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Wednesday 10 October 2012

Paperclips and Chatter

Yesterday evening I went to The Edinburgh Bookshop, a small independent bookseller started about five years ago by Malcolm and Vanessa Robertson. They have decided to concentrate on their publisher Fidra and the bookshop has been taken over by Marie Moser. Yesterday was in the nature of a small celebration of what had been and an introduction to the new. (Marie once worked for James Thin, now Blackwells.)

There were a number of people showing support. Among others, I spoke to authors Ian Rankin and Nicola Morgan (who gave me a lift home). A couple of readers asked me who I was and certainly pretended to know my name. I enjoyed the lady who asked me why so many book covers had a solitary figure walking away into the distance on them. ‘Is it because art departments don’t have much imagination?’ I was pleased to say that the cover for Black Bear due out in May next year has no figure at all on it, though I suppose Castle Hill lighthouse in Rhode Island also tends to the solitary.

But the most surprising conversation I had was with Joanna Geyer-Kordesch. I have been doing the final edit of Black Bear. The background to the book is Project Chatter – ostensibly an effort to replace the use of torture but most famous now for experiments in so-called truth drugs or serums – and Operation Paperclip, again most famous as the process by which many scientists from Nazi Germany became US citizens.

It was Joanna, professor emerita of the History of European Medicine at Glasgow University, who brought up Paperclip. Her father, Karl Kordesch, joint inventor of the alkaline battery, whose name is on more than a hundred patents, was recruited to this operation from Austria in 1953.

In other words Paperclip carried on long after the war. We talked about the influence Paperclip had had on the development of US technology and its consequent importance in the world we know. There was of course the other side. Some of the scientists in 1945 really needed those paperclips – this being an operation that not only provided new paperclips for CVs but sometimes a new CV as well. Professor Geyer-Kordesch mentioned those who had worked on truth-serums. 

My warmest wishes to Vanessa  - and very good luck to Marie and the next stage of the Edinburgh Bookshop.