Tag Archives: Vere Hodgson

The Persephone Project is Back (Again)

I have always loved a Persephone book, back in 2012 I made the decision that I loved them so much I would go back to the very beginning and read them all in order. This was back when there were just 100 of them and it seemed like quite the treat to do. And it was. I started with the idea of reading one a month and writing about them on a specific Sunday so that I could let people join in who wanted to. It was great, I managed one a month for 8 months, then things off blog went awful (after Gran died) and I didn’t quite get my mojo back reading one in 2014 and one in 2015 and not even blogging about them – shame on me. You could say it all went a bit awry, however after heading back into Persephone Books a few weeks ago to say (a slightly shamefaced) hello and buy some books I am back on it and have picked up the challenge again, with the biography of Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley…

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It seems a particularly apt title, completely coincidentally, considering we have the Tower of London Poppies in Liverpool at the moment (indeed I will be event managing them on Saturday so if you happen to be passing do say hello) and this is about one of the soldiers who fought, and died, in the war. It is giving the book and extra poignancy and resonance for me.

The only difference in the ‘Persephone Project v3’ is that while I will still be reading them in the order they were published, I am reading them as and when. This will probably be one a month, yet it might be one every other month (especially if one is massive) or sometimes two a month if they are slighter, or if I just have an urge to read the next one straight after the others. So still planned and yet still whimsical too, I like it.

Now as I mentioned above I didn’t review two of the books I read in 2014 and 2015, thank heavens then for book notes. I thought before I finish the latest title and even contemplate sharing my thoughts on it, I would share some thoughts on those two books so I have a record of them (and can’t be told off for cheating) before we move on, I say we as I would love it if you read along the way. So you can find the reviews of Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson and Good Things in England by Florence White in yesterday’s post, they were both marvellous treats as I had hoped, especially the Florence White.

Anyway, I thought I would update you all and hope that some of you will join in whether it be for the long haul or just now and again. In the meantime do tell me all about some of your favourite Persephone titles that you have read, I would love to know what I have to look forward over the forthcoming weeks, months and years.

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Rounding Up The Reviews #6: A Pair of Persephone’s – Vere Hodgson & Florence White

In the latest of my review round up posts I thought I would catch up with two Persephone Books that I should have mentioned before and haven’t; especially as they are both very good indeed and as The Persephone Project is coming back. More on that soon but let’s get to the two books and thank the heavens for notebooks filled with bookish, erm, notes. Right, the books…

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Few Eggs and No Oranges – Vere Hodgson

During the Second World War, whilst working for a charity in Noting Hill, Vere Hodgson kept a diary during the Blitz from 1940 – 1945. From the opening line ‘Last night at about 1 a.m. we had the first air raid of the war on London. My room is just opposite the police station, so I got the full benefit of the sirens. It made me leap out of bed…’ she draws us straight into the real life loved by those at the heart of London town as we follow her life, and the lives of her friends, as the city tries to carry on in the face of danger, loss and the toughest of times.

I wasn’t sure I was going to love Few Eggs and No Oranges because, as many of you will know from previous posts, I had to study WWII over and over and over again during my school life and, without sounding callous, became somewhat numb to it all from the endless source material we had to read. I found Few Eggs and No Oranges a really interesting and engrossing read. Not everyone is born to be a diarist but Vere Hodgson draws us straight in, even when she is writing about some of the smaller things that might initially seem less interesting, they become more and more fascinating as we realise the little things often meant the most (like the lack of eggs mentioned in the title). I think part of this is possibly down to the fact that, having done some reading after, she was writing this to one of her relations on the other side of the world.

The descriptions of the bombed out streets are incredible and the way she describes “showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years”. My tip reading it is to spread it out over a longer period of time as you cannot read it like a novel, even if the 600+ pages have a wonderful warmth that some diaries can lack. I actually wish I had taken slightly longer with it, though the longer you take to read a book the harder they are to review and encapsulate as I am being reminded now. Well worth digging out and spending time with for another look at WWII.

Good Things in England – Florence White

I am not normally someone who can pore over a cookbook for hours and hours it has to be said. I love looking at the pictures and receiving the end results but living with a chef the kitchen is out of bounds to me anyway. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Good Things in England is a collection of 853 regional recipes dating back to the C14th. First published in 1932 and written by Florence White, this country’s first ever freelance food journalist, when you read it you can see why it is such a hit.

As with all good British cookbooks, its starts with breakfast and works through breads, appetizers, soups, ‘oven cookery, etc’ (which made me laugh), fish, boiled meats, sauces, preserves, chutney, sweet dishes, wines and good old country teas. There are wonderful dishes like Camp Treacle Pudding (I don’t think she meant camp like I did, though maybe actually, ha), Fat Rascals, An Interesting Fruit Pudding, or Bacon Olives from The Fanny Calder School of Cookery in my very own now home of Liverpool from 1904. Oh and Another Gingerbread or Parkin and maybe Another Gingerbread or Parkin… or… oh, there’s a lot of gingerbread and parkin.  Each section comes with an introduction, as does the book, and what makes the book all the more wonderful are that here are also wonderful sections of Florence giving advice, tit bits and best of all stories. You have things like ‘concerning seasonings generally’ or one of my favourites ‘the story of stilton cheese’.

I don’t know if you have guessed or not but I was completely smitten with Good Things in England which was a complete and utter joyous surprise. I did eat a lot while reading it though. Like Few Eggs and No Oranges, which actually sounds more like a cook book, I read it over a long period dipping in and out. The only thing I am kicking myself about is that I didn’t try any of the recipes; I have heard there are some other cook books ahead in my Persephone reading so maybe I will try those, or get him indoors to… he has said that he might read this and try some of the cakes and bakes over the next few weeks if I am very lucky – I will report back

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So there are some brief thoughts on two wonderful books. Who knew I could be won over by a WWII or cook book when neither are normally my cup of tea (pun slightly intended) it is the power of Persephone I guess. I am very excited about getting back to these dove-grey delights and what lies ahead with the next 105 (and more that will come) I have awaiting me.

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Filed under Florence White, Persephone Books, Review, The Persephone Project, Vere Hodgson

A Persephone Project Pit-Stop; One Year In…

Last November I set myself a little mini reading mission to read all one hundred, now one hundred and four, Persephone titles in order at the rate of one a month. I thought now was a good time to catch up with how I am doing or not as the case maybe as I seem to have gotten rather behind with it all…

Today, being the second Sunday of the month which I mentally designated for the Persephone Project, I should have been discussing Consequences by E.M. Delafield, the 13th Persephone title. However with things as they were with Gran I got a few books behind and so instead would have been discussing the 9th Persephone title Few Oranges and No Eggs: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson  1940 – 1945. Well alas I have gotten somewhat behind again. This is not because of lack of time (though things have been a bit manic with quite a few job interviews) but because every book needs to be read in its own individual way and for me Few Eggs and No Oranges is not a book that can be read in big gulps or devoured in a week or two. It is one you need to digest slowly and take it all in. To rush it would be to spoil it and that is not what I want the Persephone Project to be, it should celebrate the books not make me impatient with them or rush them. So I am holding off, a mini Persephone postponement, but not for long.

Persephone Pit Stop

You see I have decided that I do want to get back on track and be reading the fifteenth title in February. You may, quite understandably, be thinking ‘hang on, he is way behind but in a mere few months wants to be ahead’ that doesn’t make sense BUT I think it is manageable because of what the next few titles are. As I mentioned Few Eggs and No Oranges are diary entries so I want to dip in and out of them daily along with other reads. Good Things in England is a source book of traditional English cooking by Florence White from the 1920’s so The Beard and I are going to cook some delights (possibly Eel Pie, Hasty Haggis, Egg Curry Cheesecakes – oh the fun) over the festive season. Nicholas Mosley’s Julian Greenfield looks a biography perfect for curling up with over the Christmas period and It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst being a short collection of poetry. All of this seems realistically juggle-able.

Speaking of realistic, I have decided that as of this month the Persephone Project will no longer have an official date every month. Deadlines can work with some bookish projects but apart from book group and Hear Read This I really want to free my reading up in 2014 as now I have a new job starting in eight days (see the interviews paid off) there is going to be less time for reading and indeed less time for blogging – so I don’t want either to become a chore. I will simply have a big binge over Christmas and then go back to reading one a month amongst my other reads when I fancy them.

Before I go, I should say what an utter joy reading the eight titles has been so far. They have been occasionally challenging (Etty Hillesum) and though provoking (Cicely Hamilton) but overall every single one has been a joy in its own way in particular I have loved how each one from the outset starts as a cosy feeling work and yet as you read on the darker undertones start to show (Dorothy Canfield Fisher The Home-Maker and Dorothy Whipple’s Someone At A Distance in particular) and two have easily been some of the best books of my reading year (Mollie Panter-Downes’ short story collection Good Evening, Mrs Craven and Monica Dicken’s simply wonderful Marina) so I am very much looking forward to what lies ahead.

Do let me know if you have been reading along or if you belatedly want to join in with the Persephone Project, I would be delighted if any of you are or would like to. Also, whilst on the subject what has been your favourite Persephone so far and which ones should I really be looking forward to?

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Good Evening, Mrs Craven: the Wartime Stories – Mollie Panter-Downes

And here we find ourselves on the eighth Persephone title as I try and read one a month in the order they have been published, and this month it is a re-read for me. I have to say I am not the biggest fan or re-reading books, I always worry that favourites might fade whilst being equally mindful of the fact that there are sooooo many books I have yet to read I should keep reading the new. In the case of Mollie Panter-Downes collection of wartime stories Good Evening, Mrs Craven I am really pleased I re-read them, as whilst I liked them very much last time, I enjoyed them even more this time around and appreciated them far more too.

Persephone Books, 2008 (originally from 1939-1944), paperback, short stories, 203 pages, bought by my good self

I always find summing up a collection of short stories a tricky business. In the case of Mollie Panter-Downes’ Good Night, Mrs Craven the link is in the subtitle The Wartime Stories. Yet unlike many a book you might find yourself reading set in the Second World War, Mollie takes the focus away from the front and looks at the people who were, and still often are, in the main overlooked. In particular she focuses on the women of the time, many of whom are left to watch the war go by – some through choice and some through circumstance and the way society was at the time.

As you read you meet women who are ‘doing their bit’ by housing evacuees, housing relatives they don’t really like, forming groups making things for the troops and also the women who simply want to hide from it all. Not once throughout the stories does Mollie Panter-Downes judge any of them, making martyrs out of those who are doing all they can nor making those who want to run away cowards or villains, she just seems to want to tell you about them and the times in which these women find themselves.

What Mollie Panter-Downes does, in every single story, is make the women you meet (or their situations) really interesting and more often than not gives them a twist. You might have some tales you would expect;  women famously falling out and bickering as they make pyjamas for the Greek Army in Battle of the Greeks, or having to endure evacuees who aren’t grateful In Clover, or worse in-laws you don’t like This Flower, Safety. You also get tales that give a different spin on things; women who are pregnant during the war and seen as carrying doomed children of the future As The Fruitful Vine, or simply a woman who never thought she was bothered about food and then becomes obsessed with it The Hunger of Miss Burton.

Ever since food began to get a bit tight, Miss Burton had carried a wolf around with her under the neat waistband of her tweed skirt. Sometimes she felt that it wasn’t one wolf only. It was a whole wolf pack cutting up in the vacuum at the back of her grey herringbone. Before the war, she couldn’t remember thinking much about food, but now she thought about it constantly.

It is tales like the latter where simple everyday things happen with the war there in the background that I found this book so effective. As war breaks out between Japan and America, a woman almost comes to blows (down the phone) with her husband, another woman goes back to see a former love for the nostalgia of it. With twenty one stories in this collection I could go on and on. I should mention though that it isn’t all women who are the focus of the stories. We have some of the men who couldn’t fight the war for various reasons, one who seriously wishes he could and almost mourns the fact he can’t, too.

I think Mollie Panter-Downes writing is astounding. I really remember liking it last time but this time I loved it. There are the wonderful, often rather quirky, characters some of whom, like Mrs Ramsey, Mrs Peters and Mrs Twistle, keep returning in and out of the stories which helps build the consistency of the world Panter-Downes describes as they run from 1939 to 1944, the tone changing slightly as the book goes on. She can bring a character to life in just a mere sentence or two and the brevity of her tales and how much they make your mind create is quite astounding.

One of the Pringle girls had been wedded and widowed and was now Mrs. Carver. Neither of them was likely to see fifty again, but Pringle girls they remained, their girlishness rather ghoulishly preserved, like the dried flowers and pampas grass that rustled in the draught from the drawing-room.

Panter-Downes is unquestionably a master of prose, in a single sentence she can deliver and say so much. These are just a few of my favourites; ‘in a mood of fine old nostalgia, well crusted on the top and five years in the wood’, ‘wearing a dress so flowery that many foiled bees buzzed angrily around her’ or ‘not forgetting to shoot her the tender, killing glance which made her see what a charmer he must have been, even after that pony broke his nose and the Afghan bullet took a nick out of one eyebrow’ and ‘With difficulty escaping from Gerald’s stomach, which seemed to pursue the conversation like some particularly active octopus, they chatted about theatres.’Again with there being so many wonderful stories and so many examples in each one I could go on and on again, but I won’t.

I shall simply say that having re-read Good Evening, Mrs Craven I have reassessed this collection and, over four years (and over 500 books) later, I don’t just think that this is a brilliant short story collection, I would go as far as to say this is a collection of mini-masterpieces – I think it shows that we become all the more discerning and delve deeper the more we read. In this collection there are a wonderful and vivid gamut of views and outlooks throughout WWII, and not with the normal drama involved of the front, but a quieter drama and one that will have you laughing hysterically and then being deeply moved by. If you haven’t read these short stories then I simply insist that you must, they are not to be missed.

I am really, really looking forward to reading Minnie’s Room; The Peacetime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes,  when I get to the 34th Persephone book. Before that there are many others to come, next up is Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Diaries of Vere Hodgson (the biggest Persephone published so far) which covers the same time period but I think is going to have a very different feel. We shall see. Have you read Good Evening, Mrs Craven and if so what did you make of it? Which books have you re-read and loved all the more the second time around?

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Incoming Thoughts…

Be warned this post contains a lot of incoming books, my thoughts on them and a bit of an angry rant. First Note: If you love this sort of post then carry on, if you don’t then hopefully you will be back tomorrow for the return of The Persephone Project. Second Note: I have decided Savidge Reads might be going rogue over the next few months in preparation for 2014, partly brought on by the books I have received and the thinking they have made me do, and a more no nonsense style is required which if you a) scroll quickly down to the bottom of this post before you leave b) reach after looking at a bit of book porn you will spot. Savidge by name*… where was I? Oh yes these incoming book posts.

It is funny how these kinds of posts can divide people. Some people see them as delightful posts of Book Porn and some see them as a blogger or reviewer just showing off. I go both ways with it dependent on the blog. I would assume by now you know which of those camps I am in, if you need to be told it is the Book Porn camp then I suggest you leave and don’t darken my blogs door again. Ha! So who is ready for some bookish nattering…?

So last week I was in London. This was in part to interview the amazing Jennifer Saunders, who I was very nervous of meeting and who was really lovely and I bonded with over psychopaths, for the Christmas special of You Wrote The Book, go to a press event of Penguins (where I met Deborah Levy and had a moment of mutual fandom, very strange but very lovely) as well as going to the Not The Booker event on The Saturday. I decided to make an extended break of it and catch up with friends I had not seen for a while. Naturally one place I had to go was Persephone Books to see Nicola Beauman, its founder, who I have been writing to for the last year or so since The Persephone Project started. We had a lovely cup of coffee chatted about books old and new and I was even allowed into the printing room (with a sneaky peak at one of their possible future books) and down into the Persephone cellar where the damaged books live. I didn’t leave empty handed…

photo 2 (2)Now the picture here —> actually is missing a book as I left having bought almost as many books as I was given… I decided as a thank you to my lovely friend Catherine who let me stay she simply had to have a lovely new copy of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, my favourite Persephone so far as it has a sensational feel, whilst I saved one from the damaged shelves. I also saved a copy of ‘Julian Grenfell’ by Nicholas Mosley as it is the next Persephone I don’t have, well apart from ‘Few Eggs and No Oranges’ by Vere Hodgson (Persephone’s biggest book so far) which I bought a pristine copy of as a treat along with the one for Catherine. The final one I left with was ‘The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow’ by Mrs Oliphant which Nicola insisted I take as it has a lot of Liverpool in it. She was far too kind and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

photo 5There is something so special about smaller publishers, like Persephone, and how they go the extra mile to make their books look even more appealing as well as having a certain uniformed identity. Between all the Not The Booker chatter this is something I had been talking to Sam Jordison (the chair of the inaugural judging panel) about along with the fact that I was beginning to get this real urge to go rogue and off the bloggish beaten track and read some more undiscovered or off the radar gems. He introduced me to Galley Beggar, a publishing house he co-founded which I had no idea about till then (sorry Sam) and promptly delivered me with two of their latest titles; ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride and ‘Everlasting Lane’ by Andrew Lovett. Aren’t these gorgeous editions, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we all do. I am now very excited about discovering both a new publishing house and two new to me authors. If you fancy reading books a little of the bookish path I thought you might like to know these guys are about.

I did leave London with a few more books than that but they aren’t out till 2014, something which I am actually going to talk more about next week. I can say that I think 2013 has been a bit of a safe year in publishing (that will get me emails, sorry but its true – some lovely books have come out, only one or two of which have made me think ‘wow original’ or blown my socks off) though from the looks of things 2014 is looking really, really, really exciting – especially for more off the road novels. photo 3Anyway one additional book I got —> ‘My Brother Jack’ by George Johnston is extra special as it was from Kim of Reading Matters and had come all the way from Australia and is one of her very favourite books. No pressure on me to like it then, ha! I was really touched when we meet for a few pints, and a whole lot of chatter, and she whipped this out as I wasn’t expecting it. Odd but delightful fact, I had taken a load of proofs for her from Penguin yet neither of us had told the other we had treats. Lovely stuff.

Finally, when I got back from London I discovered the postman had had some arduous labour whilst I had been away as there were a lot of books awaiting me. Why mention these too? Well I have started doing something new. When books come in the following happens…

  • If I have asked for it, and I maybe ask for two or three books a month if that (just to clarify), then of course they go straight onto a special set of shelves for reading ASAP – with a little ‘when the mood takes me’ thrown in.
  • If it is for work it goes on another shelf. Almost a high priority one as I need to separate these for fear of going mad.
  • If they are unsolicited I now read the blurb (which I never used to do) and the opening page and then if I think the book is a must read or a must try it stays…
  • If I don’t it goes.

photo 5 (2)For extra clarity, the ones pictured have stayed or are work books and the only ones I asked for were Ciaran Collins ‘The Gamal’; because it is a bit off the beaten track and five people I trust have told me I must read it, ‘Mr Loverman’ by Bernadine Evaristo; because they ran out of proofs at the Penguin bloggers night way back in February and I waited for the paperback, ‘The Woman in Black: Angel of Death’ by Martyn Waites; for obvious reasons that I am obsessed with the Woman in Black and am interviewing Susan Hill soon and want to discuss this with her. Blimey that is a lot of books isn’t it?

You can see why I am going to be having a small cull when the final shreds of this lurgy have passed. I have clarified this all for you more than I normally would because of this…

*Just to underline something. I have blogged for six years and do this free of charge simply for the love. Six years, not six months. Secondly I work freelance on several book pages in several magazines. Thirdly I created a book prize because I love books. Fourthly I make three podcasts free of charge discussing books with other co-hosts or the authors of said books. These are the reasons I have built up delightful relationships with publishers and they send me books, many unsolicited. This has all come through passion, dedication and hard work, leading to a good presence. I do not condone the new attitude of constant ‘book blagging’ – publishers give books out where they want to – but when I hear that a blogger or two have been slating me to several  publishers for getting sent ‘too many books’ and yet also telling some publishers that I said they could ask for books I have to address it. Naturally I am very upset to have heard about this and felt it needed addressing as it has put me in a very awkward position in the last few days.

Right, issue addressed, back to the lovely books and your thoughts… Which of these have you read or fancy reading? What is your favourite Persephone Book? What was the last book you gave to a friend? What books have caught your eye lately? What have you bought, borrowed or been sent of late?

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