I’ve collected books since my schooldays – there was a splendid old bookshop in Salisbury called Beech’s, where Prezzo is now. One day, many years ago, John came home with a hard-backed journal he’d bought in a second-hand bookshop near his office in Central London. Part manuscript, part typescript and labelled rather grandly ‘The Book of Kara James’, it seemed a bit adolescent, though clearly the work of a serious, if immature, poet.
And there was a lot in it about Cheltenham.
Other clues in the writing led us to identify ‘Kara James’ as poet James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915), whose father had been a headmaster in Cheltenham. Flecker’s most famous work is The Golden Journey to Samarkand, and although he’s not well-known today, he’s influenced writers as diverse as Agatha Christie and Borges.
The volume went to auction at Sotheby’s, and we went along to watch, fearful of bidding on something by accident.
An auction at the prestigious (and fictitious) Stoakley’s is a key feature in The Price of Silence. Antiquarian bookseller Bruce Macleod outbids another man to acquire a collection of personal documents and ephemera. Macleod agrees to sell the collection to his disappointed rival – but at a price that few men would be willing to pay.
Back to real life and the real Sotheby’s: In the same auction as ‘The Book of Kara James’ were letters written by Dylan Thomas to his wife Caitlin. They failed to meet their reserve so weren’t sold.
Also on sale was a vast collection of memorabilia relating to novelist Dennis Wheatley, which sold for far more than anyone’s estimates.
And ‘The Book of Kara James’ was acquired by the British Library, for a lot more than we could have hoped.
We got married a couple of months later. Our parents paid for the wedding, but it was James Elroy Flecker who paid for the honeymoon.