and this is something really wonderful.

How did you two meet and what’s your love story?

​We met at a Kate Bush concert. ​ No, we met in a bookshop, of course.  Ah, something like that: we don't want to give too much away!

What kind of people come to your bookshop?

​Well, we already mentioned our neighbours, but there's a healthy balance of tourists and locals.  Spanish students, students of Spanish, teachers of all languages, slowly perambulating octogenarians, Camino hikers, American bikers, hens on weekends, the rebellious youth. We had a reader from the Fiji Islands just a while ago, who has a bookshop/café on the beach there and bought some stock. ​

Customers are invited to punch out poems on an old typewriter. Photo: Sophia Smith Galer

What’s the deal with the typewriter ?

Well it's partly a little fun but also about taking the time to sit and write, and we think that there's something quietly important about this, about 'taking time', whether it's simply a punctuation mark in the day or hours spent pouring over something. Also, we're very aware that it could become something very kitsch, a bit of literary glitter, and you have to work for this not to happen, to take it seriously and to sit down and write something in good faith. People seem to take it this way, too, and we've already a handsome collection of poems.

Best moment so far since opening four months ago?

​We threw a 'boozy' event for Bloomsday, celebrating James Joyce's Ulysses, and that was really fun. We had friends from all over singing and reading in all languages and lots of folks slept in the bookshop afterwards. Otherwise, just hearing echoes from the wider world come back to us, customers who've had the place recommended or been sent on from one of our sister stores.  

What hopes do you have for the future?

Lots of dreamy thoughts that may or may not actually happen, like a​ literary magazine, film screenings, a Calle Campomanes street party, a cinema in the cellar, a disco-ball, a bookshop ball pool party, a book vending machine in the metro, and lots and lots of partnerships.

Desperate Literature, Calle Campomanes, 13, 28013 Madrid


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