Bonfire of the first editions: author loses life's work in garden shed fire

 

Liam O'Brien
Sunday 15 April 2012 22:21
Comments
Author and deputy editor of Private eye Francis Wheen has lost his impressive book collection, which went up in flames
Author and deputy editor of Private eye Francis Wheen has lost his impressive book collection, which went up in flames

One of Britain's most impressive private book collections has been lost after a shed belonging to the author Francis Wheen went up in "spectacular" flames.

Mr Wheen, the deputy editor of Private Eye, peered through the window of his home near Chelmsford, Essex, to find his shed ablaze, and with no hope of retrieving what he described as his "life's work".

"I've lost all the books I've written, and a 51-volume set of the collected works of Marx and Engels, which would cost £1,000 to replace," Mr Wheen told The Independent yesterday. "Some were out of print, or 19th century first editions – I don't know how you value those."

In addition to his personal library of 5,000 books, he lost his current work in progress – a novel set in 1850. "Most annoyingly, my computer, which had the book I'm meant to be writing at the moment [was lost in the fire]," he said. "I had printed out a hard copy, neatly stacked up, but the whole lot went."

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service was called at 6.53pm on Friday night. Two fire engines with 10 crew arrived to find the shed "100 per cent alight". It is believed that the blaze was triggered by an electrical fault.

"I don't suspect it's arson," Mr Wheen said wryly. "There's somebody who goes around setting straw bales and hay bales alight, but that seemed to be a specific arsonist who had it in for straw."

Now, in the absence of books or records to entertain himself, he would simply "sit in the lotus position and contemplate the four noble truths".

Despite apparently remaining upbeat, Mr Wheen, 55, admitted that the past few months had been difficult. He is currently suffering from spinal problems and was laid low with a "ghastly virus" on Saturday which left him "throwing up all over the place".

"I'm going to read the Book of Job to find out what happens next," he said. "Is it the plague of locusts? Or will I have my camels and oxen taken from me?"

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in