I tend not to accord my birthdays more than a passing mention on Existential Ennui – I can't imagine they're of even passing interest to the (meagre) readership of this blog – usually post-event and in connection with whichever book I might have acquired as a result of managing to stay alive for another year. But my most recent birthday, which was last week, merits a lengthier report, I feel, as it entailed a trip to Tunbridge Wells for a mooch around the secondhand bookshops in that Royal Kentish town – a mooch which netted me one book in particular which I was absolutely cock-a-hoop to have come across.
The day got off to a pretty decent start even before we got to Tunbridge Wells, when I received this from the lovely Rachel:
A first edition of Desmond Cory's Intrigue, published by Shakespeare Head – the Australian sister publisher to British outfit Frederick Muller (although still printed in the UK, so in fact it's an export edition) – in 1954 (dust jacket designer unknown). The fourth in Cory's Johnny Fedora spy novel series, in common with other entries in that series this is quite a rare book; I can see just four other copies in any edition online at present: a Muller second impression, another Muller edition with no details as to impression or presence of dust jacket (or anything really), and two paperback editions, one under the alternate American title of Trieste. A nice addition, then, to my Fedora-in-first collection, which now numbers twelve volumes out of a possible sixteen.
And so to Tunbridge Wells, and its handful of secondhand bookshops. First port of call was here:
Ah, actually, let's skip the first port of call and go straight to the second port of call, which was here:
The Aviation Bookshop, tucked away on Vale Road. I've visited this place before, and in truth their stock doesn't really fall within my fields of interest – plus I've yet to work out how to navigate my way around that stock (books are shelved under broad subject areas, but not, as far as I can work out, in any sort of order thereafter) – but I applaud the idea of there being a bookshop devoted to aviation, and anyone with an interest in that sort of thing will doubtless find much to divert them. I, however, moved swiftly on, to here:
The Oxfam Bookshop, on Chapel Place. Unfortunately, despite the manager kindly checking the stock for obscure postwar crime and spy fiction after I'd mentioned on Twitter the previous day that I'd be popping by, there was nothing for me. And neither was there here:
The Pantiles Bookshop, on the Pantiles, oddly enough. I did spy a signed first of P. D. James's The Children of Men, but I was in two minds as to whether to buy it – I already own an unsigned first edition and I haven't even read that yet – so while I deliberated we went across the way and had tea and cake in a cafe, in which, sitting at a window table, slightly incongruously given the sedate surroundings, was Rick Parfitt of Status Quo fame and his missus. Anyway, by the time I got back to the shop, the book had gone. Parfitt left the cafe before me; perhaps it was him wot bought it, the git.
Fortunately, by that point, as you might be able to tell from the bag in my hand, I'd already had some success elsewhere, namely here:
Hall's Bookshop, which was my real reason for visiting Tunbridge Wells. Hall's has been situated on Chapel Place for decades, but last year it was taken over by London expat bookseller Adrian Harrington, who completely refurbished the joint and installed his own wares upstairs. The net result is that Hall's is now, I'd wager, one of the finest secondhand bookshops in the country: pleasant to browse in, with an excellent stock, and not bad prices. I managed to find something on the cheapo paperback racks outside even before I'd set foot in the place:
And after a thorough survey of the shelves inside – and a look at Adrian Harrington's stock upstairs, which, while fascinating, was mostly priced well beyond my means – emerged about an hour later with another two books. (Rachel found something for herself as well, plus a couple of books for Edie). To wit:
From the left, a 1963 Corgi paperback of Brian Cleeve's Assignment to Vengeance; a 1982 Granada hardback first edition of Arthur C. Clarke's sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, jacket illustration by Michel Whelan; and a 1965 Michael Joseph hardback first edition of P. M. Hubbard's The Holm Oaks, dust jacket design by the wonderfully named H. Bridgeman Grimley. Finding the Hubbard in particular was one of those secondhand bookshop moments of which one dreams but seldom gets to experience: I've been on the lookout for a first edition of The Holm Oaks, the author's fourth novel for adults (sixth overall, counting his two children's novels) and the only one of his books I didn't own in any edition, for nearly four years, so to chance upon a highly scarce first, in lovely condition, in a bookshop which was my main purpose for visiting Tunbridge Wells, was serendipitous in the extreme. Rest assured I'll be blogging about it in full before too long.
I'm madly envious. My daughter lives less than ten miles from Tunbridge Wells, but whenever I'm staying with her I am a) tied up with grand-children and b) without my own car; my last visit to Tunbridge Wells was to hold on to three grand-children while the eldest was measured for school shoes. So I'm not entirely happy to be told that T Wells is a second-hand bookshop heaven.ReplyDelete
However, I do hope you enjoy 'The Holm Oaks', it was the second P M Hubbard, I bought and read, and I love it. Do tell: have you ever worked out the setting of his books? I'd love to go on a P M Hubbard tour of Britain (I'd give Pakistan a
miss), off hand the only one I can get anywhere near is the one set on the Solway Firth. So glad you had such a good birthday.
Well I'm looking forward to reading The Holm Oaks even more now. Tell me, when did you discover Hubbard? And what was the first of his books you bought and read? But no, I've never worked out the precise settings of his books; although you can usually discern the general area. He tends to use fictional towns and villages doesn't he? I must admit I do sometimes wonder if there are real world counterparts to those locales.Delete
There was actually another secondhand bookshop in Tunbridge Wells until fairly recently, but it closed a year or two ago – and the antiques place next to it, which also stocked some books, also seems to have gone now. Even so, the ones that remain are well worth a visit, especially Hall's; and if you happen to be in the area when the book fair is on, there's that too.
I discovered PM Hubbard on the shelves of my then local library (Melton Mowbray) in the 1970's. I liked the look of 'Flush as May' that's all. I borrowed all they had, bought some when the library put them up for sale and bought others (pre-Internet, of course) from a lovely man in Dorset who use to send out a duplicated sheet of new stock every three weeks.ReplyDelete
Most of my Hubbards are reading copies, but I've just checked and I have a few first editions; anyway, he's one of my favourite authors and not only do I love his settings, but he has set me on lifelong crazes: holm oaks from the one you've just bought although we've never had room to plant one, and glass from 'A Hive of Glass' although I've never been able to afford that sort of glass. It's great to 'meet' a fellow aficionado, particularly as I lack your talent for reviewing.
And I'm equally as pleased to have met you, Nomey. You'll find some more Hubbard enthusiasts in my 'Other Fine Blogs' sidebar, if you haven't come across them already – John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books, for instance, and Book Glutton, who tipped me off about Hubbard in the first place.Delete
I am also envious of your book store visits. I live in a lovely area with one very good independent bookstore (new books only though), but we don't have anything like these book stores you show here.ReplyDelete
I will look into books by P. M. Hubbard and Desmond Cory. Which you had suggested a couple of posts back.
I'd recommend, respectively, A Hive of Glass and Undertow as good places to start, Tracy.Delete
I envy you the moment of discovering the Hubbard on a bookstore shelf. Never happened to me. Though I had recently bought a VG to Fine copy of the same edition on eBay, otherwise my envy would have been even more acute. Quite a piece of luck, because it was a 'Buy it now' deal, and not even very expensive - God knows how no one grabbed it before me. I had been hunting it for a while, refusing ownership of any other edition of this particular title. Unless I'm mistaken, only A Hive of Glass in the UK first is rarer? I've never even seen an image of the dj cover.ReplyDelete
I do keep an eye out for Hubbards on eBay, but I didn't spot that copy of Holm Oaks – well done you! Something similar happened to me with Picture of Millie. Yes, I'd say the Joseph first of Hive of Glass is rarer still; I've not seen its wrapper either. That's probably the number one book on my wants list (there was another, non-Hubbard, book I desired even more, but I managed to get my hands on a copy last week; I'll reveal what it is soon).Delete
Co-incidentally I am reading Demos, by George Gissing, a lovely old Wayfarers Library edition, and it came with a Bookmark which came from TD Webster, Antiquarian Bookseller, Vicarage Road Tunbridge Wells, obviously very old. Just had a look to see if they were still going, it appears not, but I came across this thread! Oh we Biblios!ReplyDelete
I believe Pantiles Bookshop has closed down now as well, so it's really only Hall's, Oxfam and the Aviation Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells now (plus the occasional Book Fair). Shame.Delete
Nick - I just found this blog article. Would you be willing to sell your (looks like nearly mint) copy of Desmond Cory's Intrigue ? This is a rare find for sure, and while I have the US version (Trieste) I don't have the original 1st edition printed by Shakespeare HeadReplyDelete
Not for the moment, I'm afraid. I'm still missing a few Fedora first editions, so I'd quite like to complete my collection before I consider selling any of it. I'll keep you in mind though!Delete