I had a great time hanging out with my family in the sunshine last week, and there were two real highlights. The first was the amazing bookshop in Carnforth, with new books on the ground floor and over 100,000 second-hand books on the first and second floors. The second-hand books are housed in a warren of small rooms with uneven floors and labels like Poetry; Railways And Transport; Religion And Spirituality; Science Fiction, Fantasy And Crime. They even have a section for sheet music. I can't believe my family have lived in the area for almost 30 years and I've never been to this bookshop before.
I browsed for a while, going 'ooh!' and 'aah!', as you would, then I thought about my addiction to how-to books. I couldn't work out where they might be, so I asked the gentle, bearded, bespectacled man at the desk. He led me through several rooms to a dusty shelf by a window. There were several books I recognised from my collection and, whoop-de-whoop, a few that were new to me. Among these I found two gems.
The first has a garish colour, with the title How to Write a Mi££ion in big gold writing, then subtitle The Complete Guide To Becoming A Successful Author in red and a banner proclaiming 'Methods that Really work! Yeah, what a load of crapola, I thought, but couldn't resist having a look anyway. Inside were three separate books: Plot by Ansen Dibell, Characters And Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and Dialogue by Lewis Turco. Attentive readers of this blog will remember that Orson Scott Card is a writer for whom I have huge respect, but what excited me most, even though I'd never heard of the other two authors, was the 163 pages on Plot.
I find plotting one of the most difficult aspects of writing. It seems many other people do too, even experienced writers, even writing tutors: the thousands of pages in my how-to collection only contain a handful on plot. I'm reading my new book avidly, and it's fascinating and instructive. It's also available for 1p on Amazon if anyone's interested (plus the £2.75 postage charge, of course). I paid £3, so was 24p down on the deal, but I don't care because (a) it's important to support independent bookshops and (b), oh wait, you need the backstory for (b) so here goes.
The second book I bought is even more fabulous. It's The Short Story by Sean O'Faolain. For those who haven't come across him, Mr O'Faolain (1900-1991) was a marvellous exponent of the literary short story, with a terrific command of language, a great sense of humour and a wonderful narrative voice. I had no idea he'd written a how-to book. His writing style seems old-fashioned, but in a charming, gentlemanly way which, for me, is a pleasure to read. I have a couple of recent how-to books on short stories, both of which are useful but they concentrate more on the commercial than the literary story. That's fine, because I see myself more as a commercial than a literary writer, but I'm sure Sean O'Faolain has a great deal to teach me.
This book was priced at £3.50, but when I got to the desk with my two books, the lovely beardy man said 'We'll call that six quid then.' Apparently this is their usual practice. Which brings us back to (c), because The Short Story is available used on Amazon from £17.96 (plus postage of course). So not only did I find two books that I'm very pleased to have in my collection, but my newly-acquired mathematical skills enable me to work out that I've beaten Amazon Marketplace by £17.47!
Details of the second highlight will come in the next post and, for the first time in ages, there will be photos.