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57 years in the Making

Had We But Known…

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books, and I’m pleased to say that an ambition I have had since I was a child will be realised in April this year when Hadwebutknown (web-link) opens it s virtual doors as a bookshop. It will specialise in Golden Age detective fiction, Scottish history and literature, Medieval history and a few other interest areas (chess, football, true crime).
My love affair with books started when I was around 6 years old (nearly 57 years ago, where did those years go?) and my first memory of the thrill from books was an abridged version of Robinson Crusoe (allegedly based on a Scottish sailor and castaway Alexander Selkirk). I can still remember the shock when Robinson finds a footprint larger on his own and realises his private paradise has been invaded.

Read, of course with the obligatory torch under the bed after ‘lights out’ at 9…..

Robinson Crusoe was followed by many others, courtesy of the mobile library which visited every second Wednesday evening. My mum sent me up on my bike to where it stopped. Adults had 8 book tickets, children 4. Soon I was borrowing 2 books for mum on her card, 6 for me on her card plus another 12 for me and my brothers – about 20 books every second week for me to read.

I soon ran out of books to read from the mobile library. I discovered jumble sales and would hang around until the very end when the churches or scout groups would be glad for me to carry away all the books nobody wanted. I was looking for Biggles books, Seafaring adventures and the like but having to read dry-as-dust stuff like unabridged walter Scott novels and a baffling book by Thomas Carlyle called ‘Sartor Resartus’ which was a novel about clothes. President Jimmy Carter apparently kept this book at his side to dip into but my 9 year old self found it impentrable – it had no pirates or airmen or castaways for starters…
Amongst the tatty leftovers from one of these sales was an old Penguin Green crime novel – another strange sounding book – The Groote Park Murder by Freeman Wills Crofts. Again I had that thrill – this time of the railway setting and the murder. I remember being confused about the geography, and thinking it must be set in Holland (it’s actually set in South Africa but the Boer words and the strange author name threw me off the track, so to speak). From this point on Biggles was out, pirates were childish and I was hooked on detective fiction.

This spawned an incredible reading surge on my behalf – everything I could find by Crofts and Christie to start with then nearly every other crime novel in the Edinburgh City Library service as I cycle manically round their 14 branch libraries. I also began to haunt the many second hand bookshops which Edinburgh hosted back then.
By the time I left secondary school I had so many books i started to sell them off by mail – dreaming of being a bookseller…..

And here we are now, 57 years later, in a 19th century baronial style listed house on the edge of the Scottish highlands. The house fits the bill for mystery and history, with its book tower complete with circular staircase, library, butler’s pantry and gunroom (no guns though). From April this year it will open as a virtual bookshop, under the aegis of my wife Nikki’s business (web link) with over 5,000 books for sale. Prior to opening, i will send out a catalogue clearing out some of my own collection of detective fiction – if you want one e mail me at and expect a large pdf (there will be around 1,600 books for sale). If you want to be on the mailing list for hadwebutknown events, book sales etc then please e mail us

Scott Herbertson

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