28 February 2015

Books and the Art of Theft

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.

In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 



A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.

1.    Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall. 

2.    Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

3.    Write The Goddaughter series, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of
proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Viking Warlord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.

Thanks to you both, wherever you are. 

Just wondering...did a single book get you started on a life of crime...er...writing?  Tell us below in the comments.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  She lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com


  1. I always love to read Melodie's pieces! How different our lives were... I would never have stolen the book, etc. then...but, hey, maybe it's time to practice what I write!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  2. Bless you, Thelma - I'm so glad you commented! I was worried that I had indeed crossed the line, when here it is, 10 AM eastern time, and not a single comment. However, I notice this post is getting a lot of Twitter action (meaning people are sharing and favoriting it on Twitter.

    Yes, I had a misspent youth to the extent of which will never appear here . The Book Thief - imagine.

  3. I almost never comment, but I should let you know I too read and enjoy your articles during lunch. Keep them coming! I love your writing.

  4. Melodie, I don't exactly see the library/book situation as theft. More just a white lie situation since you paid for the book. However, don't put too much stock into my opinion since I had a blind girl scamming Victoria's Secret in my first book. I've been busy, busy, busy today and stopping to read this was a pleasant and amusing break.

  5. That's the first time I have seen TKAM referred to as "dreary". But I guess it lacks the action of Ivanhoe.

    And you can relax. I'm sure the statute of limitations has run out on your little escapade. Besides, you paid for the book. More or less.

  6. As always, a great read, Melodie. I too have taken home a few books for an extra-long time - so far I have managed to return them. Eventually. I don't know about one book that started me writing, but the book that had my enthralled from the get-go was Kiplings' "The Jungle Books". There was adventure, revenge, beauty, nature, wild animals, all wrapped up together. And then "Kidnapped", where I fell in love with Alan Breck... More adventure, revenge, nature, and a damn handsome swashbuckler, to boot!

  7. Thank you, Anonymous! I appreciate it.

  8. Fran, I still have that book, Ivanhoe. I'm remembering back to that time...there weren't a lot of bookstores around, and the ones that were around (Coles, I think) didn't carry the classics. So I'm thinking the literary 'theft' was a last resort. That's my story, anyway :)

  9. Herschel, for a young girl, it was a horrifying book, as it was about rape. Also horrifying, were On the Beach, and Lord of the Flies. The other problem with high school books is they often had no girls at all in them - not one! Imagine, males being satisfied with reading books that had not a single male in them.

    Love that we have a different world now.

  10. Eve, I discovered those books after Ivanhoe, and liked them too. Would have liked them even more, if they had had a female protagonist, or even sidekick, sigh. I think that's why I liked Ivanhoe so much. There were two strong (and young) female characters I could relate to.

  11. Melodie, I enjoyed both To Kill a Mockingbird and Ivanhoe… and I'm glad you found one that suited you!

    I've found myself wishing I'd stolen… er, liberated a particular book I'd checked out. It was a non-fiction about sailing ships, probably published in the 1800s. I'd photocopied certain pages before returning it, but soon after I needed to refer to it again. To my horror, the librarian told me it was no longer in the collection. It was gone! To this day, I wish I'd risked the fine and kept it.

  12. Leigh, do you think maybe someone else also loved that book and made off with it? smile

  13. Melodie, I'd assumed it was part of the library culling process, but I hope you're right!

  14. Melodie, love your story about how Ivanhoe inspired you. Lots of adventure and excitement. My early inspirations were probably movies. And in terms of inspiring me to write crime, it probably started with things like The Big Sleep, and then being inspired to read the book it was based on.

    And I think I may also have a library book or two... that I ended up 'buying' in the long run.


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