My grandfather – Slightly Foxed but still desirable
Slightly Foxed started life nine years ago – initially as a literary quarterly set up by two editors keen to put their publishing experience into an independent venture. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood had worked with many authors over the years and finding contributors (both published and unpublished writers) to enthuse about books that they had enjoyed at some point in their life was never difficult. The publisher has kindly accepted OCA’s invitation to become a guest blogger – quarterly, of course! – and to give creative writers an insight into what publishers are looking for when they read a manuscript for the first time. This first blog post looks at memoir, specifically My Grandfather & Father, Dear Father by Denis Constanduros.
My Grandfather was first published in hardback by Longman in 1948 and was later read on BBC Radio 4 in 1989 together with a sequel, Father, Dear Father. The latter however has never before appeared in book form. How did these charming short memoirs come to be reissued?
Over the years Slightly Foxed has published many wonderful features, leading its readers towards books they have never come across before. However, many of the books contributors wrote about were out of print, particularly memoirs. So Slightly Foxed Editions were created. These editions revive the tradition of clothbound pocket hardbacks. They are printed in Yorkshire by the fine binders and printers, Smith Settle, are hand-finished and feature coloured endpapers and silk ribbon markers. Each title appears in a limited numbered edition of 2,000 copies. My Grandfather & Father, Dear Father by Denis Constanduros is the latest Slightly Foxed edition to be published in its elegant series of pocket hardbacks.
Gail and Hazel have worked their way through piles of memoirs and biographies – old favourites, suggestions from authors, suggestions from readers and books picked up in second-hand bookshops. The criteria for publication is quite simple – we are looking for a book that is no longer easily available, that is well written and gives evocative glimpses of a life – no room for a celebrity memoir here. Christian Tyler, an author and contributor, wrote about Alan Moorehead’s memoir, A Late Education, ‘Why are these memoirs so satisfying? Not because they describe great events or great personages, but because they are so expertly done. This is not the “colour” writing of a well-paid hack but real prose’. The Daily Telegraph has called the editions ‘unearthed gems’ and physically ‘striking and sensory’.
Many of the authors whose memoirs we republish are no longer known, but this is not always the case – included in the series is Graham Greene’s memoir of his childhood and early adult life A Sort of Life, as well as James Lees-Milne’s Another Self.
Hazel Wood wrote about My Grandfather, ‘The book was so delightful, so pitch-perfect in every way, it made us curious to know more about its author, Denis Constanduros … and at this point we made an exciting discovery. There was, we learned, an unpublished companion volume, Father, Dear Father, which, like My Grandfather had once been read to much acclaim on Radio 4. We decided to publish both together for the first time, and to include some of the author’s previously unpublished drawings’.
My Grandfather paints a beautifully subtle and amusing picture of his Victorian grandfather and household in Kensington Gore, with its visiting aunts and its below-stairs characters. My Grandfather is much more than an evocation of an endearing yet tough old party. It is a portrait of an age, and has the texture of life itself. Father, Dear Father, Denis’s account of his own childhood, catapults us into an entirely different world, full of characters who could have come from one of his (actress) aunt Mabel Constanduros’s comedies. Propped up by Grandfather’s largesse in a hideous house in Sutton, this was a household in denial, and no one more so than Denis’s father, with his bookmaker’s bills and money-making schemes. It couldn’t last, and gradually the whole farrago collapsed in a way that was both ludicrous and poignant.
The final criteria for publication in the Slightly Foxed series is knowing what our readers like. One false step and readers start to lose faith. So the growth of trust between a publisher and readers is especially important for a small, independent publishing house. This particular book, charmingly written and full of whimsical illustrations, seemed especially suitable as a Christmas publication.
3 thoughts on “My grandfather – Slightly Foxed but still desirable”
What a lovely idea and not a celebrity in sight- wonderful.
This sounds lovely and would perhaps also make a good radio/TV series.
Joanna, your post has prompted me to reflect that the value of writing like ‘My Grandfather’ is that even the cynical reader can revel in its many delights, but without needing to wonder whether the writer’s dominant intention was not the text, but the possibility of a TV or radio version of the tex. I agree, though,that it would make good radio or TV, and has already made BBC Radio 4 – in pre pod-cast days, alas.