first edition

“When we enter the world of Lorna Hill we do not find ourselves in a fairytale land where cherubic infants spend idyllic lives in perpetual sunshine. What we find are real people in the real world, and so it is with ballet, which despite being shown as undeniably romantic, is never romanticized. The dancing schools we visit are populated by those who see dancing as the only way to escape poverty and a life selling cauliflowers at the co-op, the precocious brats who delight their mothers with displays of tap and ballroom, the tough cookies who lack artistic integrity but have the ambition and technique to succeed, and the truly talented who may spend their career in the corps without that lucky break. In short, all human life is here; the ballet class is a vibrant microcosm.” Frederick Lewis, ‘Dancing Across the Border: An Adult Reading of Lorna Hill’.Sadler's Wells series

A little culture today. Ballet in fact, and the popular Sadler’s Wells Ballet School series by Lorna Hill.

Children’s author Hill was born in 1902 in Durham, North East England.  After marrying a clergyman in 1928, they moved to a remote parish in Northumberland – northernmost county in England and the wild and unspoilt home to many of her main characters.

Lorna Hill had written and illustrated her own short stories when she was a schoolgirl.  Her daughter Vicki (Shirley Victorine) discovered some of these books and encouraged her mother to begin writing again. Short of money, Hill wrote ‘Marjorie and Co.’ as a Christmas present for Vicki, a tradition that continued until a family friend suggested she send her books to an agent. Her first novel was published in 1948.Sadler's Wells series

After seeing Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, Vicki decided she wanted to be a ballerina. Markova and Dolin were the principal dancers in the Vic-Wells ballet, a company formed by Ninette de Valois. The former dancer also ran the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London, where Vicki became a dance student.

Missing her daughter desperately, Hill began writing ‘A Dream of Sadler’s Wells’, introducing Veronica Watson, an orphan living with relatives in Northumberland and the charismatic heroine who longs to be a dancer at ‘The Wells’. We also meet Sebastian, the handsome cousin that Veronica will fall in love with.

Thirteen more Sadler’s Wells books followed, charting Veronica’s journey through the school to her eventual starring roles at Covent Garden. Other aspiring ballerinas are introduced, mostly hailing from Northumberland, that never ending source of Fonteynesque dancing talent. Sadler's Wells series

“In order that you enjoy my books to the full”, Lorna Hill urges in her charming dust jacket message, “please read them in the right order. My characters develop and grow up with the books, so if you read the last one first you will naturally miss half the fun and get into a muddle besides! You will come across characters you have never met before and wonder who on earth they are.  You see, I have now written so many ‘Wells’ books that it is quite impossible to introduce all the characters afresh in each book.”

Of course, you will have to track them down first. Collectors will find a number of second hand paperbacks and a smattering of hardbacks but those pretty illustrated dust jackets are in short supply. I am therefore extremely happy to have found a copy of Back-Stage, the 12th of the series, complete with jacket and illustrations by Hill’s daughter Vicki, under the pen name Esme Verity.  Please click on the pics below and take a look. SORRY, NOW SOLD

Evans Brothers Ltd - 1960 First EditionEvans Brothers Ltd - 1960 First Edition

Crofting Agriculture by F. Fraser DarlingAgriculture, darling?

Hmm. I have to admit I overlooked this book for a while, preferring to spend my time on the gilt covered and the attractively illustrated. On opening the modest green copy – the fragile wrapper put away somewhere safe – I found a surprise treat in the shape of 20 beautifully tissue-guarded photographs by Robert M. Adam.

Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967) worked most of his life as an illustrator at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh. At age 14 he bought his first camera and in 1908 he bought the half plate field camera that he would use all of his life. He kept every negative, some 15,000 of them, along with meticulous notes about the subjects, which have become a valuable record of the disappearing Scottish landscape and lifestyle.

A few years after Mr. Adam obtained his first camera, Frank Darling was born in a farm stable in the North of England. He was the illegitimate son of Harriet, the daughter of a wealthy family from Sheffield, and Frank Sr, who was killed in East Africa without ever seeing his offspring. The family wanted Frank Jr fostered but his mother refused. After being bullied, Frank ran away from school at age 15 and worked on a farm in the Pennines, fuelling his interest in farming, flora and fauna. He returned to education and gained diplomas in agriculture and dairying and, after a brief career in both, he obtained a PhD from Edinburgh University.Crofting Agriculture by F. Fraser Darling

In 1933, Frank – now sporting the surname Fraser Darling, adopted when he married fellow student Marian Fraser – and his family moved to Wester Ross where he began work studying red deer, gulls and the grey seal. The resulting works introduced the ‘Fraser Darling effect’; the hypothesis that birds in large colonies bred for a shorter time in order to reduce the loss of young to predators. The Darling family lived on some of the most remote islands of Scotland while Frank studied the wildlife and habitat, until the Second World War interrupted his work.

Too old for service, Fraser Darling returned to farming during the war, reclaiming derelict land in the Summer Isles for agricultural production. He recorded his experiences in ‘Island Farm’. As a result, the Secretary of State for Scotland asked Fraser Darling to run an agricultural advisory programme in the crofting area of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. This he did. His articles were published in ‘Crofting Agriculture’ in 1945.
Crofting Agriculture by F. Fraser Darling
Fraser Darling wrote in his preface;

“The West Highlands are a country of difficult communications and on a part-time appointment it would have been impossible for me to see every crofter personally and have a crack with him—the more’s the pity, from my point of view. The weekly article helped me to say something about basic principles of agriculture, and the crofter’s response in letters asking for advice is an expression of goodwill and a definite sign that someone wants to know. The volume of letters from crofters has steadily grown, and if the truth be known, these letters are the only ones I sit down to answer with enthusiasm and enjoyment, instead of as an irksome necessity.”

Sir Frank Fraser Darling, farmer, ecologist, ornithologist, conservationist and author, died in 1979. You can buy a rare copy of ‘Crofting Agriculture’ with dust jacket by clicking on the pics below. Darling.  NOW SOLD.
Crofting Agriculture by F. Fraser DarlingF. Fraser Darling - Oliver & Boyd Ltd - 1945

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty“No true reader who has read as much as a single story by Raphael Aloysius Lafferty needs to be told that he is our most original writer. Just about everything Lafferty writes is fun, is witty, is entertaining and playful.” Gene Wolfe

And now for something completely different. Today’s book is a strange one. Very, very strange. ‘The Reefs of Earth’ is the story of six alien children (‘seven if you count Bad John’) or ‘Pucas’ who are determined to rid themselves of the pesky inhabitants of Earth (except for Native Americans and dogs) and take it for their own. They attempt to destroy their victims using ‘death-rhymes’, or Bagarthach verses. The book itself is full of verse, the title of each chapter forms the line of a poem, describing the story.

‘To Slay the Folks and Cleanse the Land
And Leave the World a Reeking Roastie
High Purpose of the Gallant Band
And Six were Kids, and One a’ ……spoilers!

Probably the most famous children from another planet feature in John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos. Despite their tendancy to make people who annoy them die, they were blond and blue eyed. The Puca children however, resemble ‘strangely nightmarish gargoyles’ when you look at them sideways. But don’t be afraid, the story is written with humour, a quality found in most of Lafferty’s books. In fact, Arthur C. Clarke is quoted as saying that Rafferty was “One of the few writers who have made me laugh aloud”.Dennis Dobson - 1970 First UK Edition

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was born in 1914 in Iowa. He didn’t start writing until the 1950’s, but still managed to produce 32 novels and over 100 short stories, mostly science fiction. His work is not easy to categorise, his stories being more ‘tall tales’ than straight sci-fi. His books usually include Native American influences or characters and in 1972 Lafferty wrote ‘Okla Hannali’, a historical fiction about the Chactaw in Mississippi which was highly praised by fellow novelist Dee Brown, author of ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’.

Hardback copies of ‘The Reefs of Earth’ are few and far between. Copies with lovely unclipped dust jackets are even rarer. I am extemely pleased to offer such a copy for sale. You can buy it by clicking on the pics below. Until tomorrow, watch the skies….

Dennis Dobson - 1970 First UK EditionDennis Dobson - 1970 First UK Edition

Regency Romance NovelAll this talk of leather riding boots got me thinking about the Regency era. This brief period of English history, sandwiched between the Georgian and Victorian eras, was a time rather ‘out of time’, where everyone seemed to play dress up, or more accurately, dress down, perhaps as a result of the French Revolution and a need to make the classes less distinct.

Women ditched the ridiculously high powdered wigs and massive dresses for simpler Greek and Roman style gowns, hair and accessories. Men stopped wearing high heeled shoes, wigs and face powder and favoured Beau Brummel style tailcoats, linen shirts and full length pantaloons that were more, well, manly. The enormous skirts would return with Queen Victoria but for a time everyone appeared more natural and darned attractive.

The Prince Regent, the overweight, booze and laudanum supping future King George IV and namesake of the Regency was the ultimate example of the extravagance of the time, his spendthrift ways culminating in the building of the huge Taj-Mahalesque Royal Pavilion, a rather over the top seaside get-away for himself and his secret wife Maria Fitzherbert.

The Regency gentleman did not work. He gambled, hunted and danced.  Regency Romance NovelA women rarely inherited money or title and was not encouraged to make her own living. Her future status and happiness depended on who she married. This was the situation for Jane Austen. Luckily for us, she wrote about the persuit of happiness in the first Regency Romances (under the pseudonym ‘A Lady’, of course). Miss Austen had it easy though – she wrote about the era she lived in for an audience who already understood what Morning Calls and Assemblies were all about.

English writer Georgette Heyer had a harder job. Her prolific works were painstakingly researched – she herself was a collector of history and reference books and owned over 1,000, as well as costumes and effects of the time. Heyer also kept illustrations and articles from magazines, and noted any historical information she heard or read, meticulously filing it in categories such as Dress, Prices, Hats and Food. Her novels are so historically accurate that she rarely bothered with dates, relying instead on the events of the period to establish a timeline. Miss Heyer has been a top 10 bestseller on Abebooks, outselling the likes of Rowling, Dickens and Austen herself. This is possibly because most of her work is now out of print and not available in paperback form at the local bookshop.

My book today is The Reluctant Widow, an amusing and witty romp around Sussex full of rogues and romance with French spies and murder thrown in. This is Heyer’s 33rd book and the only novel to be filmed. It is one of 3 to be printed with a plain war standard dust jacket, made of poor quality paper. For this reason, not many of these jackets survived. I am very happy to have found a copy of the first printing of The Reluctant Widow complete with wrapper. You can buy this book by clicking on the pictures below. Huzzah! NOW SOLD.

William Heinemann 1946 First Edition William Heinemann 1946 First EditionWilliam Heinemann 1946 First Edition

Ward, Lock & Co - 1945 First Edition

I’m starting with a romance.  It’s raining and windy outside which are very suitable conditions while looking at the classic Cornish romance, Ross Poldark. The rain lashing against the window makes me think of a large armchair; a roaring open fire and Demelza eagerly removing Ross’s knee high leather boots.  Well, you would be, wouldn’t you. I remember watching the BBC series with my mother in the 1970’s and caught most of the re-runs a decade later, realising then what all the fuss was about.  The credits roll as waves crash against the cliffs and our hero (Robin Ellis) stands with unruly hair blowing in the wind. The series is full of wild and rugged Cornish scenery. There is hardship, betrayal, lust, greed, rivalry (between Poldark and George Warleggon, the late great Ralph Bates) and of course, love. As if all this isn’t exciting enough, we are given smugglers, shipwrecks and the dank and dangerous tin mines.Winston Graham

The series was very true to the novels of Winston Graham. Graham, born in 1908, lived most of his life in Perranporth, Cornwall, and wrote several novels before his first Poldark story. He was also an accomplished author of suspense novels and had several works made into films, including the Hitchcock classic, ‘Marnie’.  His autobiography was published in 2003, the year he died.

So there it is, book number one, and aptly the first edition, first impression of the first novel of the series.  Printed on war standard paper, it’s not much of a looker (unlike our hero) but a fantastic read and you can buy this book from my Ebay store by clicking on either book image below. So pour yourself a glass of wine (or have the help do it), curl up by the fire in your armchair  and enjoy. SORRY, NOW SOLD

Ward, Lock & Co. 1945 First Edition

Ward, Lock & Co. 1945 First Edition