Saturday, 28 July 2012

A Friend for Frances - P.M. Warner

I'm quietly taking some time away from the relentless (and wonderful) Olympic coverage, but there's only so much sport that a resolutely unsporty person can watch. I could, of course, read a girls' own novel about a sports star, but I'm trying to work back through unread purchases and see what I think of them. Closest to hand was A Friend for Frances (c. 1950s). P.M. Warner's A Friend for Frances was picked up in the local charity shop a while ago. I did think about posting a photograph, but it's a battered, blue boarded Seagull edition without the dustwrapper, so not exactly photogenic. Now, the magic words of 'Collins Seagull' encouraged me to take it home with me and give it a try. This Collins Seagulls usually have good dustwrappers and a certain charm about them. The plain blue boards don't, so you have to hope for a good story.

Frances is clever, but poor, so almost prevented from taking up her place at the High School because of the associated costs of uniform and equipment. She's also a farmer's daughter and able to earn a little money looking after the hens. Frances is nice and rather shy - interested in flowers and a good friend if slightly shambolic about getting up in the morning and scruffy around the edges until her elder sister persuades her that smart dresses and a good haircut improve her confidence. The book seems to be about her efforts to join a school trip to Holland to look at the bulb fields and her growing friendship with Deborah - a newcomer to the village. So far, hopeful.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Vintage and Modern

Still reading, but not finishing the books I've started. Not that the books aren't gripping, more that I'm tired and in intense editing mode. That said, Joanne Harris's Peaches for Monsieur le Cure and Veronica Henry's The Long Weekend are keeping me happy. I always have at least one book on the go for the very simple reason that you feel like reading different books at different times. Two modern books are contrasted with a vintage book borrowed from a like-minded friend's collection. It didn't look like much on the shelf with a worn cloth binding, bit on the grubby side and no clear title visible. However, any book collector knows that's when you find treasures and so it's proving. Just look at these endpapers - 1930s girls on the lawn of their school sprawling around and reading on lush grass under shady trees.

I'm reading Theodora DuBois's Diana's Feathers and enjoying it so far. It seems to be an American boarding school story published in 1935. I know nothing more about it and may do a little more research when I finish. I've got through a lecture from an understanding headmistress, chaos caused by boisterous dog and the formation of a secret society already. It looks to contain all the standard elements of girls' own fiction and I'm waiting to see where the knitting comes in. That was the picture on the front board that I found attractive. You don't often see a heroine knitting.

Right - back to work and to see if any more orders have come in. I hope so.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Pictures at an Exhibition - Camilla Macpherson

Today’s a welcome day for any bookseller, retailer or publisher as it’s the weekend after payday and there’s always a reassuring rise in sales around this weekend. A large heap of padded envelopes stuffed with books waits for me to walk up to the post office tomorrow. I’d go to the post box now, only it’s raining and the post won’t be collected until tomorrow in any case.

I’ve also read a wonderful book this week and wanted to blog about it and recommend it to all friends, online and offline. I borrowed this from the library, but will buy my own copy just as soon as Waterstone’s reopens on Monday. Pictures at an Exhibition attracted me simply because of its title – I love Mussorgsky – and the cover showing the National Gallery in flattering morning light. It’s one of those split-time tales, so shared between a contemporary marriage in crisis and a series of letters written by one cousin to another during the Second World War discussing the single pictures brought back to the National Gallery for display during 1942. I don’t know much about Camilla Macpherson other than the blurb and her beautiful website, but am very impressed by her first novel and eager to read more by her. This is a book that attracts just as much on the second reading as details of the Tower of London moat being filled in and used to grow sprouts as mention of the delicious cakes in the Peyton and Byrne cafĂ©, never mind a plot that draws you in and holds you there. 

Have a read of an extract and just be drawn in to this fantastic story.

I've got myself a new project, to cheer myself up a bit, and that’s really why I’m writing. It has absolutely nothing to do with the war effort – and thank heaven, that’s what I say. We're completely starved of art in London these days. Anything decent was stashed away by the authorities years ago, and I suppose one can’t blame them. It’s one thing for civilians to get themselves killed but quite another for the nation’s treasures to be blown to smithereens. Still, there’s been a lot of muttering about it recently – letters to The Times no less! – because everyone is simply longing for something to take their minds off this war madness (it’s not just me) and it doesn’t seem fair any more to hide all the good stuff away. We haven’t had a really bad raid in London for months and months. What’s been decided is that the National Gallery is going to dust off one masterpiece each month, put it on display, and allow us masses to trail in front of it. It’s meant to be good for morale (like everything else). Well, to hell with morale, I just want to see something that isn’t brown, khaki or camouflage green.