Tag Archives: Noel Coward

Other People’s Bookshelves #62 – Scott Pack

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 are down in London town to spend some time with a man who I love much more than is right, and much more than he probably knows – you’ll see why. Yes this week we are spending time with the lovely Scott Pack. Now before we go and rummage through his shelves, let us grab a nice cuppa and learn more about him…

I am a publisher (just setting up a new independent imprint called Aardvark Bureau after six years at HarperCollins) and writer (a couple of toilet books under the pen name Steve Stack and bits and bobs of journalism). I sometimes host literary events of my own making and at festivals. I have a blog called Me and My Big Mouth. Outside of the book stuff I bake cakes and biscuits.

living room shelves

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 am happy to read pretty much anything but I only keep books I love, am likely to re-read or that I think a member of the family will enjoy at some point.

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?

We live in a four-floor townhouse. On the ground floor is a set of shelves containing books I have read and loved and these are alphabetical by author. Alongside these are a bunch of classics, many read but some as yet unread. I designed the shelves myself and included a long shelf for my battered old Penguin paperbacks (see above) which are arranged by colour because I got bored one day and it killed an hour or so. Any old or particularly gorgeous hardbacks are on the opposite wall. In my bedroom are more shelves and here are kept all the unread books. There are lots of them. These are grouped by genre and then alphabetically.

Next to my bed are a couple of TBR shelves.

tbr pile

The basement kitchen has the cookbooks. My son has temporary residency in the loft (he’ll leave home at some point, I am sure) and shares the space with piles of books I couldn’t fit anywhere else. When we moved here I got rid of 50 boxes of books that I had accumulated over the years and knew I would never re-read or get round to reading. The charity shops were very pleased. I do still cull quite regularly.

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

I am not sure. I am getting on a bit so it is hard to remember back that far. I definitely recall buying the Narnia books from a pokey little bookshop on Canvey Island but I don’t think I actually got round to reading them all (habit of a lifetime started right there). The late 1970s and early 1980s were not particularly affluent periods in my neck of the woods but my parents would always find money if I wanted a book, something for which I shall be forever grateful.

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?

Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t like the idea of guilty pleasures. You know how one of the posh newspapers will ask literary authors for their guilty pleasures every now and again and the authors will pick Ian Rankin or Georgette Heyer or someone like that? Fuck the fuck right off! What the newspapers are really asking is ‘Are there any genre authors you’ll admit to reading?’


Reading books is a bloody marvellous thing to do and no one should ever be made to feel guilty for reading anything. Ever. That being said, I know you didn’t mean it in quite that way. I hope every reader has books on their shelves that would surprise people. I love the novels of Miss Read. I have read them all. She is often assumed to be very Olde English and twee but her early work, in particular, makes for great social commentary. She charted village life accurately and with great wit. Her books are proudly displayed on my shelves, though.

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 single most prized volume is The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler which was my favourite book as a child and probably still is. Much later I was able to re-publish it in the UK under it’s original German title of Krabat. Neil Gaiman rates it as one of his best spooky reads for kids so I clearly had great taste even back then. I do own a couple of books from the collections of famous people. I have a set of The Forsyte Saga that once belonged to Maria Callas and I also have Peter Cushing’s entire Noel Coward collection. And then there is my Fuck Off collection. 70+ books in which the authors have signed ‘To Scott, Fuck Off…’ or some similarly insulting message. John Le Carre, Marian Keyes, John Grisham, David Mitchell, all swearing their tits off.


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 collected the Kings & Queens series from the BCA book club back in the 1970s. He would remove the dust jackets and put them on the shelves with their purple spines glaring out at me. From time to time I would take one down and flick through it. Recently I inherited his full set—he hasn’t popped his clogs yet, he was just getting rid of them—and they now sit on my shelves glaring out at my kids.

kings and queens

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 am lent books quote often and I do use my local library. My collecting instinct has dropped off a bit as I have grown older but if I really love a book I do indeed need a print edition somewhere on my shelves.

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

No idea. Not a clue. A sign of having too many books but I don’t care.

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

You know what? I don’t think there is. Until the next time I see something in a bookshop and covet it.

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

They would, of course, think I am charming, witty, handsome, a great cook, intelligent and a careful and considerate lover.

bedroom shelves


A huge thanks to Scott for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and making me laugh and my slightly inappropriate crush even bigger! 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 Scott’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?


Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

Briefs Encountered – Julian Clary

In another book review recently I discussed how assumptions with certain authors or book covers can be a dangerous thing. Well one author I thought I would like but wouldn’t take seriously was Julian Clary. That isn’t meant to be offensive, just honest. I think Julian Clary is great, I love his high camp and entendre filled comedy, he always comes across as a really nice chap in interviews but I imagined his fiction might be a little throwaway. Yet when I heard his new novel was about an old house, Noel Coward and ghosts, I knew that I had to read it, and I am so glad that I did because Clary creates a wonderfully funny and at times rather emotional novel.

Ebury Press, hardback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the title of Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’ you would possibly be inclined to think that here we have a tale of farcical innuendo, not the case. This novel is in fact one of dual narratives, here we have two stories which intertwine with a common link – a house, and a haunted one at that. Sometime around the present day we meet the celebrated English actor Richard Stent who has just bought a house, Goldenhurst, from “annoying camp comic and renowned homosexual” Julian Clary. He plans on making it the perfect retreat for himself and his lover Fran yet the house seems to have other ideas.

The more we learn about the houses history the more we understand why it might have a ‘personality’ of its own and this is where the second strand of the story comes in. Back in the late 1920’s Noel Coward buys Goldenhurst (and it is true that Julian Clary actually bought the house Noel Coward once owned) as the perfect idyllic hideaway for himself and his lover Jack Wilson to escape from the gaze of the world, especially as during this period in history homosexuality was illegal in the UK. However something awful happens one summer and from then on the house becomes a much darker place and this then links back into Richard’s story and what might or might not be going bump in the night.

I liked the double narrative and piecing together what was happening in the 1920’s/30’s and how it was then affecting everything in the present day, I have to say though I would have liked less of the present and more of the past. That sounds like a criticism, and it’s actually not, I was enjoying the story with Noel so much that when we would alternate back to Richard I would race through them to the Noel sections again. I was enjoying the modern tale though it did become a little O.T.T three or four times and I found myself thinking ‘really?’ before quickly reminding myself that ‘this is fiction and sometimes it doesn’t need to be realistic, there are ghosts here for goodness sake Simon just enjoy it’ and so I did.

I think the other reasons that I warmed to Noel’s story so much more was the fact that he and Jack lived and breathed on the page. They seemed more real than Richard and Fran and their friends, and not just because Noel and Jack were real people obviously, it seemed Clary had a real passion and enthusiasm for their story and while he did with Richard and Fran too it was almost eclipsed by Noel presence in his half of the book and the wonderful characters, like his mother Violet and Aunt Vida, who surrounded him. I wanted more of them. I wasn’t quite as interested in Richard and his mad PA and agents (maybe because I work with people like that in my day job) or the celebrities, including Julian Clary himself (I couldn’t decide if it was a genius stroke or not that Clary put himself in the book, I am leaning towards genius), who seemed less real even though I recognized them all.

‘Am I to be relegated to an outside barn like a donkey?’ asked Violet, with a quiver in her voice, clutching a handkerchief to her bosom.
 ‘No, Darlingest,’ soothed Noel. ‘It’s the granary for one thing, and it won’t be anything like a barn once we’ve finished with it. It will be a terribly modern, roomy abode with hot and cold running water, stunning views across the marsh and a servants’ hall so close they will simply have to reach in and scratch your nose should you get a tiresome itch.’
‘Barns aren’t so bad. Christ was born in a manger,’ said Jack helpfully.
‘And we all know what happened to him’, put in Aunt Vida. She puffed out her ample chest and her weak chin wrinkled as she tightened her lips.

I also wanted more of a story line between Noel and a local policeman, who arrives for a reason I won’t digress, who is suspicious of Noel and Jack’s relationship and clearly wants to cause trouble if he can. The illegality of homosexuality in the UK is a part, or subject, in history we don’t read much about and I thought Clary could have intensified that even more. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned too much about the ‘ghost’ element of the book, which is occasionally rather eerie indeed, and that is because if I do then I might accidentally throw in a spoiler. I will say that it adds a delightful mystery element to the novel on top of all the drama, wonderful characters and the humour (both waspish and innuendo filled) throughout the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Briefs Encountered’. Yes, it got a little melodramatic here and there but sometimes you just want to escape into a book. I liked both narratives, though I would have liked less modern celebrities (I do wonder if anyone outside the UK would get who all these names are and therefore some of the jokes) and much more of the world that Noel Coward inhabited because when Clary wrote those bits, through his prose and passion, I was thoroughly lost in the 1920’s and 1930’s and didn’t want to leave.


Filed under Ebury Press, Julian Clary, Review