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17 May 2021
Does it appear that the days flash past more quickly when life is restricted to early rising, work, meals, walks, early to bed? Even if combined with a bit of reading, television and the odd glass of madeira? And not much else? Obviously these are simply rhetorical questions and a rather feeble way of apologising that this Letter comes five weeks after the last one. Yes, the move to Bath has been preoccupying, and yet it went far better than we could have imagined, thanks to our ‘project manager’ Sophie Pelissier and the incredible removal firm she found, Dorée Bonner. Over two days they packed up everything at Lamb’s Conduit Street, including the books stored in the basement, and put them exactly where they had been in Bath. By the time the London girls arrived, after three days cleaning, polishing, repainting, organising rubbish collections (the Lamb’s Conduit shop is now unrecognisably immaculate), the ground floor in Edgar Building looked almost disconcertingly like the ground floor in London.
Since then we have settled in, got to know the new basement, the new kitchen, the neighbours, the local soup and sandwich place, the people who collect the post, the Fed Ex man, all the things which make a small business tick along. Oh, not forgetting the man who, once a week, delivers a pallet of our books from the warehouse.
Our main regret is that we left Lamb’s Conduit Street just as the rose was coming in to flower. We have had pictures of this on the Letter in previous years, it was always simply beautiful. We don’t have a garden in Bath, though we look out on one, but are going to put a half barrel on the flat roof at the back and plant a rose or a virginia creeper and hope it rambles up the wall. As of yesterday the window boxes are in place at the front (they came from Arthur Jack ) and the geraniums will be delivered this week by a local Bath greengrocer.
Otherwise, apart from the usual paraphernalia of settling in to a new place, our main preoccupation this week has been postage prices. We discovered that sending a large book like They Were Sisters to America was costing us £15! Somehow we hadn’t clocked this, mostly because our bags of foreign post used to be picked up by a specialist company who then sent us an invoice, it was always vast but because items weren’t itemised we hadn’t fully realised what was happening. With the move we have woken up and are appalled. Of course some of you reading this will say, but how about people like The Book Depository who offer free postage anywhere in the world? We have to tell you, they are so huge, so corporate, that they charter special aeroplanes! Smaller companies have to rely on Royal Mail. So we are trying to work out what to do. One option is only to send six books at a time in a box for £60. This would be money-saving for people who have ordered six books. But what about our subscribers, people who have a book a month? We haven’t quite worked out what to do about this.
However, the most important thing is that we are in Bath and we love it and we are looking forward to welcoming our readers as soon as they can get here. (Which very very sadly, one of our Australian readers has just written to tell us, for some people may now not be until 2022.) And now we can get on with the important business of – persuading people to read our books! The October books went to the printer today – The Deepening Stream and The Rector’s Daughter, They Were Sisters and Miss Buncle’s Book as Classics, and reprints of Saplings and the Classic Little Boy Lost.
Meanwhile, for an hour every evening we have watched television: at the moment The Restaurant, a Swedish soap, and on Sundays Call the Midwife, oh yes and The Pursuit of Love which was magnificent in many ways but ruined for some people – and that included us – because of the casting of Fabrice. The actor simply was Hicham in Call my Agent and he was SO different from most people’s conception of Fabrice, who was short, sexy, sophisticated and really something of an ideal. Hicham isn’t – for us, although clearly for many he is.
The Guardian had an obituary of Patricia Brown who was one of the leading codebreakers at Bletchley.
Reading the obituary, here, is awe-inspiring. Why is no one writing her biography? The little detail that she had a nervous breakdown and left after being bullied by a male Bletchley codebreaker, Frederic Freeborn, was upsetting. She was 26 for heaven’s sake! Luckily she married happily and lived to be 103 but why why why he felt empowered to do that is yet another unanswerable, rhetorical question.
Do take a look at the ‘works on paper’ for sale at Liss Llewellyn. It includes Barbara Jones's Marconi Transmitting the First Radio Signals from Cornwall to Newfoundland in 1901, one of twelve watercolours commissioned in 1950 by the Financial Times for a calendar called ‘A Half Century of Progress’. More details here.
We were extremely pleased about the promotion to shadow chancellor of one of our preface writers, Rachel Reeves. We don’t approve of singling anyone out as all our preface writers are brilliant – but not all of them become shadow chancellor.
Do listen to an excellent episode of Backlisted Pod about Daddy’s Gone a Hunting.
The National Portrait Gallery has decided, not before time, to have more portraits of women and commission more women artists. One of the paintings the news about this highlighted was a portrait of Virginia Woolf 'by the little known artist Ray Strachey'. But of course she is very well known to Persephone readers because we use her painting of Julia Strachey to illustrate our edition of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.
Some good news: the British Museum have sent back a second century BC statue of Persephone to Libya from where it was illegally excavated and sent to England (and seized at Heathrow). She has lost three fingers but her incredible expression and the drapery of her clothes has remained intact.
We were moved, certainly very much struck, by an article in the FT here about the French architects Location & Vassal who have done a radical thing: instead of demolishing a grim tower block 'they replaced services and lifts and wrapped the slabs in delicate layers of cheap polycarbonate. The result was a total reinvention. Suddenly they were elegant, translucent, almost ephemeral presences, while the footprint of the apartments was hugely expanded. Generous terraces, winter gardens and social spaces stood in marked contrast to the original cramped interiors.. Residents were kept in place throughout, the buildings were made far more energy-efficient and communities were maintained.’ It shows it can be done!
We now stock the entire series of books about women artists published by Eiderdown Books, details here. In the autumn they are publishing a book about Tirzah Garwood and we shall have a joint event celebrating Long Live Great Bardfield and their new book.
Finally, Cambridge Imprint has made us a glorious mug to celebrate our opening in Bath.
'With the help of Peregrine Pottery in Stoke, we have made them this elegant creamware mug in the Persephone design we named for them a few years ago. Anyone who misses Persephone’s Lamb’s Conduit Street bookshop in London and who makes their way to Bath instead can claim a free mug' otherwise they are £15.
8 Edgar Buildings
Bath BA1 2EE.
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