The Truth is Stranger (or at least more interesting) Than Fiction

These are the bookshelves in my living room. Except, that picture was taken when they were newly filled. To imagine a modern-day image, add in double-stacking, books jammed in horizontally wherever they will fit, my son's measly shelf (bottom right) spilling out all over the floor... (Don't feel sorry for him, he has four more shelves in his bedroom, also full to the brim. Like mother like son.)

A friend of ours made these for us and they still make me drool. They're overflowing to a stupid degree, but for some reason my husband doesn't see the benefit in turning every wall in our house into a bookshelf. Odd man. Luckily, there's always space for books, even if they take over windowsills and floors and create hazardous stacks on the stairs. I can safely say I'm not ever going to stop buying them, so our book storage will just have to become a little more creative...

Possibly the most exciting part of the whole bookshelf-building process was shelving my collection, alphabetising the fiction and sorting the non-fiction. I tend to buy second hand books for the most part, not only because it's all I can generally afford, but because I love a pre-loved book so much more than a spanky, shiny new one. And over the years I have a small collection of bookmarks, notes, dedications and even love letters that I have found inside the used books I've bought. One, inside a Vonnegut, was a heartfelt (and brilliantly patronising) letter from a young man to the girl he was evidently trying to woo, describing the intellectual and spiritual benefits of this life-changing book. But although the book was old (there was also a receipt inside from the 1960s), the spine was intact and it looked unread. I can only assume his intended lady never read the book or the letter. I wonder if he ever managed to get into her pants good books.

But fiction treasures aside, this post was meant to be about non-fiction, in all its varied glory. I don't have as much as I'd like, but I still have an eclectic little collection. Most of it's made up of the history section, from Tacitus to WWII, and an assortment of psychology, anthropology and philosophy. My first novel was about schizophrenia and I did years of research into treatments and institution and the history of the illness. PIECEMEAL deals with dementia, so a lot of that initial research crossed over but there is always more, more, more to know about any subject you write about. My next book is going to need a slightly ridiculous range of research material; from cryptic crossword compiling to Noah's ark, to faith healing, to Greek myths, to vegetative states... Don't ask - it's complicated.

I also have a lot of books on smuggling and my local area, for a historical drama I'm writing as a TV screenplay. The nice thing about this is that I can physically visit a lot of the sites mentioned and try to imagine and recreate the landscape as it was just a few centuries ago. Already I've found that much of this kind of history dregs up truths which are much, much stranger than fiction... Incredible stuff, like the entire police force of my town having to be sacked after they were (knowingly or stupidly) bribed off duty with free tickets to a visiting circus show ... while smuggling ships brought in tonnes of contraband onto the empty beaches. The suburb I live in used to be a separate little hamlet to the main city, and lay on the route smugglers would take from the beach all the way to London. There are cellars and tunnels connecting our local pub and a large manor house, and a gravestone from the late 1700s mourning the death of a local smuggler who was shot in the head by excise men as he tried to sneak out of an alleyway. I love walking down the old part of the village and imagining who lived in the poky little 15th century houses and whether they took part in, or turned a blind eye to what went on here.

So, much as I love my fiction, I have a deep urge to help my non-fiction collection grow - I just need to transform a few more walls into shelving...

Posted on August 22, 2011 and filed under Novel, Projects, Reading, Research, WIP, Writing.