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Issue 51

1st September 2016

Slightly Foxed Issue 51: From the Editors

After the events of the past few months, we must admit that, though extremely cheerful and optimistic, we’re also feeling a bit ruminative here in the office. Somehow the timeless and civilizing things we hope Slightly Foxed stands for seem more important than ever at a moment of change like this. We hope, anyway, that with the arrival of this autumn issue you can relax, draw the curtains – actual or metaphorical – and, as one of our American readers recently described it, ‘breathe a sigh of relief and slip into a world of thoughtfulness and good humor’.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Hanging Out on the Maginot Line

Hanging Out on the Maginot Line

In 1989 I was commissioned to write and present a programme about the Phoney War for BBC Radio 4. My research took me to the Imperial War Museum’s sound archives and the testimony of a Dunkirk veteran called Anthony Rhodes, who was commissioned into the Royal Engineers shortly before Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. At that stage I’d no idea Rhodes had written a book about his experiences, but what he had to say on tape was exemplary . . .
Caught in the Act

Caught in the Act

I waited until my wife was looking the other way, nipped quickly in and bought it. Admittedly, it weighed six pounds, its heavy leather binding was rather battered and, as the label said, it ‘lacks part of brass lock’; but it was irresistible, even at £50 – once clearly irresistible, too, to His Majesty King Edward VII, a collection of dukes and duchesses, and ‘the whole of the leading members of the theatrical profession’, all of whom had been ‘pleased to subscribe, in advance of publication’.
SF magazine subscribers only

Not-so-gay Paree

I first read Jean Rhys in my mid-teens; a copy of Quartet from my parents’ bookshelf, which drew me with its undemanding slimness and its cover featuring the beautiful face of Isabelle Adjani in soft focus above a chessboard with the heads of Maggie Smith and Alan Bates floating around her. (The three starred in the Merchant Ivory film of the book, which I have never seen.) From the back cover I learned it was set amid ‘the winter-wet streets of Montparnasse, Pernods in smoke-filled cafés [and] . . . cheap hotel rooms with mauve-flowered wallpaper’. Chic Parisian misery: just what teenage girls love. 
SF magazine subscribers only
Land of Lost Content

Land of Lost Content

One afternoon sometime in the early 1950s, the lad who by a country mile was my father’s ablest pupil in his sixth-form French and Spanish class rang our doorbell, and announced that the schoolgirl on his arm had just consented to become his wife. Not immediately, of course, but as soon as both had made it through the higher education which would force them to live far from each other for the next three or four years. That lad was Ted Walker, his bride-to-be Lorna Benfell. The two had met when he was 14, she one year older. They’d fallen urgently in love. Ted wanted my parents to be among the first to hear. He held them both in high regard, and they him – a mutual affection that lasted to the end.
SF magazine subscribers only

A Purple Gentian

I read Einstein’s Dreams (1992), by Alan Lightman, not long after it was published. I was in my mid-20s, freshly released from a degree in maths and physics I had understood very little of, and then a diploma in journalism. I wasn’t a scientist, certainly not a physicist (I loved physics but just wasn’t any good at it). I was working as a science journalist, but what I really wanted to write was fiction that somehow incorporated science. And Alan Lightman was the first author I’d come across who did this, beautifully.
SF magazine subscribers only
Raising the Dead

Raising the Dead

Someone must have recommended it. Otherwise there’s no way, twenty years ago, I’d have picked up an 880-page book about the French Revolution. Even a novel. But I did pick up Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety (1992), and I was immediately sucked into the vortex of this swirling, populous epic that animates one of history’s greatest and bloodiest convulsions. My paperback bears the scars of my attention: the faded front cover is detached and veined with creases, the corners worn and blurred, the pages dog-eared and soft as cloth. The impact the book had on me in return feels almost as physical. Because history, until that point, had left me completely cold. With A Place of Greater Safety, it suddenly came to hot-blooded life and stepped right off the page.
SF magazine subscribers only

Mostly in the Mind

I watched a lot of television in my twenties and I doubt whether it did me much good. But it did lead, indirectly, to my discovering the fascinating novels of Nigel Balchin. In 1990 I saw a TV drama series, bought a copy of the book on which it had been based and, among the endpapers, spotted a notice for another novel that sounded intriguing: The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin. I’d never heard of Balchin but tracked down The Small Back Room, read it and instantly became an ardent fan. I devoted much of the rest of the decade to finding and reading his other novels (he wrote fourteen in all), and now consider Mine Own Executioner to be one of the very best of them.
SF magazine subscribers only
Goodbye to All What?

Goodbye to All What?

Now I found myself asking: what was Robert Graves saying ‘goodbye’ to? When he published Goodbye to All That (1929), his startling memoir of his youth and his experiences on the Western Front in the First World War, he was 34. Most of the book recalls events that had ended a decade earlier. He says: ‘I had by the age of 23, been born, initiated into a formal religion, travelled, learned to lie, loved unhappily, been married, gone to the war, taken life, procreated my kind, rejected formal religion, won fame and been killed.’ Are these life events to which one can bid adieu?
SF magazine subscribers only
Collapse in the Colony

Collapse in the Colony

With two prize-winning novels – Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur (see SF nos. 49 and 50) – behind him, J. G. Farrell felt sufficiently confident to paint his next exploration of the decline of the British Empire on a larger canvas. The Singapore Grip (1978), set in the build-up to Japan’s invasion of the colony in 1942, continues the theme of its predecessors in portraying a complacent élite teetering on the edge of an abyss and then tumbling to its fate.
SF magazine subscribers only

A Battersea Childhood

Richard Church is remembered, if at all, as a late-flowering Georgian poet and a busy man of letters who contributed reviews to such long-forgotten periodicals as John O’London’s Weekly, and who in due course became Dylan Thomas’s baffled and increasingly embattled editor at J. M. Dent. But he deserves to be better known, if only for one book. Published by Heinemann in 1955, Over the Bridge is the first volume in an autobiographical trilogy.
SF magazine subscribers only

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