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Slightly Foxed Issue 55: From the Editors

News came recently that sales of printed books have grown for the first time in four years while sales of ebooks have declined. ‘It would appear that there remains a special place in the consumer’s heart for the aesthetic pleasure that printed books can bring’ the chief executive of the Publishers’ Association is quoted as saying.

No doubt all Slightly Foxed readers will heartily agree with that, but though we can’t deny that we two are somewhat ill at ease in the digital world and leave tweeting to the younger members of staff, the same clearly doesn’t apply to a large number of SF readers. Jennie reports that many of you are extremely tech savvy, writing in from your iPads, following us on social media, using our website to order online and keeping up to date via our email newsletter.

All that is excellent, but Slightly Foxed is a broad church and we’d like to reassure those of you who still live, in spirit anyway, in a predigital world that we’re always on the end of a phone and we love to receive your letters (and of course your posted orders). As we originally promised all those years ago, you will always be answered by a human being when you write or phone, and we will never all be ‘in a meeting’. And of course we’ll go on providing you with ‘the aesthetic pleasure that printed books can bring’ as well as some wonderful reads into the bargain.

Which brings us to the latest of our SFEs, The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary, one of the great classic memoirs of the Second World War (see p. 14). In it Hillary describes how, as a somewhat arrogant young man, fresh from public school and Oxford, he abandoned university to train as a pilot on the outbreak of war in 1939. Shot down in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, he suffered terrible burns and was treated by the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. During those brief and gruelling wartime months this once good-looking and privileged young man was forced to grow up as he struggled to come to terms with his defacing injuries and mourned the loss of his friends. The Last Enemy, his final tribute to them, was published in 1942, only months before he himself died in a second crash. It’s a disturbing yet uplifting book, intense, honest and unforgettable.

Many older readers of SF, we suspect, will remember being spellbound as children by two books written by someone mysteriously named ‘BB’ – the pen name of Denys Watkins-Pitchford. The Little Grey Men and Down the Bright Stream tell the story of the last gnomes of England, of their heroic quest to find their lost brother Cloudberry, and of their flight from an England which is fast being despoiled and polluted by Man. BB was an unrivalled storyteller, but what makes these books unique is their magical evocation of the unspoiled English countryside of BB’s childhood. We’ve now reissued them as a pair of Cubs with BB’s lovely original black-and-white illustrations (see p. 31).

And finally, for those of you who might have missed them first time round, we’ve just brought two great favourites back into print as Plain Foxed Editions. A Boy at the Hogarth Press & A Parcel of Time (see Issue 20) is Richard Kennedy’s mischievously funny account of working as a young trainee publisher for Leonard and Virginia Woolf and his equally engaging memoir of growing up. General Sir John Hackett’s I Was a Stranger (see Issue 41) is the extraordinary and moving story of his rescue by the Dutch resistance after the Battle of Arnhem when, badly wounded, he was hidden and nursed back to health by three spinster sisters in a small Nazi-occupied Dutch town. Both perfect autumn reading.

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