Looking back over the past strange and difficult months, it’s cheering to see some of the good things that have come out of the ‘new normal’. One is Bookshop.org, a website launched last autumn to enable independent bookshops to continue trading online through the pandemic, which generated £1 million profit for indie bookshops in its first four months. It has enabled many a struggling bookshop to avoid furloughing staff and help pay its running costs and we hope it will gather strength in the online fight to challenge the behemoth that is Amazon. Definitely worth checking out.
As to Slightly Foxed, we can only say yet again that the pandemic has shown us just how truly loyal SF readers are. We’ve been touched by the many ways in which you have shown your support, from thoughtful and encouraging messages to extra sales, and the podcasts have brought you and SF together in an especially meaningful way. Though we’re still scattered when we record them, Philippa in Cambridge, Gail in Devon, Hazel and Anna in London, Steph in West Sussex and Jennie in her cottage on the Norfolk border, we’re looking forward to getting together in the office again, and we feel optimistic about the future.
Having spent so much time looking at our own four walls, many of us are probably dreaming of a getaway somewhere this summer. But whether you’re at home or away, this magic-carpet issue of SF will transport you much further, to distant places and other times, in the company of some fascinating writers. Among them, V. S. Naipaul takes us to Trinidad, Rose Macaulay to the shores of the Black Sea, Robert Graves to Rome in the days of the Emperor Claudius, and Anthony Burgess to the seedy backstreets of Kuala Lumpur in the dying days of British colonial rule.
This season’s new Slightly Foxed Edition is a memoir of a very unusual kind. It might even be described as a travel book, for in it the historian Richard Cobb, known for both his brilliant books on French history and his unconventional lifestyle, recreates in entrancing detail the Tunbridge Wells of his childhood in the 1920s and ’30s, leading us through the town and into the lives of its inhabitants, from his mother’s tweed-and-Jaeger clad bridge-playing friends to Baroness Olga, the town’s only victim of the Russian Revolution. This quiet backwater, Cobb writes, was ‘a society in which a rather frightened child could feel at home’, and it’s a great antidote to troubled times we think.
We’re also reissuing another of our best-loved SFEs in a Plain Foxed Edition, Look Back with Love by the novelist Dodie Smith, best known as the author of I Capture the Castle and The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Dodie grew up in Manchester’s Victorian suburbs at the turn of the last century in the jolliest possible extended family. The Furbers adored seaside trips, motor-car outings, fair- grounds, circuses, jokes, charades and musical soirées, all of which had their influence on Dodie. Her memoir gives a marvellous picture of life in a large Edwardian family, and of the little girl who said, ‘I’m an oddity really. But I do my very very best to write well.’
Perhaps the same might be said of dear Slightly Foxed. We look forward to the rest of a year that’s full of plans and to seeing some of you in person again, we hope, at Readers’ Day in November.