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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Our Next Novel: Born in a Crowded Basement

Where do the ideas for a new book come from? Are there Book Fairies who float around, like Tooth Fairies, circling around those seeking ideas for a new novel, and swooping down to tap them on the nose with their wands?
If there are, there must be a flock of Book Fairies living in the crowded basement of what must be one of the most wonderful bookstores on the face of the earth.
That bookstore is Macleods, on Pender Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Macleods, Vancouver, BC, Canada
From the outside it looks rather drab, with its entrace facing a city parking lot, and its windows barely keeping the books lined up behind them from bursting out into the street. But step inside and an organized madhouse greets you. Set up in 1982 by owner Don Stewart, there are more than 220,000 books inside – crammed into floor to ceiling shelves, piled helter skelter in the aisles, flowing along the sides of the stairway leading down into the basement.
One day I made my way downstairs, and stood stunned. Every shelf was full. And in the centre of the open spaces between the various groupings of bookshelves were huge piles of books, pyramids rising five or six feet high.
A book lovers dream come true. Thousands and thousands of second hand books, just waiting to be picked up.
At the bottom of the stairs I turned to the right, and ducked down to check what was on the lower shelves. It was the section on the Second World War, and soon I was clutching a slightly battered copy of Munich: The Phony Peace, by Henri Nogueres, published in 1963. On the bright red and white cover were four separate photographs of Hitler, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Mussolini, and the French President Daladier: each man had a pen in hand and was signing what came to be known as The Munich Agreement.
I took it home with me and was lost in it – 423 pages later I put it down with a satisfied sigh.
Diana & Unity Mitford
From knowing vaguely about Chamberlain's trips to cut a deal with Hitler in 1938, I was now more familiar with every meeting and every manufactured crisis of those desparate days. I fell in love with the tension that crackled through the words on the pages of the book, feeling myself drawn into the incredibly strung danger of the times.
The thought was born: could I wrap a thriller around these three meetings between Hitler and Chamberlain?
I dived into some research about the times and the people involved, and when I came across a black and white photograph of two of the Mitford sisters giving the Nazi salute, I was won over.
 I had the setting, and some of the characters. Now what I needed was a plot, a hero or two, and a villain or two.
Thank you, Macleods.

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