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‘One of the very best moments of each new season: when Slightly Foxed arrives’

‘One of the very best moments of each new season: when Slightly Foxed arrives’

We’re delighted to report that the Autumn issue of Slightly Foxed (No. 67) has left the printing press at Smith Settle. With it, as usual, you’ll find a copy of our latest Readers’ Catalogue, detailing new editions, our backlist, books featured in the latest issue of the quarterly, a selection of literary goods and other offers and bundles. We do hope you’ll enjoy the new issue of the quarterly, wherever in the world you are.

Delivering a Missing Letter

A disused bus shelter in the market town of Sedbergh is a curious place for a quest to end, literary or otherwise. The town itself is rather curious too; geographically in Cumbria but on the wrong side of the M6 to be in the Lake District proper, it sits almost exactly on the watershed where the rolling green fells give way to the harsher limestone uplands of the Yorkshire Dales. Hard up against the Howgill Fells, it has always attracted walkers but in recent years it has also become a haven for readers. It now has seven bookshops, including an enormous second-hand one at the end of the High Street, and bookshelves are squeezed into any available space in the town’s other shops and cafés. When we arrived for cake and a potter while holidaying in Hawes, it was more in hope than expectation that here we would find the missing piece to complete the Scandinavian puzzle that our dining-room bookshelf had become.
SF magazine subscribers only

Coal, Rent and Chaos

A couple of years ago the judges for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction decided that none of the sixty two books submitted was funny enough to win, so they withheld the award. One of them, the publisher David Campbell, explained: ‘Despite the submitted books producing many a wry smile amongst the panel during the judging process, we did not feel than any of the books we read this year incited the level of unanimous laughter we have come to expect.’ Humour is notoriously subjective, but I am confident that if the prize had existed sixty-seven years ago, Gwyn Thomas’s A Frost on My Frolic would have been a strong contender.
SF magazine subscribers only

An Irresistible Cad

Is it possible to love a book and hate it at the same time? That is the question that nags me whenever I think of Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel-Ami (1885). It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece: the characterization is subtle, the social critique is incisive, the plot is completely absorbing. But its protagonist, nicknamed Bel-Ami because of his extraordinary good looks, is one of literature’s most despicable creations: a man who tramples on friend and foe alike – and above all on the women who love him – in his pursuit of wealth and status. With another writer, you might stomach such behaviour in the sure expectation of a spectacular come-uppance; but Maupassant’s amoral universe is one in which some people can get away with anything. What keeps us turning the pages is the brilliance of his writing and a fascination with how far his anti-hero can go.
SF magazine subscribers only
Mood Music

Mood Music

‘Dance after dance with an old fogey. Three running now, pressed to his paunch.’ Oh, the hell of parties! The small humiliations. The shy, smudged-mascara, wallflower-grief of it all. Where was Rollo? Archie? Tony? Even Reggie, dreaded Reggie, would do. In Rosamond Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz we share every agony, every spurning, every smallest saving grace with Olivia Curtis, just 17 and, as her dressmaker cheerfully tells her, ‘no bewtee’. We meet her on her birthday, staring into the bedroom mirror with a mix of adolescent pride and doubt. And such is Lehmann’s uncanny power that the reflection in the glass isn’t Olivia’s: it’s our own.
SF magazine subscribers only

Blooming Marvellous

Sometime in the late 1990s, when I was staying in Dublin with my sister Marie Heaney and her husband Seamus, he was working on the introduction to a book called A Way of Life, Like Any Other, which I took to be a novel. I’d never heard of it, but the fact that Seamus was writing an introduction to this new edition seemed like an honour and signalled importance. First published in 1977, it had won both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the American PEN/Hemingway Award. How had I missed it?
SF magazine subscribers only
Branching Out

Branching Out

In keeping with its name, Pimpernel Press has put down its roots in an unassuming Victorian house hidden at the end of a pleasant street off West London’s Harrow Road. The only hint that a publisher is in residence is the pile of tempting-looking books glimpsed from the front doorstep through the ground-floor bay window. Pimpernel’s publisher, Jo Christian, squeezes past me in the narrow hall to usher me into her combined office and living-room, where a long table is covered with a comfortable clutter of laptop, proofs, interesting objects and framed photographs. Beneath a wall thick with prints and paintings a pair of life-sized Coade stone greyhounds – refugees perhaps from some great house or garden – stand next to a large old sofa covered in piles of books. We’re clearly a long way here from the world of corporate publishing.
SF magazine subscribers only

Progression by Digression

In many ways The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a maddening book. It is funny, of course, but also eccentric, anarchic and longwinded; and it’s hard to understand why it survived to become a classic. Perhaps these days only university students and professors read Tristram Shandy. But for two centuries it was a family favourite. My great-grandfather Walter Congreve discovered it while lying wounded in hospital during the Boer War. He carried it with him – alongside the Bible – through the First World War, to his military command in Palestine and thence to Malta as governor.
SF magazine subscribers only
The Last of Rome

The Last of Rome

Desperation drove me to Horatius, one gloomy afternoon in late October. Thirty restless children were waiting to be entertained, educated or even just dissuaded from rioting by their hapless supply teacher. I gave them Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome – largely because my father’s recitation of ‘How Horatius Kept the Bridge’ had so grabbed and held my own attention, decades earlier. The drama of the thing still worked its magic: the bridge fell with a crash like thunder, whereupon ‘a long shout of triumph rose from the walls of Rome / As to the highest turret-tops was splashed the yellow foam’. My father would put gleeful stress on the word ‘yellow’. Then, of course, brave Horatius, fully armed and uttering a powerful prayer to Father Tiber, hurls himself into the turbulent river and makes it to the other shore.
A Vanished Warmth

A Vanished Warmth

At school I loved our history lessons. I spent hours drawing plans of castles and battles, and was a binge reader of historical fiction by anyone from Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece to Mary Renault and Robert Graves. A little later I enjoyed exploring first-hand evidence from the past and I particularly remember some volumes in the school library called They Saw It Happen. The third of these English historical anthologies, covering the years 1689–1897, was especially well-known to us because it had been compiled by bufferish Mr Charles-Edwards and suede-shoed Mr Richardson from our very own History Department.
SF magazine subscribers only
Giving Pain a Voice

Giving Pain a Voice

A lone doctor hares down a country lane in his Land Rover, his thumb jammed on the horn to warn the oncoming traffic that he’s not stopping. A woodman’s been pinned to the ground on a remote hillside by a falling tree and every second counts. Even at the start of A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (1967), we are given an inkling of what makes Dr Sassall an exceptional GP. He had his thumb on the horn partly, he explains, so that the man under the tree might hear it and know he is on his way. Dr Sassall understands that even when the immediate danger is physical, his patients need him to keep their minds in mind. A good doctor treats the whole of his patient, not just his wounds.

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