Continuing our occasional series on writers exploring secondhand bookstores, author, publisher and academic Adele Ward ventures into her local shops in North West London.
A few years ago I took a look at the bookshelves in my flat and realised that they couldn’t bear the weight of another book. They’re still so overloaded that it’s impossible to find most of my books, the acquisitions of a lifetime. I made a fundamental decision to recycle as many as possible to charity shops and secondhand bookshops and only to buy collectable books in their place.
Before I mention my bargains, I’ll try to redeem myself by telling you about the most expensive antique book I’ve bought. Most weeks I wander down Charing Cross Road, looking in the wonderful secondhand bookshops, always on the lookout for anything by Mary E. Coleridge or her circle as I have a special interest in getting my hands on all of her books.
It was in nearby Bloomsbury, in a treasure trove of a Victorian antiquarian bookshop called Jarndyce, that I found a copy of her limited edition collection Fancy’s Following, bearing her pseudonym Anodos and inscribed to her friend Lilias Hilda Geils Noble. It’s my guilty secret that I spent £250 for this book (Editor’s note: wow!): 58 pages with a dark blue crushed morocco cover blocked in gilt. Only 125 copies were printed and numbered by hand and I treasure it.
Less expensive gems tempt me in the charity shops of Golders Green Road, my local high street. I try to declutter my own books to the North London Hospice shop but return with more than I donate. On my most recent visit I nearly bought a hardback of Ali Smith’s How to be Both for £1.50 but I would rather buy recent novels as ebooks to save paper, to save on production costs for publishers, and to save my poor crumbling bookshelves.
I have a soft spot for literary biographies and had difficulty resisting Wodehouse by Robert McCrum, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, and Betjeman by A. N. Wilson: all good-as-new weighty hardbacks at £1.50 each.
I stayed firm to my resolve and instead, for just £1, I came away with a 1947 hardback of The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. This fictional diary originally appeared as a series in Punch and depicts life in late Victorian London for a respectable but not well-off family called the Pooters. The illustrations and descriptions of the everyday are handy research for my late Victorian novel-in-progress. My bookshelves are heavier than ever but it’s worth it.
Adele Ward lives in London and has an MA in Creative Writing, specialising in poetry, from Royal Holloway, University of London, where she studied with Andrew Motion. Before co-founding Ward Wood Publishing, she worked as a fiction editor and her poetry collection Never Never Land was published. This has now been relaunched by Ward Wood Publishing along with her novel Everything is Free. Starting out as a local newspaper reporter as a teenager before going to university, her whole career has been in writing and editorial work.