Tuesday, May 26, 2020

New Furrowed Middlebrow reprints coming from Dean Street Press, August 2020

I've been just about to burst wanting to make this announcement, but we have had a few delays thanks to our friend the coronavirus. We also have a slightly leaner batch of new titles this time out for the same reason, but though it's a smaller number of books than we originally intended, they are, in my own slightly biased opinion, the crème de la crème.

We are also, with this batch, reaching an exciting turning point—the "half century" mark as it were. No, we have not been publishing for 50 years, of course, though is it just me or does time seem to move very fast in isolation, one day being very much like any other? But we will, as of the beginning of August, have published more then 50 titles, which is extraordinary indeed, and which of course couldn't have happened without the support of you lovely readers. Thanks so much to all of you who have purchased our books, or blogged or tweeted about them, or told friends about them!

My intended "theme" for this time, planned well before our current situation evolved but wonderfully appropriate for the pure escapism we all need a bit of these days, was "cheerful village comedies". And I'm delighted with all six of our new titles, but there's one in particular that has been on my publishing wish list since our very first batch back in 2016 (happily, we have finally tracked down the author's heirs and got the okay). It's not only one of my favorite finds as a blogger, but one of my favorite novels of all time, period, which is why I had to assign it the coveted number 50 on our list.

Drum roll, please…

Miss Plum and Miss Penny, which I reviewed here, is a rollicking dark comedy about the havoc caused by a (supposedly) suicidal young woman in the contented life of middle-aged Miss Penny and her eccentric fellow villagers. I re-read it last year and loved it even more than the first time. It's also a marvelous winter novel, making humorous use of ice skating and Christmas caroling, among other things, something I love reading about (particularly on a sunny, warm day in San Francisco).

The Chicago Tribune reviewed Miss Plum and Miss Penny side-by-side
with the third Fairacre novel from Miss Read, a happy bit
of critical kismet to be sure

Next up is the title one sharp reader already came across on Amazon, but happily she didn't spoil my surprise.

I've been a fan of RUTH ADAM ever since reading Persephone's reprint of A Woman's Place and an old Virago copy of I'm Not Complaining. But her most underappreciated book is surely A House in the Country, a novel based very much on her own experiences attempting, with a group of friends, to make a go of living in a massive but disheveled manor house in Kent in the years just after World War II. I reviewed it here. It's delightful fun, but also packed with Adam's inimitable social awareness, particularly in regard to the prior inhabitants of the house, both upstairs and downstairs.

Adam was one of two authors in this batch suggested by readers on my "possibly Furrowed Middlebrow" posts last year (see here). Next up is the other one...

Another of my "top shelf" novels is the glorious Miss Mole, by E. H. YOUNG. I discussed this one here, albeit in far less detail than such a lovely book deserved. And what with the British Library's new series of women writers reprinting Young's Chatterton Square with an afterword by Simon Thomas from Stuck in a Book, we are at long last seeing a bit of a resurgence of a profoundly underappreciated author.

Of course, underappreciated is my middle name, so the last two authors are more obscure by far even than the first three.

Like Miss Plum, CELIA BUCKMASTER was one of my first "discoveries" as a blogger, and she's also been on my wish list from the very beginning. So I'm very excited to finally be able to make her two funny, quirky tales of village life available to a wider audience. I first wrote about Buckmaster here, after coming across her name in Nicola Beauman's biography of Elizabeth Taylor, and went on to read and love her two novels, reviewed here and here. They received considerable acclaim when first published and they deserve to be more widely read.

And finally, as in numerous cases before, I owe a debt of gratitude to Grant Hurlock for making it possible for me to even read, let alone reprint, DOROTHY LAMBERT's delightful village comedy, Much Dithering, reviewed here. Lambert is one of those authors who, labeled "romance" writers in their day, was actually much more. I'm working my way through several of her other novels which Grant has also made available to me, but in the meantime I'm happy to be able to give you all a sampling of her charm.

And that's it for this slightly truncated batch of reprints. All to be available in paperback and in e-book around the first of August. 

Hopefully you'll find some happy hours of reading with these, and we're already planning a new batch for January 2021, including, if all goes according to plan, one title we expected to include in this batch, but the finalizing of rights for which has been delayed due to lockdowns and such. I'm dying to tell you about it, but I just can't. 

In short, more to come!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Another vicarious holiday in Scotland: MOLLY CLAVERING, Because of Sam (1954)

Dustjacket pic courtesy of Jerri Chase

Few things could make for more delightful quarantine reading, on a couple of beautiful spring San Francisco days recently, than one of Molly Clavering's charming if sadly rare Scottish comedies. I owe a debt of gratitude yet again to Grant Hurlock, who made it possible for me to read Because of Sam (and who is also making it possible for me to read other of her books—stay tuned!).

To the extent that most readers think of Molly Clavering at all, they tend to think of her as the close friend and neighbor of D. E. Stevenson. Which is all well and good if it encourages folks to start reading her (or encourages them to want to read her at least, since it's virtually impossible to actually do so), but I've also concluded that, despite obvious similarities in subject matter and storytelling, Clavering has very much her own style. A bit more gruff and to the point than DES in some ways, and indeed a bit less polished and rougher around the edges, but very very charming in its own right. Clavering's heroines have just a little more edge than DES's, and the narrative is more downright as well.

Mollie Maitland, the widowed, middle-aged heroine of Because of Sam, is a case in point. She's been widowed for many years, long enough for her rather surly and demanding daughter Amabel, a toddler when her father died, to be fully grown and pursuing a career. Her husband, Maurice, irresponsible but light-hearted and fun, died only three years into their marriage, and Mollie has long since settled into a happy if slightly impoverished existence at Fernieknowe, her pleasant house on the outskirts of Mennan village in Scotland (apparently not too far from Edinburgh, since Amabel commutes there to work three or four times a week). Although Mollie still thinks of Maurice fondly, we have a distinct impression that her occasional melancholy is more a bit of simple loneliness than it is pining for the long-gone Maurice.

Mollie's relationship with Amabel is complicated by the peculiarities of the will of Maurice's Aunt Euphorbia, which left her money to Amabel instead of to Mollie:

"She said Maurice was shiftless and I was a fool, and though we called Amabel after her—Amabel Euphorbia, you know, such a mouthfull—she only softened enough to send her a christening mug. Plate, not solid silver."

But Mollie doesn't mind her relative poverty very much, and is much loved by her friends and neighbors, including the gossipy Mrs Gray, the kind Mrs Denholm, a shepherd's wife up in the hills who decorates her humble home with photos of the royal family, and the appalling Mrs Noble, a flirt whose husband is overseas. She boards dogs for her neighbors for a bit of spare income, and is often seen ruggedly traipsing over hill and dale to give them proper exercise. And she has the patience of a saint when it comes to Amabel, who often seems to require as careful handling as the dogs do.

Into this contented, quite life comes a bit of very quiet drama. Mollie and Amabel are introduced to Martin Heriot, a bachelor farmer who lives nearby (never mind why they didn't know him before…), and Mollie begins to think that he might be a suitable husband for Amabel. She attempts to facilitate their spending time together as much as possible, which is aided when he asks Mollie to board a black labrador puppy named Sam for his cousin. Also returning to their lives is Mr Ramsay, the solicitor who helped Mollie after Maurice's death, and who takes a personal interest in her situation—even proposing marriage to her not long after she was widowed, certain that she wouldn't be able to manage on her own. He has had some stern words for Amabel now and again, which strangely seem to have some effect, and Amabel imagines, and dreads, that he and Mollie might marry someday. A not-unexpected but nevertheless charming and compulsively readable comedy of errors results.

Molly Clavering

There is nothing original or unique about the plot of Because of Sam. We've certainly read such tales before. But I found it as irresistible as the other Clavering titles I've read. There's something very down home and earthy about her style, so that even telling a perfectly ordinary tale of quiet happy village life, she manages to be engrossing. She's usually not hilarious, merely amusing, but there are exceptions here and there. For example, her description of a meeting of the Women's Rural Institute not only gives a delightful fly-on-the-wall sense of how such meetings really went, but also contains this little tidbit:

Up on the stage the demonstrator began to deal with a large hen, keeping up a running commentary as her fingers nimbly stripped it of its feathers. But Millie, though she tried to listen, and indeed was fascinated by the speed displayed by Miss Robertson, found her attention being constantly distracted. Mrs. Wilson and her neighbour on the other side, evidently a bosom friend, were conversing in sibilant undertones, and Millie could not help hearing at least part of what they said. She realized that they were stripping someone of her reputation feathers.

Obviously, I'm a fan of Clavering, and this is actually the fourth of her novels that I've been lucky enough to read and write about—following the readily available Mrs Lorimer's Family (here), the lovely Near Neighbours, which was reprinted by Greyladies a while back (here), and the vanishingly rare, very very lucky e-Bay find, Susan Settles Down, one of several pseudonymous novels she wrote in the 1920s and 1930s (here). I also did a detailed post about her writings here, and shared some evocative dustjackets and other tidbits courtesy of Jerri Chase here and here. As you see, I've been advocating for Clavering for years now, and hope to continue to do so. So, as I said, more to come!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Dustjackets vs. coronavirus: Grownup fiction edition

As the news continues to take us on a rollercoaster ride and isolation makes us restless and discontented, I thought, "What could be a more powerful antidote to the coronavirus than some lovely dustjackets?" Okay, full disclosure, the medical efficacy of luscious dustjackets is uncertain (it's never actually been proven to be unefficacious, however!), but at any rate...

I intended to do more of these posts months ago, including some of the many dustjacket scans provided by my Fairy Godmother from her vast, envy-inducing collection, but I never got round to it. Happily, there's time to do it now. 

This time around are some random covers for novels for adults. These are for books or authors that just happened to come up in emails with FG or that I had mentioned on my blog. You should be able to click on each one in order to view it at full size. Hope you enjoy perusing as much as I have!

Ruth Adam is an old favorite (and hopefully soon a new reprint...)
and this is one of her rarest titles

I've also written often about Kitty Barne, another favorite

This might look like not my (or FG's) cup of tea, but based on
mentions of it it might actually be quite entertaining

One of several titles I came across in my quest for WWII titles

Rachel Ferguson is an all-time favorite and this is her only novel
to cover the WWII years, in a seaside resort no less

Mary K. Harris is well-known for her school stories, including
Gretel at St Bride's, which features a girl refugee from the Nazis, but
she's less known for her three more grownup titles, shown here

Sometimes I'm mortified at my reading habits. Having reviewed Hassett's
Sallypark and Educating Elizabeth years ago, and having had this sequel
to the latter on my shelf for nearly as long, I still haven't read it...

Hilda Hewett is a slightly newer favorite, and here are three of her
books I haven't yet read. With any luck, you'll see jackets for a couple
more of her books soon, currently winging their way to me from England!

Another intriguing book I investigated for our WWII batch of FM titles

And I learned, thanks to FG, that this one has little or nothing to do with WWII

Two really lovely jackets from a favorite of many of you as well as
of me. I have both of these, but of course I haven't read them...

FG sent this jacket and the next one along after I'd written about
another adult novel by Barbara Willard, author of the Mantlemass
historical fiction series for children

And finally, just because it's so beautiful, the jacket of Enid Bagnold's
final novel, which I read years ago and remember liking (but nothing
else about it)

There, now don't you feel better?

Monday, May 4, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: children's writers (2 of 2)

Twelve more children's authors newly added to my author list with the last update, now more than six months ago (it does take me a while to get round to these, doesn't it?).

First off, no fewer than three authors who came to my attention thanks to my inimitable Fairy Godmother. She also provided some lovely dustjackets for them, as usual.

I'm particularly intrigued by (but of course still haven't got round to actually reading) MARGARET LOVETT, a schoolteacher and the author of six children's books. The first three—An Adventure for Fivepence (1945), Family Pie (1947), and No Other Children (1949)—are holiday stories, though Family Pie also appears to have a distinct postwar feel to it. Sir Halmanac and the Crimson Star (1965) and The Great and Terrible Quest (1967) seem to have fairy tale qualities, and the latter must have been Lovett's most successful book, as copies of it seem to abound. And her final book, Jonathan (1972), is about a group of young orphan mill workers during the Industrial Revolution.

RUTH TOMALIN seems like one of those authors I should have known about long before now, but then, there are always those authors in every update I do, even with more than 2,000 in all already included! She was a poet, journalist, children's author, and novelist. Her first novel for adults was All Souls (1952), called by the Observer "A prettily written first novel with a long-dead witch resurrected in an English village," which could really go so many different ways. That one, like so many others, is waiting patiently on my TBR shelves. Four of her later works—The Garden House (1964), The Spring House (1968), Away to the West (1972), and The Orchard House (2008)—trace the youth and young adulthood of Ralph Oliver and his cousin Rowan, and have been considered by turn to be children's fiction or adult novels about childhood. The Spring House was included in my revamped WWII Fiction List recently.

Tomalin's children's titles include two published under her maiden name, Ruth Leaver—Green Ink (1951) and The Sound of Pens (1955). In comments to Twentieth Century Children's Writers, Tomalin said "Most of my stories are about people and things of the English countryside. All are set in places well known to me at different times, ranging from a copse full of wild life (The Daffodil Bird) to Broadcasting House, London (The Sea Mice); and from a glass "watch-house" in a nature preserve (A Stranger Thing) to a reporters' room on a provincial evening paper."

Next up is PAULA HARRIS, whose three music-themed children's titles—Music at Pendragon (1959), Cressida and the Opera (1960), and Star in the Family (1965)—look absolutely irresistible. Thanks to FG for the tantalizing cover art. Harris also published two music themed works of non-fiction, Introducing Beethoven (1963) and The Young Gilbert and Sullivan (1965).

Fans of pony stories may well be familiar with MARJORIE MARY OLIVER, who wrote or co-wrote ten books in all. Her solo titles, most or all of them also concerned with horses, include Riding Days in Hook's Hollow (1944), Horseman's Island (1950), Land of Ponies (1951), A-Riding We Will Go (1951), Menace on the Moor (1960), Mystery at Merridown Mill (1962), and The Riddle of the Tired Pony (1964). She also co-wrote three early pony stories with EVA DUCAT (also newly added to my list)—The Ponies of Bunts (1933), Sea Ponies (1935), and Ponies and Caravans (1941). On the 1939 England & Wales Register, Oliver is shown as running a riding school in Sussex with her farmer husband, so she clearly knew her subject matter.

Ducat, meanwhile, seems to have had her main claim to fame in being a friend, mentor, and "musical agent" of poet William Butler Yeats. She published a memoir, Another Way of Music (1928), which includes mention of many of her other famous friends.

A couple of unidentified authors contribute a handful more titles. ANN BARTON, for whom there are simply too few clues and a far too generic name to allow for identification so far, published a single girls' career story, Kate in Advertising (1955). 

And VEGA STEWART, a translator as well as a children's author, has proven elusive as well, but she certainly wrote two children's books—Fourwinds Island (1951), a holiday adventure with an island setting and an orphaned schoolgirl heroine, and Spies' Highway (1954).

A. M. (ANNIE MCDOUGALL) WESTWOOD started her career with four novels for adults in the 1930s—The Flying Firs (1930), Elfinstorm (1931), Quinlan (1933), and To What Purpose? (1936)—at least some of which appear to be adventure stories with Indian settings. In the 1950s she returned with five children's titles: Ali Baba and the Lonely Leopard (1951, with Jack Westwood), The Riddle of Kittiwake Rock (1956), Dundi Shah, Beloved Prince (1959), Trouble at Kittiwake Rock (1960), and Jungle Picnic (1960).

Among the one hit wonders can be counted PRUDENCE M. HILL, but Wind and Weather Permitting (1954), described as a sailing holiday story, could be a find for those who have exhausted their Arthur Ransome collection. Hill also published a biographical work about her father, To Know the Sky: The Life of Air Chief Marshall Sir Roderic Hill (1962).

After I'd already published this post, FG sent this additional Irene Byers
cover, which is quite striking!

On the other hand, IRENE BYERS was prolific enough I'm surprised I hadn't come across her before. She published more than three dozen children's books, many of them adventure and holiday stories and some including recurring characters. Titles include Mystery at Barber's Reach (1950), The Adventure of the Floating Flat (1952), Tim of Tamberly Forest (1954), Adventure at Fairborough's Farm (1955), The Sign of the Dolphin (1956), The Missing Masterpiece (1957), Adventure at the Blue Cockatoo (1958), Kennel Maid Sally (1960), Tim Returns to Tamberly (1962), The Merediths of Mappins (1964), Joanna Joins the Zoo (1964), The Stage Under the Cedars (1969), Cameras on Carolyn (1971), and Fox on the Pavement (1984).

AVERIL DEMUTH was the author of five children's titles which seem to feature fantasy elements. Trudi and Hansel (1937) is set in the Austrian Tyrol, The House in the Mountains (1940) in Switzerland, and The House of the Wind (1953) in Cornwall. The others are The Enchanted Islands (1941) and The Sea Gypsies (1942). She later published The Minack Open-Air Theatre (1968) about a theatre for which she also wrote at least one play. Sadly, her husband died in World War II after only one year of marriage and she does not appear to have ever remarried.

And rounding out my "new" children's authors is ALICE STERRY, who published at least two children's titles—The Moorings Mystery (1955) and The Museum Mystery (1959). She also published one additional book, Hold My Hand, Sister (1959), about which I could find no details. (But now I have details--see the additional dustjacket scan from FG below!)

And that's that. I still have one or two more posts to do about the last update, including one about women whose lives might have been more interesting than their writing and one, hopefully, that might be labelled "Odds and Ends".

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