Tag Archives: Andy Cawthray

Other People’s Bookshelves #15 – Janet O’Kane

So after ANOTHER small hiatus Other People’s Bookshelves is back… Hoorah! Thank you to everyone who has responded to my plea for more of you to share your book porn with us, keep them coming as I would love this series to run and run. If you haven’t heard back from me, have sent them before but not been featured or you have held back thinking there’s a queue (it’s a small one) then do please email savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves and they will be featured. I have been a bit slack. Anyway, for the fifteenth in the series we get to have a lovely nosey through Janet O’Kane’s shelves, first though (I know you are desperate to see the books, the books, the books) let us find out a little bit more about Janet…

As Janet grew up in rural Dorset her parents instilled in her an immense love of books. They tried not to spoil her (she was an only child) but she was provided with all the books she ever wanted, either from the library or bought from a local second‑hand shop. For a long time she answered the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ with, ‘A librarian’. Despite this, her first job was in Harrods, the London store, where she sold Wedgwood china to rich tourists and underwear to the then 007, Roger Moore. She also worked for Boots for many years, although that company’s lending libraries were long gone. Now living in the Scottish Borders with her husband John, two dogs, two cats and numerous chickens, Janet still reads as much as she can and has a deep mistrust of anyone else who doesn’t. She mostly reads crime fiction, despite the best efforts of an Open University degree course and the Berwick Book Group to entice her away from that genre.

Janet has always written for pleasure, and remembers winning a Brooke Bond writing competition at the age of ten with a short story inspired by Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. She started writing in earnest when she moved to Scotland and early on was delighted to have a poem published in Forum magazine. Unfortunately, she couldn’t cash the £10 cheque because she had been too embarrassed to submit under her own name.  The idea for the opening of Janet’s first novel, No Stranger to Death, which will be published on November 5th, came to her at a Guy Fawkes party held in the village where they used to live. When she suggested to John that a huge bonfire would be a good way to dispose of a dead body, he said, ‘Go on then, write it’. And over the next few years, in between jobs and studying for a degree, she did. She now writes fulltime. Janet blogs about writing and her life in the Scottish countryside at www.janetokane.blogspot.co.uk and is also an avid fan of Twitter, where she is @JanetOkane

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I wish I had the space to keep every book I read, but instead I have to be ruthless. I try to find space for signed copies and novels I’ve really enjoyed. I also won’t part with some of the books I studied for my recent Open University degree, and a few teenage favourites, like The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The rest I pass on to friends or our local charity shop. There is one exception: I’ve kept a copy of the worst crime novel I’ve ever read, and no, I’m not going to say what that is.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I group the books I’ve read by subject or genre. While many – okay, most – of my shelves hold crime fiction, there are also reference, travel, gardening, art and film books. Guides to writing are on a separate shelf unit. Unread books – of which I have over 100, excluding what’s on my Kindle – are grouped together on two TBR shelves. I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more until I’ve considerably reduced that number, and regularly but cheerfully fail to keep that promise.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

From an early age I spent all my pocket-money on books but I confess I don’t own a single Enid Blyton or Angel Brazil now. I do though, still have that copy of Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers I bought at the age of 17 to read on the journey up to London for a job interview. My Mum travelled with me and I remember sitting awkwardly to stop her from seeing what I was laughing at.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about what they read, as long as they do read! My tastes are there for all to see.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

To me, a book is just a book and easily replaced, so I don’t have an emotional attachment to any in particular. I’d concentrate on getting my husband, cats and dogs to safety and making sure the fire didn’t spread to the henhouses.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My Dad only read non-fiction, usually about World War Two or football, while my Mum was a huge fan of crime fiction by the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Guess whose books I moved on to when I outgrew my own! I have a few Christies on my shelves but tend not to reread books except for a specific reason, like a competition. Revisiting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd proved worthwhile as I won a weekend pass to the 2010 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate for summing it up in 50 words.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I’m lucky to be able to buy most of the books I want to read, although I struggle to justify buying hardbacks or expensive books about art. I enter competitions and drop hints at Christmas for those.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I recently went to an event in Newcastle by crime-writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay who write together under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett. It was a great evening and I’ve enjoyed Margaret’s writing in the past, so I bought their first book, Everyone Lies. I started reading it on the train going home and was hooked. I finished it a few days later and it’s now rubbing shoulders with my permanent collection of Reginald Hill novels.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I’ve got my eye on Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, which has a cover price of £90, although I’m sure it is well worth that much. Moving away from crime fiction, I’d really like to own Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build by Peter Goodfellow, The Chicken: A Natural History by several authors including my poultry ‘guru’ Andy Cawthray, and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

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What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I like to think they’ll see further than all that crime fiction and realise I’m a person with a wide range of interests who just happens to enjoy reading and writing about people being murdered.


A huge thanks to Janet for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Janet’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?


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