Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to spend some time with author Claire Fuller, whose debut Our Endless Numbered Days has just come out and will be one of the books I will rush to when I finish judging Fiction Uncovered. So anyway, let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…
I live in Winchester, occasionally with my teenage children (when they’re not at university or with their dad) and my husband, Tim, who’s a university librarian. I studied sculpture at art school in the 1980s, and still get my chisels or my pencil out now and again. But mostly I’m a writer. Our Endless Numbered Days (Fig Tree/Penguin) is my first novel and I also write a lot of short stories and flash fiction, most of which are posted on my website: www.clairefuller.co.uk. I read a lot: before I get up and before I go to sleep, and I have one of those contraptions to hold my books open so I can read at the table while I’m eating.
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?
In the last couple of years I’ve let myself give up on books I’ve not been enjoying, and these ones go to the charity shop. All other books get kept. Luckily, at the moment we have spare shelf space – my husband recently built some more shelves – so keeping books isn’t a problem. When I’ve finished a book I leave it on the dining-room table and it gets mysteriously filed away. It’s like one of those returns trollies they have in real libraries. I’m not sure what we’ll do when all the shelves are full. Build some more?
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?
Three and a half years ago, Tim moved in with me, bringing with him over two thousand books. I must have owned five hundred, and we spent about a week sorting them all and when we came across duplicates, deciding which one to get rid of. The only book where we kept both copies was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers because before Tim moved in we’d both read it at the same time. I’ve always liked the idea of having my books filed properly so I could easily find things but I never got round to it when I lived on my own. But now all the paperback fiction is organised alphabetically, non-fiction is by genre, and hardback fiction has its own shelves because of the size issue. Like I said, I leave the filing to Tim, because I haven’t got the patience to move everything along in order to squeeze in a new paperback.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I think it was probably Freefall by William Golding. I won the art prize at school a few times for which I received a book token, so I would go to my local bookshop in Thame, and browse. I probably chose it because of its cover. The bookshop used to be called The Red House; it’s still there but it’s now The Book House. I still have the original copy of Freefall, but I can’t remember anything about the story. I should probably re-read it.
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?
[Simon – the photo of the Scrabble dictionary (above) is to go with this answer] There’s nothing on my shelves I would be embarrassed by, or at least if there is, I’m hoping it will disappear through sheer quantity of books. Although, I’ve just remembered that I do have a book which lives in a drawer. It’s put away not because I’m embarrassed by it, but because of the state it is in. I really should buy another.
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?
My first choice, if I’m allowed, would be the book my daughter wrote when she was about four. Actually, she dictated it rather than wrote it and she drew the pictures. She also made the jacket for it out of clay, which is not very practical. It starts, ‘The fairies lived on the mountain’. But of the published books I own, that’s such a hard thing to choose. Perhaps one of those my Dad bought me when I was a child (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary from 1975 or Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone) or the first paperback American publication of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, which Tim gave to me.
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 was in a mail-order book club when I was growing up in the 1970s, and I remember the excitement when the parcel arrived. I doubt this came from the club, but the first book I remember reading from his shelves was Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan. I must have been seven or eight. This isn’t a funny book; it’s full of sad poems about Milligan’s depression and hospitalisation and I can still recite some of them today. My Mum, who’s German, had very few books, but there was one she kept from her time when she was a nanny. It was a book about childhood illnesses and it was in German, so I couldn’t understand it, but I remember poring over the vivid and gruesome photographs of boils and rashes.
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 do sometimes borrow books from the library and those that I love I always mean to buy so I can read them again, but then another book comes along and makes me forget. Like Waterlog by Roger Deakin; I wish I owned that.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
It was Aquarium by David Vann. I was lucky to be sent an advance copy by the publishers – one of the perks of being a writer. This is one I’ll definitely be keeping. Tim has filed it away beside all the other David Vann books I own.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
I’ve met lots of lovely debut authors since becoming one myself, and I’d love to get round to buying and reading all of their books. Some I have read, and others have made it as far as my ‘to be read’ list, which is a start. To name a few – The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye and Ridley Road by Jo Bloom.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
Someone perusing my shelves might think I know a lot about French film, read many works of Scandinavian fiction in which nothing much happens, and that I have a love of the nouveau roman movement from the 1950s. But unfortunately they would be getting me muddled up with Tim. If they knew which books were mine they might think I read fairly broadly – contemporary authors, some narrative non-fiction, many books from the past forty years – but that I could probably try harder with the classics.
A huge thanks to Claire for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Claire’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?