I've been in London this weekend, especially to attend the Readers' Day hosted by that excellent literary periodical Slightly Foxed. We have subscribed to the quarterly since its launch almost ten years ago, we look forward eagerly to each elegant edition, and have followed many of the bookish trails towards which it has gently pointed us - if you don't already know it, do take a look.
On Saturday, at the Readers' Day in the Art Workers' Guild in Bloomsbury, we were able to experience Slightly Foxed made flesh as it were, meeting other readers (a lovely bunch) and enjoying talks from speakers who enthralled, entertained, and stimulated their avid audience. It was an event of the nicest, most interesting kind, and neither Mr. C. nor I could have had a better time.
Sara Wheeler - complete with newly broken arm in a sling - took to the stage first to tell us about her latest book O My America!: Second Acts in a New World, an account of the life-changing experiences of six British women who travelled to the New World in the 19th. century. Among her subjects, Sara talked about Fanny Trollope (mother of Anthony), whose writings, incidentally, Tracy Chevalier read while researching The Last Runaway, and Fanny Kemble, the actress and celebrity of her day, but I'm pleased to see that the book also includes the doughty Isabella Bird who ought to be better known these days.
The next speaker was Sue Gee, and I'm going to save Sue for a post of her own, so please stay tuned for that, and I'll move on now to Ursula Buchan who gave such an amusing, clear-sighted talk about the Dig for Victory campaign, as covered by her book A Green and Pleasant Land: How England's Gardeners Fought the Second World War. Ursula's many period photographs illustrated her talk in often hilarious fashion, for example, can you imagine the expressions on the faces of these two little people who had been looking forward to an ice-cream and found there were only carrots (an important source of vitamin A) on offer!
Illustration was key to the next talk as it was given by the great Sir Quentin Blake, and what a delight this was. Sir Quentin's work in recent years has often left the confines of the page and spread to the larger canvases of walls in museums and hospitals, the sides of buses, and even a whole building, 'wrapped' in wonderful Blake fashion for a particular purpose. He showed slides of many of these projects, each one so perfectly suited to its environment, and he talked engagingly about his creative process and his collaboration with Roald Dahl, "it was like being led astray by a naughtier schoolboy," he said. His recent books include Beyond the Page and Words and Pictures.
After lunch, we reconvened to hear Grant McIntyre share his passion for the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian and explain why the books are read and loved by so many people who find their richness of detail, complex characterisation, and drama - among other things - make them much, much more than just 'a naval yarn'. To get us further into the spirit of things (if you'll pardon the pun), grog was served, and a clip from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was shown, and while many members of the audience were already firm O'Brian fans, Grant's talk will certainly have persuaded others to discover the books.
The final speaker of the day was Virginia Ironside who, in conversation with Sue Gee, discussed the brighter sides to getting older. Virginia's recent novels No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub and No! I Don't Need Reading Glasses are 'diaries of growing old disgracefully', sound both very positive and extremely funny, and she provided a warm and witty end to the formal part of the event.
After Virginia's talk we had to rush off to catch a plane so couldn't stay for tea and the marvellous array of homemade cakes which were being served to those who could linger a while; there was also the opportunity for more book-buying, courtesy of the Slightly Foxed Bookshop which had brought a tempting range of stock, available to browse at breaks throughout the day.
As you can see, this was a truly splendid day for book-lovers, and I look forward to next year's.