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.