The story of an addiction

I admit it, I’m a research junkie. It’s always been that way and, once I became a librarian with a whole reference library within reach, it only got worse. I know a lot of people won’t agree with me, but when it comes to research I’ll always prefer books to the internet; there is so much misleading – and plain wrong – information out there in the ether that it involves too much effort to sort out. Having spent a lot of time chasing ancestors on various genealogical sites, for example, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people lose all common sense when adding people to their family trees; even with my vague grasp of arithmetic I know that women have to be born before their grandchildren, unlike the owner of one tree I found on ‘Ancestry’ last week! Still, it amused my family history class – and thank heaven for the printed Yorkshire Parish Registers!

I read a lot of historical detective fiction, which often highlights large gaps in my knowledge; my school’s syllabus had some limitations, and therefore anything between the Romans and the death of the first Elizabeth I had to discover for myself. I clearly remember doing this when I first encountered the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books; I had vaguely heard of Stephen and Matilda but I had no idea why England had been split apart by civil war. Once I had read a couple of books on the subject, however, I returned to Cadfael better able to appreciate the author’s knowledge of the period.

Likewise, I discovered the ‘Mamur Zapt’ series of detective fiction about three books in to the series and, although I was immediately hooked, I realised I didn’t know why Britain and France were propping up the Egyptian government. Fortunately I soon found Bimbashi McPherson’s letters home and the Chief of Police Russell Pasha’s autobiography, and quickly recognised a few storylines which had been reworked into some of the earlier books. Egypt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries soon became an obsession, and I now own a shelf full of diaries and autobiographies relating to the period.

For some years my fellow Manifold Press author Morgan Cheshire and I were involved in American Civil War re-enactments. During that period, most of the books I collected were ladies’ diaries rather than military histories; primary sources are always fascinating, and I found them very useful when preparing talks to accompany demonstrations of ladies’ costumes of the period. The audience always enjoyed hearing one particular Louisiana lady’s comments about the war, handsome gentlemen and her hatred of quilting – almost as much as they enjoyed trying on the hats and crinolines!

Another collection arose from my book group choosing to focus on travel books set in Central Asia or the Far East. All I could find in the library at the time was an account of a bicycle tour through Siberia – but as a result I could now happily navigate my way around Lake Baikal and into Mongolia, if ever I was given the chance!

I was late in encountering the TV series Numb3rs, and quickly ended up buying all the boxed sets. I’m quite sure though that, even without the show, it would only have been a matter of time before I discovered the American Craftsman movement – I was already buying patchwork fabric in William Morris designs – but those who watched Numb3rs will know that the Eppes family live in a Craftsman house. These houses and bungalows were constructed on a small scale with built-in furniture, much of which either still exists or has been lovingly reproduced. Anyway, I soon had a large pile of lavishly-illustrated books about them and was delighted to discover the Numb3rs house – not in Pasadena, but in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. The last time I had a room redecorated, these books came in very useful for inspiration!

Having written this far, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge to myself that I’m not merely a research junkie – I’m actually a book junkie. I’ve had to be very firm about passing on to the library such things as fantasy novels and American cosy murders, but I still add a lot of books to the shelves and boxes upstairs. I was introduced to LibraryThing online ( by a fellow ex-librarian and was horrified to discover that my catalogued collection numbers about two thousand books. Some time soon I really must be brave and have another purge!

Recommended reading

The Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters

The Mamur Zapt mysteries by Michael Pearce

Egyptian Service 1902-1946 by Sir Thomas Russell

Bimbashi McPherson: A Life in Egypt by Joseph McPherson

Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868 by Kate Stone

Through Siberia by Accident: A Small Slice of Autobiography by Dervla Murphy

The Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Home by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister

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