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 Books of 2010

I hadn’t intended to write a favourite books post for the year end, because I’ve written so many posts with lists of books over the last few weeks that I thought it might be too much.

But I’ve read some wonderful books of the year posts over the last few days, and when I did put my own list together I realised that a few of my favourites hadn’t appeared in any of my other lists.

And so here, in no particular order, are my top ten books of the year.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran

“I find myself reminded of books I’d quite forgotten. Happily recalling others. noting a few that I don’t think I’ve read yet. I want to read and re-read every single one. And then I want to look again at what this book had to say – I’m definitely going to need a copy of my own!”

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

” And I love my native Cornwall. So imagine my delight when I found a book by Wilkie Collins in the library’s Cornish room. Joy!

Rambles beyond Railways: Notes in Cornwall taken a-foot. A travelogue visiting so many places I know so well. Bliss!

And it gets better. The book I picked up was the original 1851 edition. And a bookplate at the front advises me that it was found, in tatters, in 1933, restored and then presented to the library. What a wonderful thing to do! And so I was holding the same edition that the author himself must have held. Wow!”

Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp

“Her story is strangely charming. And strangely charming is something that Margery Sharp does particularly well. This book, and indeed the whole of Martha’s story, is populated with wonderful human characters, who maybe didn’t behave and talk quite how I might have expected, and yet what they did and what they said was exactly right. I couldn’t help warming to them, understanding them, those ordinary, but somehow very special people.”

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley

“It is impossible not to care: the man and the woman are utterly real, and every detail rings true.

We make life complicated, when it could be so simple.

Love in the Sun is simply lovely.”

Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico

“The storytelling is lovely. I read about Mrs Harris’s adventure in the same way that I read the books I loved as a child. I was completely captivated, living every moment, reacting to everything, wishing and hoping…”

Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet

“Oriel Malet creates a child –  a bright child, but a child nonetheless – so beautifully, with such empathy, with such understanding that you really can see what she is seeing, feel what she is feeling.

The quality of the bigger picture is  just as high. Every detail that makes up a child’s life – people, places, events – in such lovely descriptive prose.”

Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye Smith

“I have met many remarkable women between the covers of green Virago Modern Classics. And now that I have met Joanna Godden I have to say that she is one of the most remarkable of them all.”

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi

“It is a quite extrordinary piece of writing. I reacted to it physically and emotionally, and it made me look at the world differently.

Several days after I finished reading it is still in my head, and I am utterly lost for words.”

I wish you books that you love as much in the new year.

Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet

Yesterday Briar and I spent some time in the garden. She stomped around a bit and watched passers-by through the gate, and I read Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet. We were both disappointed when the light began to fade, the temperature began to drop and we had to come back into the house.

Marjory Fleming is a fictionalised biography, a form which often worries me. But this book didn’t worry me at all: I was sure from the start that it was going to be wonderful.


Well first there was the subject. Marjory Fleming died in 1811 when she was just eight years old. But she left behind journals and poems that were preserved and published years later to great acclaim.

And then there was the author. Oriel Malet’s own first novel was published when she was just seventeen, and so she seemed better qualified than most to write about such a bookish precocious child. And I read Marraine, her memoir of her godmother, the actress Yvonne Arnaud last year and fell in love. The observation, the perception, the sheer love in that book was a joy.

And Marjory Fleming, a small, quiet book, is a joy too.

Not because Marjory is an appealing child, but because Oriel Malet brings her to life so beautifully, with such empathy and understanding.

First she introduces her home and family in such beautiful descriptive prose, and then the three year-old Marjory, hiding from her sister, not wanting to come in from the garden. The garden sounded so lovely that I quite understood Marjory. But I felt for her sister too when she was sent to bring in the truculent little girl.

There are so many details on every page. All beautiful and creating a picture both lovely and utterly real. And such an emotional journey. Marjory learns to read.

“Marjory climbed out of bed and tiptoed across the room to look closer. There were no pictures, and confronted with the black and white symmetry of the print, which was small and close, and peppered with curly S’s, she felt a definite sense of frustration. Why couldn’t she read, when she wanted to so much?

She flicked over the pages in desperation. The light fell on the title page. There, in big, black letters, was a whole row of words. Looking at them, Marjory suddenly found that they said “The Mouse, and Other Tales,” and were no longer just a jumble of letters. Even while she stood a little bewildered, in front of her own small miracle, a door slammed somewhere downstairs, and voices floated up from below. Closing the book, she scampered back to bed, and almost at once fell fast asleep.

Next day, when she awoke, the first thing that Marjory remembered was that she could read. She had made out “The Mouse and Other Tales” all by herself. For a moment she lay breathless before this discovery.”

So simple, but it made my heart beat a little faster, as a whole new world opened up to Marjory.

And I shared her nervous anticipation when her cousins came to visit, her happiness as a bond developed between her and her seventeen year-old cousin Isabella.

“Isabella Keith, gay, clever, so young, so sure, was pleased with her cousin. She was just grown up, and still had a joy in the unusual; she was not afraid of it as her elders were. She saw at once in Marjory a fine mind, and was wise enough to treat the child with respect, not as an inferior being. Marjory, sensing approval, opened her heart even wider. She came running to Isa whenever she could.”

It’s not entirely clear why at the age of five Marjory leaves her home in Kircaldy to live with her cousins in Edinburgh. And Marjory isn’t concerned with the hows and whys. She is happy and astounded. And Isa’s mother and sister are confounded. Is Marjory a changeling, they wonder. It seems entirely possible.

It is in Edinburgh that Isa gives Marjory her first journal, and encourages her to write.

“She went away laughing, and Marjory was left gazing at the blank pages of her first journal. Not for long. A moment later she was well away, firmly clutching the pen which sphuttered and scratched cheerfully across Isa’s carefully ruled lines. The room was very still. Only the clock ticked, and the canaries chirped and hopped in their cages. Occasionally a carriage rumbled by in the street outside.  The child sat still too, lost in a deep concentration that no-one, save Isa perhaps, had known existed. Her hand moved the pen fiercely, with effort, for it would make squiggles and blots that she never intended, her tongue stuck out with concentration, as she scratched away. She was rapt. There was a look of satisfaction on her face, and now, for ever afterwards, she would pick up a pen whenever her thoughts struggled for expression.”

But enough! I’m not here to tell the story. I’m here to praise the book.

Oriel Malet creates a child –  a bright child, but a child nonetheless – so beautifully, with such empathy, with such understanding that you really can see what she is seeing, feel what she is feeling.

The quality of the bigger picture is  just as high. Every detail that makes up a child’s life – people, places, events – in such lovely descriptive prose.

This really was the perfect book for a light spring evening.

And now I find that I have two writers to cherish.

Extracts from Marjory’s journals and verses are reproduced, both in the text and in appendices, and they are quite charming.

And my second encounter with Oriel Malet has me longing to read every word she ever wrote.  Sadly, all of her novels are out of print, and so I should be very grateful if somebody would reissue them.


Marraine: A Portrait of my Godmother by Oriel Malet

Yvonne Arnaud

Yvonne Arnaud

“Marraine” is best known to the world as actress and musician Yvonne Arnaud.

But this is not a record of Yvonne Arnaud as a public figure. It is much better than that – a goddaughter’s memoir of the warm, loving woman who was a major influence during her formative years

“Every morning, Marraine sits at her desk, writing letters. She is a little, fierce dumpy figure in a plum-coloured dressing-gown. She covers page after page with bold green handwriting, underlining heavily, flourishing exclamation marks, dots and dashes, but hardly ever crossing out. For she knows what she wants to say, and says it.”

Oriel Malet

Oriel Malet

Oriel Malet writes of her godmother with wonderful warmth and empathy. Her devotion and closeness to her subject is clear, and she paints a rounded and convincing picture of a very real woman.

“”I don’t like children,” Marraine said, more than once. She calls me Puss, as if hoping to produce an affinity with the animals which she loves, and does understand. But it is her instinct for giving the right kind of care to anything which she cherishes, plant or animal, that makes her able to help me.”

This is a very personal and very charming book and it was a joy to read.

“There are relationships in life which, by their very nature, can only come once; People who stretch down into one’s early life like taproots and to whom we owe all that we later possess. Marraine was like that.”