It might seem like a dream, but it’s all very real. I am on my way to Norbiton in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, where I will meet with one of four daughters of Colette de Curzon, the author of one of two new short stories I am publishing this month in the form of Nightjar Press chapbooks. Colette, at 89, is my oldest Nightjar author, but when she wrote her story, in 1949, she was only 22, so in a sense she’s my youngest. When Colette was widowed last year, her daughter Gaby (the novelist Gabrielle Kimm) found among various papers a short story apparently written by her mother. Her mother explained she had indeed written it and, knowing nothing about how she might go about getting it published, had put it away and sort of forgotten about it. Gaby conferred with her colleague Alison MacLeod at the University of Chichester who suggested she send it to me.
Colette has signed all 200 chapbooks and another of her daughters, Buffy, has brought them up to Norbiton, where I will meet her to pick them up. But if I have to go to Norbiton – and I imply no hardship in having to make that trip – then I would be a fool not to go also to Teddington, where Fara, a charity for children and young people in Romania, has a bookshop, and Kingston, where the Oxfam bookshop has been highly recommended.
The first thing I see in Teddington, apart from the train station where I disembark, is in fact an Oxfam shop and I’m in luck. They have a white-spined Picador I don’t have – PJ O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores. I buy it, of course, and walk on, looking for Fara, which turns out to be just off the main street. The shelves are a slightly odd shape and there’s not much space, even for a modestly proportioned individual, so I struggle a little, partly also because there’s a larger customer making his presence felt by at least two of my senses. There’s only one Picador – Bret Easton Ellis’s The Informers, which I have – and several lovely books from Peirene Press, plus a copy of Wyl Menmuir’s The Many. Wyl was my student at the Manchester Writing School and I later acquired his novel for Salt (it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize). I also spot Nina Allan’s prize-winning novella, The Harlequin, published by Sandstone Press. I’m still holding out for a copy of this from the publishers, since publication was the prize in a competition judged by Alison Moore and myself. It was published in 2015, so I suppose it’s unlikely a copy is going to turn up any day soon, but you never know.
I leave empty handed and within a few minutes find myself in Bushy Park surrounded by deer.
Kingston, even on such a beautiful afternoon, could be an anticlimax after this, but the Oxfam bookshop is an oasis of cool, calm culture, and – what’s that? Another PJ O’Rourke Picador – All the Trouble in the World. And there’s another white spine – Clive James’s Other Passports. This volume of his poetry from 1958 to 1985 will bring the number of Clive James books I have in Picador to thirteen. And, as a bonus, when I check a Penguin copy of Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss, the same edition I have at home, I see it contains an inclusion, a partial piece of paper with a metres–feet conversion chart on one side and, on the other, in beautifully neat handwriting, ‘1 thinfilm positive. Dutch study RRCCS 1A/4207,’ and a name, which I will not include here in case, as I suspect, this has something to do with its owner’s medical history. I buy the book to replace my own copy, for the inclusion.
I walk on to Norbiton where Buffy makes me a wonderfully refreshing cup of Yorkshire Tea before I heft the box of signed chapbooks and walk the few hundred yards to the station and catch a train to Waterloo. When I get back home I discover that one of the O’Rourkes is – like my copy of Charles Nicholls’ The Reckoning – 5mm shorter than it should be, so it will have to go back, as a donation, to another branch of Oxfam, but, balancing out that disappointment, I see that the copy of Kiss Kiss I have decided to replace really did need replacing as it is missing four pages from the middle of one story. I find them folded up at the back of the book in the form, I suppose, of an inclusion, but not one I had been aware of or find in any way welcome or interesting.