On Thursday I took part in a splendid event at Heffer’s bookshop in Cambridge. On my way there I took the opportunity of stopping off in Ely where my new series of novels is set to pick up a bit more local colour. I walked around the marina and went into the cathedral. Peter and I lived in nearby Cambridge and I remembered when we used to go to the Old Fire Engine House restaurant in the early days before we were married.
I went to see if it was still there and it is. Looking through the window I felt I could almost see our younger selves sitting there twenty years ago, with everything in front of us. Words from a poem by Hardy came into my mind. He so well understood the power of places to embody memories of those we love. He is one of my favourite poets. This is ‘At Castle Boterel.’
As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,
And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,
I look behind at the fading byway,
And see on its slope, now glistening wet,
Myself and a girlish form benighted
In dry March weather. We climb the road
Beside a chaise. We had just alighted
To ease the sturdy pony’s load
When he sighed and slowed.
What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of
Matters not much, nor to what it led, ―
Something that life will not be balked of
Without rude reason till hope is dead,
And feeling fled.
It filled but a minute. But was there ever
A time of such quality, since or before,
In that hill’s story ? To one mind never,
Though it has been climbed, foot-swift, foot-sore,
By thousands more.
Primaeval rocks form the road’s steep border,
And much have they faced there, first and last,
Of the transitory in Earth’s long order ;
But what they record in colour and cast
Is—that we two passed.
And to me, though Time’s unflinching rigour,
In mindless rote, has ruled from sight
The substance now, one phantom figure
Remains on the slope, as when that night
Saw us alight.
I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love’s domain
The photograph is of the Old Fire Engine House restaurant with the magnificent cathedral in the background.
Visiting Cambridge on Friday to do some research for a story, I realise that I should have made an further exemption from my book-buying moratorium: because I can’t be in Cambridge without going to Heffers Bookshop – and I can’t go to Heffers without buying a book. It is one of my favourite book shops, because it has the best crime fiction department anywhere, in my view, and a great fiction buyer in Richard Reynolds. Above all, it has a special place in my heart, because it is the only book shop that, thanks to Richard, has always stocked my novels – actually has them on the shelf – ever since my first one came out in 2002.
So I always ask Richard what he’s enjoyed lately and I always buy a book. Well, several usually, to be honest, but this time I resisted 3 for 2 offers and bought just one, carefully chosen book. It was Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Secret and I picked it because I met someone at a party, who recommended her novels. So you see: nothing is more effective than word-of-mouth.
I now have less than two weeks to go on the moratorium, and I’ll report more fully at the end. But I already know it has made me more discriminating and that thinking about whether I really do want a particular book makes me see them as the precious objects that they are.
PS. Out with my husband at a Christmas fair, we came across a second-hand book stall and he asked me if there was anything I fancied. ‘I’m still on my moratorium,’ I said rather sadly. ‘Yes, but I’m not,’ he replied.
by which I mean still coughing, sneezing and streaming. I know I am not alone: others have been suffering from this exceptionally long-lived virus. Luckily I am not short of reading material. And one book I’ve particularly enjoyed is Lewis Buzbee’s The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.
‘November, a dark, rainy Tuesday, late afternoon. This is my ideal time to be in a bookstore. The shortened light of the afternoon and the idleness and hush of the hour gather everything close, the shelves and the books and the few other customers who graze head – bent in the narrow aisles.’ How could I not love a books which so much reflects my own feelings about books and bookshops? The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is partly a brief history of the bookshop,partly a memoir, focusing on the author’s early career working in bookshops and as a publisher’s rep, but above all an expression of the author’s love of books and bookshops. It is a beautiful little object in its own right as is fitting: an attractive cover, rough-cut pages of acid-free paper, type set in Concorde. It is a little expensive for a paper-back but well worth it. This would be the ideal present for the bibliophiles in your life.
I loved reading about Buzbee’s favourite bookshops, among them City Lights in San Franciso, and Shakespeare and Co in Paris. I’d find it hard to pick one favourite, but I am very fond of Scarthin Books in Cromford (a mixture of old and new), and for new books and crime fiction in particular, Heffers in Cambridge can’t be beaten. What are yours?
Yesterday in Cambridge I was missing a dear friend who died recently. I went into Heffer’s Bookshop (best crime fiction stock of anywhere that I know) and my attention was caught by a book on one of the tables at the front: Poems That Make Grown Men Cry. I’d heard it mentioned on Radio 4. As I turned over the pages I came to Melvin Bragg’s choice: Shakespeare, Sonnet 30 and these words sprang out at me: ‘For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.’ They so perfectly captured how I felt. Was there anything that Shakespeare didn’t know about the human heart? Here is the whole poem:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.
And you can go here to hear it read by Kenneth Branaugh: . Sublime.