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How I came to be here Back
By Julie Kaewert
Notes on a lecture for Dartmouth Friends of the Library, 2003
I am very happy this afternoon to be here at Dartmouth, with others who love both the College and rare books!

Today I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the book-related adventures I’ve had researching and writing the series: first, the adventures that led me to write bibliomysteries; second, the remarkable experience of writing them; and finally, some of the fascinating dark corners of the book world I’ve discovered while researching them.

1. Adventures that led to writing bibliomysteries
I’m happy to say that these are all Dartmouth-related, but that won’t be surprising to you: you already know a Dartmouth education is life-changing.

  • David Godine, Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course
    • book collection
    • printing press in barn
    • publisher figure

  • Professor Noel Perrin
    • persistence; first one to tell me ‘a writer is someone who keeps writing’
    • independence, individuality…lost honors

  • Daily D, arts editor

  • Creative writing class rejections
    • was never admitted to a writing class; made my resolve stronger

  • International perspective, thanks to foreign language and foreign study
    • opening a French office for my husband turned into English office
    • time spent working for publisher in London, setting for my series
2. Magic of writing the books
From the first time I started writing the series, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write fiction, I was stunned to learn that the books virtually wrote themselves. I abhor formulas, had never studied the formal structure of a novel, and so stumbled forward with nothing but instinct. The characters dictated what they would say, and as the series came to revolve more around books in addition to Plumtree Press, the books and history dictated the plot.

  • The more research I did on a rare book, or a bit of history, the more the book magically came into being
    • this will not surprise you, because you know old books; worlds in themselves

  • Get stuck, head back to the library - wait for the trip to London - history, experience magically cooperate to dictate the plot

  • Eerie sometimes, but very, very fun and exciting
Example of this process: Beowulf in Unsigned, novel just completed in March:
  • Visited British Library in London, happened to see a book about Beowulf in the Museum gift shop

  • picked it up, saw that it was chock full of details about how the original ms had been put together and then rebound, skin vs hair sides, corrected by various scribes with various characteristic Xs, and how the Beowulf ms., called Cotton Vittellius A.XV, was burnt in a fire, tossed out a window to save it, and finally miraculously came to be housed in the British Library

  • read Beowulf, creepy, scary story about a brave hero who selflessly saved the day…again, more Dartmouth…learned what Heorot meant!

  • conflict over dating of epic; some say middle of 7th C, others say end of 10th. Very intense conflict amongst scholars.

  • Voila - the story! Also combined with a visit to Heywood-Hill Book Shop in Mayfair, which I’ll tell you more about in a minute. That book shop became the setting for the whole novel.

  • icing on the cake: the day after I sent off the ms, I received my Sunday Times Book Review and saw that Seamus Haney had made Beowulf the new literary sensation of the year.
Another example: Sunday Telegraph article on Roxburghe Club:
  • From this newspaper article, entitled “secret book club,” immediate story

  • hard to find info, but eventually found microfilm from Huntingdon Library and the University of Missouri, Columbia

  • funny little man named Haslewood chronicled the meetings of the club in the Roxburghe Revels

  • the history of the Roxburghe club told the story
Observation re evolution of series: now publishing house, rare book, history, characters
3. Adventures of researching the series

…And the Roxburghe Club leads me to nuggets of book treasure I’ve discovered while researching the books. My life has been tremendously enriched by conducting all of this research; if the series hadn’t been so successful and had died a quiet death I would still be thrilled with what I’d gained from it. When the first book, Unsolicited, was published, I decided that the next book and all others would be extremely carefully researched and chock-full of biblio-knowledge. It has taken an enormous amount of searching, walking the streets of London, reading, interviewing people, to obtain the material for each book. Knowing that you share these same interests, I’d like to tell you a few of the things I’ve learned.
  • I’d like to tell you more about the little-known Roxburghe Club, a group you will appreciate as bibliophiles
    • in Britian, wealth of books in private libraries, not public
    • ‘Valdarfer Boccaccio’, the Decameron, 1471, 2260 pounds, Duke of Roxburghe’s estate sale
    • dinner to celebrate the purchase
    • tradition of amazing dinners and meetings, tours of one another’s castles and libraries
    • decided to reprint some exceedingly rare volume, just enough copies for everyone in the club, member’s copy in red, president’s in vellum
    • shocking misprints and flaws in the ones I saw - didn’t take much care
    • club something of a joke among the Scottish printing societies; some of these people not very well educated, like Diana not going to univ.
    • lives on to this day, 44 members only, with an American woman in the group
    • amazing book on heraldry, cost 12,000 pounds to produce, Lord Buccleuch - again became a vital part of Untitled, the fourth novel
    • it is possible to purchase Roxburghe Club books…from Maggs Bros., for instance.

  • Ed Maggs
    • Queen’s bookseller, Berkeley Square
    • Portraits on wall
    • ‘Quarto!’
    • Basement; Cook’s Travels - six volumes, three complete sets

  • The Mick Jagger Bookseller
    • off New Bond Street
    • wealthy young man who loves books
    • at Cambridge, friend noticed ‘Mick’ wasn’t getting work done
    • offered to do books for him
    • dyslexic; can’t really read

  • Bernard Quaritch
    • intimidation
    • Johnson’s dictionaries
    • damp control, NOT

  • Nick Clee, the Bookseller, interviewed for Unsigned
    • the day I met with him at his club, he’d been named editor

  • Harrods (Waterstone’s)
    • Sabera Khan, wonderful character who knows everything about every book

  • British Library
    • Ritblat Gallery
    • Basement: everything from inks made of roots to binding to vellum

  • St. Bride’s Printing Museum, Fleet Street - wedding cake church


  • Clerkenwell
    • historical perspective
    • Dickens, Morris, Marx

  • Amazing new Waterstone’s on Piccadilly, across from the Meridien Hotel
    • midnight signing for Frank McCourt and Tis
    • inspired opening of Unsigned

  • Hatchards


  • Hay-on-Wye
    • many of you have probably been there, but this town would be an excellent candidate for a bibliomystery setting.
    • Wodehouse ‘friend potatoes’ point

And that leads me to…

Book treasures: memories of visiting rare books room in Baker Library…inspiration.