10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

It’s taken me a very long time to get to this second report for my 100 Years of Books project.

That’s partly because I’ve read a couple of big books that were published before 1850 – The Count of Monte Cristo and Vanity Fair – and partly because I ‘ve been going back to authors – Margaret Kennedy, Anthony Trollope, Angela Thirkell – and I want 100 authors for my 100 years so each author only gets one appearance.

And it’s also because I began to have doubts about whether this was the right project. Because I feel differently about the two centuries I’ve brought together. The twentieth century is home and the nineteenth century is somewhere I love to visit, so I thought that maybe I should have two projects, one short term and one long term.

That thinking distracted me for a while, but in the end I decided I would stick to the original plan; to read the books I picked up naturally and to read the books that I didn’t pick up quite as naturally but really appreciated when I did.

I may struggle to fill some of the earlier years but …. I think I have to try.

So, my first report is here, and this is the second:

1866 – Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade

“Charles Reade was once a very popular author; and, though his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ was his most acclaimed work, ‘Griffith Gaunt’ was his personal favourite. You might call it a sensation novel, and it is a sensation novel, but its much more than that. This is a book that grows from a melodrama, into a psychological novel, into a courtroom drama ….”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Listening highlighted the quality of the storytelling, the characters, the prose, and the wonderful, wonderful rhythm of the words. That was something I would never have picked up if I’d read from a book. It didn’t take long at all for me to be smitten ….”

1911 – Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole

“Mr Traill is a new master, in his first teaching post. He knows that it is first step on the ladder. He is young, handsome, athletic, charming, and the boys love him. But he is oblivious to the tension in the air, and he is incredulous when one of his colleagues warns him to get out as soon as he can ….”

1923 – None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

“I found myself listening  to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened  when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.”

1925 – The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton

“It was not easy to feel sympathy for a woman who had abandoned her daughter, but I did. Because Kate Clephane was a real, complex, human being, and she was as interesting as any woman I have met in the pages of an Edith Wharton novel. “

1932 – Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley

“I learned recently that Leo Walmsley’s father, Ulric, studied art in Newlyn under Stanhope Forbes. and that pointed me to the best way that I could explain why this book is so readable: Leo Walmsley captured his fishing community in words every bit as well as Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries captured the fishing community in Newlyn.”

1934 – Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

“‘Wild Strawberries’ is the story of one aristocratic English family and one glorious summer in between the wars. And it is set in Angela Thirkell’s Barchestershire, a place where every single person, however high or low their situation, is happy and accepting of their situation and the role they are to play. You need to be able to accept that – and I can understand that some might not be able to – but I can, and if you can too, you will find much to enjoy in this light, bright and sparkling social comedy ….”

1939 – Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish

“When I read the extract from her book I fell in love with her voice; it was the voice of a woman talking openly and honestly to a friend, a woman with lots and lots of great stories to tell. I so wanted to read everything that she had written, but there was not a copy of her book to be had. Until I found that I could borrow a copy from Open Library ….”

 1940 – The English Air by D E Stevenson

“The story played out beautifully, moving between Franz and his English family. It grew naturally from the characters I had come to like and to care about; it caught the times, the early days of the war, perfectly; and though it wasn’t entirely predictable it was entirely right. Even better – maybe because ‘The English Air’ was written and published while was still raging – the ending was uncontrived and natural. And that’s not always the case with D E Stevenson’s novel ….”

 1941 – The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

“This is a story of the darkest days of World War II, when only England stood against the Nazi forces advancing across Europe, and when the fear of invasion was very, very real. Elizabeth Goudge lived on the south coast of England then, close to the eye of the storm, it was during the war that she wrote this book, and it was clear as I read that she knew and she that understood ….”

And that’s it! It shouldn’t be such a wait for the next report ….

Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley

It’s three years ago now that I picked up Love in the Sun in the library. I didn’t know who Leo Walmsley was then; I looked at the book because it was on the Cornish shelf, because my mother used to have friends called Walmsley, and I wondered if there was a connection. There wasn’t but I thought the cover was lovely and when I looked inside I found the warmest introduction written by Daphne Du Maurier, a sometime friend and neighbour of the author. When I started reading I was smitten too.

I went on to read the book that had been sitting next to ‘Love in the Sun’ – Paradise Creek was a companion piece, also set in Cornwall, written some years later.  And then I read the two books that filled in the story that came between those two books: The Golden Waterwheel and The Happy Ending.

What I should explain is that these books are fiction, but they are very close to the facts of the authors life. That they are all now in print, courtesty of the Walmsley Society. And that I continues to be smitten.

I wasn’t sure where to go after that lovely quartet of novels. I had an earlier volume of short stories. I had a later novel. But when I learned that the third of an earlier trilogy,  was soon to be reissued I had my answer.

I ordered ‘Three Fevers’ –  the first book of the Bramblewick trilogy – from the library.

There’s a quote on the back of the book that says exactly what needs to be said:

“In opening Mr Walmsley’s book, readers have fallen into the hands of a perfect yarn-spinner. They are in the position of the wedding guests and the Ancient Mariner; so long as he goes on they have to listen.”

Rebecca West

But I will elaborate just a little.

12166264

This is another story drawn from life, drawn from memories of the 1920s, when he worked with one of the two families fishing from a village in the north of England that he calls Bramblewick. The real village was Robin Hood’s Bay, and there are just enough details to bring it to life.

The two fishing families are the Fosdycks, whose roots are in the area and the Lunns who are relative newcomer.

There are dramatic events – shooting lobster pots in a wild sea, rescuing a collier in danger of hitting the rocks – but this is a book that captures fishermen’s lives as they were lived, at home and at sea.

I never doubted that the author was there, but he stayed in the shadows. His later books were his own story; this book places others at the centre of the story.

I learned recently that Leo Walmsley’s father, Ulric, studied art in Newlyn under Stanhope Forbes. and that pointed me to the best way that I could explain why this book is so readable: Leo Walmsley captured his fishing community in words every bit as well as Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries captured the fishing community in Newlyn.

Next comes ‘Phantom Lobster’ ….

Ten Books for Cornish Holidays

I’ve spotted a lot of Top Ten Holiday Reads  lists lately. Fascinating reading, and they set my mind spinning in a direction that was similar but different.

Ten books to transport you to Cornwall. Or to read on holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve picked books that are in print – and I think they are all available electronically – and I’ve picked wonderfully readable books, old and new, that I can happily recommend.

And her they are …

cORNWALL

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“The road to Manderlay lay ahead.  There was no moon.  The sky above our heads was inky black.  But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all.  It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood.  And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”  

Daphne Du Maurier fell in love with a house named Menabilly on the north coast of Cornwall. In Rebecca she calls that house Manderlay, and she spins a wonderful tale of suspense intrigue and romance, with lovely echoes of Jane Eyre around it.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood comes from Cornwall, she understands, really understands what makes it so special, and she mixes myth and real life to fine effect in this wonderful collection of short stories.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

“Crossing the Tamar for some reason made me feel different inside. It was only a river, yet every time I crossed it I felt I had stepped through some mystical veil that divided the world that I only existed in from the one that I was meant to be living in.”

Susanna Kearsley captures the magic of crossing the Tamar Bridge, leaving Devon and coming into Cornwall, and she captures the magic that draws so many people here in this lovely story of a house, a garden, history, time travel, and above all romance.

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins crossed the Tamar by boat, a few years before the bridge was built, and he and his friend, the artist Henry Brandling, set out on a 214 mile walking tour.  This account of their travels holds a wealth of  material, wonderful vivid writing and extraordinary insight.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

“Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

So said Daphne Du Maurier, in her introduction to a story that is vividly and beautifully written. The man and the girl are utterly real, every detail rings true, and it is so easy to be pulled in, so easy to care.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley

A visitor tells two children stories of the sea as they wait in their home, and Inn on a Cornish cliff, for the storm to abate and for their father to come home. Tales are deliciously twisted, and the final revelation – who the visitor is and why he has come – is perfect.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley

This is the story of twelve year-old Gussie, who has a head full of films and books, who is fascinated by nature and the world around her home in St Ives. She is ill, waiting and hoping for a heart transplant, and that makes life all the more precious, and her story all the more life-affirming. I loved Gussie, and I loved seeing Cornwall through her eyes.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

On holiday at a Cornish hotel Poirot encounters an accident-prone heiress, and  he soon realises that her accidents are not accidents at all. A solid mystery, a very nice setting; all in all, a lovely period piece from the 1930s.

Penmarric by Susan Howatch

A wonderful family saga, spanning half a century, telling their story and the story of Penmarric, their grand Cornish home, in five voices. The house, its inhabitants, the world around them come to life in a dramatic, compelling story. I had no idea when I first read it that it was inspired by real mediaeval history ….

The First Wife by Emily Barr

The story of a girl from a Cornish village who loses her home when her grandparents die, moves to town, and finds herself caught up in a story elements of chick lit, strands of a psychological thriller, and echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s wonderful fun!

I’m waiting now for Emily Barr’s new book, the story of a woman whop disappears from the train between Penzance and Paddington. A train I have travelled on so many times …

There are more books of course, by these authors and by others.

Have any of these books, or have any other books, transported you to Cornwall, I wonder … ?

Ten Authors Whose Books I Seek

I’ve spotted a few lists of ‘must buy’ authors today, inspired by a meme at  The
Broke and the Bookish
. Now I could come up with a few, of course I could, but the thing is, I know new books and mainstream reissues will go on being there, maybe not for ever but for long enough that I can pick them up when I’m ready.

My true ‘must buy’ books are out of print and hard to find titles by authors I have come to love, and books I know I must seize as soon as I see, because if I don’t the chance may never come again.

It seemed like the moment to pull out ten authors whose books I seek:

The Ten

Oriel Malet: I spotted a book called Marraine by Oriel Malet in the library and I recognised her name from the Persephone list. That book was a lovely memoir of her godmother, the actress Yvonne Arnaud. Once I read it I had to order Margery Fleming from Persephone, and it was even lovelier; a perfectly executed fictional biography of a bookish child. Her other books are out of print and difficult to find, but I found one and I was thrilled when my Virago Secret Santa sent me another, all the way across the Atlantic.

Margery Sharp: I read much praise for The Eye of Love in the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing and so I picked up a copy. I loved it too – romance with a hint of satire and a hint of subversion. I was so disappointed that her other books were – and still are – out of print. But I’m slowly picking them up, used copies and library books, and I’m hoping for more.

Leo Walmsley: Looking back, it’s strange to think that when I picked up Love in the Sun in the library it wasn’t with the intention of reading the book. I remembered a local family called Walmsley and I was simply looking to see if there was a connection. But once I had the book in my hand I fell in love with the cover and with a warm introduction by Daphne Du Maurier. And I fell in love with the book, thinly veiled autobiography written with such honesty and understanding. The library fiction reserve provided copies of the three that follow chronologically from this one. The Walmsley Society has recently bought these books back in to print, and others too, but I was thrilled when I stumbled across lovely old editions of Phantom Lobster and The Sound of the Sea.

Angela Du Maurier: Talking of Daphne Du Maurier, did you know that her sister was a successful author too? I didn’t until I found two novels and one volume of autobiography that Truran Books have in print. It was the anecdote that gave the autobiography its title that made me love Angela – she was stopped by a woman she didn’t know who was convinced that she knew her. As she spoke Angela realised she had been mistaken for Daphne, and when she explained the woman said loudly to her companion, “It’s only the sister!” and stormed off. Angela treated the incident as a great joke, and though it wonderful that her sister was held in such regard. And she wrote of her family and her life with such love and enthusiasm that I had to look out for her other books. They’re out of print and its hard to find out much about them, but I liked the one I found in the library fiction reserve – The Frailty of Nature – and I’d love to find more.

Edith Olivier: I had no idea who Edith Olivier was when I picked up my copy of The Love-Child, but it was a green Virago Modern Classic and I have great faith in those. It is a wonderful tale of an imaginary friend, and I’m afraid I really can’t find the words to do it justice. The library gave me a two wonderful works of non fiction, and there are some diaries I plan to borrow one day, but I would love to find another novel. Sadly though, they seem as rare of hen’s teeth.

Elizabeth Goudge: My mother mentioned four authors she though I’d like when I first moved up to the adult library: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge. I only picked up me first Elizabeth Goudge  – The Scent of Water – last year, and when I did I realised that she had been right about all four authors. It was simple story but it was so very well told, with both emotional and spiritual understanding. Her books all seem to be out of print, but I have tracked down copies of the Damerosehay novels that I have heard so much good about, and I found one or two others in a charity shop a while back.

Elizabeth Jenkins: I found The Tortoise and the Hare thanks to Virago. I found Harriet thanks to Persephone. I found A Silent Joy and her autobiography, The View from Downshire Hill in the library. I found used copies of Doctor Gully and The Phoenix’ Nest on my travels. I’ve been lucky I know, but I also know that Darlene and Anbolyn both found copies of Brightness and I so want to find one too. And, of course, there are others.

Sylvia Townsend Warner: I first met Sylvia Townsend Warner in a Virago anthology years ago. I forget which anthology and which story, but she stuck in my mind and a picked up Virago’s collection of her short stories. I loved it, and I still think there are few authors who hold a candle to her when it comes to short stories. One fortunate day I found six of her original collections of short stories and a couple of biographies in a second-hand bookshop. I’m looking out for the others, and for her letter and diaries too.

G B Stern: A couple of years ago I spotted a book called  The Ten Days of Christmas in a second-hand bookshop. I picked it up, because I recognised the name G B Stern as belonging to a Virago author and because I wanted to know why there were ten days of Christmas rather than the more traditional twelve. It looked lovely, and so I bought it. It was lovely, and when I picked up Monogram, a sort of memoir, I really warmed to the author. Since then I’ve picked up The Matriarch and A Deputy Was King in Virago editions and Debonair as an orange numbered Penguin, and I’d love to find more.

Francis Brett Young: Last year I spotted a book called White Ladies by Francis Brett Young in the very same second-hand bookshop. I knew the author’s name, because one of his books was in a list of titles readers had suggested to Persephone that Nicola Beauman included in a Persephone newsletter. It looked wonderful, but I couldn’t justify the price – it was a signed first edition. But when I arrived home I checked LibraryThing and I found that Ali and Liz both came from the same part of the country as Francis Brett Young and they loved his books. I found White Ladies in the library’s fiction reserve, and fell in love with rich prose, wonderful characters, and good old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve ordered a couple more books from the library, I’ve picked up a trio of old out of print titles, and I’m hoping to find more.

And that’s ten!

So now tell me, whose books are you hoping to find?

The Happy Ending by Leo Walmsley

“It was a cold, windy, rainy November night in the second autumn of the war when our train arrived at the little country station in Pembrokeshire with a polysyllabic and, to us, unpronounceable name, which, we had been told in a letter by the man who sold it to us, was the nearest passenger railway station to our new house.”

Those words pulled me once more into the fictional world that Leo Walmsley based so very, very closely on his real world.

The events portrayed in ‘The Happy Ending’ follow those of ‘Love in the Sun,’ which told the story of the author and his wife running away from troubles at home to build a life in an old army hut by a Cornish creek, and ‘The Golden Waterwheel,’ which followed the couple as the returned to their native Yorkshire with plans to build the perfect rural home for their young family.

They built that home, but then war came, mineral deposits were found on their land, and it was requisitioned. They could have stayed, but an extraordinary opportunity came their way. A manor house with land and buildings for sale in a beautiful Welsh valley. The price was low, so it was clear that it would need a lot of work, but they had built a home before and they could do it again. The bought it, sight unseen!

Castle Druid was just as wonderful as the name suggested, but there was much to be done to make it habitable as a family home. Walmsley was just as engaging as I had hoped he would be as he wrote about the dreaming, the planning, the scheming, the working, and of Clow, the local mason, who had family ties with Castle Druid.

Clow was a wonderful character. Proud, skillful, passionate about what he did, and a true individual. His relationship with the author – each seeing themself as the leader, each careful not to push the other too far – was quite brilliantly drawn.

Once the house was habitable the family was obliged to take in evacuees. They took those the government sent, they took private, paying evacuees to make up for the inadequate subsidy for the others and to make a little money too, and they found extra help so that they could run a school as well.

There was a book – potentially a very good book – in this material alone, but it was only a background story. The author was focused on his building works and on farming his land.

The story is strongest when it tells of the setting up of a waterwheel and the struggle to finish haymaking before the autumn rains arrived. That was clearly where the author’s heart lay, and that was where he could forget that he was struggling to write. The money from writing would help to keep the fledgling farm going, but the farm needed all his attention and left him no time to write …

But he does write a little of the last book he had written – ‘Fishermen at War’ – and of ‘Phantom Lobster’ when a particular situation reminds him of the time he was inspired to create a collapsible lobster pot.

‘The Happy Ending’ was completely involving, perfectly written, and utterly real. But towards the end it went a little wrong.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a book dealer who had two Walmsley first editions on his shelves (I bought ‘The Sound of the Sea’, but I couldn’t justify ‘Fishermen at War’ as well.) He said that he rated Walmsley very highly, but it was a shame that he couldn’t quite make the jump to creating fiction.

The end of ‘The Happy Ending’ was true fiction, not based on real facts. I know that because I have already read ‘Paradise Creek’ and so I know the story that follows this one.

I can understand why the author felt the need to create a different ending – and of course this is a novel, he could base his story on as much or as little fact as he wanted – but what he did here didn’t work. Events were a little too contrived, and thoughts, words and actions didn’t quite ring true.

It probably didn’t help that I’d seen signs that pointed to the real ending along the way.

This is still a very good book with much to recommend it, but not quite as good as the other three that tell of family life.

(The chronology is ‘Love in the Sun,’ ‘The Golden Waterwheel,’ ‘The Happy Ending’ and Paradise Creek.’ The Walmsley Society has the other three books back in print and I believe that this one is on the way.)

I’m pleased I’ve filled in those missing years, and now I am looking forward to reading more books that tell stories from the years before ‘Love in the Sun.’

I have ‘Foreigners’, ‘Phantom Lobster’, and ‘Sounds of the Sea’ and the Cornish library service has a few more tucked away in reserve stock…

The Golden Waterwheel by Leo Walmsley

I fell in love with Leo Walmsley’s two autobiographical, Cornish novels – Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek – last year. But there were missing years between the two books, and I so wanted to learn what had happened in those years. The Golden Waterwheel is my first step towards finding out.

“When at last Dain and I decided to leave our Cornish home where we had lived for nearly four eventful and happy years, and make a new home on our well-beloved and remembered Yorkshire boast, burning our boats, for it seemed likely we should never be able to return, we thought of all the things we had against living in Cornwall, and all of the things that were in favour of going north …”

Life by the water, in a converted army hut, had been idyllic, but things had changed for the couple. A second child had been born, their finances had improved, and the awkward circumstances that caused then to pull up their roots no longer seemed important.

Home was calling.

The opening pages of The Golden Waterwheel explain all of this, and recall the life captured by Love in the Sun, perfectly.

I was captivated again. By a very human story, and by writing that was emotionally involving, simple and utterly believable.

And I was caught up by a wonderful new dream.

“We were going to build there, or have built for us, because we were only amateurs, an ideal house, preferably of Yorkshire firestone, with a red-painted roof like the farm buildings and cottages of the district. We didn’t want another army hut, or any other sort of existing building. We wanted to start from the beginning, design it and watch it being built exactly to our own ideas of what a home should be.”

Watching that dream come true, living through the progress and the setbacks, was a joy, and rather like catching on the exciting news of an erudite and articulate friend.

There were so many wonderful details, moments of anxiety, moments of contentment, and moments to catch my breath …

“Of the many stages in the evolution of a house none is more dramatic than when the actual building is finished and the workmen have packed up, and the place stands completely empty and silent. There are no curtains, no floor coverings, no furniture, and the walls are bare. This can happen only once in its history for whoever lives in it will make marks on its structure which nothing will ever completely erase and those marks will as inevitably be evidence of the character and behaviour of the occupants.”

Wrapped around all of this were wonderful stories of life and family. A chance find in the mud leading to a new friendship; fishing trips, and an extraordinary catch; a gate left open and a pony going walkabout.

And I found lovely echoes of the Cornish years. They inspired so much in the new family home, and they inspired a book. A book that I knew would become Love in the Sun.

I worried a little. That there here seemed to be a conflict in the roles of writer, husband and father, and that at times the author seemed distant from his family. I hoped that love and acceptance would win the day.

Life went on, and I was happy to follow. Because the people, the incidents, the countryside had come alive for me.

The Golden Waterwheel is a simple story, a slice of life, caught perfectly by lovely writing. It seems natural, almost conversational, and yet when I looked closely every paragraph, every sentence, was perfectly constructed.

That quality of writing, and masterful storytelling, make this a book I could happily read over and over again.

The story ended when war came, and changed everything.

Time for another dream … and another book …

Not Only But Also

A little while ago I wrote, with great excitement, about the forthcoming reissue of Leo Walmsley’s Love in the Sun by the Walmsley Society.

Publication has been delayed a little, but the book should be with us by the end of September.

And that isn’t all!

Paradise Creek, a companion novel set some years later, is on its way too.

Both books are masterful pieces of piece of storytelling: emotionally involving, simple and utterly believable.

And they capture Cornwall perfectly.

The titles are linked to my original posts about the two books, just in case you haven’t come across the titles or the authour before.

I am thrilled that I shall be able to own copies, instead of visiting them in the library!