I’m very honored to be here. I love Nebraska, Nebraskans and books, and here we are with all three…it doesn’t get much better. I’m excited to write my “Nebraska Book” one day, certain to involve Willa Cather.
What I do have is a series of mysteries for booklovers, set in the world of British book publishing and collecting. This is the first time I’ve had the luxury of talking about the series as a whole, instead of one book at a time as each came out. It is fun to look back over a decade and six books and see how they all fit together. I thought it might be fun tonight to graze over a few passages that show book people having book moments in book places.
A little background on the series might help: Unsolicited was the first, written with no more of an idea than to have a British book publisher and collector involved in a worldwide book chase with an anonymous author. A little romance developed along the way. Unbound had a similar book chase theme, and was the beginning of a tradition of including both literary and historical themes in the books. Unprintable was the book that had Alex discover he was reliving certain literary classics on some pre-ordained path to right history’s wrongs; he would discover the truth through books and feel obliged to do something about it. Unprintable featured the authors and events of Clerkenwell, a neighborhood near the City of London where Oliver Twist lived, William Morris printed and agitated with leftist colleagues, and Arnold Bennett wrote about a bookshop. Untitled was Boccaccio’s Decameron, Unsigned was Beowulf, Uncatalogued was Pepys.
Most disconcerting: while Alex might have relived bits of literature, my literature (if you can call it that) turned into real life.
Uncatalogued: made up a terrorist event in the financial district of London, 9-11 happened after I had turned in the finished book.
Unbound: Princess Diana placed in danger; she died before the book came out.
Unsigned: Pepys, because had mentioned him in Unbound and he had so much to do with London and history. Pepys had attended the same college at Cambridge as Alex P, and even donated a library there; he was secretary of the Navy, and Alex was an oarsman; he stopped writing his diary because he was going blind, Alex was going blind too.
Through my experience with these books runs a healthy strand of optimism: it shows that someone who knows next to nothing about history, literature and rare books – or writing – can still make the dream of publishing on these subjects come true with enough enthusiasm and hard work.
I have an admission to make to you. Standing at the end of a decade of writing this series and looking back at it, I now see that I haven’t always been a very good writer. You will already have noticed this, and maybe it has motivated you in the way some not-very-well-written books motivated me: “if that person can get published, writing like that, surely I can too.”
But I’m not disheartened; after all, if I can see the flaws now, it shows I’m getting better, right? And secondly, I don’t regret the joy of the game at all, of plunging in as an amateur and trying. Since I wasn’t a good enough writer to get into the creative writing classes offered at my college, I’d had no writing training, strictly speaking, since Comp class at Westside High in Omaha. And I very much dislike the idea of formulas, so I figured my only hope was to create people, places and moments that were inviting and intriguing to me, with the hope that they would be inviting and intriguing to others.