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16 March 2023

As spring hesitates, arrives and then disappears, we are all impatient for a bit of warm weather. It will happen of course. But meanwhile we wear two pullovers in the office and put our toes next to the radiator whenever we can. We talk a lot about how 'they' managed in the eighteenth century with only one open fire per room.

And, because a shopkeeper's life is full of variety, we go on talking about postage prices. As mentioned in Diary of a Provincial Bookseller on Instagram, we seem to have sorted overseas postage ie we now have tracking, so that the days of people ringing up and asking where their book is and us not being able to tell them – those days are over.

But the main administrative burden in the office at the moment is to do with readying the database for sending out the next Biannually. It would be too tedious to explain in detail what the problem is, but basically it’s to do with matching the person ordering a book with the person receiving it, or not, discovering if people are on twice under different names, or not, etc. etc. After a long discussion, you almost might call it a meeting, someone suggested leaving out people’s names on the ‘header sheet’ with the name and address and simply addressing everyone as Persephone Reader. This is obviously not a bit personal, but has a rather marvellous simplicity. Would anybody mind? Or notice?

The Biannually goes to the printer in two weeks and will arrive just after Easter. The two new books, Two Cheers for Democracy: A Selection by E M Forster and One Afternoon by Siân James, are officially published on April 20th. We are very proud of both of them, proud to be publishing the wisdom and insight of (in our view) the greatest novelist of the twentieth century, and proud to be publishing our first love story (apart perhaps from Patience) – a very difficult genre but somehow the late Siân James managed it with delicacy and wit.

There was a piece in the Guardian headed ‘Campaigners call for better representation of female writers at GCSE.’ Apparently it’s 2%. This just made us weary. Never, in nearly 25 years of publishing, has anyone ever shown any interest in putting forward, say, Little Boy Lost or Doreen or A London Child of the 1870s for GCSE students. Why on earth not? Presumably because we don’t have the resources to shower the decision makers with free copies. We did give a talk to A level students the other day and made them swear that when they are all-powerful, in twenty years time, they will choose one of our books. For now, we just quietly seethe.

On television, Fleishman is in Trouble has had mixed reactions. We simply adored it and found it both hilarious and perceptive. The review in the Financial Times thought 'this story of a fraught marriage and resentment-filled divorce isn’t just a dense case study of modern gender or spousal dynamics. It’s suffused with big, timely ideas and intense emotion.' Too true: it's quite rare for something to be both funny and profound. (Naturally we have the book, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, among the fifty books we wish we had published in the shop.)

Alas, one of our preface writers (a cohort of whom we are immensely proud and perhaps don't celebrate enough) died last month: Ruth Gorb wrote the preface to A House in the Country and was a dear friend to Persephone Books. Amanda Blinkhorn wrote her obituary here.  

Another Hampstead link: the Guardian asked some writers about their favourite romcom books and Jenny Colgan chose Eva's Ibbotson's The Morning Gift, which is of course set there. Eva was the daughter of ‘our’ author Anna Gmeyner (she wrote Manja, PB No. 39, in Hampstead in 1938 and it is in some senses a 'prequel' to The Morning Gift); she used to say, ‘I write for very clever women who have the flu.’ Indeed. Oh, and in the same article about romcoms David Nicholls chose A Room with a View, by our soon-to-be-author E M Forster. We are showing the Merchant Ivory 1985 film in the shop in July because – well, why not.

From April 19th-30th there is to be an exhibition at Cromwell Place called Styled by Design: Modern Artist Textiles. It will display fabrics by eg Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink and Patrick Heron. On April 27th at 6.30 Jo Andrews will chair a discussion focused on Persephone Books and its use of textiles, details here. 'Saraband' 1956, is in the exhibition; it was designed by R McGowan for Edinburgh Weavers and is the textile we used for Daddy's Gone A-Hunting.

Very sadly, Christopher Nupen has died, obituary here. He was one of the great film-makers, specifically of documentaries about classical music. Remembering Jacqeline du Pré, for example, is available on Medici TV. She said: ‘When we played the Trout it would have evaporated as all concerts do, but Christopher Nupen saw a film in it and suddenly there was a statement of our happiness for ever, and when I see the film it gives me back something of that feeling which will always be so precious to me.’

We are pleased that there is going to be a production of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day from April 13th-15th in Sudbury. And there is an exhibition in Plymouth until June, details here, of work by the extraordinary Sue Williamson, the South African artist and activist. 'Between Memory and Forgetting is an exhibition that speaks about liberation struggles, those who are not memorialised due to power hierarchies and the role and recognition of women who have fought and are still fighting for a more equal society... Sue Williamson's work celebrates the underrated realisations of women, who played key roles not only in the liberation struggle, but in the years that followed. A Few South Africans is a series of mixed media portraits of the heroines of the liberation struggle, while All Our Mothers is a parallel series of photographs dating from 1981, both in black and white and colour.' Please could a Plymouth Persephone reader go to the exhibition and see if Hilda Bernstein is included in it? 

Finally, Sheffield and the trees saga. We have written about this on the Persephone Letter several times over the years. And therefore were absolutely sickened to read that an inquiry has found that 'deluded councillors behaved dishonestly and destroyed public trust by mishandling a dispute over the unnecessary felling of thousands of healthy trees in the city... "the dispute did significant harm. Thousands of healthy and loved trees were lost. Many more could have been."' It's too terrible to quote further, but read about this ghastly episode here. Why, you might ask. Money of course. It seems that in order to obtain a £1.2bn private finance initiative deal (what on earth?) the council agreed that a firm called Amey could slaughter 17,500 street trees. We send every sympathy to the people of Sheffield. It will be decades before new trees establish themselves. And the agony of knowing that one's local council behaved in this way must have been soul-destroying. Even worse: it seems to have happened again this week, this time in Plymouth. As bad as The Sack of Bath in the 1960s, but thank goodness that too was stopped eventually.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings, Bath


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