Posted in Personal life, Reading

The Biography is in the Bedroom

Photo of Howard's End is on the Landing on my bookshelf
I blame Susan Hill…

In this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m sharing my experience of reorganising my bookshelves.

Ten years ago, I was given a copy of Howard’s End is on the Landing, Susan Hill’s memoir inspired by the chaotic state of her bookshelves. This gave me the idea of reorganising my books, library style, and I displayed her book on my landing to remind me of my plan.

In all that time, I got no further than occasionally taking the book down to dust it.

Opportunity Unlocked

Then came lockdown, offering enticing glimpses of immaculate bookshelves of famous people broadcasting from home. Once more I began to yearn for shelves so neat that they’d have space for other items, from pot plants and family photos to curious kittens with a head for heights.

after reorganising bookshelves
…but I’m pleased with the end result

With bookshelves in every room in my house, reorganising my books was no small undertaking. Yet a week after I started, not only is Howard’s End on the landing, but so is the rest of my fiction.

Poetry and biography have moved to the bedroom, including, pleasingly, some poets’ biographies. Arts, crafts, history and music now have their own space in the extension, and cookery, gardening, and rural interest live in the kitchen.

Science, politics, philosophy, geography, and Scottish books are assigned to my husband’s study, while mine is reserved for writing reference and research books. Phew.

How Many Books Do I Really Need?

As the process required me to remove every book from its original position, I took the opportunity to reject any that didn’t “spark joy”, as Marie Kondo puts it. Incidentally, the Japanese decluttering guru believes no household needs more than 10 books, despite having written two herself. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and kept my copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

New Lives for Old Books

image of Teach Yourself Rapid Reading on the shelf
Now all I need to do is read them

I set aside some of the rejected books to replenish the Little Free Library on my front wall. (Books awaiting their turn out there are stored in the dining room.) The remaining ten bags full I donated to the Bookbarn* a warehouse near Wells stocking a million second-hand books for sale at bargain prices. The good news is that while delivering my donation, I bought only ten more books. I count that as a win.

Everything in its Place

Cover of shorthand edition of Sherlock Holmes book
I rediscovered forgotten curiosities such as this Sherlock Holmes book entirely in Pitman Shorthand

Every day now I gain so much satisfaction from gazing at my new-look bookshelves that I’m surprised it took me so long to get round to streamlining them. After all, I’m the sort of person who likes to have everything in its place. In my purse, for example, I make a point of sorting the banknotes in descending order of denomination, the right way up, and with the Queen facing me as I take them out to spend.

Not that sorting my banknotes takes very long, being far less numerous than my books. Do you think the two facts might be related?

*The Bookbarn gets a mention in Stranger at St Bride’s, as the source of a place to buy books by the metre for decorating pubs and the homes of the pretentious!

In the eighth book of my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Hector Munro, proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House, will be starting a vintage department, using his vast personal collection of curious old books currently housed in the spare bedroom of his flat above the shop. I think my shorthand Sherlock Holmes book would be right at home there! 


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

8 thoughts on “The Biography is in the Bedroom

  1. Oh my, I could have written this post. “The good news is that while delivering my donation, I bought only ten more books.” Haaa, yes! And I also sort my banknotes.

  2. Hi Debbie, yes I too have a great number of on and I couldn’t part with them. Alas, these days I am unable to hold a book so now use Audible which is such a boon. Can you tell me please, will there be any more of your books going to be on Audible please?. I have just the one at the moment. My very best wishes. Vanessa-Ann

    1. Hi Vanessa-Ann. I agree with you, Audible (and other digital audiobook platforms) are fantastic, and audiobooks online are so much easier to access than the old-fashioned books on tape or CDs. Are you able to hold an ereader? I have rheumatoid arthritis which affects my hands quite badly sometimes, and have found reading on my Kindle much more comfortable than print books, although I do still love those too, as my shelves attest!

      Regarding audiobooks of my novels, I’m glad you’ve enjoy the audio of “Best Murder in Show”. Siobhan Waring is a terrific narrator, and I’ve now booked her to record the first in my St Bride’s series too – “Secrets at St Bride’s”. My long-term plan is to ask her to record all my books, but this will take a while as she is so popular that she gets booked up a long time in advance. In the meantime, you might like to know about a very short audiobook that I had made as an experiment before investing in the audiobook of “Best Murder in Show”. It’s just a short story, set at the winter solstice, so a bit Christmassy too. It’s not as humorous as my novels, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. Here’s the link to it: in case you’re interested.

      With very best wishes to you

  3. Hard to think where you found the time, so busy writing & writing about… books! Fun piece. When we re-ordered (tided) our books, we donated several large bags to Blackwell’s .second-hand shelves.. less imaginative than the Bookbarn…

  4. Very amusing, Debbie! I do the same thing with bank notes. They’ve got to be in order, large value to small, and facing the right way!

    You may find it amusing that I recently gave up having a wallet for the first time, as I rarely ever use cash these days. Instead, I got this sleeve for the back of my phone, which holds two cards:

    Having embraced minimalism quite a lot in recent months, this was a great find! I like to have as few things in my pockets as possible. However, the cards interfered with wireless charging, and also the cover wasn’t the most secure, so I reverted back to using my wallet after a few days. I like to keep a few promotional cards in my wallet anyway, which would have had to be sacrificed if I were only using the phone cover!

    P.S. The Amazon link is not an affiliate link or anything in case you were worried about me abusing your comments section! 😀

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me, Steven! And I think you’re right – I’m starting to wonder why I carry my purse around when I never have any change in it these days and have to pay for everything contactless! A lady up the road from me is selling flowers on her front wall at £1 a bunch, plus various produce from her allotment, and I’ve been reduced to raiding my change jar and paying in 1ps and 2ps! The change jar is nearly empty now too!

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