The third pile of books may be the smallest of the four but it is one of the most important. For a searcher of knowledge, or for an author, there must always be the reference books which you will never read from cover to cover but you will pick up when you need to check something, or you may treat them as some sort of box of delights that you dip into when the brain needs a little recreation. I have not included the obvious everyday reference books I use like dictionaries, thesaurus or books of quotations. I have also chosen not to include the many gardening books that I refer to from time to time. So, what are we left with?

First of all is one of those brain fodder choices and it is the biggest volume with the longest title. The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials by Laurie Frost. This remarkable book contains in-depth, chapter-referenced sections on characters, places, creatures, sciences, languages, and so much more. It is recognised as the official, and definitive, reference guide to Pullman’s original trilogy: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Even the great man himself says “I know I’ve returned to it frequently. And I know I’ll continue to do so.” What better affirmation is there? Every time I dive into it I experience a lightbulb moment or two. If you liked Pullmans books you will love this.

I am a big fan of the ‘…….For Dummies’ series especially when using a new item of intricate software. Two of these have featured highly this last year. First is Scrivener For Dummies by Gwen Hernandez. Now Scrivener itself is an awesome piece of software for authors. Whether you’re a meticulous planner, a seat-of-the-pants writer, or something in between, this software package provides a range of tools for every stage of the writing process. The term ‘essential’ is often over used in regards to software but this time it really does apply. The book shows you from how to customize project templates to compiling your project for print and e-book formats. To aid workflow it shows you how to set up project and document targets and minimize distractions to keep you on track and on deadline. It explains how to storyboard with the corkboard, how to create collections such as research materials, character profiles etc, and even how to use automated backups to protect your hard work along the way.

The second of these was Instagram For Dummies by Jennifer Herman. Now I am not aiming for glory as an Instagram influencer but I do want to use it in a structured way. This book gives you tips for creating great Instagram images, personalizing your posts, building and connecting with the Instagram community, and working with Stories and IGTV. This book could be the difference between you being a slave to Social Media or getting it to work for you.

The next book is one that I happened across in my much loved coffee shop. Sawday’s The Extra Mile: Delicious Alternatives to Motorway Services by Laura Collacott and Alastair Sawday This book does exactly what it says on the cover and is packed full of alternatives to the bland and pricey motorway services. Whether its a village pub, coffee shop or garden centre teashop I for one can’t wait to start travelling again so that I can try out more of the gems hidden in this guide.

My most outlandish reference book of 2020 was undoubtedly The Encyclopedia Of Unusual Sex Practices  by Brenda Love Packed with more astonishing facts than one might ever have imagined, or, maybe one might!  This is a unique and very comprehensive guide to human sexual expression, from the mildly kinky to the truly bizarre is presented in standard alphabetical order we explore everything from Acrophilia (being sexually aroused by heights) to Zelophilia (being aroused by jealousy) via a veritable litany of arcane pursuits which can sometimes be repellent, sometimes stimulating – but always absolutely fascinating.

Finally, a book which I now buy every year. It is The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020 by Lia Leendertz Here I shall turn to the book’s own blurb to try and summarize it’s usefulness. The Almanac reinvents the tradition of the rural almanac for a new audience. It gives you the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark and appreciate each month of the year in your own particular way. Divided into the 12 months, a set of tables each month gives it the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, providing practical information that gives access to the outdoors and the seasons, perfect for expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There are also features on each month’s unique nature, such as the meteor shower of the month, beehive behaviour, folklore and stories, seasonal recipes and charts tracking moon phases and tides.

Many of you will know my habit of referring on social media etc. to seasonal events and to help this I refer to the almanac all year long, revisiting it again and again, and have already started following the 2021 edition.

That’s it for now but coming up next is the pile of novels by Patrick Gale which have given me the most reading joy during the lockdown.