Linda Newbery Talks To Bookbag in Praise of Charity Shops

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Linda Newbery Talks To Bookbag in Praise of Charity Shops

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Summary: Here at Bookbag we were blown away by Linda Newbery's latest book The Treasure House and we couldn't wait to hear about the inspiration behind the story.
Date: 14 May 2012

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External links: Author's website



Second-Hand Rose, a junk-shop crocodile and The Treasure House: a guest blog by Linda Newbery

I'm fascinated by charity shops, junk shops, antiques markets, car-boot sales, reclaim yards – anywhere I might find something unexpected or unique. When I began helping in a local hospice shop, the idea of setting a story in a charity shop soon became irresistible. There were so many promising ingredients: the stories behind objects; things brought in by mistake, found in bags or pockets; items that may or may not be valuable, or may be precious to someone. Then there were the people. I noticed that some customers came into the shop mainly to talk – as did one or two of the volunteers. Every week, I'd overhear someone telling their life story, or relating a trauma, or entertaining everyone with an anecdote.

I don't help there any more, partly because we moved away from that town, and partly because I became too busy with writing and visits to use up most of Mondays. But there was another reason too. My job was to sort out the books, and I loved that; there was always a tingle of expectation when I unpacked a box or a bag of donations, and I came across some wonderful surprises. I took great pride in keeping the shelves varied and orderly, and displaying the books so temptingly that no one could go away empty-handed; I started to learn a bit about collectable books, and would sometimes take special ones to Hay-on-Wye or to the local antiquarian dealer. It could easily have become an addiction. Then a new rule was introduced that no shop item could stay on the shelves for more than two weeks; the books were to be colour-coded, and anything unsold after a fortnight was to be thrown out. I couldn't bear that – discarding a book that was just waiting for the right person to come in and find it. It was too painful (perhaps especially for an author) to consign good books to the graveyard of the recycling skip. Instead, I went away and wrote my story.

While The Treasure House was still vague in my mind, two friends took me to a warehouse that was something between antiques centre and junk shop. They found a lovely chaise longue, and haggled over it with the owner. A stuffed crocodile was lying on the cushions, and eventually my friends agreed to pay the half-way price if they could have the crocodile too.

That was when my story really started. I had the idea that there'd be a toy crocodile in my fictitious shop which is bought several times but keeps coming back. That's not the main thread of The Treasure House, though – my main character, Nina, has lost something, namely her Mum, who disappears a few days before Nina starts at secondary school, leaving only a cryptic note telling Nina and Dad not to worry. Then precious belongings of Mum's start to turn up in the charity shop run by Nina' great-aunts … Where has Mum gone? And why? How will Nina start to piece things together? The rest grew from there.

The name of Nina's great-aunts' shop is Second-Hand Rose, which older readers may recognise as a Barbra Streisand song, from the musical Funny Girl. It's about a girl whose father runs a second-hand business and who's never had anything new; she bemoans the fact that all her clothes are cast-offs, and that even her fiancé, Jake the Plumber, has been married before.

There's no getting away from that song. It played in my head almost all the time I was writing … and is playing there now as I write this.