10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I ditched my 100 Years of Books project when I made a new design for my reading life towards the end of last year.

I didn’t miss it at first, but in time I did, especially when other people – SimonAnnabel – I’m looking at you! – started lovely new projects!

I’ve learned that I need a project, but I also need plenty of space to read other things.

And so I’m picking up the threads again.

 100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

But I’ve taken away the deadline. It’ll be done when It’s done.

If it can be done.

I’m not going to read books that I don’t want to read just to fill in missing years so I might never finish. But I think I can, if I do a little re-shuffling of books and authors along the way, so that the authors with many books can fit around the authors with not so many.

I’m going to carry on with my 10% reports every 10 books, and because I’ve read a few books from missing years since I ditched the list I’m able to say – here’s my third 10% report!

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1865 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

1867 – Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton

The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …

1891 – Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon

At first I thought that Mona might be a little too nice, a little too good to be interesting, but she grew into a very fine heroine. She continued to be good, but she was ready to stand up for herself, she learned to be practical and capable, and she coped well with some very tricky situations.

1903 – The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon

She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.

1910 – The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I had to love Laura. Her letter’s home were a riot. I loved that she delighted the invitations to tea that the other girls dreaded, because it gave her a chance to examine new bookshelves, and that made the fear of being called on to recite or perform fade into insignificance. I loved her joy when an older girl look her under her wing; and her outrage when she found that she had a young man.

1920 – The Adventurous Lady by J C Snaith

I was intrigued to see J C Snaith described as a ‘teller of enthralling tales.’ I had never heard of the author, and when I went to look for him I found that he was very obscure, but I found a book titled ‘The Adventurous Lady’ that promised so many things I love – a train, a governess, a country house, a play – and so I had to start reading.

1927 – Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

1928 – Grey Mask by Patricia Wenworth

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

1935 – Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

Caroline  – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger. They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….

1945 – Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

I read that Katharine Susannah Prichard travelled with a circus when she was researching this novel, and I think it shows. The pictures she paints of the people and their world are wonderful.

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first two 10% reports are here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already, but I have lots more years to fill and so recommendations – especially for the earliest years – would be very welcome.


The Story of Twenty One Books

That’s the sum of this month’s book shopping – it was an exceptionally good month.

This may be a long post, but I resolved to record all of my purchases this year.

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20150328_171336These were ‘library building’ purchases. I have a dozen or so authors whose books I am gradually collecting as and when affordable copies appear.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give back the library’s copy of The Flowering Thorn back until I had a copy to keep – that’s always the way with Margery Sharp – and I spotted a Fontana edition that was if not cheap then at least much less expensive than many. I do like Fontana paperbacks, but I have to say that in this instance the image and the tagline suggest that the artist and the writer haven’t read the books.

And the rather nondescript book that one is resting on is an first edition of ‘Return I Dare Not’ by Margaret Kennedy!

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The next round of shopping was not at my expense – because I won £50 of books from Harper Collins! At first I was overwhelmed by the choice, but when I saw Vintage on the list of imprints my path became clear.


  • ‘A Long Time Ago’ filled another gap in my Margaret Kennedy collection.
  •  Remembering Darlene’s words of praise, I picked ‘Here Be Dragons’ to add to my Stella Gibbons collection
  •  ‘A Street Haunting and Other Essays’ by Virginia Woolf looked too lovely to resist
  •  Several people recommended ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss after I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo’ so I took their advice.
  • And of course I was going to have a copy of Victoria Glendinning’s much lauded biography of Anthony Trollope!

I’d say that was £50 very well invested.

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Visits to two charity shops I hadn’t been into for a long time paid dividends.


I remember my parents reading Nevil Shute and Howard Spring, I loved the books from their shelves that I read years ago, and so I was delighted to find two titles I didn’t know in lovely editions.

I saw ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody in the library and though I liked the look of it I didn’t pick it up because I knew that I had copies of earlier books in the same series at home unread. But when I spotted a like new copy I had to bring it home.

I was always going to pounce on a book by Francis Brett Young that I didn’t have on my shelves. I love his writing. I hesitated over this one because it’s a history of England in verse, but in the end I decided that I didn’t pick this one up I might never see another copy and I might live to regret it. When I came home I remembered that I loved the extract I knew, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

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I picked up two more books when I dropped off several bags of books to another charity shop.

20150328_171629A lovely hardback edition of the collected stories of Jane Gardam that was only published last year for £2 was a wonderful bargain.

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

* * * * *

And then there was the Oxfam Shop.


I can only assume that someone with very similar taste to me had been clearing out, because among lots of books I already own I found:

  • Two more by Jane Gardam
  •  Two British Library Crime Classics I I hadn’t meant to start collecting but now I have four and I think maybe I am.
  • Childhood memoirs by Marcel Pagnol, whose books inspired two of my favourite films – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon Du Source.’

I looked in again next time I was passing, just in case there were any more. There weren’t, but I found this.

I know the library have copies, but it was such a nice set.

* * * * * * *

Just one more – a brand new hardback that I just had to run out and buy – another  ‘library building’ purchase.


“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton – for whom she was ‘all the muses’.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.“

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I’ve stayed out of bookshops today, so that is definitely it for March.

It’s been a bit mad – some lovely review copies have landed too – but there won’t be many months like that.

Though we’ll be visiting one or two bookshops when we have a week’s holiday in Devon next month …..

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week: A Look Back – and a Winner

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The first thing I must say thank you, to so many of you who banged the drum for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week, who were ready to take a chance on a new author, and who took the time and trouble to write about the books that they read.

It really has been lovely to watch.

All that remains is to look back at what we’ve read.

And to give away a prize ….

The Ladies of Lyndon (1923)

Kirsty said: “Whilst ‘The Ladies of Lyndon’ is nicely written on the whole, it does feel rather dated ….”

Jo said: “The book captures I think a snapshot of a period in history and if you were researching this era, then this would be a book which would give you quite an insight.”

Audrey said: “When I read the wonderful opening sentence, I knew I was going to love this book. My second thought was that this could be Jane Austen, writing 100 years later.  But looking back, while there are some Jane-ish echoes here, there’s much more snark and bite.”

Cat said:  “I would call The Ladies of Lyndon a domestic and social comedy. The plot is minimal and it’s the interrelationships, the actions and dialogue between the characters that brings the pre and post-war eras to life. “

 The Constant Nymph (1924)

Ali said: “I absolutely loved it, at once fully involving myself with the characters, as I became immersed in the world of ‘Sanger’s Circus’. I think Margaret Kennedy might be an author whose work I will have to read much more of.”

Helen said:  “I loved the setting, the characterisation and the elegant, engaging writing style and am looking forward to reading more of Margaret Kennedy’s books. “

 The Fool of the Family (1930)

GenusRosa said: “The intense bursts of lucid, fresh prose often kept me thinking about what I had just read. As a musician, there were many elements of the novel that resonated with my own perspective.”

Together and Apart (1936)

Kirsty said: “Kennedy discusses familial relationships and their breakdown throughout the novel ….. Together and Apart, even all these years later, is still an important novel, just as relevant to our society today as it was upon its publication.”

The Feast (1950)

Kaggsy said: “Reading “The Feast” was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience and I’m so glad I chose it. In fact, I think it will benefit from a re-read as I was so anxious to reach the conclusion that I’m sure there are many profound little bits I’ve missed.”

Cirtnecce said: “More than anything else, Ms. Kennedy understood both the most noble and the very base instinct of the human heart and her characters brought them forth with force and unerring honesty!”

Troy Chimneys (1953)

Elaine said: “Troy Chimneys is an odd and appealing Regency historical novel with a quiet, studious hero who creates a dashing alter-ego as his public persona ….. I really enjoyed this short novel. I have not read anything quite like it.”

 The Wild Swan  (or The Heroes of Clone) (1957)

I said: “Margaret Kennedy is wonderfully clear-sighted and unsentimental, and not at all judgemental. She just presents that characters and tells the story, and yet I knew that she knew. And I agreed.”

Lisa said: “I chose this one because I remembered it had something to do with a film production in a small town. As I discovered, that’s true, but it’s rather like saying ‘War and Peace’ has something to do with a battle “

Cirtnecce said: “The plot is wonderful, you are plunged write into the truth of Dorothea Harding’s life right at the start, but in a distinctive narrative style, it takes a while for the readers to actually put the whole jigsaw puzzle together.”

 A Night in Cold Harbour (1960)

I said: “There were moments when I saw the influence of Thomas Hardy, there was prose that might have been Jane Austen telling a story unlike any of her own; but what makes the story sing is a depth of feeling that belongs entirely to Margaret Kennedy.”

The Forgotten Smile (1961)

Simon, in Shiny New Books, says: “ Kennedy has created an evocative, moving, and – somehow – transfixing location, and peopled it with fascinating characters.”

I think that’s everyone, but if it isn’t let me know and I’ll put things right.

And so to the winner. The random number generator tells me that:

AUDREY has won a copy of – well, I’m not going to say, because she asked to be surprised, if she should win.

I’ll just say, Audrey, please send me a mailing address via the email in the side bar so that I can send you a lovely Margaret Kennedy novel.

I’ve loved Margaret Kennedy Reading Week, and so  I just have to say thank you again, so much.

A Night in Cold Harbour by Margaret Kennedy

‘A Night in Cold Harbour’ is set in the 19th century, it was published in 1960, but it explores a problem that is still very real, with compassion and concern.

How very easy it is for a man to lose everything ….

The story opens in a cold harbour:  a refuge for travellers and for the homeless. Margaret Kennedy paints a wonderful picture of the people who pass through, people who have built a community and who support one another. And then she introduces an old man who has been brought to the cold harbour by a much younger man. He was an educated man, a parson, and yet he was dying there, alone.

The story that follow explains how that came to be.

It is the story of a young man who was the heir to a fine estate, who was loved by his family, and who was terribly, terribly spoiled. He could not appreciate what he had and what others gave to him; he could only see what he did not have and he would not accept that his position carried any responsibilities.

He broke with his childhood sweetheart, because she wanted to stay close to her widowed father.

He abandoned another woman after a brief dalliance, leaving her to give birth to his child alone.

And then he left his father, his mother and his sisters, to travel and to love that life of a gentleman. That forced his father to sell part of his estate, to a pottery owner who wanted to build a factory.

His abandoned love was a lovely young woman; she refused to become bitter, and she continued to love and to want the best for him. She stayed home with her father, and she picked up the threads of the work that her mother had done in the community.

She even helped his illegitimate child to find a place in the world. A better place than the factory, when she knew the child workers were treated cruelly.

Her father, the parson, saw what was going on and he spoke out, but he found that nobody was willing to listen. When his daughter died he was heart-broken; his sons thought that he was mad – it suited then to think he was mad – and he lost his living and his home.

He faced a stark choice: he could flee or he could be sent to an asylum.

The spoiled young man learned lessons, and in time he would gain maturity and he would see the error of his ways. He would try to put things right but he would fail; it was too late.

Margaret Kennedy’s clear-sightedness suited this story wonderfully well. There’s a clarity of purpose too; she knew the period, she knew the history, but that was the setting for the story and the chain of consequence that is threaded through it.

It’s a story driven more by plot and less by characters than her other novels that I have read.

There are sub-plots, and there are lovely details along the way; they echo the themes, helping to make the point that virtue in not always rewarded, that sins are not always punished, that humans are horribly fallible, and that mistakes cannot always be put right; everything comes together in one elegantly constructed plot.

The central storyline holds the attention. The structure is a little like ‘The Feast’ in that you know what happens at the beginning and you read on to find how and why and to understand the real significance of that thing that happened.

There were moments when I saw the influence of Thomas Hardy, there was prose that might have been Jane Austen telling a story unlike any of her own; but what makes the story sing is a depth of feeling that belongs entirely to Margaret Kennedy.

I just wished that there had been a little more space; there was almost too much story for one short book; but the impression that story leaves is exactly what it should be.

A dramatization of ‘A Night in Cold Harbour’ could be amazing; but, for now, I am happy to have read a story that will stay with me.

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week: Updates and a Book to be Won

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So, what are we reading?

I’m going to work through the novels chronologically, but I may be distracted along the way ….

Cat and Audrey are both reading ‘The Ladies of Lyndon’ and they both – quite independently – highlighted a wonderful opening paragraph.

I believe that My Book Strings is reading this one. And that Jo has read it too.

Kirsty has finished reading and she had mixed feelings, saying:

“Whilst ‘The Ladies of Lyndon’ is nicely written on the whole, it does feel rather dated ….”

Ali was very taken with ‘The Constant Nymph, saying:

“I absolutely loved it, at once fully involving myself with the characters, as I became immersed in the world of ‘Sanger’s Circus’. I think Margaret Kennedy might be an author whose work I will have to read much more of.”

Helen is reading this one too.

GenusRosa has written a lovely piece about ‘The Fool of the Family.’

She says:

“The intense bursts of lucid, fresh prose often kept me thinking about what I had just read. As a musician, there were many elements of the novel that resonated with my own perspective.”

I know that Darlene is reading ‘Together and Apart’, because it says so in her sidebar, and I am very curious to know what she thinks of it.

Kirsty had words of praise for this book:

“Kennedy discusses familial relationships and their breakdown throughout the novel, and everything which she touches upon is shown in mind of the impending divorce.  Together and Apart, even all these years later, is still an important novel, just as relevant to our society today as it was upon its publication.”

Tina was planning to read this too.

Kaggsy was very impressed by ‘The Feast’ and she said:

“Reading “The Feast” was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience and I’m so glad I chose it. In fact, I think it will benefit from a re-read as I was so anxious to reach the conclusion that I’m sure there are many profound little bits I’ve missed.”

Cirtnecce has also read ‘The Feast’, and she told me that she loved it.

Cynthia is reading ‘Lucy Carmichael’ and I’m sure she is going to be one of the many who have fallen in love with that particular book. I think its still my favourite Margaret Kennedy novel.

I was very taken with The Wild Swan, I know that Lisa is reading the same book, and I’m looking forward to comparing notes.

I’ve read ‘Night at Cold Harbour’ too, and I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

You’ll find Simon‘s review of ‘The Forgotten Smile’ in  very fine new edition of Shiny New Books.

He says:

“One of the unexpectedly appealing things about The Forgotten Smile is the way that Kennedy plays with structure. It feels a bit as though the novel were a jigsaw puzzle that had fallen apart and been haphazardly reassembled, as the sections of the story are not given in either a linear order or any particularly logical one. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Eliza is reading ‘Outlaws on Parnassus’, Margaret’s Kennedy’s non-fiction work about the art of the novelist, and she described it thus:

 “Dated but full of excellent points. Also dry wit.”

And that reminds me that Claire has three of Margaret Kennedy’s works in her library pile: ‘The Feast’, ‘Lucy Carmichael’, and ‘Where Stands a Winged Sentry’.

I think that’s all I have. I hope I haven’t missed anyone, but if I have just let me know and I’ll add you to the list.

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And so to the giveaway.

It’s very simple. You could win any in-print Margaret Kennedy novel in print. Just tell me which one you’d like to have if you win, and at least one very good reason why.

Some books are available already, and some of the reissues have been delayed and are now expected on 16th October. So the choices are:

Available now:

The Ladies of Lyndon
The Constant Nymph
The Fool of the Family
The Midas Touch
The Feast
Lucy Carmichael
The Oracles
The Forgotten Smile

Coming soon:

Return I Dare Not
A Long Time Ago
Together and Apart
Troy Chimneys
A Night in Cold Harbour

Now tell me, which book would you like to win?

The Heroes of Clone – or, The Wild Swan – by Margaret Kennedy

Back in the 1920s Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, ‘The Constant Nymph’, was a huge, huge success. It was one of the bestselling novels of the decade, it became a successful stage play and then Margaret Kennedy was called upon to write a screenplay. That led her to more work in Britain’s film industry, and that experience underpins this novel.

The Heroes of CloneRoy Collins had been smitten with photography and cinema since boyhood, and when he grew up he set about working his way up in the cinema business. He had secured a job working on scripts for BBB – Blech Bernstein British!

Dorothy Harding had been a Victorian novelist. She had never married but she had supported her family, writing moral tales that were popular in their day but would quickly be forgotten. Dorothy would have been forgotten, had her diary and her poems not come to light after her death. They revealed a very different side of the author, and literary critic Alec Mundy published a book suggesting that the ‘G’ Dorothy wrote of with such passion was the man that she had loved and her sister had married. Playwright Adelaide Lassiter had taken that theory and turned it into a grandly romantic film that had become a huge hit and was going to be turned into a film.

And that was where Roy came in!

He had an uneasy feeling about the job. He was disappointed that the Harding family were only interested in the income that that film would bring them, he was interested that the there was such love for the author in the countryside around her home, and he began to wonder if the critic and the playwright had got things wrong.

Roy was right. The story stepped back into the past to tell Dorothy’s story.

The earlier chapters had been wonderful. A lovely introduction, as Roy visited the schoolteacher aunt who had understood him better than his parents ever had and spoken with her about what he was doing, set the story up beautifully. The gentle but knowing satire of the film business was so very well down. And Harding family, living in genteel poverty in a run-down country house, quite oblivious to the fact that the world had changed, were captured beautifully.

16031525The interlude in the past was even finer; I thought that I might have met the loveliest Victorian novelist I had encountered before; I realised that Margaret Kennedy had planned her story so very, very cleverly.

Dorothy’s real story was much deeper, much more moving than the story that the critic and the playwright had spun; and yet it was understandable that they had drawn the conclusions that they did. Dorothy had grown from an imaginative child into an intelligent woman, but her life had been sheltered, she was naïve about so any things, and her family and others had exploited that, and her good nature.

Margaret Kennedy’s work is informed by her love of Jane Austen, but Dorothy’s story suggests that she knew and loved the Brontes too ….

Roy loved his job, but he knew that he had to do the right thing;  he had to clear Dorothy’s reputation of the romantic fantasy the poet and playwright had concocted, even if it did cost him his  job.

I loved that way that the story played out. The playwright was disappointed that the truth failed to live up to her romantic fantasy, but she decided that she had to represent her heroine honestly. That was lovely. The film company and the leading lady pulled back from the project. That was understandable. And the critic – who surely should have done a little more research and a little less speculating – was determined to suppress the truth and preserve his reputation. That was worrying.

Margaret Kennedy is wonderfully clear-sighted and unsentimental, and not at all judgemental. She just presents that characters and tells the story, and yet I knew that she knew. And I agreed.

I loved Roy, I loved Dorothy, and I loved the way their stories were woven together.

This proved to be a story for the head and the heart.

There is much to reward careful reading; lovely details, allusions, and themes that echo through Margaret Kennedy’s work.

And the story of an woman whose reputation many are ready to tarnish, who accepts what life offers her and finds peace is both moving and memorable.

Welcome to Margaret Kennedy Reading Week

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Hello, and welcome to Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.

This week is dedicated to reading the work of Margaret Kennedy, who isn’t quite a forgotten author but who isn’t nearly as widely read as I think she should, or could, be. I started reading her books back in October 2012 and have enjoyed every one of her books that I’ve read. They are wonderfully diverse, and, though some are stronger than others, each one has its own merits.

(I should mention at this point, just in case you haven’t seen it already and you’re wondering who the author is or which of her books you might like, that there is a bibliography, there are links, and there is as much information as I could pull together in one place back here.)

I want to thank everyone who has spread the word about this event and been so supportive about celebrating Margaret Kennedy’s legacy. It’s been lovely to find so any people who know and like her work, and to find others who are ready to be introduced to a new author. I’ve read about plans, I’ve spotted some people reading already, and I am so curious to read reactions to Margaret Kennedy’s work.

I will keep a running list here of all Margaret Kennedy posts written this week so that we can read each other’s thoughts. You can let me know you’ve posted by commenting here, by sending me an email at the address you should see near the top of the sidebar, or by tweeting about your post using the hashtag #mkennedyrw.

(When I say posts I don’t just mean blog posts, I also mean bookish posts on Librarything, on Goodreads, on Booklikes, and on other sites that I might have forgotten And please don’t feel left out if you don’t do any of that; just leave a comment here with your thoughts.)

Thank you to everyone participating – I wish you a wonderful week of reading Margaret Kennedy!

Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

In the middle of the 1920s ‘The Constant Nymph’, Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, was a huge critical and commercial success. It would become one of the best-selling books of the decade, it would be adapted for the stage and for the cinema. It was against that background, in the face of all the demands that success brought, that the her third novel came into the world.

And that may be why, while I found much to enjoy and admire in ‘Red Sky at Morning’, I couldn’t help thinking that the story didn’t come together quite as well as it might have, and that with a little more time and work it could have been so much more.

red skyThe story begins with Catherine Frobisher, who carried the keeper of the flame of one of England’s finest writers and the mother of two children destined to be the leading lights of their generation. She wasn’t: she was the widow of a minor poet and the mother of two wholly unremarkable children. But she was a wonderful character, who loved her family, who wasn’t quite as blind to their failings as she at first seemed, but could never quite see that there were other ways to love; I could quite easily believe that she could have been sent down from heaven by Jane Austen.

Catherine was not best pleased when her brother defied convention and moved his mistress into her family’s ancestral home.

And she wasn’t happy that her sister had also married a poet; a rather better poet than her husband. But she knew that it was her duty to take in their two children when their mother died, when their father was caught up in the most scandalous of criminal trials.

That cast a lovely gothic haze over the story; it would be recognisably Margaret Kennedy, but it would also be a little different.

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

The world was watching when William grew up to be a playwright, and he attracted a great following. He had no idea that they weren’t really interested in him or his play, they were watching to see what Norman Crowne’s son would do.

Opening night was a disaster; William’s play was pretentious and overblown. The laughter and derision scared the sensitive Emily and she drew back, into a safe marriage to an older man who adored her. And then, feeling her loss keenly, William married an actress. He didn’t know that for her the marriage was driven by ambition, to use the Crowne fortune, to use the Crowne name.

The satire in the chapters set in London, in the theatre had been glorious, but it was time for the story to move on.

Catherine’s brother, Bobbie, had been able to marry his mistress when her estranged husband died. They were blissfully happy together, but they ran the family estate into the ground. Trevor, seeing an opportunity for himself, persuaded William to buy the property. William agreed, because he thought it would be a wonderful home for all of his family, for his struggling friends from the theatre, for a very nice family who needed somewhere to live …..

Catherine was horrified. Emily was worried. And something broke in the end; it had too.

It was a wonderful ending, but it felt just a little contrived. It should have come naturally from the characters but it didn’t, not quite.

That was a shame, because all of the characters were so wonderfully drawn, the writing had been wonderful, and there was so much potential in mixing together traditional Edwardians and modern Bohemians.

The changing times were caught beautifully, and the things the story has to say about the nature of fame and celebrity still hold true.

There were so many wonderful conversations, so many lovely moments. There was cleverness, there was wit, and there was real human understanding. I loved watching Catherine’s reactions to the changing world. I loved watching the evolution of Emily’s marriage. I loved the warm, natural relationship of Bobbie and Lise. But so much of William’s straggling household seemed like clutter, a distraction from the heart of the story.

The potential was there for a wonderful novel but, though there were moments of greatness, the story doesn’t quite come together.

If this had been a story by an unknown author I would be calling it a wonderful literary curio. But, because it’s a book by Margaret Kennedy, I can’t say that.

I can say that if you have read her books already this is well worth reading, to see her handling themes she would use in other books in a very different way, to see the many good things in this book, to see what she wrote and how she reacted at the height of her fame ….. just don’t set your expectations too high.

If you haven’t read any of her fiction before, I’d say start somewhere else. But come back to this book if you come to love her too.

It was well worth reading, and it would have been worth it for the final sentence alone. It’s loaded, and it confirmed to me what a very fine writer Margaret Kennedy was.

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week

I have come to love and admire Margaret Kennedy’s writing over the last few years, and I know that others love her too, but even though her books have been coming back to print, even though there are more on the way, I want to do everything I can to steer others towards her work.


I find it difficult to explain what makes her special but you can find a lovely piece written by her granddaughter, novelist Serena Mackesy here and all of my posts about her books here.

So what so we have?

We have dates:

6th to 12th October.

Because I want to read Mary Stewart with Anbolyn in September, because I want to give anyone whose waiting for the last few reissues at the very end of September time to get their books, and because I don’t want to delay things any more than that.

We have a badge:

kennedy Badge

I’m quite pleased with it, though making such things is not my talent and there are not too many images of the author out there. Please display it and please spread the word!

We have a bibliography:

I couldn’t find one definitive source, but I’ve pulled a list together from a number of sources and I think I have pretty much everything that was published in book form.

All of the novels except the last one are in print – or will be in the weeks to come.

Some are published as Faber Finds and others by Vintage Books.

None of the others are, but because Margaret Kennedy was hugely successful in the 1920s, and well regarded after that, libraries may well have copes tucked away and there should be used copies out there.


The Ladies of Lyndon (1923)
The Constant Nymph (1924)
Red Sky at Morning (1927)
The Fool of the Family (1930) sequel to The Constant Nymph.
Return I Dare Not (1931)
A Long Time Ago (1932)
Together and Apart (1936)
The Midas Touch (1938)
The Feast (1950)
Lucy Carmichael (1951)
Troy Chimneys (1953)
The Oracles (US Title – Act of God)(1955)
The Heroes of Clone (US Title – The Wild Swan)(1957)
A Night in Cold Harbour (1960)
The Forgotten Smile (1961)
Not in the Calendar: The Story of a Friendship (1964)

Non Fiction

A Century of Revolution 1789-1920 (1922), history.
Where Stands a Winged Sentry (1941), wartime memoir.
The Mechanized Muse. P. E. N. series (1942), on the cinema.
Jane Austen. Novelists Series No. 1 (1950), biography/literary criticism.
The Outlaws on Parnassus. On the art of the novel (1958), literary criticism.

Shorter Fiction

A Long Week-End (1927), novella – published as a limited edition.
Dewdrops (1928), novella – published as a limited edition.
The Game and the Candle (1928), novella – published as a limited edition.
Women at Work (1966), two novellas – The Little Green Man and Three-Timer.


The Constant Nymph (1926), written with Basil Dean.
Come with Me (1928), written with Basil Dean.
Escape Me Never! (1934), a dramatisation of The Fool of the Family.
Autumn (1937), written with Gregory Ratoff.
Happy with Either (1948)

And there is one biography – The Constant Novelist by Violet Powell.

And we have some reviews to tempt you – ten different readers on ten different books:

A Girl Walks into a Bookstore on The Ladies of Lyndon
Geranium Cat on The Constant Nymph
Fleur in her World (me) on The Fool of the Family
TBR 313 on A Long Time Ago
Stuck in a Book on Together and Apart
The Captive Reader on Jane Austen
Furrowed Middlebrow on The Feast
Another Look Book on Lucy Carmichael
Vulpes Libres on Troy Chimneys
Novel Readings on The Outlaws on Parnassus

I do hope that you have found something to tempt you to join in.

Do tell me, and please ask is you have any questions at all.


It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.