Still not really feeling up to par, so I’ll talk about an easy subject today. What sorts of books do you need, as an author, for reference?

I’ll take you through my books I have to hand on my shelf.

1. A dictionary. Well I am not being strictly truthful here, because I have a software-based Oxford English Dictionary. It sits in its own little window, docked to the title bar of whatever program I am using. Very handy, and ridiculously inexpensive. But by all means get some kind of dictionary, and use it frequently. Not just for spelling, but for usage.

2. A grammar book. Mine is “Collins Good Grammar.” I probably don’t use it as often as I should.

3. The Penguin Dictionary of Geology and the Penguin Dictionary of Geography. Both very handy for getting features and place names right.

4. “Symbols” by Sandra Forty. A guide to every symbol you can think of, and plenty more you haven’t. Valuable for making designs and icons.

5. “Costume” and “Costumes of Everyday Life” by Margot Lister. Absolutely brilliant reference works showing how clothing has changed from 900 to 1900. You need these if you are writing any kind of period piece.

6. “The Decorative Arts of the Mariner” by Gervis Frere-Cook. Somewhat specialized, but useful for me because I write a lot about seafaring peoples.

7. “Fauna Britannica” by Stefan Buczacki. A gorgeous big format glossy book with beautiful color pictures. Gives the forkloric history and naming of every animal species in Great Britain. A great tool if you want to write a short story and can’t think of a subject. Also gives you authentic sounding regional names for animals.

8. The Hutton Getty Picture collection, vols. 1-10 published by Konemann. These books are an absolutely priceless reference to life in the 20th century. Each decade has its own book, with nothing but pictures, divided by subject (the 1930’s book lists: Earning a living, haves and have nots, unrest, leisure, cinema, entertainment and the arts, fashion, science, transport, sport, children, life, war.) But if you need to describe something, and get it right, then a picture is invaluable. I paid quite a lot for these books, but I use them frequently.

9. “Arms and Armor,” DK Eyewitness books. Yeah, I know its a kid’s reference work, but I get a lot of use out of it. Sometimes when you just want to know a little bit about something, to add detail to a story, then trying to sift through an adult non-fiction work can be a waste of time. Head to the kid’s section of the local library, and find what you need. I bought this particular book because I use it so often, but several other DK books are also very handy. “Battle” is another I would like to own.

10. “Brewer’s Phrase and Fable,” another great book for generating story ideas.