It’s a hopeful time of year. The stalwart London plane trees have unfurled their leaves, and the sun is rising higher behind the City domes, towers and spires that we can see from our now not-so-new office windows. City-dwellers are beginning, as Hardy said, to ‘dream of the south and west’, and we hope that the travellers among you, armchair and otherwise, will enjoy Barnaby Rogerson’s piece on travel writing on p.11.
Recently, however, we attended a sad event – a wake for the Angel Bookshop, our well-loved local. Its owner, John Murray Brown, has been looking after the needs of Islington readers of all ages for several decades and has been one of our great supporters. We loved the shop’s cosy and unhurried atmosphere, the carefully chosen selection of books, the willingness of John and his assistants to chase up any title on the increasingly antiquated microfiche, the determinedly lowkey windows, their display cards, usually unsatisfactorily held up with Sellotape, sometimes slipping at crazy angles. No loud banners shouted at you, nothing pressured you to buy, but you never failed to come away with more books than you’d intended. With its position in the heart of Camden Passage the Angel Bookshop was an Islington institution – until the giants moved into the area and it could no longer compete.
The wake was attended by regular customers of all kinds who came to raise a glass and say farewell while books flew off the shelves at the Closing Down sale. As John said, ‘If I’d been selling books at this rate, I’d still be in business.’ An object lesson there – you don’t know how much you’ll miss your local bookshop until it’s gone.
Another, more cheerful event for us was our appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival. About fifty people came, and virtually filled a pleasant wood-panelled room in the Oxford Union. The novelist Penelope Lively, who introduced us, began with a look at the history of small literary magazines, quoting Ian Hamilton who defined them in his book The Little Magazines as having ‘small resources, small respect for the supposed mysteries of “how to run a business”, and small appeal outside a very small minority of readers’ – though she hastened to except Slightly Foxed from this description. In fact she joked that, with our rising subscription level, we are becoming ‘dangerously mass market’.
As always it was a pleasure to meet subscribers, and also those for whom this was a first contact with Slightly Foxed. We felt great support and interest from questioners after we had described our experiences of setting up the quarterly, and what we hoped to achieve. And there was at least one other editor of a small magazine in the audience. We shall be appearing next at the ‘Ways with Words’ Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon on Friday, 15 July, again introduced by Penelope, who will also be giving a talk on writing that day called ‘Making It Up’. Dartington is a perfect place for a literary festival, a medieval manor house with a great hall, set in idyllic grounds, and well worth a visit in its own right. Details of Festival events are available on www.wayswithwords.co.uk.
We would love to see any of you there who can make it. And whether you are travelling to far-flung places this summer or simply staying at home, we hope you’ll find this issue of Slightly Foxed good company.