The Nigel Balchin Newsletter

Issue 3: February 2012

Gerson photo

How to Find Nigel Balchin’s Books


From time to time people ask me “How can I get hold of Nigel Balchin’s books?” This information can be gleaned from the “Books” area of my website ( but I thought

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it might be helpful for subscribers to this newsletter if I were to expand on those details and consolidate all the information in one place. I am aware of the fact that I keep recommending various Balchin books to you and discussing their contents in a fair bit of detail—this is of limited value if you cannot find the volumes in question! I will therefore devote the majority of this newsletter to a consideration of how to find—and mostly how to buy—Balchin’s works.

NB. All the information in this article refers to the situation in the UK and may therefore not apply in other parts of the world.

Which of Balchin’s books are still in print?

None of them apparently. I’ve just checked today and it seems that A Way Through the Wood (1951), which was reissued as Separate Lies in 2005 to tie in with the movie adaptation of the same name, has now gone out of print again. There is a print-on-demand version of The Small Back Room from a company called The Obscure Press doing the rounds on the Internet but as I’ve not seen it myself I won’t discuss this further, in particular because second-hand copies of The Small Back Room are very easy to find. I have tried approaching publishers myself, suggesting that they should reissue a handful of Balchin’s finest novels, but so far there has been no interest in doing so, the wide availability of second-hand copies apparently being a sticking point. I haven’t given up all hope though and it may be easier to drum up interest in a reissue programme once my biography has been released. To the best of my knowledge, there are currently no Balchin titles available in electronic format for the Kindle or other e-book readers. Any of you who would like this situation to change could perhaps try lobbying the relevant companies!

Second-hand copies

If you are serious about expanding your Balchin library then sooner or later you will need to think about purchasing second-hand copies. The good news here is that as Balchin was a best-selling novelist between 1943’s The Small Back Room and 1962’s Seen Dimly Before Dawn his books were printed in large quantities during that period and many copies of those books are still to be found on the shelves of the second-hand book stores of the world. Also, a number of Balchin’s novels appeared in the liveries of various book clubs—he had four Book Society choices to his name—and cheap paperback editions of the more popular novels were issued from the 1950s onwards in the Pan and Fontana imprints. There have also been recent, i.e. post-1970s, reissues of The Small Back Room and Darkness Falls From the Air, notably in the Cassell Military Paperbacks series, and of A Sort of Traitors. All of this publishing activity swells the pool of second-hand copies. The Table below shows how hard (or easy) it is to obtain Balchin’s books second hand.




No Sky


Simple Life


Lightbody on Liberty


Darkness Falls From the Air


The Small Back Room


Mine Own Executioner


Lord, I Was Afraid


The Borgia Testament


A Sort of Traitors


A Way Through the Wood


Sundry Creditors


The Fall of the Sparrow


Seen Dimly Before Dawn


In the Absence of Mrs Petersen


Kings of Infinite Space


Short stories:

Last Recollections of My Uncle Charles



How to Run a Bassoon Factory


Business for Pleasure


Fun and Games


Income and Outcome


The Anatomy of Villainy


Fatal Fascination: A Choice of Crimeb


How to Run a Bassoon Factory & Business for Pleasurec


aKey to availability: = almost impossible;  = very difficult;  = moderately difficult;  = fairly easy;  = very easy.

bContains four essays, one of them (Burnt Njal—The Irredeemable Crime) by Balchin.

cCombined volume issued in 1950.

Purchasing strategies

So what is the best way to buy your second-hand copies of Balchin’s books? Beginning in the High Street, you should find that most second-hand bookshops with

a good holding of twentieth century literature—even those in small towns—will have a Balchin novel or two on their shelves from time to time. In my experience, the best concentrations of such emporia likely to contain books by Balchin are to be found in and around the Charing Cross Road in London and in the incomparable Hay-on-Wye.

Don’t overlook charity shops either. They are less likely to have what you are looking for and the books are rarely arranged in alphabetical order but, on a more positive note, the prices of books in these shops tend to be much lower than those demanded by second-hand booksellers. In addition, “house clearances” can sometimes result in entire book collections arriving at the same charity shop. As a rough rule of thumb, find one Balchin book in a second-hand bookshop or charity shop and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll find another. Specialist Oxfam bookshops ( have sprung up around the country in recent years; they tend to be a little on the pricey side but they do represent another option to try.

Did You Know?

When just a few months old, Nigel Balchin tipped a kettle of boiling water over himself and was so badly scalded that for a while he was not expected to live. Luckily for us (and him!) he made a full recovery and went on to become one of the very best novelists to emerge during World War Two, being described by John Betjeman in 1945 as “one of the hopes of British novel-writing”.

If you don’t want to run your eye over miles and miles of shelving then you can of course use the Internet to scour the world for Balchin’s books without stepping outside your front door. The best second-hand book site in my opinion is Abebooks ( You can also purchase from Amazon’s second-hand department ( and of course don’t forget eBay (, which tends to be a particularly good source for magazines containing short stories and articles by Balchin. A very useful feature of Abebooks and Amazon is the ability to display search results in price order. So if you are just looking for a cheap reading copy of, say, The Small Back Room, select “Lowest price first” (or its equivalent) and this should bring what you want to the surface. On the other hand, if you are trying to find a much rarer title such as Lightbody on Liberty then click on “Highest price first” and any copies that may be available will be close to the top of the pile.

Caveat emptor: A few words of warning about buying Balchin’s books online

  1. Two of the novels were published in America under alternative titles: the US edition of Sundry Creditors is entitled Private Interests and A Sort of Traitors was published stateside as Who is my Neighbor?
  2. Balchin’s novels were translated into numerous foreign languages. Schoolboy linguistic facility is usually sufficient to inform the reader that Das Kleine Hinterzimmer is the German version of The Small Back Room or that Reyes del Espacio Infinito is a Spanish translation of Kings of Infinite Space! Less obviously, Elf Jahre und ein Tag is the German version of A Way Through The Wood and Les Revelations du Matin is Seen Dimly Before Dawn translated (loosely) into French.
  3. The two books by John Furnell (The Dark Portal and The God on the Mountain) that are sometimes returned as Balchin titles after an Internet search were not, to the best of my knowledge, written by Balchin.
  4. You may also come across items such as Balchin’s 1947 monograph The Aircraft Builders and all manner of other oddities. “Approach with caution” would be my advice concerning the quality and readability of some of these items.
  5. Don’t pay over the odds! Some second-hand booksellers ask ridiculous sums for Balchin’s first three novels. I would advise no-one to pay more than about £50 for any of Balchin’s books and for that outlay I would expect a good-quality copy with dust jacket. At the end of the article “Nigel Balchin” on my website the prices expert of Book and Magazine Collector appended a list of values for all of Balchin’s books (as of 2008). It’s only a guide of course but should give you a reasonable idea about how much to pay for second-hand copies.


NB. In this paragraph I am referring to the situation that applies to Oxfordshire County Libraries, those that I’ve used myself, but I would imagine that the same pattern is repeated nationwide. If you only wish to read—as opposed to own—copies of Balchin’s books then your local municipal library might be able to help. You are unlikely to find your quarry on the open shelves (although it’s by no means impossible). However, you should be able to order up a fair proportion of Balchin’s books from the vaults: in Oxfordshire as of January 2012, eleven of the fifteen novels and the short-story collection Last Recollections of My Uncle Charles were available for loan, all for less than £1 a time. I can order any of these volumes online and have them sent to any library in Oxfordshire for collection. The books can be borrowed in the same way as for regular items on the open shelves. If all else fails then you can always join the British Library (which is free of charge) and read those hard-to-find Balchin volumes in the comfort of a padded-leather chair in St. Pancras.


All of Balchin’s books from The Small Back Room onwards are relatively easy to obtain. The earlier ones are much harder to find, but the task is by no means impossible. I may point out though that after nearly fifteen years of searching I have only spotted a single copy each of No Sky and Simple Life for sale anywhere in the world and the latter escaped my clutches as I wasn’t prepared to pay silly money for it!

This article very much represents my personal view; if your experience is wildly at odds with mine then do get in touch and I can then issue an update in a future issue of this newsletter.

News about the Writing of my Biography

As I write this in the middle of February I have now completed fourteen chapters and currently plan to write about seven or eight more. All being well, the draft manuscript should be finished by late spring/early summer. Still no luck yet in my search for an agent; I have a few more on my list to try and after that I will be making approaches to publishers instead.

See you all again in May, when I hope to be able to announce the completion of my biography!

Best wishes,

Derek (