Tag Archives: Lloyd Shepherd

Other People’s Bookshelves #58 – Lloyd Shepherd

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we spending time round at author Lloyd Shepherd’s where he has kindly laid on an afternoon tea for us all. Before we have a nosey through his shelves let us get to know more about him, it is only polite after all…

My name’s Lloyd Shepherd and I’m a writer (I always said to my wife that I wouldn’t call myself a ‘writer’ until I’d had four books published, and the fourth book is out next year, so I’m going for it). The four books I’ve published to date have all been historical crime fiction – with a twist. The twist being there’s more going on that quite meets the eye. Before writing books, I worked as a digital product manager for the likes of the Guardian, Yahoo, Channel 4 and the BBC, and before that I was a journalist, writing about the tortuous financial shenanigans of the film industry.

As well as writing a new book, I’m currently engineering an Adventure In Reading, called The Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club. You can find out more about that at www.riddleofthesands.net – we’re calling it Taking a Book for a Walk. Because books need to get off their bookshelves every now and then, you know.

Lloyd 2

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?

Well, first things first – they’re not MY shelves, because I’m married to a woman who reads voraciously, and who has a hoarder’s attitude to books. I’m more vicious – I’m only really sentimental about books that I have personally loved, or were given to me by someone close to me. Other than those – they’re heading out. Even the hardbacks.

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 have what can only be called a Multi-Zone Approach To Book Husbandry. Zone One is in the living room, and consists of Attractive Books Wot Might Be Worth Summat In Future Years. Hardbacks of classics, first editions, and a massive number of Folio Society publications acquired by my father. He was a lifelong subscriber to Folio, and though I’m not convinced he read a lot of them, they’re all beautiful things. So, if you need to read Moby Dick or a history of the Byzantine Empire written by a 1950s emeritus professor, it’s the living room you want.

Lloyd 3

The bedroom is the Fiction Grotto, with two bookshelves groaning with paperbacks and hardbacks in alphabetical order, often double-shelved and generally all over the place, thematically. Also, my wife hangs her clothes on these shelves. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps she’s hoping they will gain something from being hung next to made-up stuff. Finally, my office is the Library of Facts (and poetry and drama and other stuff we don’t read in bed). It’s where I keep my history and reference books, my graphic novels, copies of my own books (hem hem) and my wide and random collection of sheet music. I also have two guitars in there, which are monumentally unplayed.

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

Gosh, good question. I don’t think I can quite remember. I want to say The Dark is Rising, but I’ve got a feeling that was a school library book which never quite made it back to said school library. I did buy a copy shortly afterwards, and two years ago I got it signed by Susan Cooper, which was thrilling. I remember going to buy The Lord of the Rings in Sevenoaks Bookshop (which is still there, bless its soul) with my Dad, and picking up the massive paperback collected edition while looking longingly at the three-volume hardback version. We left with the hardbacks. As I said, my Dad was a nut for nice books. I didn’t even pay towards it. I read those hardback editions, out loud, to my son when he was little.

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?

No, not at all. I’m not embarrassed about anything I’ve read. Wish I could say the same about everything I’ve written.

The Study: History and Poetry n ting

The Study: History and Poetry n ting

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?

Well, Dad’s Folio books and the Lord of the Rings volumes mentioned above. My copy of Paradise Lost from university (there, I’m allowed one affectation, aren’t I?). The thing about books is, of course, that they’re replaceable – it’s only when they constitute memories rather than literature that they take on a different meaning. An old paperback of Sophie’s Choice, a collection of Emily Dickenson, a two-volume edition of The History of the Port of London – they’ve all got memories outside themselves which would be lost if the books were lost, even if the words were replaceable.

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 had one of those massive Hamlyn collections of Robert Ludlum novels – you know, the 70s things which contained five or more novels in one edition, with type so small only a young vigorous chap could read it, but weighing so much you needed a fork lift truck to turn the page. I read The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Osterman Weekend, The Gemini Contenders and, most brilliantly of all, The Holcroft Covenant, which is still my favourite thriller of all time. It had a Fifty Shades of Grey bit in it, too, I seem to recall.

Smart Books For Public Display (Folio!)

Smart Books For Public Display (Folio!)

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 buy almost everything I read, I think. I like buying books. People should buy more books. And I also like giving books away, a practice which is a bit shit if you’re an author but a bit great if you’re a human being.

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

In no particular order: a 1970s edition of The Riddle of the Sands for our Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club project; The High Middle Ages (Folio!), Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck (the best book I’ve read in the past year), Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and The 9th Directive by Adam Hall. My reading overlaps!

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

David Hepworth’s upcoming book on 1971. Julian Cope’s One Three One and Krautrocksampler. An edition of Ulysses abridged by Simon Armitage (this doesn’t exist).

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

He Liked Books And A Good Story Well Told. Also, why is that dress hanging there?

Bedroom Fiction Shelf with Clothes

Bedroom Fiction Shelf with Clothes

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A huge thanks to Lloyd for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, don’t forget to check www.riddleofthesands.net and follow the adventure into the world of a book! 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 savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Mark’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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‘Literary Fiction’ as a Genre…

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was bored of hearing people slating Hilary Mantel for winning lots of awards of late. This last week or so I have been feeling the same about the wave of back biting about the term ‘literary fiction’ which seems to have suddenly reared its ugly head again. Why is it that the term ‘literary fiction’ seems to divide people so much? And why does there seem to be a new phase of almost snobbery about book snobbery? Let me explain…

Ever since the year that the Man Booker was hauled over the coals for daring to say that its judges were looking for ‘readability’, and indeed so incensed were people they started a new ‘Literary’ prize, there seems to have been an ongoing debate about ‘literary fiction’. The latest debate I have been directly involved in was with Gavin of GavReads this week on The Readers. Now Gav knows me and my reading tastes quite well and yet a Twitter conversation and comment he through my way had rather, admittedly in a wry way, annoyed me – in fact I may have even raised an eyebrow, which takes some doing.

Gavin had been watching a conversation with Lloyd Shepherd and Joanne Harris after Lloyd had retweeted a piece from Salon.com and quoted “Let’s face it: Literary fiction is f**king boring. It really is. It’s a genre as replete with clichés as any.” To this Joanne Harris had said “Or we could just stop using the term “literary” altogether and start actually *enjoying* books instead of obsessing over genre” and “Too many folk are using the term “literary” to mean “wholly unencumbered by plot”. Gavin had then said that this is what he had been saying to me and that literary books are really books ‘of just 30 pages of popping to the shops’. Now I disagree with quite a few things here.

Firstly I don’t think literary fiction is f**king boring… overall. Some of it can be, in fact I can think of several books I have read over the years that were dull as dish water or were duller because an editor hadn’t stepped in as the author was super famous and so should be allowed to do whatever they liked, apparently. Some of it can go completely over my head and I think ‘oo-er what’s going on here, this is a bit too clever for me’. Isn’t that the same with every genre though, some crime novels might be a little bit too easy to solve or too gory for all readers, some sci-fi novels might just seem one step too farfetched, that’s just taste and the great tapestry of literature. No? Like all genres, it’s a mixed bag.

This of course begs the question; is ‘literary fiction’ now a genre? Something Matt Haig has discussed recently, though possibly more controversially I think. Personally I think it has become a genre but I don’t think that is through any fault of its own. With genres being invented (partly to sell books but also to signpost them for new readers, who we shouldn’t forget just because we might think we are well read) like New Adult etc on top of commercial fiction, crime fiction, science fiction, translated fiction (yes this has become a genre too, I think), young adult fiction etc I don’t think it has had much choice.

I will admit that I don’t like the fact some reviewers/publishers/press/authors use the term to smash it over the heads of many that they have written/read/reviewed ‘an epic masterpiece about the human condition that spans many generations’, some crime does this superbly after all what can test the human condition more than a murder or being involved in one. I digress, you know the drill though – using the term to preen themselves and make themselves feel clever not realising they are alienating readers by the bucket load. It is a tightrope to walk though. Joanne Harris mentions the idea of literary fiction meaning ‘books being unencumbered by plot’, now I like Joanne but I disagree that this should be a bad thing – I completely agree about enjoyment – not all books have to be encumbered by plot.

Just because, as Gav might put it, a book is in the head of one character walking to the shops yet thinking about their impending divorce and what lead to it doesn’t make it boring or lesser because the characters aren’t all singing and dancing of the page and instead an insular, possibly sparse, novel on human nature evolves without any obvious twists and turns and plot. Both have their merits to me personally, I like reading about people of all walks of life and from all backgrounds and places be their stories small or on some mammoth scale.

I have to say though that for me my idea of the perfect ‘literary fiction’ has all of these things, beautiful prose, brooding atmospheres, cracking characters and a good story be it on an epic or more insular scale – the most important thing to me is, cliché alert ‘the voice’ and just getting lost in it regardless of the genre/label/pigeon hole people try and pop it in or it naturally falls in. I don’t like ‘literary fiction’ being used as a weapon to make people feel stupid if they don’t get it or for making people sound like snobs if they do. Am I alone in this?

So what are your thoughts on the whole idea of ‘literary fiction’ as a genre? Also, as a little favour and a gauntlet that Gav has thrown down for next weeks podcast, can you think of some titles considered ‘literary fiction’ that have corking characters and a stonking plot and any books unencumbered in plot that were complete page turners? I would love some lists of both of those, pretty please.

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