I remember the bookstall, which was run by a thin, not necessarily pleasant Dickensian character, and he had all these books laid out in these little sections. I was twelve or thirteen and I’d search through them. He regarded me with a strange kind of suspicion because kids coming and buying books off the stall were unusual and I would take forever to choose. I was looking for anything by Penguin – preferably Graham Greene or Raymond Chandler – I’d moved in that direction when my father was in hospital with tuberculosis. My father had barely read a book in his life as far as I knew, and certainly there were never any books in the house where I grew up in Sneinton, Colwick Woods, but he did have one book, with a lurid cover, which he concealed. I thought, “What is he reading?” I managed to get a look at it and saw that it was by Hank Janson (the pseudonym for the author Stephen Daniel Francis) so I went down the bookstall immediately and found that there were loads of books by him. He looked to be what we’d now call an American pulp writer, but years later I looked him up and it turned out he was an English author, whose writing was heavily influenced by the American tough guy Mickey Spillane. The books used to cost about sixpence and you got threepence back if you turned them back in, but I very rarely did that. The idea of having a bookshelf was extremely exciting – I was building up my book collection, almost exclusively paperback. I started reading a lot of American authors whose work I didn’t know anything about, and also plays by the likes of Tennessee Williams. You could find really odd things on that bookstall and it led to a lifetime of never really being able to pass a second hand bookshop without disappearing for a couple of hours. I spent a lot of time in the local library too, but the jazzier, more popular books I was getting off the stall weren’t available there, unless they were hiding them like my father was!
One day when I was browsing on the bookstall, I picked up a book containing maps of Nottingham, but it was all in German, all the streets and everything. Turns out it was what the Germans had printed for the war when they invaded. I wish I’d bought it now – it was unbelievable!