Friday, 27 March 2009

Happy Birthday, Persephone Books Adele Geras

It’s easy to imagine that Persephone Books have been around forever, so completely have their gorgeous silver-grey covers become a part of our reading lives, but in fact they are only ten years old this year. That’s a good enough reason, I hope, to celebrate a publishing house that produces books (mostly by women) which have fallen out of print or otherwise been neglected. They have a shop in Lamb’s Conduit street in London and that’s a wonderful place to visit and in which to do some quantitative easing ( shopping, to you and me!) when you’re in the Covent Garden area. They otherwise operate by very efficient and good-value mail order. Their books cost £10 (this is uniform throughout the list) and you can get a bargain if you buy three at a time.

From the beginning, they’ve been uncovering gems and bringing them to our attention in a most delightful way. Each book has endpapers printed with a pattern taken from a fabric or wallpaper pattern which echoes both the period and the feel of the work. This pattern is also on the bookmark which accompanies every Persephone volume and I, like many other people I know, treasure each one I receive and put it neatly between the pages of its own book and never use it on anything else I’m reading.
Their authors are among the best writers of novels, short stories, social history, cookery books, and essays you could imagine. You’ll find titles by Monica Dickens, Richmal Crompton, Marghanita Laski, Noel Streatfeild, Lettice Cooper, Molly Panter-Downes (how did she survive school, I wonder, with a name like that?) and many, many others but my favourite among all the Persephone writers is the amazing Dorothy Whipple.

Before reading about her in the catalogue, I’d never heard of her. She was a very popular and bestselling writer in her day (1930s and 1940s) with many of her novels becoming Book of the Month Club choices. One of her books was made into a movie starring James Mason. Thanks to Persephone Books, she is now their most successful writer and deservedly so. I wrote an article about her work for my husband’s blog a short while ago, and I’m taking the easy way out and linking to that piece instead of saying the same things all over again here. I do urge you to click on the link and read about a tremendously good woman writer whom I think many of you will like very much. I’m a huge fan and like all fans, I like trying to convert my friends.

For those of you who don’t feel like trying a Dorothy Whipple (her name does remind me of an ice-cream and indeed I believe there is a brand called WHIPPLE in the USA) there is much, much more on the Persephone Books Website. You’re sure to find a treasure there and I hope that the firm flourishes and grows and continues to provide huge pleasure to increasing numbers of readers.


This is the second adventure in this series to come from the pen of Rosalind Kerven. She began publishing her own books in this series and her imprint is called Talking Stone. The first thing to say is, the books are produced to a really high standard with good covers, thick paper, maps and line illustrations by the excellent David Wyatt and so forth. The second thing to say is, these books are just exactly right for anyone of about eight or thereabouts who loves rip-roaring Viking adventures, with plenty of magic mixed into the tales. Kerven knows her subject very well, and that gives a good solid basis of historical fact to her stories. They're set in Jorvik, which in the tenth century was "the heart of a Viking kingdom that sprawled across Northern England." Kerven tells us that it stank of sewage, ships' tar and woodsmoke. It's the place we now call York. No Betty's Tearooms in those days. Rather, we have runes and magic and the exclamation of choice is: Farting Giantesses. The children in the story are easy to identify with and also of their time. The names are wonderful. I'm particularly fond of the children's father, Snorri. Historical characters such as Kind Eirik Blood-Axe and Queen Gunnhild lend an authenticity to stories in which Grim Gruesome himself has a starring role. Is he real or imaginary? You'll have to decide for yourselves, but anyone with a penchant for Vikings should go at once to the Grim Gruesome website and order up some copies of this book and Grim Gruesome adventure number one: The Cursed Sword.
Hours of fun for everyone and a great book to read aloud, too. I'll quote the verse that ends the book, and hope you're all tempted.
"Wolf-guts! Whale-doom! This I swear:
I'll stalk vile children everywhere.
I'll snatch and spike them in my snare
And boil their bones in dark despair."
Sweet dreams, everyone!


Lee said...

An admirable venture, and exactly the sort of thing that will lend itself perfectly to POD publication.

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh, Molly Panter-Downes!!! I stole her book 'One Fine Day' from Maida Vale Library 25 years ago - well, I didn't MEAN to steal it: I just moved and never returned it - and have read and re-read it over the years. The touch of guilt has never destroyed the pleasure.