Sunday, 19 December 2010


I am typing in a very pleased state of shock. I didn't expect to be on a list of '10 Reads that have entertained me this year'. I'm being realistic as I'm a tiny publisher, but I'm absolutely delighted at the compliment the wonderful Elaine has paid me.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Grey, pink and orange

This has been a lovely week: lots of wonderful orders (again, probably presents as I don't usually have so many men buying) and a booksigning with Jane Brocket of Yarnstorm at Persephone Books. When I arrived at the shop, a small cluster of hardy types were chatting outside while sipping mulled wine. Inside, there was barely room to turn around with your wine glass and it took a while to find Jane who was sitting towards the middle of the room getting on with a simple piece of embroidery. She'd worked the horizontals and verticals in regular yellow stripes and was happily filling in squares of pink, orange and (I think) purple while chatting to everyone. I suppose I'm not used to authors being quite so friendly and interested in meeting people - many are much more shy. She was kind enough to sign my book and I wandered home happily with a copy of High Wages which I'm rushing through; I may need to read it a second time for detail. It was a bookishly touristy day in London as I went to Persephone and then wandered home via the Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court. Quinto's complicated staircase with unequal steps is easier each time I carefully navigate my way down and they seem to have restocked recently with masses of interesting novels from the 1930s and 1940s on the shelves.

To veer in a completely different direction, I'm having a break from the blog from now until the New Year. However, the shop will be open over Christmas and will only be closed on standard public holidays.

Enjoy the festivities everyone and I'll be back in January.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cutting and sticking

Tonight is a night for packing books. I suspect from the number of orders addressed to men that their wives or girlfriends have handed them a neat wish list. I'm always thankful for orders, especially a glut as it makes the step to the second title easier.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

New project underway - "Second Title"

Well, that says it all. Another lovely new project to co-ordinate, design, typeset and then proof. The final stage seemed to take the longest with The Whicharts - proof-reading required intense concentration and masses of patience. More news to come when I have it.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Follies (and a sense of pride)

I'm in a sorting and tidying frame of mind tonight. Fortunately, I've finished all the business filing and feel ridiculously pleased with myself. What I can now do is look through the new-to-me Follies that I've been given. Folly (Fans of Light Literature for the Young) has been running for some years and I find it a very useful resource. Much as I enjoy rummaging through library catalogues and ordering new secondhand (probably vintage) books on the strength of a mention on a DW and you do find treasures that way, there's nothing like a personal recommendation to influence you.

Thanks also, to S. of Folly, who gave The Whicharts such a generous review. I've added it to the main site just in case anyone is hesitating to buy the Noel Streatfeild fan in their life a real treat (and rarity). Possibly a more important factor in their decision is price - I've joined Amazon in their winter holiday discounting, so enjoy.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sifting towards a shortlist

It's a smudge after one o'clock in the afternoon and I find that I need the reading light on already. It's a grey, damp light and the day will only improve with warming spiced pork supper and apfelstrudel. Now that supper is as prepared as it can be for the time being, I have presents to purchase, so I am mentally shortlisting. A gentle wander around Foyles - I needed to read blurbs and turn pages gently - has helped greatly in sifting.

The reissued hardback of Ballet Shoes is a perfect 'small present', white cloth binding with rich red wine ribbon bow at the front and a delicate embossed picture of Pauline, Petrova and Posy. It's a beautiful design and I'm continually impressed by the enduring interest in the book - I don't think it's ever actually been out of print since 1936. For myself, I'd like a copy with the original silver dustwrapper, but I don't have a fairy godparent with deep pockets. A publisher can continue dreaming.

I may need to buy a duplicate copy of The Help, just so that I prise my own copy back from eager reader relative who takes great care of my books, but reads them slowly.
For friends who, like me, have taken to 'costume crime', I'll need to introduce them to Nicola Upson and Frances Brody. Both fascinating for the types who love period detail. A word of warning, though, the scene in Two for Sorrow where a seamstress dies with a mouth stuffed with cut-glass beads left me turning the pages rapidly - I don't usually 'skip' (unless it's a Chalet School sale or night in mountain hut), but this necessitated a swift jump to the next chapter.

I also intend to spend some of my Christmas holiday inside with a good, long book or three. My cooking will be designed to be the sort that needs long slow cooking in the oven with minimum intervention from me. This means, I hope, that I will be able to start (and finish) Kate Morton's The Distant Hours, reread Just Henry and stamina is needed for that, and try Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet. The book claims a contemporary crisis in ballet, so I'd like to read the argument.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Browsing happily

I'd like some new books to take me out of damp November darkness. Actually, I quite like winter, but crisp snowy winter, not damp slush or freezing rain. To that end, I can feel comforted by an 'intentions' list of books to be purchased and hidden away for the Christmas holidays:

To start with, Kaye Webb's biography So Much to Tell. I have heard many good things about this and want some time over Christmas to concentrate on this. I never joined the Puffin Club, but I read the sections at the end of my puffins avidly. The phrase 'books for keeps' and 'nuffin' like a Puffin' are still locked into my head and very useful criteria when you need to clear shelf space. Some books are temporary, but rather more are 'for keeps' and always.

Kate Morton's latest, The Distant Hours, from an author who understands the appeal of old letters, family secrets, sprawling houses and having a foot or two in the past.

I'd like another (any other) Phryne Fisher that I don't yet possess and there are many to choose from. This is possibly my recommendation of the year for entertaining reading and has pushed me towards reading crime fiction again.

This is a list I'll keep adding to before Christmas and perhaps a 'book stocking' (see here) with pockets for paperbacks might also find its way to me. I may hunt down a pattern (and fabric) and borrow a time on a relative's sewing machine.

Business continues in a copeable everyday vein with only one 'glitch' to track and mend and that's's insistence on listing The Whicharts as 'out of print' when it isn't. The other, more pleasing, puzzle is the sudden rise in website traffic. Perhaps I've had another nice review as Elaine's comments resulted in an earlier increase in interest.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Falling leaves, falling prices - I'll never write slogans for a living

However, it is the time of year to curl up with a book. To retreat from the wind, the damp and the falling leaves into the world of the imagination. I'm never quite sure I want to be 'lost' in a book, though I do like to be engrossed there. I realise that it is almost Halloween and that it is now a very short sprint towards Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year and muddle as the clocks change. It's a time of endless lists and new diaries (balancing two as you are running out of space in the old one and the new one just doesn't quite cover the necessary dates). To encourage people to curl up with my book I have started a pre-Thanksgiving sale of The Whicharts in the shop.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Happy news and sad news

I am still smiling at the lovely review the equally lovely Elaine at Random Jottings gave The Whicharts. It can be very lonely as a publisher and I'm enduringly grateful to all the generous bloggers who write recommendations, even if I don't post a heartfelt 'Thank you' at the bottom of the entry - that seems a little 'eye over shoulder-ish'. I have, however, emailed Elaine.

In less happy news, I read Eva Ibbotson's obituary in The Times this morning. I suspect it's hidden behind the paywall, but The Guardian have some good interviews with her online in the Culture section. I use her books for comfort reading when I feel in the mood for formula, but formula done with a very deft touch and a sense of foodie revelling in indulging in coffee, cream-stuffed cakes and warming Viennnese dishes.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Apart from the absolute freedom to create what I like, then agree it with the rights holders, the best things about being a tiny publisher are rediscovering books you find as footnotes, as titles on dustwrappers or in catalogues. Then, you have the fun and hard work of preparing them for a new audience. Finding the Mary Evans Picture Library was pivotal in my Whicharts project. They couldn't have been nicer or more helpful and emails just flashed into my inbox. Lewis Baumer was my source for The Whicharts art, but I need something very different for my new project. This part of the research is a pleasure and I'm slowly shortlisting from the riches available.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Fiction and History

I seem to see as many readers of history as of fiction glancing and commenting on this blog - I like it, even if I can't seem to get comments emailed to me. I'd never realised just now many Noel Streatfeild readers were blogging regularly. The very kind Vintage Reader mentioned the pushy stage mother (Cora Wintle) in Wintle's Wonders - Noel Streatfeild did get revenge on all silly mothers there.

To those who've emailed me to ask, no, my second title is in development and that's really all I can say.

To escape from the worry of project-management, I've been reading through Juliet Gardiner's books recently and am seriously considering going to her talks this winter. She's doing a series of Blitz-related lectures at the London Transport Museum and I am counting pennies.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

It's been a while since I updated the blog. Not that I've been doing anything out of the ordinary, just enjoying the sunshine and the early chill of autumn. I like travelling at the tail-end of summer, just as the 'back to school' signs are removed to make way for Halloween or Christmas, depending on how organised or desperate your shop is. I'd travelled at the last minute recently and ran out of books just as I arrived at the airport. That was misjudgement. I usually have a second paperback in my bag just in case I finish the first one, but the scramble to travel meant that I just didn't have the wit to pack properly. The selection at the airport was pitiful - I was just grateful that there was a copy of Daisy Goodwin's My Last Duchess on display. I'd been meaning to buy the hardback and had a very good read on my flight. Even if the two copies available were scuffed and creased, it was much the best of a dire selection. Anyway, it turned out to be a very good read for costumed delights and polite romance. My Last Duchess crosses between Eva Ibbotson, Edith Wharton and Frances Hodgson Burnett in a fascinating tale of marriage and country house life.

I don't know how I came across the 2nd Edition Book Sellers based at Raleigh-Durham airport. I've never actually flown there, but the idea of a secondhand and antiquarian bookshop in an airport terminal really appeals to me. We're all doomed to spend rather too much time 'waiting' in the departure lounge before joining another queue at the airport these days, so a browsing opportunity of this kind sounds temptingly blissful. Then again, I hunt down secondhand bookshops wherever I travel, just to see what may be on the shelves. Mostly, I'm disappointed and find the glossy (gilded elevates these titles undeservedly) holiday writing, though sometimes I find delights like Rumer Godden and Elizabeth von Arnim.

Monday, 2 August 2010

I see that someone in America is selling my book for rather more than I do. I wish them luck, though I feel as much irritated as amused by it. I'm almost certain I haven't actually sold them any copies, though they may have bought stock elsewhere.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Crime and cocktails

I'll move from vintage books to contemporary today, mostly because I'm still working my way through books by illustrators I like and authors I'm not familiar with. Some books I've found using this odd search criteria work rather well. More of that later. A lucky find a week or four ago in a charity shop was a trio of Phryne Fishers. Kerry Greenwood is an Australian crime novelist I'd never tried, but am now keen to read more of. Sadly, she doesn't seem to be stocked by English bookshops, but there are plenty of copies on Amazon.

Phyrne Fisher is an exuberantly 'bright young thing' living in Australia and earning her living as a lady detective. It seems that Phryne grew up in Australia in less than genteel poverty, then her father inherited a title (as you do in all the best girls own novels) when the three men between him and the title died. Flung into wealth and status, Phyrne and her family returned to England, though Phyrne herself has put as much distance as possible between herself and her parents and returned to live in Australia. Which book this past history might be in, I'm not exactly sure. We see hints of her past only in the novels I've managed to read. We may not even see this at all. Mostly, Phryne appears in 1928 as an elegant survivor of World War One with a lover, a perfectly-run household, a fast car and two adopted daughters.

Her publishers have created a lovely website for Phyrne and are very generous with downloadable extracts to preview all the books. It doesn't really matter if you read this series out of order, the novels are all appealing in their own right, so just see what appeals to you - do you prefer your sleuthing to be at sea, at the circus, on the train or at the fair?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Jam and books

Two firsts for me this week. The first was making jam (as opposed to lemon curd, which I'm very good at) and the second was making scones - I usually buy them. Reading vintage novels for girls does tend to make you think of food more as someone is always preparing a picnic or a feast with iced cakes and fizz. I wanted to try making jam, but a tangy (not overly sweet) jam. Strawberry and gooseberry sounded ideal and does indeed taste delicious. Next time, though, I may cut the fruit a little smaller, just to make eating (and balancing the jam on the toast) easier.

I can even find you a novel about jam-making. Madge Smith, who wrote under many similar names, wrote a gentle little tale in the Gwendoline Courtney vein of preserving an English heritage and building one's own family in the 1940s and 1950s. Jam Today is a comforting sort of summery book where two girls leave school to set up a jam factory in their decaying country home. Our practical tomboy heroine rejects the offer of a place at a smart finishing school to remain in Devon and develop a jam-making business in the hope that she can keep the family home (far too dilapidated to be stately) and land (a useful 20 acres). Assuming she can earn an income from the estate, she can revitalise her home and family. Her mother, a faded beauty and keen on smart society, is disappointed and aghast that her daughter should wish to run her own life along modern lines. It's the usual 'let's run the show right here' type with the girl (at least) finishing her domestic science course at school before striking out in the brave post-war world to combine tradition and entrepreneurship. Without the jam-making and business-building, we see the standard reliance on established values of friendship, honesty, trust in headmistresses, godparents and doctors and a love of folk-dancing.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

How to search for new books

Sunday afternoon: time to write up and conclude.

I am experimenting at the moment as I seem to have run out of of girl's own books by favourite authors. They all stop writing eventually. Just temporarily, I don't want to reread, but expand my collection (horizons?) a little. So, I'd noticed that girl's own books tend to be published by the same publishers and illustrated by the same artists. A little lateral thinking (and quite a bit of 'keyword' searching on ABE) yields treasures to borrow from the reading room or purchase from a friendly book dealer.

My recommendation thus far is to try typing Ruth Gervis or the favoured illustrator of your choice in the ABE keywords search field and see what you can see. I then removed 'Enid Blyton' and got on very well. You can do much the same in the British Library's catalogue, though I like the chance to see stock pictures on ABE.

We Never Thought of That! was purchased solely for the promise of illustrations of 1950s France by Ruth Gervis. That's all I can really recommend the book for, though I'm keeping it because it does look beautiful on the shelf. I don't know anything about P.M. Lovell (a one book type according to the BL Catalogue, though it's possible that she is also the Phyllis Lovell who wrote domestic science manuals), but it seems to me that the story could and should have had a better treatment. Imagine, you send your children to France for the summer in the hope that youngest daughter will learn enough French to impress in her boarding school entrance examination that autumn. As you've begun on the cross-Channel ferry without parents, you then introduce two more worldly teenagers to widen the horizons of your sheltered characters. In no time at all, your children have decided to extend their stay abroad, rent a house and reopen a conveniently abandoned cafe achieving some local success by serving omlettes, scones, English tea and girls that sing folk songs. It's rather a pity that Gwendoline Courtney (see GGBP) or Noel Streatfeild didn't actually write this; Lovell's cast just don't come to life in the same way that a Courtney family does in The Girls of Friars Rise or even a Streatfeild family does, say in Wintle's Wonders or The Painted Garden. That said, I didn't need to endure (or turn pages rapidly) when a small girl (a very Courtney type) is either saying/doing something shocking (in ankle socks, not stockings, sorry), downright irritating or leaving muddy prints all over the narrative. There's a superior (though show-off handsome) type of young man that Brent-Dyer is so fond of and plenty of nice domesticated girls being competent, but it just doesn't rise terribly high or high enough to complement Gervis's wonderful illustrations. It was an enjoyable muddle and a good light read of an innocent summer holiday where you don't learn much French.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Fabulosity - books and parties

I am waiting rather impatiently for my new (but old) copy of The Secret Garden as I'm keen to reread it after stumbling across a generous blog telling the story (with pictures and conversation) of a Secret Garden party. Willow Bird Baking provided a generous and amazing party for her sister (see photos here). I went to my bookshelves to look things up, then realised that I had 'pruned' certain titles when I was desperate for more shelf space. Then again, my childhood copy of The Secret Garden was a fairly dull paperback. Knowing that ABE would provide, I had a quick glance through the title listings, then started searching by illustrator. Hopefully, I'll soon have a hardback reprint (with DW) as I like books with age and character, illustrated by E.H. Shepard. Until it does arrive, I'm reading blogs on parties with a certain amount of awe at the creativity and beauty. Eat Drink Chic has the best ice cream party I've ever seen and a link to a wonderful place to find fonts for labels and invitations.

At least I can go and re-read The Painted Garden while waiting for the postman, not that he'll arrive until Monday now. Noel Streatfeild's tale of making a Hollywood film of The Secret Garden (with the hardback text) showing 1950s Los Angeles will satisfy my need for Frances Hodgson Burnett. Also, The Painted Garden does do food and parties terribly well, not quite Ratty's garbled listing of an endless hamper, but plenty that any child enduring rationing could envy. The American breakfasts full of fruit are especially mouthwatering. Then again, as it's already past noon on Sunday, it's really time for brunch.

P.S. "Fabulosity" is a real word, especially when you spell it correctly. I first found it in Rumer Godden's The Peacock Spring and find it very useful for superlative situations.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

I'm in the British Library!

Well, speaking personally, not just at the moment, but The Whicharts has finally been catalogued by the British Library. I'm very proud: it's an achievement of my own and nobody can say it's because of my [lovely] grandfathers.

Next try - get The Whicharts into a high street bookshop. Indie bookshops have been so generous with their help, support and time, but my dream [intention?] is to manage the next step.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Back to business

Busy with business emails and packing tonight. I'm relieved and delighted about that. I'll put in Tania's picture again, just because I like it. Well, she's actually called 'Eyes of Youth', but I always saw something similar (Ruth Gervis like?) in my mind's eye for both Petrova Fossil and Tania Whichart.

Right, to business. I must email the person who would like The Whicharts for their book group. Then it's a case of packing up orders and I'll reward myself with my new Persephone title and a mug of tea just as soon as that's done.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

British Library / Richmal Crompton

A British Library card is one of my most treasured possessions and I use it as often as I can. First readings of real treasures were taken there. Rare books like Triffeny, Dorita Fairlie Bruce's appealing tale of an ambitious young girl working in the family pottery. Also, Richmal Crompton. Now, I'm not a fan of William Brown, but I have enjoyed the adult fiction I've been able to read. Much of it is scarce and expensive, pity. Persephone reprinted Family Roundabout, though I preferred The Ridleys. I'm fascinated by books like these, not for the quality of the writing, but for the social history. English small town life at its most insular and curious. It's a fantastic contradiction that makes for very interesting fiction, though living in a pretty petty-minded goldfish bowl must have been stifling. All terribly period 1950s with a distrust of newcomers and closely-guarded secrets.

Today must be a day to return to marketing my book and chasing up the rights to the new titles I'd like to republish. I'm also doing all I can to get The Whicharts into high street bookshops and must contact more independent bookshops as a fair few have been terribly helpful and agreed to stock it. I've already updated my website to show that I have two shops (Amazon and the Margin Notes Books one) and can take orders via either. I'm also still arguing with the display as my website is written to display in Garamond (like layout of The Whicharts), but the site prefers to choose its own fonts at different times. Never mind, new content is there and I can hope that new buyers also find their way.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

I've been out and about bookhunting with a friend today. We tried the charity shops and one secondhand bookshop of a new town, but the many books on offer weren't quite the ones we wanted. My own local market town did once have a secondhand bookshop, but it closed down, just as I had my first job and was earning enough to be able to buy books; I still miss it. Run by a kind lady with masses of stock, well-priced and a shop full of character complete with a family of squirrels scuttling about in the roof. Today's secondhand bookshop is further away and hidden in a quiet backstreet at the end of the high street. It's a a proper secondhand bookshop where the stock is double-shelved, more stock is in tottering heaps on the floor and boxes of cheaper books are ranged neatly outside. I only wish I'd been able to find something I wanted. Hunting through my shelves, I don't seem to have:

1. Robin - FHB

2. The Secret Garden - FHB (a hardback reprint with nice illustrations please)

3. More Alexandre Dumas, preferably in hardback with some good illustrations

4. Fill in the gaps in my Arthur Ransome collection

I'm now off outside to enjoy the last of the warmth and reread The Valley of Secrets. I splurged on a signed copy earlier this month and am reading the older copy. One of those wonderful escapist titles that treats conservation seriously and kindly.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Looking forward to bookshops

What season are we in now? Is it mid-spring, late spring, thinking about summer (though it isn't here yet) or what? It's all a bit 'not quite anything' as far as the weather is concerned. With books, however, we're moving into summer escape books. It's almost, almost better than the release of a publisher's Christmas list. Two are certain 'buy it nows' just as soon as they come in to the local bookshop. Katie Fforde (someone I think would be nice to have coffee with) will publish A Perfect Proposal early next month and Veronica Henry has gone back to the coast with The Beach Hut. Until then, I'll reread Wedding Season.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Considering and changing my mind

(still getting to grips with blogger and images - sorry)

For most friends and fellow readers, it isn't always the act of reading that makes you content, it's the very act of opening the book and browsing in any local bookshop glancing up and down spines and through blurbs.

I'm keen for next payday to arrive as there are some lovely summer books on the market at the moment. I can't quite afford to wander into Hatchards or Waterstones just yet as those shelves are stuffed with too many temptations. My shortlist is growing at an alarming rate, but I'm considering buying The Postmistress (opening chapter here) and such a gorgeous cover.

Any recommendations or advice to avoid? I'm in a popular fiction frame of mind....

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Persephone grey and cherry blossom

What a wretched, rainy day. Now, I like the look of deep pink cherry blossom against a slate-gray sky, I just don't like walking about in driving rain. Obviously jeans, light jumper and a mac were inadequate clothing for today. Should it even be this cold in May? I really could have done with warm hat and gloves, so came home early from a local (unsuccessful) book hunt and wrapped my hands round my huge Cath Kidston mug of tea. Small design flaw with that in that it keeps my hands toasty warm, though the tea cools down before I finish.

Anyway, I've been happily packing up more book orders so more wonderful customers will have their copies of The Whicharts early next week. It's the most fantastically uplifting feeling when orders come in. I just hope that a few more bookshops will stock it, some have been so helpful and keen and I treasure them.

Now I can re-read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day with a clear conscience. A number of people whose blogs I quietly follow are reading Persephone books this month. I plan to go in and buy In Bed with Grand Music and Doreen. Then again, when I actually do go in to Persephone's shop, admire the china, the spaniel (usually snoring) and the beautiful, beautiful books, I end up choosing something else entirely. The Far Cry was one of those books that I just bought on sight, even though it wasn't on my shortlist, and the story grips me on every reread. Ruth's such a competent teenager and it's a good treatment of the 'coming of age' novel in Anglo-India.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Books and quilts

I'm beginning to add theatre tickets to some of my book collection, just to ensure that the ephemera has a chance to move to another generation. One day a new reader will find the Ballet Shoes ballet ticket inside my copy. (And one day I will manage to find my own reprint with the original silver wraps). They might also find the V&A Quilts ticket inside Anne of the Island just where Mrs Lynde is compimented on her tulip pattern quilts by the Spofford Avenue millionaire.

It's made me wonder, other than mentions in Lucy Maud Montgomery, are there any other GO novels that do patchwork or sewing?

There are mentions in Gwendoline Courtney who is always good for nesting. I can't find it in any of my Dorita Fairlie Bruces and it seems the type of local craft she would have championed. There's a family quilt in A Traveller in Time, but not much more. Well, if there is, and I hope someone can tell me that there is, so that I can add to my collection.

After a long lead-in and mentions of books, I can say that the V&A Quilt Exhibition this weekend was wonderful. Just wandering along to that part of London on the bus enjoying the cherry blossom and the parks was a treat.

The quilt show at the V&A was interesting and very well set out, with the long history of making art from a craft that relies on 'make do and mend'. It was the final third of the exhibition that wasn't as smooth. They relied too much on the inclusion of headline-grabbing artists (Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin) and they didn't link to the contemporary quilter. The gap between folk art and modern craftsmanship just wasn't bridged. Modern quilting groups thrive in England and that wasn't mentioned. The war relief quilts, the Changi quilt, the Land Girl quilt all gave way to modern artists showing off and conceptualising the quilt. I think it was an opportunity missed not to include the work of the ordinary modern quilter. One who probably does use elements from American sampler quilts or Hawaiian leaves. Actually, if anyone is interested, PBS have made documentary series on quilts and they are fascinating.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Plenty of things spilling over my 'not finished yet' heap that's stacked on the bookshelf, the floor and turning into its very own skirting board. Though it is a more useful, decorative skirting board.

I haven't wanted to read much that's new to me recently. Instead, I've been on that blissful rereading stage. It's better than the state of mind where you look at your shelves, already crammed full of books, and all you can think is 'I haven't got anything I want to read!'

Part-way through:
* Their Finest Hour and a Half (still, bought it just as Borders did that amazing closing down sale and keep getting distracted by work).
* Bride Flight (is it a novel or is it a screenplay?)
* Love Letters (Katie Fforde and tea, perfect)
* Winter Holiday (the pleasure of reading Ransome out of season)
* Wishing for Tomorrow (even though I *despise* mocked-up handwriting in children's books to show the change of narrative voice, this is still lovely). Lovely enough for me to buy duplicate copies and give as Christmas presents.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Never mind chosing your own books, one of the most difficult things you can do is choose books for other people (or their children).

I've been reading Four to Fourteen (Kathleen Lines) while researching another project and it's a fascinating little glimpse into post-war life. The author, an experienced librarian, covers all the books that are judged 'suitable' for a child while omitting the lighter series fiction read with such often concealed pleasure like Elinor M. Brent-Dyer or E.J. Oxenham (I can't include Enid Blyton in my list now that I've grown up). I won't say guilt - feeling guilty about reading seems to be such a waste of good reading time. Four to Fourteen is on the worthy side and is a little sniffy about school stories, pony books and the like, but does cover interesting family adventures by Arthur Ransome and Noel Streatfeild. It also includes Violet Needham (whom I can't seem to like) and Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time which I can't reread often enough. That and The Children of Green Knowe were read to bits and now I've replaced them with even more treasured hardback reprints.

I'll continue this later as I'm now beginning to wonder, with a free hand in the bookshop, what would I buy for a child today?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Nanny McPhee

I wish the Easter long weekend wasn't such a distant memory. While I had a lovely time doing as little as possible (except reading) and catching up on sleep. One read stood out: Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (with film diary) by Emma Thompson. Nurse Matilda stories (the small hardbacks) with Ardizonne illustrations were regularly on my library account. This one is a very funny reinterpretation of Nurse Matilda (Nanny McPhee) and a new set of 'works in progress' children saving their farm from a scheming uncle. Emma Thompson is the kind and confiding type of companion you'd like to have a long chatty supper with. The 'novel/diary' runs the same way. Film set gossip and technical information chatters away alongside the adventures of the Green children who learn to be considerate and nice as they save their home and befriend their fouller cousins.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

In and out of books

I like tangents, book ephemera and social history - I think that's why reading children's fiction of the 1930s onwards really appeals to me. I want to know about tuck boxes, attache cases and changing shoes and hats in seasons and buildings. An interesting little newspaper cutting today told me about a range of tuck boxes available to order. Now, my impression from reading rather too many school stories was that either a loving family cook put together a fabulous strongbox of treats, or (if your mother were rich and indulgent) you had the pleasure of stockpiling a term's provisions from Fortnum's food hall. I don't know how some of you feel about the selfish glamour-girl mother in Saplings (Noel Streatfeild), but she does do treats with style. Anyway, this short advertisement gave three tuck box models. The gold-standard (20s) includes tinned pineapple, two types of cake and two varieties of biscuits along with 'glasses' of preserved meat. Very Blyton. The only thing missing is the name of the company. It just tells me that 'carriage' is paid, so I expect your box would have arrived safely at school along with your trunk for the start of term. Assuming anyone else does read this, do you have any experience or knowledge of tuck boxes and their contents? I don't think I could have kept a frog in mind, but Roald Dahl's schoolmates did have other priorities.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Before I talk about Jane Beaton's Rules, I thought I'd also mention the London Children's Ballet. They are performing Ballet Shoes in April and the poster (see link) is beautiful. I've never been to see them before, but I've bought my ticket and will have to remember change for an ice cream. Always easier when you do. I'm looking forward to it - the ballet and the ice cream as Sadler's Wells does have a delicious selection.

One of those interesting things about childhood books and returning to them as an adult is your changed perspective. A New Mistress at the Chalet School, for example, is far more appealing now. I wasn't that interested in the private life of a teacher when I first read the books; I wanted to know what my 'old friends' were doing, not hear about a teacher's fears etc. However, I finished a reread of New Mistress and then realised that the second of the Downey House books was finally available. The publication date kept being changed and I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see it. Never mind. Now that it's here, Jane Beaton has made a follow-up novel equally interesting. Maggie Adair is shedding some of her old preferences and habits and struggling to cope with family and work dragging her in opposite directions.

Working in a boarding school whether it be Downey House, the Chalet School or Malory Towers must have been isolating. Almost entirely female company and very little time for yourself. Unlike Kathie Ferrars (New Mistress), Maggie is spared a room full of floral chintz, a bath rota and a picture rail, but she does have an elegant bedroom in the tower (no, I'm not making a point of it) and a shared study with a chic French colleague.

As a commuting read, I'm quite happy with angst and adventures. Wasn't there a Zelda needing reformation in one of Blyton's boarding schools? I like the lifts from other school stories with Alice Trebizon-Woods a nod to Anne Digby. It was a good start to my weekend and I'll prolong it by rereading Class (again). Nothing like an indulgent reread.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

It's been an interesting few weeks since The Whicharts came back from the printer and went out to the readers. I'm pleased that people want to read it and I was certainly nervous about their reactions. People have been kind enough to email lovely comments about the book, the design and thanks for bringing it back into print. That's why I'm here really, to thank everyone who has helped me become a publisher and bookseller.

I think it's a fascinating book about 1920s London and I'm quite happy to read The Whicharts and Ballet Shoes as completely different books - reading one doesn't spoil the other for me. Noel Streatfeild had quite a success with The Whicharts and I don't suppose she would be known as the author of so many classic books for children without it. That said, there is a real contrast between her books for children and adults. Much of her adult fiction is considerably darker in tone than the bright, positive The Painted Garden and Ballet Shoes, though these books weren't reprinted quite so often.

As someone who sympathised with Petrova in Ballet Shoes, but laughed to hear of her sending her scholarship student (Mark - Curtain Up) a screwdriver as a present as they were always useful, I think it's interesting to see a version of her three sisters grow up.

Margin Notes Books

Well, this is me: Margin Notes Books. A publisher, book-hunter and reader. Anyone who knows me or my book collection knows that I'm the last person to write in the margins (unless it was a University set text and in pencil only), but that I like reading old gift inscriptions, school prize labels and finding oddments inside my secondhand books.

As a publisher I've just reissued Noel Streatfeild's The Whicharts as it's a novel I think that deserves to be read outside a copyright library reading room. The site will be updated with more information and links to useful articles and websites as I collect and publish them.