How cheering it is to see that there are signs of spring now both in the air and in the step of the people walking along Old Street and in the little streets around Hoxton Square. It feels as if Londoners are tentatively starting to pick up the threads of their lives again. As we’ve reported before, life in the Slightly Foxed office has not in fact been so very different during this last extraordinary year, except perhaps that we’ve been busier than usual – support from you for which we’ll be forever grateful. Anna, Hattie and Jess have been brilliant at keeping the show on the road, whatever the restrictions, and now Jennie is back with us from maternity leave – another reason to be cheerful.
We’re full of publishing plans for 2021, and for another series of podcasts. These have struck a note with so many of you during a year in which most of us yearned for companionable conversation and the feeling of normality and continuity that talk about books and writers can bring. In the autumn the Spectator’s reviewer described our podcast as ‘muskily lovely . . . the sort of thing you can imagine listening to with a dog at your feet and a whisky at your side’, praising the cosy and calming atmosphere and the fact that we allow our guests to have their say before plying them with questions. This is probably because we’re so genuinely fascinated by them and what they’re saying, on subjects which have ranged from garden writing to the workings of a small publisher.
For those of you who enjoyed our winter Slightly Foxed Edition Cider with Rosie, perhaps rediscovering this magical book after many years, our new spring SFE continues Laurie Lee’s autobiographical trilogy. In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning he describes how at the age of 19 he said goodbye to his Cotswold childhood and set out on foot to see the world with only his violin for company (see p.12). So began a year of wandering that took him to London and then on foot through Spain, from Vigo in the north down to the Mediterranean. It’s a dark and brooding picture of a country still trapped in the Middle Ages but hovering on the brink of revolution. For Lee his journey wasn’t simply a coming of age but an experience that marked him for ever and drew him back to Spain again to fight on the Republican side in the Civil War.
New out in our Cubs series is Dawn Wind, the next of Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novels recreating early Britain from the last years of the Roman occupation into the mysterious period known as the Dark Ages (see p.59). Its young hero Owain, who has both British and Roman blood in his veins, is the sole human survivor of a terrible battle with the Saxons, and his struggles are another, though very different, coming-of-age story. Sutcliff has the most astonishing gift for breathing life into her characters, both human and animal, and for evoking an atmosphere that lingers in the mind – entering a little early Christian church, Owain is met by ‘a whisper of incense, mingled with the smell of age and shadows’. We have both read Dawn Wind and the other books in the series several times in the process of reissuing them, and they never pall.
And finally, our congratulations to Frances Keeton of Dundee, the winner of our twelfth annual crossword competition, who receives a free annual subscription. For those of you still foxed by some of the clues, the answers are on p.95.