Wednesday 3 October 2018 Dedham Assembly Rooms, Essex The Munnings Art Museum’s second birthday lecture was a wonderful opportunity to hear life stories from broadcaster and former politician, Martin Bell OBE, in a beautiful setting. Like Sir Alfred Munnings, Bell grew up in the Waveney Valley on the Suffolk/Norfolk border and his father, farmer, writer and first Times crossword compiler Adrian Bell was friends with Munnings in the 1930s.
The middle volume of Adrian Bell’s inter-war farming trilogy, Silver Ley (1931), is, in its quiet, unassuming way, the most poignant memoir I think I have ever read. Picking up where his first book Corduroy left off, it opens in 1921 as Bell wakes up for the very first time on his own Suffolk farm, full of hope, with two newly bought heavy horses, Darkie and Dewdrop, stamping in the yard . . .
The writer Adrian Bell first arrived in Suffolk in 1920 – a delicate young would-be poet, fresh from public school at Uppingham and the polite drawing-rooms of Chelsea, under pressure from his father, who was news editor of the Observer, to get a proper job. He was, he says, ‘flying from the threat of office life’ when he first presented himself for work on the farm of an old-established farming family in the countryside near Bury St Edmunds.
The Adrian Bell Society came into being in 1996 with the aim of encouraging a wider interest and appreciation in the life and works of Adrian Bell. The Society holds at least two meetings each year, publishes two Journals, and…
We are delighted to let you know that, following sell-out runs in its original limited SF Edition and subsequent paperback incarnation, Corduroy has just been published as a cloth-bound hardback Plain Foxed Edition. These sturdy little books, bound in duck-egg blue cloth, come in the same neat pocket format as the original SF Editions and will happily fill any gaps on your shelves, as well as forming a delightful uniform edition on their own.
Bell’s first book has the virtues which allow it to transcend its times: acute observation, sincerity and that simplicity of style which does not date. Published in 1930, it portrays a way of life which had been overturned by the First World War and was to go on changing rapidly through the century. It is more than a nostalgic lament for a vanishing world, however: it describes a way of living that is very much alive.
‘I just wanted to tell you all how very much I have enjoyed Adrian Bell’s Corduroy. It is a magical description of a vanished time, very evocative in so many ways and has kept me engrossed far beyond my usual lights out time . . .’
‘I wanted to thank you for introducing us to Adrian Bell, who both my husband and I have really enjoyed. I did not think I would at all, in fact out of all your editions I thought his sounded like the one I would least enjoy – and then somehow I read Corduroy and was mesmerized. It is so beautiful, one of those books which is about nothing and yet everything . . .’
The majority of the book is Bell being introduced to a task, doing it badly, and getting better. What makes Corduroy such an enjoyable book is the way he writes about the experience. He is never patronizing about the labourers, and nor does he idolize them with the eye of a Romantic poet.
‘A memoir written in the late 1920s and recently republished in the beautiful Slightly Foxed Paperback series. The book tells of Bell’s move, at 20 years old, from bohemian Battersea to a small farm in Suffolk. Bell is a favourite of mine, and his nature writing is immediately transporting. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the Slightly Foxed Paperbacks, pocket-sized little chunks of perfection, are the most beautifully made paperbacks I’ve ever had the pleasure to own. They’re made by a traditional small press in Yorkshire to standards that make reading on a device seem like the most depressing possible compromise.’ On Adrian Bell’s Corduroy
‘“Those are good pigs,” he said, “aren’t they?” If he had said they were bad pigs I should have agreed with him equally. Their shape meant nothing to me. “Good length,” he explained, “broad in the back and not too much head.” I strove to see it, but no person can appreciate the points of a pig till he has dwelt long with them. Looking back, I cannot tell at what point I began to know a good pig from a bad one. The farmer’s eye is as subtle as the artist’s.’
How long had I been standing here under the old cherry tree? Minutes or years? While the storm with its batteries of thunder deployed across the sky, letting fall but a few drops – for all its growling – which the boughs above me caught and shook till they sparkled . . .
Slightly Foxed and Harris & Harris Books We celebrated the launch of our special limited edition of The Cherry Tree, the final book in Adrian Bell’s celebrated trilogy of Suffolk country life between the wars, at Harris & Harris Books in Clare on a sunny summer’s evening in July.
I was on a much-rehearsed trawl of the labyrinthine bookshop when I spotted it. A neat green-cloth country volume of the type churned out in their thousands in the 1940s and ’50s – years of hardship but also ones of optimism and dreams of a better future. I read the faded spine. A House in the Country by Ruth Adam, published by the Country Book Club, 1957. Now this is the kind of thing I like. My bookshelves sag under the collective weight of H. J. Massingham, Adrian Bell, Ronald Blythe and Cecil Torr, but Ruth Adam was new to me. ‘This is a cautionary tale, and true,’ the book begins . . .
This woodcut by C. F. Tunnicliffe illustrated Slightly Foxed Editor Hazel’s article on The Cherry Tree
Summer has arrived at No. 53 Hoxton Square with the publication of the 54th issue of Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly and our 38th limited edition hardback, Adrian Bell’s The Cherry Tree. In the weeks preceding the Bank Holiday, the good people of…
With all the hype they get, one might think that farmers’ markets are a new thing. That might be the case in terms of finding a few rashers of organic beech-smoked, thick-cut, rare breed bacon in deepest central London, but…
The trees are in full deep green leaf now, making a small oasis of Hoxton Square, while not fifty yards away the traffic roars past along Old Street. New regulations to cut down air pollution in London are on the way we learn, but now the fumes hang heavily in the summer air as we make for the office, dodging people coming in the other direction who seem to be talking to themselves but are actually on their mobile phones. As Jane Austen’s great hypochondriac Mr Woodhouse observes, ‘Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.’ For many of us these days it’s a hurrying, worrying world . . .
It’s odd to recall that until the rock and pop revolution of the early Sixties, most British towns had at least one band, usually consisting of a trumpet and trombone, drummer, bass player and out-of-tune pianist thumping out rough versions of New Orleans and Dixieland jazz to young audiences in the back rooms of pubs. This was good drinking and jiving music, although as a young smart alec in those days I snobbishly preferred modern jazz. However, in no forms of jazz did I ever see anyone playing the bass saxophone, the instrument celebrated in Josef Škvorecký’s wonderful novella The Bass Saxophone.
Just who are literary festivals for and why do we love them so much? Gail, Steph and host Philippa go backstage with Anne Oxborough of the well-established Ways With Words and Michael Pugh of recent start-up the Llangwm Literary Festival to find out more. From the delights of surprise-hit speakers, post-show river swims, vodka-fuelled poetry sessions and the rise of fancy food stalls to the horrors of airborne green rooms, bacon-roll bust-ups and rail replacement buses, the conversation ranges far and wide in the usual Slightly Foxed way. In this month’s audio-adventure through the magazine’s archives the writer and performer A. F. Harrold goes speed-dating with Iris Murdoch at Cheltenham Literature Festival and, to finish, there’s the usual round-up of recommended reading from off the beaten track.
Pocketable Paperbacks, Collectable Cubs, Irresistible Issues Herewith our occasional plea to our dear readers to help us clear a few shelves this August by stocking up on paperbacks, notebooks, back issues, Cubs and greetings cards. Various bundles and other tempting offers appear in the newsletter . . .
Gail, Hazel and host Philippa dig into the subject of garden writing with the journalist and social historian Ursula Buchan and Matt Collins, nature writer and Head Gardener at London’s Garden Museum. The conversation meanders convivially in the usual Slightly Foxed manner, via daredevil plant-hunters, early wild gardening advocates such as Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson and Vita Sackville-West, and the passing passions and fashions of garden design, with a peek over the hedge at Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter along the way. And there’s the usual round-up of the latest bookish harvest from the Slightly Foxed office and plenty of recommendations for reading off the beaten track too.
We are delighted to announce that the winner of the Biographers’ Club Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2018 is Bart van Es for The Cut Out Girl.
We are delighted to announce that the winner of the Biographers’ Club Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2017 is Edmund Gordon for The Invention of Angela Carter.
Early copies of the Summer issue of Slightly Foxed have arrived in Hoxton Square, ready to be sent out to subscribers and bookshops all around the world in time for its release on 1 June. We don’t want to spoil…
I spend a couple of weeks each year walking on the Lake District fells, so it is inevitable that I should have fallen upon James Rebanks’s remarkable The Shepherd’s Life (2015). I loved it, and I learned much more about upland sheep farming than I could possibly have divined from hours of watching Herdwicks on the fell. Reading The Shepherd’s Life inevitably set me thinking about another book I read long ago and which, tellingly, turned the young Rebanks into a reader.
Summer is almost upon us at Slightly Foxed. The printers in Yorkshire and office foxes in Hoxton are knee-deep in boxes of crisp creamy quarterlies, newly minted books and mounds of bubble-wrap and packing tape in preparation for the dispatch of the summer issue of the quarterly. Subscribers can look forward to receiving it towards the end of the first week of June, and with it be transported to Mandalay with Justin Marozzi, across the channel with Joanna Kavenna, into the world of Whigs with Michael Holroyd, to Nowhere with Travis Elborough . . . but we mustn’t give too much away!
In 1936 my father designed the house in which I grew up in the Fifties. I would like to say that it was a textbook example of Thirties Modernism, like a small-scale model of an ocean liner in dry dock, with sinuous white curving walls punctuated by Crittall metal windows, and a flat roof – that signifier of all that was modern (or ‘moderne’ in house-speak). The inside white à la Syrie Maugham, with minimalist pale plywood furniture, maybe a Marion Dorn cubist-design rug on the herringbone parquet floor, smudgy John Piper textiles hung at the windows. A regular ‘machine for living’, form elegantly following function. Only it wasn’t.
These classic memoirs, each published in a limited and hand-numbered hardback pocket edition of 2,000 copies, are a unique window on other times and other lives. Elegantly bound in cloth, with coloured endpapers, silk head- and tailband and ribbon marker, these charming small…
Editors Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood had been friends and colleagues at John Murray, the oldest family-run publishing house in the UK, for a number of years and felt strongly committed to independent publishing and to the atmosphere that existed…