The news of the past few weeks seems to have been one pummelling catastrophe after another. So, please excuse me if I plump for a lighter topic today. I’ve been feeling in need of a bit of respite from the doom and destruction all around us.
I receive a regular email of news items, and one caught my eye in the Huffington Post about a couple who painted their staircase to look like a stack of all their favourite books.
It looks particularly effective with their daughter perched on the top step, like a scene from Alice in Wonderland (which, I note, did not make the cut).
My painting talents extend more to Dulux gloss and emulsion rather than oils or watercolours, so I was wondering how I might best reproduce the effect without needing the talent to go with it.
A quick Google search later, I found this example. Not entirely sure where it’s from. Can anyone shed any light on that? Wrapping the jacket from just the spine on the riser, to the top of the tread as well really does make it look like a splayed stack of books.
In the house I’m renovating at the moment, I have only a short staircase of nine risers. So, what would go on my ultimate bookcase staircase? It would have to be books that played a big part in my life, beginning most likely with BLACK BEAUTY by Anna Sewell.
I remember this book most vividly from my childhood. Not only was it a wonderfully told tale of the life of the eponymous horse, but the book was amazingly influential when it was published in 1877, bringing about a change in the law to ensure better treatment of working horses, many of whom laboured until they dropped in the street.
Another book that proved very important to my career in crime fiction was one of Leslie Charteris’ classic stories of The Saint – THE MISFORTUNES OF MR TEAL. My grandmother gave me a copy of this collection of three novellas back in 1979, it having been given to her in the 1940s. I still have that very book, although minus its original dust jacket. To have a reproduction of that bright yellow cover on my stairs would be rather special, don’t you think?
I’d also have to have THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM, which was a birthday present given to me by my parents to unwrap while I was on a yacht delivery trip the year I turned eighteen. I opened it in the Azores and have enjoyed this influential poem ever since. And yes, I still have that book, too, although I think I prefer this version of the cover.
One of first times I really noticed how beautifully put together a writer’s prose style was, the book was CIDER WITH ROSIE and the writer was Laurie Lee. I’m sure there are more ornate versions of the jacket, but this is the one I remember, with the orange Penguin spine.
That’s four of my nine. And really I have to include George Orwell’s 1984. I no longer have my old copy, and can’t recall the cover, apart from the fact it was a nothing-special edition. Still one of my all-time favourite opening lines, too:
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
One of the books that nudged me towards writing crime thrillers has to be Jack Higgins’ THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, with its intriguing mix of heroes, anti-heroes, and a rare strong woman in the spy Joanna Grey. I had a modern version, the cover of which I can’t clearly recall, but some of the earlier ones were far more dramatic, like this example.
And, of course, if I’m going to have a Jack Higgins, only right that I should have another of my favourite early thrillers – THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth. This is the version I have, with the iconic image of De Gaulle’s head in the reticle of the sniper’s scope.
That’s seven. Throw in a Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – almost any one would do, as I like them all. This early hardcover of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is great, though, and provides wonderful contrast with some of the more modern thrillers on my fantasy staircase.
So, I’ve one riser left. What should it be? One of my own, or is that too … vulgar? (And which one would I choose, anyway?)
Should it be a work of non-fiction, a reference book I use all the time, like a ROGET’S THESAURUS. Mine is looking somewhat dog-eared and is certainly well thumbed now. Or a copy of Rosie Garthwaite’s very useful HOW TO AVOID BEING KILLED IN A WAR ZONE. Or even a copy of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES by D.P. Lyle M.D.?
Any suggestions welcomed – as long as they’re not too rude, of course! And if/when it’s done, I promise to post pictures and a How To guide.
The Festivals part of this blog is two-fold. Firstly, I was invited to take part in the Chelmorton Festival in the Derbyshire Peak District by fellow author Sarah Ward, whose first book, IN BITTER CHILL, came out in November last year. Sarah did a brilliant job of moderating myself, John Lawton, Daniel Pembrey, Bill Rogers and Michael Wood, keeping the discussion lively.
|(l to r) Sarah Ward, Michael Wood, Bill Rogers, Daniel Pembrey, John Lawton, Zoë Sharp at the Chelmorton Festival|
Daniel took a mini video for the BritCrime website, which you can see here. And Sarah sent round some pictures of the six of us, doing our bit to an amazingly packed house. Chelmorton also boasts one of the smallest temporary libraries – situated in the local phonebox. A good night was certainly had by the authors, and I hope the audience enjoyed themselves, too. We were even interviewed on local radio station, High Peak, as well – Lawton and I about our joint collaboration project (but more of that at a slightly later date).
Finally, to the last part of my blog title. About three or four weeks ago I managed to find myself trapped under twenty-odd sheets of falling plasterboard. No broken bones, but my left knee swelled up quite a chunk and went some very interesting shades of yellow, brown and blue.
And then yesterday I was heaving and riving on a kitchen cabinet, trying to get it onto its fixing, when I heard an ominous snap from my rib cage. This is the sixth time in the last ten years that I’ve cracked a rib, despite a recent bone-density scan which reckons there isn’t any kind of unusual weakness there.
So, I need to take things a little bit easier for the next month or two while it all knits back together. A good excuse to concentrate on finishing the new Charlie Fox novel. Meanwhile, I know I’ve probably got until Sunday evening before it gets too painful to laugh, cough, sneeze, breath deeply, or drive. Until then, I’m making the most of it!
Are you all hale and hearty at the moment, or have you managed to do anything foolish to yourself that you’d like to share in order to make me feel slightly less foolish? Just don’t make me laugh, OK?
Today’s Word of the Week is tenebrific, meaning to produce darkness, from the Latin tenebrae (darkness), and facere (to make). From this we also get tenebrose, meaning dark or gloomy.