A Bookish Week Off: Astounding Days

Boswell, St Mary's and Lichfield Market

Boswell, St Mary’s and Lichfield Market

Today was the last but one day of my ‘Bookish Week Off’ – just one more to go, tomorrow (Saturday 5 July) when I’ll be at Southcart Books in Lower Hall Lane, Walsall, where I’m helping organise a new free event The Writers Gathering, and will be amongst other authors reading and talking about their work there. Should be fun!

Today was indeed an ‘astounding’ day in some ways – when I visited the cathedral city of Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England.  Astounding both for the weather, which turned to brilliant sunshine after I arrived, and for one ‘astounding’ discovery, literally.

Lichfield is easy to get to by train or bus alike.  There is an hourly Arriva bus from Walsall, which is my usual mode of transport there.  It takes about an hour.

I’ve been to Lichfield many times, over many years.  Both second-hand and new bookshops have come and gone, and now only three second-hand bookshops remain, all charity shops in a way.  There are a few other general charity shops as well.  Over all none of them are much known for their science fiction stock, but I always pop in when I visit there, in hope, and have occasionally come away with a gem.

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum

The first and foremost of the three specialist shops, if you’re into collectable books of the traditional variety, is the bookshop in the Dr Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum in Market Street, off the Market Square.  I hardly ever find science fiction there but it’s a great museum to visit, I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re a literature fan.

I didn’t find any books to take my fancy there today, but I did renew my acquaintance with this lovely old listed building and its fascinating displays, which is always worthwhile, and spent some peaceful time in the small library there, blogging my last post.

These days I always visit the two specialist charity bookshops, also in Market Street, which have sprung up in recent years after the closure of the old Staffordshire Bookshop.

The Oxfam specialist bookshop

The Oxfam specialist bookshop

One, the Oxfam bookshop, has a good long shelf of mainly fantasy paperbacks, but occasionally a good hardback such as the first BCA edition (1980) of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I picked up there a few months ago.  Always worth a look, more so if you are looking for more general bookshop fare, or even recorded music.  I didn’t find anything there to my liking today, though.

The St Giles Hospice bookshop

The St Giles Hospice bookshop

The other, the St Giles Hospice Bookshop, has a good general selection of especially older books, but very little SF and a small quantity of generally paperback fantasy, so I never expect much in that line.

I was however pleasantly surprised today to discover something I had never heard of before – an illustrated 1978 Harlan Ellison screenplay for a film of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot which was approved of by Asimov but never made.  NO, it’s not the Will Smith version. This was published by Edgeworks Abbey and ibooks in 2004. Not bad in trade paperback format for just £1.99.

Some Astounding swag...

Some Astounding swag…

The thing that really made today truly astounding for me was, however, a market stall full of collectable magazines, books, nick-nacks, coins, collectors’ items and ephemera etc run by Andy Hendley and Wendy Deavall – see: www.overthegardenwallantiques.com

Andy Hendley and the Over the Garden Wall stall

Andy Hendley and the Over the Garden Wall stall

It was here that I was shown a bundle of classic pulp science fiction magazines from the 1950s and later, and was encouraged to dig my way through the collectors comics to find the following…

Simply Astounding - my find of the day

Simply Astounding – my find of the day

A December, 1950 British issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine containing an article by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein on the shooting of the film Destination Moon which was loosely based on his book Rocketship Galileo, as well as several stories by other authors. Yowza!

Also, a February 1961 British issue of Analog magazine, edited by the also legendary John. W. Campbell, containing a few stories and articles including a science fact article The Self-Repairing Robot, penned by the editor himself.

And, I just couldn’t turn down three 1983 issues of the reboot of the Eagle comic, which were of interest to me because of their Dan Dare stories.  A pity they were not 1950s issues, but who knows next time…

Andy has his stall on Lichfield Market every Friday and Saturday, so needless to say, “I’ll be back”.

Dr Samuel Johnson looks down on Lichfield Market, wishing he had a copy of Astounding to read

Dr Samuel Johnson looks down on Lichfield Market, wishing he had a copy of Astounding to read…

I always recommend Lichfield for a pleasant day out.

If you’re into history and books, and historic architecture, you’ll find much to interest you, especially Dr Johnson’s House, the Erasmus Darwin House Museum, the Garrick Theatre, the parks, one of which contains a statue of the captain of the RMS Titanic and of course the world-famous Lichfield Cathedral, amongst other things.  Not to mention the historic pubs…

As well, there are often special events in and around Lichfield, including for one the Lichfield Festival which started today, and occasionally book fairs.

So whether you are on the hunt for classic science fiction like me, or not, you could do a lot worse than have yourself a relaxing day out in this lovely old city.  Who knows, it might be as ‘astounding’ a day as mine was!

Stuart Williams


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