Hazel Wood on P. Y. Betts, People Who Say Goodbye

Learn-As-You-Burn

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When Slightly Foxed was young, only a few issues old in fact, the writer Christopher Hawtree came to us with the story of P. Y. Betts and her childhood memoir People Who Say Goodbye. We loved the book, and a piece about it by Christopher appeared in Issue 7. Now, several years later, we’re delighted to have the chance to issue People Who Say Goodbye as a Slightly Foxed Edition.

P. Y. Betts was one of those mysteriously disappearing authors, successful early on as a short-story writer and contributor to Graham Greene’s prestigious but short-lived magazine Night and Day, which was scuppered by a libel suit in 1937. In the 1930s she also published French Polish, a funny and sharply observed novel about a girls’ finishing school. She was then heard of no more until, fifty years later, the writer Christopher Hawtree came across her name in the British Library and ran her to ground, living contentedly alone on a remote smallholding in Wales. Encouraged by a publisher, she took up her pen again and wrote People Who Say Goodbye.

The unconventional course of P. Y. Betts’s literary life seems all of a piece with her character. There is a humorous, clear-eyed detachment about her view of the world and those around her – no doubt inherited from her energetic, forthright mother and her father, a laid-back character always ready with a joke, who refused to kow-tow to his superior in-laws – that tells you she was always going to be her own person; someone, indeed, whose voice is as wonderfully alive and individual today as it was seventy years ago.

She was born in 1909, in a house on the edge of Wandsworth Common. Up the road was a military hospi

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About the contributor

Hazel Wood grew up in an unconventional household, worked in Fleet Street, and is now co-editor of Slightly Foxed.

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