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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 . . . ’
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Perilous Times

In the summer of 1974, the author Olivia Manning reread the transcript of a BBC radio talk she had given eleven years earlier about her arrival in Cairo in 1941 with her husband, Reggie Smith. Although she was not well, it inspired her to follow her Balkan trilogy (see SF no. 63), detailing the wartime experiences of Harriet and Guy Pringle in Bucharest and Athens, with a second sequence set in Egypt and the Middle East. The task took five years and by the time it was finished Manning had only months to live. She died in July 1980, aged 72.
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Joan’s Books

Joan’s Books

Joan Aiken was the daughter of the American poet laureate Conrad Aiken and the Canadian writer Jessie MacDonald, and two of her siblings also wrote books, so writing clearly ran in the family. From her pen came a raft of books, including a handful of Jane Austen sequels, period romances, supernatural short stories and most things in between. What I want to write about here though is her sequence of eleven novels for children that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 1962 – page-turning adventure stories, set in a mostly historical past, with a sprinkling of the paranormal and a bucketful of brilliant characters.
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All the World’s a Stage

When I was a child, people of a certain age who met my father often remarked, ‘You look just like Simon Callow.’ I had no idea who Simon Callow was, so my father bought me his autobiography, Being an Actor (1986). Over the years it has become my battered treasure, all creased corners and cracked spine, highlighted and annotated, lent to friends and quickly sought back. Callow takes us into a singular world where the emotions and anxieties of ordinary life are exposed, examined and amplified. He offers insight into what it is to be an actor and, I would say, what it is to be human.
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Great Gossips

Great Gossips

T. H. White (1906–64) was clearly a strange fellow, which should be evident to anyone who has read his books. The best known, of course, is his Arthurian epic, The Once and Future King (progenitor of Camelot), but he also wrote such memorable – and delightful – books as Mistress Masham’s Repose (about a crew of Lilliputians who fetch up in the garden of an English estate, see SF no. 2), a moving account of training a goshawk, and a sort of diary about field sports and flying called England Have My Bones. He even translated a medieval bestiary.
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Building Jerusalem

I met the novelist Ruth Adler thirty years ago. She was then in her eighties, an elegant, quietly spoken but forthright woman. For a while she had been, as my husband put it, one of his many mothers. For much of his childhood during the Second World War and in the years that followed, while his own mother was working after her divorce, Raphael was parked on relatives or close friends. All of them, like Ruth Adler – the pen name of Ray Waterman – were members of the British Communist Party, the majority having joined in the 1930s. ‘Party’ households were not renowned for their comfort; Raphael’s mother scorned domesticity as bourgeois. So he generally found himself in cheerless, spartan rooms strewn with a few utilitarian items, table and chairs piled up with pamphlets, as if awaiting a committee meeting. But Ray’s house was special. Soft furnishings, pottery, paintings and, above all, the feeling of a home.
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A Delight in Digression

A Delight in Digression

In the north London suburb of Edmonton where I grew up, virtually the only feature of note is Charles Lamb’s cottage in Church Street, which is marked with a blue plaque. The essayist lived there in the first half of the nineteenth century. Lamb was born in 1775 and in 1792 began thirty-three years of tedious work as a clerk at the East India Company counting-house. Over the length of his adult life he lived – on and off – with his sister Mary. Their story is told in Sarah Burton’s highly readable A Double Life: A Biography of Charles and Mary Lamb (2003).
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Love and Friendship

One summer’s evening, at the age of 13 or 14, Rose Tremain had what she describes as ‘an epiphany’. She had been playing tennis with friends at school, but was alone, when she was overcome with the certainty that writing was ‘the only thing I wanted to do’; that her life would be half-lived if not devoted to words. It would be quite a while before she was able to live out this conviction – when her first novel was published she was in her early thirties – but in the fullness of time Rose Tremain was to become one of the most prolific and best-loved novelists of her generation . . .
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Anguish Revisited

Anguish Revisited

At boarding school in the late Sixties we had as our English teacher a Miss J. H. B. Jones. Coaxing us self-absorbed teenagers through the A-level syllabus she was diffident, patient and unassuming, and had it not been for a brief conversation in which she suggested I read The Death of the Heart (1938) by Elizabeth Bowen, I’m sorry to say I would by now have forgotten her utterly. But I went off for the long summer holiday and took her advice; I have my Penguin copy fifty years later, and the cover illustration of a young girl wearing an anguished expression still takes me back to those inevitably anguished years.
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The Fanny Factor

The Fanny Factor

It was some time in the mid-Sixties when things began to change in my mother’s kitchen. First we got a fridge. Farewell mesh-doored meat safe, farewell flecks of curdled milk floating in your tea. The second thing that happened was Fanny Cradock. This was a brief love affair – my mum later transferred her culinary trust and affection to Delia Smith – but while it lasted its impact was astonishing. Expenditure on piping bags, time spent tracking down a butter curler and a grapefruit knife, foods coloured contrary to the laws of Nature: the responsibility for this and much more could be laid at Fanny’s door.
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Ayrshire Romantic

The great wave of Romanticism that swept over Scottish literature from the mid-Victorian era onwards was always going to have its answering cry. This tendency was particularly marked among the group of twentieth-century writers who had grown up in its paralysing shadow. There you were, in your draughty schoolroom somewhere near Inverness, being lectured about Queen Victoria’s ‘Jacobite moods’ and having it dinned into your head that Waverley was the greatest novel ever written north of the Tweed, while outside the window the unemployment queues grew longer and the winds swept in from continental Europe.
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Thames Valley Blues

Patrick Hamilton, now best known for his novel Hangover Square and the play Gaslight, was a troubled man who is often seen as the court poet of shabby alcoholics and wandering drunkards. He is, however, also the bard of a particular area west of London, that part of the Thames valley that extends from just beyond Slough to Reading, where his characters often go to seek refuge from the excesses of the city. This is a strange hinterland of pretty villages and small towns occupied largely by people who work in London, places that are eerily quiet during the week (apart from the air traffic from Heathrow, which of course Hamilton knew nothing about) and yet vitally attached to the metropolis.
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A Master of Invention

A Master of Invention

We lived in Dahl’s world, my brother and I more literally than most children since we grew up a couple of miles from Gypsy House, his home in Great Missenden. As we drove past it my parents would always say: ‘That’s where Roald Dahl lives.’ I think I used to doubt them. Could Dahl really live somewhere as prosaic as an ordinary house in rural Buckinghamshire? I liked to think he lived in a Willy Wonka-style factory turning out madcap books with the help of oompa loompas. I met him once at a charity event; he was sitting at a table looking very old and signing books.
Accepting an Invitation

Accepting an Invitation

Reading Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure this summer, the memory of my first acquaintance with her has been strong. I’ve heard the precise tones and emphases of her own reading in every line and I’ve realized what I didn’t before, namely that her story offers a wonderfully detailed and idiosyncratic account of life between the wars in Britain. Her narrative is punctuated with well-known names, but above all it offers a vivid sense of what it was like to inhabit a body at a particular point in time.
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The House of Elrig | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

The House of Elrig | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

‘This is a beautiful, sparkling book, a brief glimpse of a wild childhood that is recognizable even in its strangeness – he has captured the essence of youth, that delicate balance of happiness and misery.’ Before we become tangled in ribbon and swaddled in wrapping paper, we thought it timely to browse our bookshelves and head to the windswept shores of Galloway for some bracing fresh air. This article by Galen O’Hanlon appeared as the preface to our limited hardback edition of Gavin Maxwell’s The House of Elrig.

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