Tag Archives: #longreads

gems inside A CENTURY OF WRITERS

I’ve come across a World Books, Special Edition for its “members only” in their series: a Reprint Society 1957 edition of Chatto & Windus’ 1955 A CENTURY OF WRITERS 1855 – 1955.

Clive Warner’s fifteen page introduction has caught my interest. His explanation of the origin of Chatto and Windus and its development is a revelation; revealing as it does, the circumstances and the role of the characters flags-up some familiar names. From it, there is sense of what exists today, generally: in the paper, book publishing we have today.

I’m still working my way through this gem; enjoying the writings of the iconic authors within it. Huxley, Twain, Lagerkvist, Belloc, Bennett, Faulkner, Jerome, Strindberg, Hughes, Montagne, Ouida, Powys, Pritchett, Tchehov, Poe, Bell, Empson, Fry, Jeffries, Knight, Strachey, Swinburne, Dickinson, Eberhart, Monro, Nichols and Shaughnessy are waiting to be read. There are also inserts amongst the writing in this book that relate to periods in the publishing house’s history.

Warner tells us that John Camden Hotten founded Chatto & Windus in its early form: when it wasn’t called that. Now, it’s renamed again to Randomhouse. Andrew Chatto took over John Camden Hotten’s created book publishing business in 1873; buying it from Hotten’s widow for £25,000. W. E. Windus joined Chatto shortly after that. Oliver Warner describes Percy Spalding joining Chatto and Windus in 1876. Warner tells us that Spalding and Chatto’s descendants guided “the long and prosperous middle era of the firm”.

Many tributes to and validations of the firm are revealed to us by Warner in his introduction to the Special Edition. He cites Hotten’s “beautiful” Chiswick Press edition of the Prayer Book. His History of Sign Boards (1886) was in great demand. He also published a History of Playing Cards. Hotten’s business head, Warner wants us to realise or note, meant that he saw the commercial sense in dedicating his History of Playing Cards to one of his cache of successful, published authors. In that way, killing two birds with one stone by both promoting that long popular author: Thomas Wright and the book therein dedicated. Having the book illustrated by van Schevichaven did no harm either.

Warner tells us more. Hotten, after paying Bertrand Payne £200 for it, published Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads. Most of Swinburne’s work was then handled by Hotten. Later, Chatto & Windus took over Poems and Ballads from Hotten. Windus published his own book of verse during the early days of C & W. The end of that work had a forty page long catalogue of the books they were publishing at that time “still full of Hotteniana”: the titles he had acquired over the early years. There were listed: Poems by Charles and Mary Lamb; books from Mayhew, Hook and Swinburne. Andrew Chatto and Percy Spalding added Besant, Collins, McCarthy, Ouida, Reade, Stevenson and many others, Warner reveals; also, Hardy and Trollope. American writers were also gathered in: Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Oliver Wendell Holmes, C. G. Leland, J. R. Lowell, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman and “others important in the history of American letters”.

Oliver Warner tells us that in 1901, roughly thirty years after Hotten died, an Indianapolis literary society moved to place a tablet in their library to “J. C. Hotten, the famous Piccadilly publisher … as an acknowledgement of his services in introducing certain famous American authors to the British reading public”.

Andrew Chatto and the firm, we are told, were later well thought of by “the trade” and its writers. Sir Walter Besant the first President of the Society of Authors, is said by Warner to have once remarked “I should like to see my friend Chatto driving in a gilded coach!” R. L. Stevenson also wrote of C & W “Your fair, open and handsome dealings are a good point in my life …” D. H. Lawrence, we are told, once spoke of the Victorian heads of C & W as his “old-favoured folk”.

Notable for the reader of A CENTURY OF WRITERS, Warner’s introduction mentions the arrival of “a whirlwind” Philip Lee-Warner at the firm in 1905. He founded the Medici Society vehicle to produce “excellent but expensive” art books. Sir Israel Gollancz was his General Editor for C & W’s King’s Classics and their Medieval Library series.  Philip Lee-Warner also introduced Geoffrey Whitworth and Frank Swinnerton to the firm. Whitworth was the British Drama League founder. Swinnerton, amongst other things, authored The Georgian Literary Scene. Authors of the time, we’re told, liked to pop into the publisher’s office. George R. Sims, author of It Was Christmas Day in the Workhouse, often did that.

Chatto and Windus began magazine publishing. The Gentleman’s Magazine (1731 to 1922); The Belgravia from 1866 to 1899 (Hardy’s The Return of the Native first appeared in it). They published Jerome K. Jerome’s Idler magazine from 1892 to 1911.    C & W began to publish Christmas catalogues for famous department stores. I sold the one pictured below, on EBay recently.

FortnumMasonFrontCover

Chatto & Windus

http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/

(C) Adrian Regis 2015

Advertisements

I’ve, only now, found Virginia Woolf’s writing

After years of thinking that Virginia Woolf’s books/ stories/ works weren’t for me, finding her Complete Works on Amazon, my attitude is changed.

The CW begin with her non-fiction A Room of One’s Own.
I humbly offer my summation of this as an instruction wrapped within Woolf’s immaculately erudite insights of how not to undervalue any woman. It is inspiring.

At the moment, reading The Voyage Out, having reached the part in this fiction when Rachel is physically well-enough to acknowledge Terence and to speak to him after her near death illness, I’m struck by the implication of VW’s experience of life and people. How she so well describes the experience of delirium, fragility and physical weakness. The voices far off though actually speaking in the same room as the patient. The nightmare characters and ingredients that a raging temperature can conjure. And of the effect the whole distressing matter of some one close dying.
How Terence, Rachel’s intended, consciously removes himself from being overwhelmed by his fears and helplessness about his loved-one, by tuning that out and tuning in on the normal and pleasant of his surroundings just outside the sick room.
How others of the group variously embrace or dismiss the trauma they are all experiencing. This, a real and challenging one, compared to the trivial and out of proportion theatrical distresses they previously enjoyed sharing with one another.
All this realised and described and I’m only at chapter twenty five of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. I’m really enjoying this and am learning from it at the same time.

Gary and Tracey, retired: next stop: Ewan and Brenda’s

The path that Gary and Tracey were walking on, after leaving the churchyard, ran past Ewan and Brenda’s. Gary and Tracey knew that instinctively, whenever they passed that other couple’s Shetland pony grazing where it always did, as it was now : at the bottom of Ewan and Brenda’s garden . Gary shared his surprise with Tracey, at not seeing the pony’s two owners anywhere about.

Tracey had to agree that it was quite unusual for the Gems, Ewan and Brenda not to be there up at their house, looking down at their pony; keeping an eye on it. Tracey decided to climb over the fence to go up to the house and check on them as it really was so unusual to not see them anywhere about. Tracey was gone out of sight long enough for Gary to begin to fret. He never liked it when Tracey was away from him for longer than he thought she should be. It was almost fifteen minutes: how long he’d been waiting for her to come back to him. He couldn’t stand it any longer. He climbed over the fence too; looking forward to catching up with his Tracey and the Gems. When he got up to the house he didn’t see anybody; not Tracey; not Ewan; not Brenda. But he heard some talking. The one voice talking didn’t belong to any of his targets. He didn’t recognise the voice at all.  It made him quizzical; wanting to know more about what might be going on out of his sight. He was edging along the house wall to where he could hear the talking coming from, when what he saw next stopped him dead in his tracks.

Right there on the Gem’s back lawn was his Tracey kneeling beside Ewan, who was lying very comfortably on his back on the grass, kissing him. The unknown voice he’d heard talking was a DJ, a disc jockey, on the radio beside them. What was he supposed to think about that? And that’s what he needed to do; to think about this and about their so called loving relationship of so many years. What was she thinking? How long has it been going on behind his back? When she’d said she was meeting her girlfriends was she really meeting Ewan? All through these workings of his thoughts, Gary was getting angry and hot and feeling frustrated; being betrayed by the most important, most trusted and relied upon person in his life. Not to mention the fact that he worshipped her. Did worship her; past tense. With no words to say or a way to say them if he had, Gary simply turned on his heel and purposefully strode away.

Tracey must only then have looked up and seen Gary appear to march off. She knew him well enough; that he’d probably got the wrong end of the stick as usual. He looked all beetling and angry which meant he’d seen what she was doing, or thought he did; had made up his mind and gone off in a huff. She had to get him to stop and hear her out. But how could she just leave Ewan after finding him lying there with what looked like a sudden heart attack, when there was no one else there to help him. Where was Brenda?  Oh, damn it. She bawled out, “Gary Spall. Get back here right now or there’ll be trouble. I can’t do this on my own. I’m doing the best I can for him. Ewan looks like he’s had a heart attack and I can’t find Brenda. Get back here and help me”

What a complete fool he’d made of himself again to Tracey. But he knew what it looked like, so did she, he reckoned. He was never very good at weighing things up properly; seeing them as they were; instead, conjuring up upsetting theories; jumping the gun. He’d just done it again; unless it was an elaborate cover-up. No. Stop it, Gary, he told himself. Looking back over to where Tracey was, he completely got it. It may have been a tactic to distance himself from the idiot Gary of a few moments ago but, whatever it was, he ran to Tracey and her patient with the sole intent of being only honourable and useful. He could only hope that by doing the right thing after being such a fool he would redeem himself in his special one’s estimation.

“Okay, Trace”, he said, “let me make up for bein’ stupid by taking over from you for a bit with the old CPR.”

“Good. Thank you, Gary. At last I can stop. I couldn’t have kept it up much longer. I’ll go into Ewan’s place and ring for an ambulance. You take over.” As Gary got up close to Tracey and Ewan, a very strange thing happened. Ewan, apparently unconscious, suddenly started to convulse; his body suddenly went concave causing his head and shoulders and his feet to rise up off the ground while he lay there. Then, just as strangely, he stopped convulsing; was calm and quiet for a moment then quickly stood up. He turned to face the wall of his greenhouse then power-walked forwards into it. There should have been blood spilled from the cuts he should have got from the glass panels as they shattered from the impact. No blood… No distress in Ewan either. He simply came to a stop amongst the broken bits of greenhouse frame and quite a lot of glass shards. Gary and Tracey were gobsmacked. They’d never seen anything like that before.

The two were just about to shake off their amazement and go to Ewan to check him out when they heard Ewan’s voice from the other side of the greenhouse. Then he appeared telling them how surprised and pleased he was to see them there. They did a double-take at that looking from the greenhouse Ewan back to the greeting Ewan. Tracey made a sound that was supposed to mean, “But, uh, but, err.” Translation was unnecessary as Gary and Ewan were looking at the other Ewan and expressing something very similar. But then, the other Ewan looked at all of them. It appeared to panic; reached its hand into its jacket; then completely disappeared. Much as a soap balloon pops to nothing without giving a warning that it will.

For the next two hours, at least, Ewan, Tracey and her Gary played verbal ping-pong with all their thoughts and theories about what happened to them. Ewan was the most in the dark, of course. He hadn’t been involved at all with the goings-on earlier. He’d been washing his car out at the front of the house. The three agreed a tryst: none of them was to say a word to Brenda Gems about this two Ewan adventure they’d just had and, if they hadn’t witnessed it and known about it: her Ewan’s contributions to their life might have been stopped dead in their tracks.

 

(c) Adrian Regis 2014

Regiswrites about books he’s read lately: stories of outsiders becoming insiders and vice versa

Perhaps you’ll find the time to visit my website…

The two books I have recently read have some contemporary issues that we are aware of as the scaffolding for their tales.

Joanne Harris’ tale of the experiences of her chocolatier Vianne  in Monsieur Le Cure  ISBN: 9780552776998: Swan Books at transworldbooks.co.uk (sadly, this WP didn’t provide the special character e  of the French alphabet when I typed in the book title) and  Stef Penney’s tale of her half-gypsy, Private Detective, character Ray Lovell in The Invisible Ones ISBN: 978-0-85738-293-1: quercusbooks.co.uk are both about outsiders of one kind or another. Within themselves they are made to be either insiders or outsiders and vice versa at any time depending on their history or the circumstances in the stories.

Both books are entertaining and full of insights into their characters’ heritage. The epistemology of those insights, however, is for others to verify.

The two writers have used the contemporary issues of immigration and misplaced people to show, through the actions of their  characters, what can happen when people perceive differences between themselves. How they can develop prejudices, resentments, fear and hatred. Misunderstandings and gossip fuel the dramas.  In both books the characters’ reticence and misleading revelations to other characters figure prominently.

Each of the books has its characters who were previously portrayed as extremely confident; shaken in confidence . Their characters previously lacking self-confidence find theirs. You’ll have to read these stories to know more.

Adrian Regis, 13th July 2014.

Gary and Tracey retired

 

It’s the first of January 2014.

Gary is up first. He doesn’t need to be or to be up as early as this: six thirty. His first plan of action is to make two poached eggs on toast for Tracey; then to wash up. This is all part of Gary’s tactics in trying to get a routine going now that he doesn’t have to get up to go to work anymore.

Tracey has her own way of going. She makes homemade bread and prepares evening meals for them both; only vegetarian meals. It’s going to be vegetable goulash tonight. She likes to have her favourite LP by the Zenders playing in the background while she does her jobs. Yes, they still have their old record player that Gary bought for her in the seventies. While Tracey was preparing the goulash, Gary had a wash and a shave. Then he hovered about Tracey as he usually did, getting under her feet, until lunch time. Lunch was butter-nut squash soup, bread and pâté surprise sandwiches. The surprise being that there wasn’t any pâté in the sandwiches. That was just one of Tracey and Gary’s little jokes that gave them such a chuckle.

After lunch both of them sat to watch television. The programme was one of those, escape, career change ones about a couple who’d had enough of it all and wanted to drop everything and go somewhere else. Gary and Tracey couldn’t understand the point really. They’d never wanted to change anything about their lives. Because the point of the programmes like that didn’t mean anything to her, Tracey always treated the watching of them as one of her relaxing times. God knows she needed them because, as right now, Gary couldn’t settle for long, breaking, no, shattering Tracey’s planned relaxation by suggesting they go for a New Year’s Day walk. Tracey knew that Gary wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d agreed to get up from her programme. So, she did. They togged up and went.

Not long into their walk Tracey and Gary met Freda Longmire, her sister and brother-in-law on the top path to the church. Freda noticed Gary’s boots but agreed that they gave good support. Then they exchanged goodbyes. Gary and Tracey continued on their way. Knowing they would pass the churchyard, Gary checked the church door to see that it was securely locked. It was. They’d had a gripping drama last week. Gary was a hero. He’d gone to the church to fulfil his cleaning rota obligation. It was his turn that day. As he came close to the church door, which should have been locked, he heard a loud, persistent banging noise. Thinking it was someone doing some maintenance work in the church, he went in smiling; expecting to greet whoever was doing the work. There’d been a lot of fundraising to pay for repairs. Now, at last, it was happening. What a happy thing. But that wasn’t it.

Finding the door unexpectedly somehow stiff and jammed, Gary pushed hard and it gave way to let him in. He was about to joke about it as he went in, to whoever was doing the building work when he pulled up short at what he saw. He could have believed what he saw if it had made sense to him. But, there was a man standing, about to again, smash a long handled sledge hammer into an already sizeable hole at the side of the church’s, now defunct, never used, donation box in that thirteenth century church’s wall. Gary was not silly enough to think it any sense to react in an outraged high temper. The man had that sledgehammer for one thing. The other thing might be was that the man might be deranged, a reasonable assumption as people don’t normally attack church walls with a sledgehammer; do they? Rob a church. That sought of thing. Any of that would suggest that there could be danger here for Gary if he didn’t handle it right.

Gary surprised himself. He had a sudden flash of inspiration that would let him and this man relax until Gary could see one or think of a way to get the man into a situation where Gary could get help with him. Gary was gobsmacked when this man himself provided, in a sense, a doorway.

“Oh, hello” the man said “I was passing by the church when I heard a lot of banging. By the time I got in to see what was going on, whoever it was had run away. I found this hammer here. It looks like they were trying to get into the safe.” The sun suddenly shone in Gary’s heart at that. He immediately knew how to play it next.

“Wow”, he said, “That was lucky. Thank you. You could have been hurt.”

“Oh, that’s alright” offered the perpetrator, “I’ll be off then.”

Now Gary was panicking slightly. How was he going to keep the man here so that the police could see him? Oh, yes. “It was a brilliant thing you just did. Stopping them like that. Our church wall would have been in a horrendous state if you hadn’t disturbed them. Don’t rush off. The vicar’s wife is in the vicarage. I know she’d like to thank you for what you’ve done. Give you a cup of tea; something to eat. She’s just here. The vicarage is just by the church gate.” Gary could feel this opportunity slipping away from him. The man only had to say no. Gary wasn’t sure that he knew what to do then if he did. Mercy!

This man who looked like he didn’t have a place of abode; like a wanderer then said, “Well, yes. Okay. I’d like that.” Gary was elated. He told himself not to show it too much in case the man got suspicious and found a reason to change his mind and flee. But he was over the moon at this blessed turn of events. So, now, this is where they were: waiting at the vicarage door while Gary knocked and rang the bell hoping, quite desperately, that indeed, the vicar’s wife was there for him. It seemed ages before anyone came to the door in answer to Gary’s knock and ring. His mild panic began to surface again. But it was alright. Mary, the vicars’ wife was in. Added to that, so was the vicar. He was standing in their hall while his wife opened the door.

Gary felt that he had to set up the scenario as quickly as possible and in a way so that he could convey the true story while telling the story the man gave him. So to reassure the man, that his lie hadn’t been discovered and he wouldn’t then panic and run away before the police could get there. Gary made sure that he spoke first. “Hello, Mrs Broad. Sorry to bother you but this man here came into the church just in time to stop burglars smashing the church wall around the safe.” Gary hoped that by telling that incredible story; the way he paused and emphasised certain words while telling it would give the vicar and his wife a heads to consider that it wasn’t the true story. It was convenient of the man to have stepped a little to stand closer to the doorway than Gary. In effect, the man had blind-sighted himself to what Gary was doing. This was only slightly so though; as Gary was fully aware. It was enough though to allow Gary to intermittently pantomime holding an imaginary phone up to his ear while saying the word, police, silently and slowly to convey the urgent and important requirement of his vicarage conspirators that they phone the police as soon as possible.

Gary was reassured that his covert message had been understood when he saw the vicar go out of sight further into the house. “So,” said Gary as a prompt for keeping everybody’s conspiracies going, “I’ve said to our friend here that you’d give him a cup of tea for helping us, Mrs Board.” Gary leant forward to suggest going forward into the vicarage while he said that. He was glad to see that the vicar’s wife understood what he was meaning by that; invited him and the man inside. It had happened quickly. The vicar picked a safe moment when the man wasn’t paying attention to him, to pointedly nod to Gary that it was done. The police were on their way to them. The vicar was obviously content with the way things stood then because he said, “Thanks, Gary. We’ll have a nice cup of tea with our new friend. You don’t need to stay. See you tonight at choir practice.”

Gary acted, because he couldn’t actually say the question out loud without the man hearing him; will you be alright? Are you sure?” Again, pointedly, the vicar nodded his affirmation that they would be alright. This allowed Gary to leave them and go to do what he meant to do before all of this happened: to take his turn at cleaning their church. Time was getting on by then.

And, of course, that was then; but not now. Now, after checking the church door this week later Gary rejoined Tracey for their walk as the church door was okay this time he’d decided to checked it. Their walk took them down past the paper mill near their church; through fields; some them with new saplings growing in them. This was Forestry Commission land. Tracey spotted that all of the saplings had labels on them. Those labels told her that the little trees were Sweet Chestnuts, Bird Cherries; Wild Cherries and Chestnuts.

(c) Adrian Regis 2014