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Articles & Extracts

‘Ah, good morning my pet,’ said Grand . . .

‘Ah, good morning my pet,’ said Grand . . .

Grand was my father’s mother and Grandpa Holman-Hunt’s widow. I knew he was the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and that she was also known as Mrs H-H. ‘Well, fancy you, going to pay a visit all alone,’ said Hannah, dusting a wooden chair for me to sit on. ‘Careful dear, you don’t want to crease that nice new dress.’ ‘Paying a visit is what Grand calls going to the lavatory, except she calls it the convenience. Unmentionables are socks and drawers.’
Basil Street Blues Extract | ‘What shall we do with the boy?’

Basil Street Blues Extract | ‘What shall we do with the boy?’

‘What shall we do with the boy?’ That cry comes back to me whenever I think of my early years at Maidenhead. As if to answer the question, my father, in the intervals from his career in France, would turn up at Norhurst with some devastating present – an air rifle, chemistry set, conjuring tricks or even golf club – and after a few flourishes and gestures, a few words of encouragement and a laugh, leave the fine tuning of my tuition as rifleman, chemist, magician or golfer to my aunt while he returned to fight the Germans or encourage the French. My aunt did her best, but I remember thinking one rainy day as we quarried out some lumps of ice to put on her forehead while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, that we shouldn’t have chosen the dining-room to play cricket.
My Salinger Year Extract | Part I: Winter

My Salinger Year Extract | Part I: Winter

We all have to start somewhere. For me, that somewhere was a dark room, lined from floor to ceiling with books, rows and rows of books sorted by author, books from every conceivable era of the twentieth century, their covers bearing the design hallmarks of the moments in which they’d been released into the world – the whimsical line drawings of the 1920s, the dour mustards and maroons of the late 1950s, the gauzy watercolor portraits of the 1970s – books that defined my days and the days of the others who worked within this dark warren of offices. When my colleagues uttered the names on the spines of those books, their voices turned husky and reverential, for these were names of godlike status to the literarily inclined. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner. But this was, and is, a literary agency, which means those names on the spines represented something else, something else that leads people to speak in hushed voices, something that I’d previously thought had absolutely nothing to do with books and literature: money.
1st March 2024

Slightly Foxed Issue 81: From the Editors

In the spring of our twentieth anniversary year we’ve been feeling a little ruminative – looking back on the good times and all the fun we’ve had, but also remembering crises like the Covid lockdowns, when the whole world seemed out of joint, as it surely does at present. At difficult times like these it’s very clear from your messages how much the regular arrival of Slightly Foxed means to you and what a comfort reading and the sharing of reading can be. There’s nothing quite like a friendship formed over books – something Vesna Goldsworthy recalls in her piece on p.19 describing her meetings over many years with the novelist Graham Swift. There was, she says, always a certain reserve between them, but ‘it evaporated when we spoke about books, and those were always the best exchanges’.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Pulsing Hearts beneath the Tweed

Pulsing Hearts beneath the Tweed

Antiquarian bookselling is not a famously perilous profession. In my nineteen years at Sotheran’s, the antiquarian bookdealer in London, I have never had a life insurance policy refused on the grounds of risk to life and limb, and I don’t face mortal danger in my quotidian round of bibliophile duties. It might, therefore, seem fanciful when I say that Bernard J. Farmer’s detective novel Death of a Bookseller (1958) manages to combine a devilish murder plot with a realistic depiction of the London antiquarian book trade, but I promise it isn’t. The book may be over sixty years old now, but much of what it reveals about the trade is as true today as it was then.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Gale Called Maria

A Gale Called Maria

I first learned about the concept of the ‘pathetic fallacy’ when I was doing my A levels three decades ago. The furious winds that tore through Wuthering Heights – or across the playing fields of my school in Sheffield – were not actually furious, our teacher helpfully explained, because they were inanimate and so could not be given human characteristics. We diligently took note of the fact that weather was often described in this way, and trusted that if we successfully identified this during our summer exams we could expect to gain some valuable additional marks. As with so much at school, I never entirely understood the significance of the phrase, but it stuck with me. And it came to mind again when I read George R. Stewart’s extraordinary novel Storm (1941) for the first time.
SF magazine subscribers only
Voyage to the Blessed Isles

Voyage to the Blessed Isles

I first came across Derek Walcott’s narrative poem ‘The Schooner Flight ’ in the mid-1980s, when I was travelling on a Commonwealth bursary through the Caribbean. I was away from England for two months, on an island-stepping journey whose final destination was St Lucia in the Windward Islands – where I once worked at a radio station, and where my wife and I spent the first two years of our marriage. I must have regarded my return to St Lucia after a decade and a half as a kind of culmination – Ithaca at the end of an odyssey – and I was nervous as I walked across the tarmac at Castries airport.
SF magazine subscribers only
Sex and Silliness and Sorrow

Sex and Silliness and Sorrow

I was at the Dartington Festival in the very early 1990s with Esther Freud and Elspeth Barker, whose first novels I had published at Hamish Hamilton. We knew that Barbara Trapido was appearing and we filed into the Great Hall and sat at the back, giggling at the school-like atmosphere. Barbara walked on to the stage, sat down and in a throaty voice began to read from the beginning of what was to become her fourth novel, Juggling (1994). We stopped giggling and leaned forward, trying to catch every word, transported – as if we’d been led through the wardrobe and into a new land. We were in the hands of a magician, a spinner of spells, and afterwards we crowded up to her. We knew we wanted her in our lives.
SF magazine subscribers only
Master of Invention

Master of Invention

The Book of Disquiet (1982) is, strictly speaking, a book that isn’t a book by an author who isn’t an author. How does such a thing come into the world? Perhaps only under a very unusual configuration of stars. The great Portuguese modernist writer Fernando Pessoa might have been able to tell us: a firm believer in astrology, he would cast horoscopes for the non-existent authors whose many works he wrote. Two of these phantoms are responsible for The Book of Disquiet, although it is credited finally to only one, Bernardo Soares. The first, Vicente Guedes, slowly vanishes over the decades of its creation, lingering only as the ghost of a ghost.
SF magazine subscribers only
Hanging Around in Doorways

Hanging Around in Doorways

I first read Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding (1946) in my twenties – a teaching colleague had recommended it – and loved it. I took it at face value: I enjoyed its plot, succumbed to its atmosphere, appreciated its descriptions and believed in its characters. I remembered it as a Good Book and sought out others by McCullers (always admiring her titles – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Ballad of the Sad Café). But in your twenties you are robust, busy looking ahead and perhaps less inclined to dwell on the past. You don’t necessarily think sad stories apply to you. Now, rereading it several decades later, I am surprised at how moved I am by Frankie, the central character, and how much I identify with her. Which is odd, considering she is a 12-year-old on the brink of adolescence and I am 72.
SF magazine subscribers only

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