Visiting L-Space - by Susan Price

Terry Pratchett
     Books bend space and time.  One reason the owners of those aforesaid little rambling, poky second-hand bookshops always seem slightly unearthly is that many of them really are, having strayed into this world after taking a wrong turning in their own bookshops in worlds where it is considered commendable business practice to wear carpet slippers all the time and open your shop only when you feel like it.  You stray into L-space at your peril.
      Terry Pratchett.

I'm a long-term fan of Terry Pratchett, and recently experienced the thrill of venturing into L-Space myself.

      It happened because - as a wandering writer of rags and patches, who travels over hill and dale to earn a crust by speaking in schools and libraries - I recently stayed the night with Authors Electric’s Whippet-Queen, Karen Bush.

     Karen is another long-time Pratchett fan, and told me that she could take me into L-Space - that is, to the second-hand bookshop which Sir Terry had visited himself, and which had inspired his notion of L-Space.
     In L-Space, the vast weight of knowledge and thought contained within collections of books has a density that bends and twists space-time, meaning that books connect interdimensionally. Unwritten books influence books written in their past and future. And, indeed, vice-versa. Libraries, in fact, alter their worlds.
Karen Bush
     Which is a simple truth.

But before our inter-dimensional adventure, Karen gave me the warmest welcome you can imagine, fed me very well with shepherd’s pie and apple crumble, and entertained me with talk of books, dogs, horses, longbows, gardening, history... She is a wonderfully generous hostess, and a very talented and knowledgeable one..

     After breakfast, we walked the whippets, Angel and Archie. They are another entertainment. When they see events shaping up towards a walk, they become excited, Archie in particular. He charges about the house, leaping sofas and terrorising a stuffed bunny, which he brings to your feet to be thrown the length of the room, so he can dash off and give it hell again.

     Once togged up (the dogs as well as us,) we walked through the rain to the church where Roald Dahl is buried, and sat on his monument in the graveyard (it has benches.)  We returned, dried off, and after a lunch of homegrown pumpkin soup with yoghurt (which was delicious) we set off for L-Space.

The Cottage Bookshop
     It’s actually called The Cottage Bookshop: and it lives up to its reputation. The building is old, with worn, curved floors and low, head-bashing beams. Shelves are packed into every possible space. They turn corners and create small nooks, into which you can step and disappear, surrounded by the smell of old books and old wood and seeing nothing but books.

     It is paradise for book-lovers. There are new books - but at least 95% of the stock is second-hand: ranging from recent and good-as-new to very old and well-handled, with inscriptions, old prize notices and notes in the margins.

     Every subject and genre is covered. There are old comic annuals, and bound collections of magazines. There is everything! Book-lovers can go a little mad in there, as Time-Space bends around them.

     There is a notice stuck on a beam: ‘Science-fiction in the conservatory.’ Not a sign I expect to see again. But crammed into the conservatory there is indeed, every variety of science-fiction, old and new.

     Karen warned me that upstairs - mind your head on the beam - is where L-Space really begins to L. She’s never been up there, she said, without getting completely pouk-ledden* and unable to find her way out again.
     The cramming in of shelves is even more ingenious above stairs than down. There are places where the shelves are so close together that they form little end-blocked spaces that you have to edge into sideways. You are then nose-to-title. To look at the books behind you, you have to slide out again, because there isn’t room between the shelves to turn round.
     To see what’s on the bottom shelves, I imagine you’d have to lie down on the floor and stick your head in. I don’t think the regulars would be surprised, or notice, if you did. Well, how else are you to discover what goodies might be on the bottom shelf?

     And the subjects up there are endless — sport, sociology, psychology — oh, all the ologies. Fashion, crafts, science, gardening… Around every corner, in every nook, more delicious books on everything you might ever want to know about, or have ever had a passing curiosity about — and another corner and more books, and a niche, crammed with books, and another narrow dreel leading off into book-shadowed and hushed elsewhens —

     And when you do eventually, find you way back to the stairs down, you stumble out into daylight with your books, feeling that strange disorientation you get when you leave Elsewhen and totter unsteadily back into the real world — as when you leave the darkness of a cinema after an absorbing film and find it still daylight outside.
L-Space quietly L-ing
     I bought The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Gilman, Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell, a little hard-back of Limits and Renewals by Kipling, Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve and The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise, a history of the Old Nichol, one of the filthy slums which made landlords rich and the Empire great, back when those good old Victorian Values were upheld, in the 1880s. It looks fascinating.

     I had to ask for a carrier bag for my purchases. Karen, an experienced voyager into L-Space, had brought her own large bags with her. And filled them.
     I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, both to Karen and to L-Space, but I'm glad I don't live within L-Space's gravitational pull... I would feel its call... I'd never be out of the place. I'd have to set up home in one of those book-lined nooks and the staff would never know I was there. The occasional cup of coffee or bun would go missing - but every time anyone came near, I'd slip away through a bound collection of Masonic Speeches to three weeks next Tuesday.

     If anyone's ever in Penn, Buckinghamshire, I highly recommend a trip into L-Space.

     Back to Karen's we went, with our loads - and then, alas, I had to leave, because I had other committments I had to get home for. Karen sent me off with: a bag of new potatoes from her allottment, a bag of alpine strawberry plants, and, most wonderful of all, a new prized possession, a little model she'd made for me of the deerhound, Cuddy, from my Sterkarm books. The woman has skills and talent coming out of her ears.

This is obviously Per Sterkarm's view as he looks down at Cuddy lying at his feet.
     Thank you, Karen, for a lovely stay.

* Pouk-ledden: An expression from my home-county: puck-led: to be led by pucks or fairies. When people walking, especially at night, become disorientated, even in places they know well, and become hopelessly lost, they are said to have been led astray by fairies or 'pucks' - hence 'pouk-ledden.' Some cynics claim that other kinds of spirit are involved. 

Karen Bush's Amazon page, and links to some of her excellent books on helping dogs, can be found here.

Susan Price won the Carnegie Medal for The Ghost Drum and the Guardian Fiction Award for The Sterkarm Handshake. Find out ore about her and her books here. 


Wendy H. Jones said…
How absolutely fascinating. I have to go there one day
Mari Biella said…
Lovely. This reminded me of Hay-on-Wye, a town which takes L-Space to a whole new level. And Karen sounds like an amazing hostess. Karen: if I'm ever in the area, I'm going to turn up on your doorstep...
Chris Longmuir said…
Ooh! Remind me never to go there, and please don't give me directions. Once there I'd vanish off the face of the earth never to be seen again!
Susan Price said…
True - I fear for any book-lover in the neighbourhood. It's probably only the whippets that keep our Karen from vanishing forever into its vortex. Good for the whippets!
Sandra Horn said…
Oh, Wow! Great post, Sue - am trying nor to go green with envy...
Dennis Hamley said…
What a lovely post. L-soace is a marvellous area and can throw up some strange byways.Have you heard of John Westwood, Portsmouth supporter with the drum, dreadlocks and bare-chest smothered in tattoos who changed his name by deed poll to John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood and for some time had his portrait in the National Portrait Gallery as a symbol of the truly fanatic in football, who is by profession andf antiquarian bookseller in Petersfield?
Lydia Bennet said…
lovely post and nice to hear of Authors Electric sparking each other off with shared experiences and food!
madwippitt said…
Goodness ... you are, of course, the perfect guest Sue, which makes life so much easier. What you failed to tell anyone was that I made you sleep on an inflatable lilo ... :-) Glad you enjoyed your visit almost as much as I enjoyed the pleasure of your company. Off to grease behind me ears now so I can get my head through the door ...

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