Ice Cream at Twentyman'sI visited again recently the second-hand bookshop at The Mill on the Fleet, Gatehouse of Fleet, in South West Scotland. It’s a wonderfully inefficient shop. The shelves are full, some double stacked, and there are piles of books on the floor. Who knows when the lowest shelves were last exposed. No-one has a clue what they’ve got, except, I suppose for a few spines showing, day in day out, across the aisles from where the sellers sit.

I though, always seem to walk in on the couple of titles I just happen to want. This time it was volumes two and three of A Scots Quair (Lewis Grassic Gibbon). No, not yet, but I’ve dipped in. It seemed too easy. I felt I ought to work a little for it, so I looked further; and turned up The Masterpiece Library of Short Stories: The Thousand Best Complete Tales of All Times and Countries.

I like a modest claim. It was volume 9(&10) English (and Scottish). Published by The Educational Book Company Limited, probably, from clues in the text, in the very late thirties. I’d not heard of most of the (English) authors, though a few were familiar. H.G.Wells has a couple in. John Galsworthy too, and Neil Munro. The Scottish writers were generally earlier, and extracted (rather cheatingly I felt) from longer works, and I knew more of them too!

The Editor was Sir J.Hammerton. That’s him in the photograph – not the one with the ice-cream! As a recovering bookseller, I know of Hammerton, from faux-leather bound sets of populist encyclopedias and histories, always undated, and from the inter-war years. Somewhere I read that it was newspaper presses, underused, that spurred the development of such mass-audience part-work publications. My expectations then, were low.

But the short stories inside blew me away (as they say), and having wafted back in, I thought I’d flag the series up to you.

On the web another nine double volumes lurk, priced at between 66p and several pounds. Postage, within the UK is around £2-3 per volume. I’ve put my order in. There are a couple of hundred copies to go at (more lurk uncatalogued. I suspect).

A friend of mine (who was lying, or mistaken) once introduced himself with the words ‘Ma’am, I have the honour to be a failed writer’ (hard t there – and he was addressing my wife). As an honourable member of that vast body, I was, in a strange way, heartened to read such wonderful stories, from such a forgotten host as lurked between the cloth covers of The Masterpiece Library, and was reminded once again, that the struggle is with the writing, and that the recognition is really a lesser, later problem.

I’ll run a few names past you, from the index to volume 9: The Death of Snarley Bob, by L.P.Jacks, The Grey Frock, by Anthony Hope, Inside-Out by Laurence Housman, The Heart of the Wood, by Mrs W. K.Clifford. These are a few of my favorites. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them. Many were more famous for their work in other genres. They also reminded me that reading a good short story is, in the words of an American I once met, ‘such fun’!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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