Header overlay

Popular categories

Explore our library

Frogs, Books and Bears

Frogs, Books and Bears

‘Where is Patrick Spotter?’ The Japanese customer looked somewhat annoyed. She had been told that the staff of Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge were so knowledgeable that they could help with tracking down any book, even if the visitor didn’t know the title or author. We looked at each other in dismay. Was this an author we didn’t know? Then our manager appeared and courteously offered to take the lady round the shop: the first shelf they reached was Young Classics. ‘There!’ shouted the Japanese lady triumphantly. ‘Oh, Beatrix Potter!’ we smiled. She smiled; our reputation was intact and calm returned.
SF magazine subscribers only

Deliberately Engineered

It is over fifty years since the death of Nevil Shute, who from 1940 to 1960 was probably the best-selling novelist in Britain. You could hardly not read Shute in those days. I devoured him voraciously (I am 68), as did my brother, friends, mother, uncles and aunts. Yet who under the age of 60 remembers him now? If he survives at all it is through reprints on the shelves of charity shops and memories of old black-and-white films culled from his best-known books: No Highway, A Town Like Alice, On the Beach.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Prisoner of Her Time

A Prisoner of Her Time

Why wasn’t Charles Dickens knighted, assuming he wasn’t offered the honour and declined it, as some authorities believe? Would it have been because he spilled so much ink lambasting the establishment? I think not. He was too colossal a figure for that to be an obstacle, even in Victorian England. Was it – as you will discover if you read Claire Tomalin’s masterly biography The Invisible Woman – because he kept a mistress, the actress Ellen (Nelly) Ternan? Highly unlikely, since, as you will also discover, he handled that business with the combination of psychotic secretiveness and extreme canniness that one would expect from such a man.
SF magazine subscribers only
The Real Thing

The Real Thing

One of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, ‘My Son’s Wife’, features a high-minded young aesthete named Midmore, who spends his days pondering the improvement of society. Midmore inherits a country estate from a widowed aunt, Mrs Werf, and reluctantly pays it a visit. Thumbing through the books in the library, he suddenly realizes with horror what the late Colonel Werf ’s mind must have been in its prime: for the colonel, like Kipling, was an enthusiastic reader of Surtees, the mid-Victorian hunting novelist, and Midmore is exposed to an attitude to life – sceptical, brisk, tough-minded and unsentimental – diametrically opposed to his own. ‘It was a foul world into which he peeped for the first time,’ Kipling tells us, ‘a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers, swindlers, match-making mothers, economically dependent virgins selling themselves blushingly for cash and lands, Jews, tradesmen and an ill-considered spawn of Dickens and horsedung characters.’ Unable to put it down Midmore reels off to bed clutching a copy of Handley Cross, one of Surtees’s milder creations.
SF magazine subscribers only
Siberian Taiga

Siberian Taiga

The dog pricked up his ears, which was surprising because so far he hadn’t seemed all that bright. Vanya and I turned to look. At the edge of the clearing a man in a white woollen suit was just visible against the snow, returning our stares and clasping a rifle. For half a minute or so nobody  moved or spoke. Vanya’s gun was out of reach, leaning against a tree stump. All around us the forest gaped. Apart from the crackle of twigs we were burning to ward off frostbite, silence reigned – and all waited to see if there would be blood.
SF magazine subscribers only

The King’s Spaniel

I have no idea on what my father based this and I’m sure he was genuinely trying to console, but for years afterwards I avoided novels that mixed politics and facts, particularly historical novels. Writers should just make it up, I thought. Feelings were what counted: feelings, ideas, characters and story. But then, thankfully, I was given Rose Tremain’s best-selling and Booker short-listed novel Restoration, and, plunging in against my better judgement, was immediately hooked.
SF magazine subscribers only
Sam Pepys from Walworth

Sam Pepys from Walworth

It was the second-hand book-dealer Malcolm Applin, whose catalogue I find always opens doors and windows, who first introduced me to the Cockney bookseller and writer Fred Bason. Fred had been encouraged to keep a diary by James Agate who told him, ‘Keep a diary and one day it will keep you.’ It was, however, his friend and mentor, Arnold Bennett, who gave him the most valuable advice when he told the young Fred, ‘Talk it, then write it. If you say “ain’t” or “Cor, luv a duck!” then put it down just as you do in ordinary conversation. And that will be your style.’
SF magazine subscribers only

Pearls and a Fur Jacket

Anne Scott-James was one of the ‘First Ladies’ of Fleet Street, though she preferred the title ‘one of the first career girls’. Her novel In the Mink, published in 1952, is a thinly disguised portrait of her pre-war and post-war years as a journalist. Richard Boston, writing her obituary in 2009, remarked of it disapprovingly that ‘her characters are uniformly lifeless. Whatever value it may have for the fashion historian, it is scarcely readable as a novel.’ Later on he adds that she had once not only fused, but actually melted his coffee-maker. Clearly this still rankled.
SF magazine subscribers only
Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point

Think of an Edward Hopper picture, Main Street, Anywheresville, USA, a warm summer’s evening. Geometric buildings, neat and desolate. Give them names: Northfork Drug; The Hub Men’s Clothing; First Clark National Bank; Dr J. P. Wade, Physician, Walk In. Remove Hopper’s colours, see it in black-and-white. In an open window a table-lamp illumines a man’s face. He’s the only human visible. The scene is empty, and you might be hearing utter silence if it weren’t for a huge steam locomotive dragging a freight train down the track that runs along the middle of the street. The locomotive’s as tall as a house, its headlight and its white smoke piercing the dark. No engineer, no fireman visible. A ghost train driving itself.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Winning Hand

A Winning Hand

Over twenty years ago, I started a regular weekly poker game with a group of friends who had all recently gravitated to London. We had been inspired to do this by Anthony Holden’s beguiling description of the ‘Tuesday Night Game’ in his excellent book Big Deal. Holden – then probably better known for his biographies of Laurence Olivier, the Prince of Wales and the Queen Mother – describes the year he spent trying to make his way as an amateur in the world of professional poker, taking in a range of exotic locations from Morocco to Las Vegas and culminating in a creditable but ultimately failed attempt at the 1988 World Series of Poker. To men in their early twenties, with the responsibilities of family and the joys of a mortgage still ahead of them, it appeared an impossibly romantic lifestyle, and in our small way we were determined to capture some of it.
SF magazine subscribers only
Honest Jim and the Double Helix

Honest Jim and the Double Helix

It isn’t every day that I eat pizza with a Nobel laureate. The experience was a fringe benefit of an undergraduate studentship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a cluster of biological research labs perched incongruously on the coast of Long Island, New York. The institute has played host to an impressive eight Nobel laureates in the past half-century, the most famous being James Watson, who together with Francis Crick solved the structure of DNA and set molecular biology in motion. Cold Spring Harbor is, in short, a heady place for a young scientist.
SF magazine subscribers only

From Convent to Kitchen Table

It is sobering to think how literary fashions change. Deciding to read the whole oeuvre of Alice Thomas Ellis once more, I went to the excellent Camilla’s Bookshop in Eastbourne, where not a single copy was to be found, and where the assistant asked me ‘Who was she? What did she write?’ Other second-hand bookshops proving equally fruitless, I went to the library, where the lady at the desk looked her up on the computer. ‘These are old books,’ she said. Long banished from the open shelves, the novels I requested would have to come all the way from Shoreham. A sad fate for an author who was fashionable not so very long ago. But Anna (as everyone called her) would not have minded: she was sharply aware of death throughout her life, and a period of posthumous literary quiescence would have pleased her; she, more than most authors of her time, knew in the midst of literary celebrity, that all flesh is grass.
SF magazine subscribers only

Sign up to our e-newsletter

Sign up for dispatches about new issues, books and podcast episodes, highlights from the archive, events, special offers and giveaways.

By signing up for our free email newsletter or our free printed catalogues, you will not automatically be subscribed to the quarterly magazine. To become a subscriber to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly Magazine, please visit our subscriptions page.

Slightly Foxed undertakes to keep your personal information confidential. You can read more about this in our Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from our list at any point by changing your preferences, or contacting us directly. Alternatively, if you have an account you can manage your preferences in your account settings.

What excellent company you are!

I have been devoted to your podcast for over a year; it could be improved only by being more frequent. Every book I have ordered from you has been a delight; nothing disappoints. I receive your emails with pleasure, and that’s saying a lot. Slightly Foxed is a source of content . . . ’
K. Nichols, Washington, USA

Sign up to our e-newsletter

Sign up for dispatches about new issues, books and podcast episodes, highlights from the archive, events, special offers and giveaways.