Trinity Book Sale Buy: The Tiger in the Smoke

Margery AllinghamThe Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham (originally Chatto and Windus, 1952) is yet another of my Trinity Book Sale purchases (TBS Purchases). As you might have gathered, my TBS purchases forms its own TBR pile within the main TBR Pile (phew!). This edition of The Tiger in the Smoke is a 1953 hardback edition, which was part of a monthly series called World Books, published by The Reprint Society at 4/6 (for members only apparently). I note from the back cover that postage and packing cost 9d extra, (you could also buy Gone with the Wind at 8/- for the same postage price which was certainly a bargain). I love the cover design with the signs of the Zodiac on them, but the publisher doesn’t credit a cover artist which is a pity.The Tiger in the Smoke

I haven’t read an Allingham crime novel for years so it was a nice indulgence to head back into the Golden Age of Crime. Margery Allingham (1904-1966) penned her first Albert Campion novel, The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929. He proved to be such a popular creation that he appeared in a total of eighteen novels and around twenty short stories. I was intrigued to discover that Allingham originally invented Albert Campion to be a spoof on Dorothy L Sayers’ character Lord Peter Wimsey. Over the course of time however, he became much more substantial than a mere jest and matured into a more complex character. Campion has an aristocratic background and his real name is as much a secret as were his missions during the war. Undoubtedly, my affection for Campion is influenced by the stylish BBC series from 1989/90 starring Peter Davison and Brian Glover. This comprised versions of eight of the novels, but not the first one, or indeed The Tiger in the Smoke. I can feel a DVD hunt at the local library coming on!

My last Landing TBR report was full of Elizabethan crimes, or at least political shenanigans and courtly dramas. This time, although we are still in the realms of dark doings, the century and location has shifted to post World War II London. The shady happenings take place in a particularly mysterious and gloomy setting here, as much of the book’s activity occurs in the midst of the worst pea souper in living memory. In fact, the atmosphere is quite Dickensian, there is a sense that Bill Sykes could swagger round a corner any minute. A motley crew of street musicians, threading its way around the alleyways, led by an albino called Tiddy Doll is suitably sinister.

The plot of The Tiger in the Smoke centres on an escaped criminal and former soldier, Jack Havoc who is trying to locate what he believes to be a treasure hoard, a secret he learned of during a wartime raid in France:

He was a man who must have been a pretty boy, yet his face could never have been pleasant to look at. Its ruin lay in something quite peculiar, not in an expression only but something integral to the very structure. The man looked like a design for tragedy. Grief and torture and the furies were all there naked, and the eye was repelled even while it was violently attracted. He looked exactly what he was, unsafe.

The Tiger in the SmokeHavoc’s commanding officer Martin Elginbrodde, who had hidden the treasure, was later killed in action. Elginbrodde had left coded instructions for his widow Meg to retrieve it in such an eventuality. The story opens five years after a Elginbrodde’s death, when photographs supposedly depicting Meg’s late husband alive and well, have appeared in her post after the announcement of her engagement to Geoffrey Levett. Meg is Campion’s cousin hence, his being called in to assist in unravelling the mystery of whether her husband is still alive or someone wants her to think that he is.

In this case, Allingham’s deceptively affable amateur detective makes a late-career appearance in a supporting role, alongside his ever-reliable criminal turned sidekick Magersfontein Lugg. The hunt for Havoc is largely in the hands of the Scotland Yard, in the person of the charismatic and forceful Charlie Luke. I remember Campion novels as being quite light-hearted, but this one is much darker in atmosphere. Perhaps this is because I read previously, novels that were set much earlier in Campion’s sleuthing career. Here he is middle-aged, with a wife (Lady Amanda Fitton) and young son (Rupert) and he is very much aware of what he has to lose at the hands of the psychopathic Jack Havoc, on the loose in the obscuring fog. Campion’s son is blithely unaware of any danger, as his father decides to send him to safety with Lugg as a bodyguard:

Mr Campion looked down at him. He was shocked at the intensity of his own emotion, and more afraid of it than of anything he had ever known. One half of his life, more than half, four foot tall and as gaily confident as if the world were made of apple pie.Note

As I said above, Campion does not have a starring role in this one, but (without giving too much away) he assists in the capture of the Elginbrodde impersonator and his intuition gets Geoffrey Levett out of a potentially fatal situation. The twin pillars taking the weight of the story are the opposing moral forces of Jack Havoc and Meg’s father, Canon Avril. The Canon is a gentle, unworldly man whose faith in God causes him to confront the murderer, because he knows it is something he must do. I won’t tell you how it turns out, but Havoc’s life philosophy, The Science of Luck, which Avril calls The Pursuit of Death is challenged by the one person able to understand.

This is not so much a who-dunnit as a mystery novel that also explores a London still getting back on its feet after the war. The Tiger in the Smoke deals with damaged humanity, not only the prowling Jack Havoc, but also the band of misfits in Tiddy Doll’s gang. In the end, when the mystery is solved and the treasure is finally discovered by Meg Elginbrodde, it seems that peace will finally arrive.

Additional picture credit: Wikipedia (with thanks)





Yes, We Have No Oranges (Nor Bananas)…

Last year author Juliet Greenwood (We That Are left, Honno Press)) wrote a guest blog post on the topic of producing and preparing food for the Home Front during the First World War. In her novel, the main protagonist, Elin goes back to her mother’s old recipe book to help her produce nutritious recipes for wartime. Recipes from the period were reproduced at the end of the book, some of which you can find on Juliet’s guest post. I have gradually tried out Juliet’s recipes, most recently the seed cake, which I have blogged about over on Curiously Creatively this week. It was most delicious!

Few Eggs and No Oranges

Reprinted edition

As Juliet pointed out at the time, rationing only came about towards the end of World War I, and lessons learned from this conflict influenced rationing decisions in the Second World War. I was reminded of this when I was browsing recently in Hodges Figgis and spotted a reprint of a Second World War diary. Few Oranges and No Eggs (Persephone, 1991, 2010) was the work of Birmingham born Vere Hodgson (1901-1979) who began work in London in 1935 and stayed there throughout the war. She worked for the Greater World Christian Spiritualist Association in a welfare role and helped to produce the association’s newspaper. The office was in a house (named The Sanctuary) in Lansdowne Road and Vere lived nearby in Ladbrooke Road, though she often spent the nights of The Blitz at The Sanctuary taking a turn on fire watch duty. Although the diary entries continue until VE Day, I have just quoted from the early part of the book to give you some idea of Vere’s life. The diary actually began life as letters sent around to family members and then posted out to a cousin in Rhodesia. Only one batch of letters ever got lost en route. Not bad for a war-time postal service!

As the book’s title suggests, one of the major preoccupations of the author was obtaining food during the lean years of the war. On 9th July 1940, Vere Hodgson was recording that “We are to have six ounces of butter cum margarine, and two ounces of cooking fat” and on 16th July she was writing of the shortage of eggs in London, declaring, “I shall have to switch over to baked beans”.   Rationing restrictions changed over the years, but began in January 1940 with bacon, butter and sugar. Later, several other food products were added to the rationed list and supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables were limited, though not rationed. Tinned products were un-rationed but you needed points to buy the food. The chart I have included (taken from Wikipedia) will give some idea of the range of weekly rationing, from lowest to highest. Not on the chart are eggs (one per week) and milk (3 pints per week). There were increased milk rations for children, pregnant women and invalids and oranges, when available were usually only for children or pregnant women.

World War II Rations

Ration Chart

Vere’s observations marked the daily difficulties of obtaining scarce supplies and the alteration in the rations. Despite fruit not being rationed, imported fruits such as bananas and oranges were obviously hard to come by at all. Prices of homegrown produce varied a great deal as this entry from February 1941 shows, “Bought a pound of apples yesterday for one shilling…what a price. No oranges at all, at all. Very annoying.”  Later that month she notes that the cheese rationing will probably amount to a one inch cube per week. At that point, it was immaterial as none was available in her area anyway.

One of the effects of rationing and shortages appeared to be that people craved that which they would not ordinarily have eaten, such as in this case, onions. “Mr Booker was saying that though he hates onions, when once more we can get them he will sit down and really enjoy one. I think we shall go in for onion binges when the war is over”. (16th February 1941) I have a vision of Vere tucking into endless plates of fried onions after the war. In many entries such as this one, Vere displays that sense of humour and stoicism that enabled many people to carry on despite the shortages. I will just finish with this excerpt from 22nd February 1941, which details the proceeds of a shopping expedition:

Managed to get a few eating apples yesterday to my great joy. I treated myself – they are one shilling and one penny per pound. I carried them home as if they were the Crown Jewels. Also had some luck over cheese. Went for my bacon ration and while cutting it had a word with the man about the Cubic Inch of Cheese. He got rid of the other customers and then whispered, ‘Wait a mo’.’ I found half a pound of cheese being thrust into my bag with great secrecy and speed!

Then going to the Dairy for my butter ration I was given four eggs and a quarter of cheese! Had no compunction in taking it, for I went straight to my Mercury Cafe and gave it to them….they had said they did not think they could open the next day as they had no meat and only a morsel of cheese. I could not resist, when I got in, cutting off a hunk of my piece and eating it there and then. I always sympathised with Ben Gunn when he dreamed of toasted cheese on that desert island.

If you’ve never come across this diary, I recommend it for the day-to-day picture of war-time life. The experiences are particular to one educated, middle class woman but it does give you a vivid picture of what life must have like for Londoners and Brummies in all walks of life as they coped with the destruction and privation on the Home Front. This is one book that I am sure I will dip into again and again. Vere Hodgson’s voice is lively and compassionate; her conscientious recording of all that happens draws the reader into her world.

I have also written a piece for Headstuff if you would like to read it too:

Until next time!

Westwood by Stella Gibbons

Alighting on Westwood as the next Landing read was the first result of my rummage and dusting session, and it is a mere whippersnapper at only a couple of years of residence. Vintage Books re-printed Westwood in 2011 and I bought it along with Conference at Cold Comfort Farm in I think, 2012. I’ve since read this sequel to Cold Comfort Farm (which I enjoyed, having been terribly afraid of being disappointed) but not got around to Westwood until now. Writing this post has reminded me that at some point I would like to get hold of Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.


A picnic at Kew

When I first spotted the Stella Gibbons (1902 – 1989) re-prints I was probably as guilty as most people in thinking that she had written just one book. In her introduction to this edition of Westwood, Lynne Truss says, ‘This is what everyone knows about Stella Gibbons: she wrote only book, but it was a very, very good one’. Fortunately, I now know better; Gibbons went on to write in total, twenty-five novels, three volumes of short stories and four volumes of poetry. She started out as a journalist, working for amongst other papers, the Evening Standard, having studied her craft at University College, London. No mere flash in the pan then, you’d have to admit, though nothing ever attained the critical and public success of Cold Comfort.

Cold Comfort Farm, published in 1932 was Gibbons’ first novel but she began her literary career as a poet with a collection entitled The Mountain Beast in 1930. Westwood was published just after World War II, in 1946 and was set in a war ravaged London landscape. The book may be set in a city, and a damaged one at that, but Gibbons was able to find the same natural beauty in London, that she describes in Cold Comfort Farm and juxtapose it with the grim reality of blitzed houses,

‘The ruins of the small shapely houses in the older parts of the city were yellow, like the sunlit houses of Genoa; all shades of yellow; deep, and pale, or glowing with a strange transparency in the light…Pink willow-herb grew over the white uneven ground where houses had stood, and there were acres of ground covered with deserted, shattered houses whose windows were filled with torn black paper.’

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm

One of the sequels


Set against the background of wartime privation, Westwood is a satirical comedy of relationships focussing on two very different friends, Margaret Steggles and Hilda Wilson. Margaret is plain, bookish, serious and not particularly attractive to men (as her mother had no compunction in telling her) whereas Hilda is lively, down to earth, very pretty and has any number of service boys. Margaret feels that she is never likely to meet a man who will want to marry her, while Hilda just wants to have fun without getting too involved with any of her ‘boys’.  Independently of each other, they both encounter the same man; a distinguished, rather pompous playwright called Gerard Challis (based on real life writer Charles Morgan) who lives a somewhat charmed life despite the war, in a lovely old house called Westwood in Hampstead.

Margaret is drawn into the Challis family circle because of finding a ration book on Hampstead Heath which proves to belong to Challis’ daughter Hebe Niland. When she belatedly remembers to return it, the spoilt Hebe, rushing off to a party leaves her two children in Margaret’s care until Grantey (Mrs Grant), the family’s old retainer comes to baby sit. Margaret adores Challis’ plays and is thrilled to have the chance to make the acquaintance of the writer and his family: his elegant wife Seraphina, the beautiful Hebe and artist son-law Alex Niland. Margaret also becomes friendly with Zita Mandelbaum, a refugee who helps around the house. Zita is passionately fond of music and the two young women go to concerts together, which opens up a new world of experience for Margaret.

In contrast, Hilda meets Gerard Challis as they both travel home on the tube one evening after blackout. Gerard has spotted Hilda, admires her hair and eyes, and sees in her an opportunity for a romantic dalliance. As he gallantly offers to see her home in the dark (her torch has broken), he gives his name only as Marcus since Hilda doesn’t realise his celebrity status. Gerard is convinced that since Hilda looks like a Daphne or a Thetis, she must have a poetic soul that he can nurture, but he is sadly mistaken as he gradually realises over several months of clandestine cultural outings. Hilda feels quite sorry for ‘Marcus’; she feels he is a lonely old thing, doesn’t take him terribly seriously and has no time for mythical references,

‘Hilda was beginning to feel annoyed. She was not used to this sort of talk, and for Thetis and enchanted paths, she could not have cared less. She said suddenly:
“Are you on the B.B.C?”
“Good heavens, no!” he replied, shuddering. “You odd child, why do you ask?”
“ You talk like one of the announcers; Robert Robinson, I think his name is. “And you sound like one, too,” she added darkly.
“No,” he said after a pause, “no, I have nothing to do with that institution for perverting the taste and moulding the opinions of the masses.

Stella Gibbons

Portrait from the 1980s


As you can see by his maligning of the output of Britain’s national broadcaster, Gerard Challis had a well-developed sense of his own cultural superiority. However, he also was fond of moulding the minds of those around him, particularly the women in his life. Clearly there were times when this didn’t work, such as during his courtship of Seraphina twenty years previously. Gerard Challis has spent so much of his life in writing about his ‘Ideal Woman’ that he is unable to appreciate the qualities of any flesh and blood ‘ordinary’ females. Is it possible that he doesn’t actually really like women, as his wife suspects, since he keeps on wanting to ‘improve’ them,

“You were such a pet, always wanting to improve my mind.”
“My desire seems to have remained unfulfilled,” said Mr Challis dryly.
“Well, you must remember me trying to read all those alarming books you unloaded on me…I did try…only somehow there was never any time for anything;…”

There is a wonderful cast of supporting characters including Hilda’s kind-hearted, jolly mother, two American servicemen (Lev and Earl) and Lady Challis (Gerard’s mother) who runs a virtual commune in a row of converted cottages. Westwood doesn’t have a conventional love story ‘Happy Ever After’ ending though there are romantic entanglements a-plenty (don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you what does happen).  Suffice to say that by the end of the novel Margaret has learned much about herself and is a much happier person than she was at the beginning. Gibbons leavens the sadness and poignancy of the book with her sharp humour and a very funny set-piece during a picnic at Kew Gardens.

And what of Hilda, Gerard, Zita, Lev and Earl et al? Well, I’ll leave you to find that out for yourselves. Meanwhile I’m off for another rummage on the shelves. Are there any more Stella Gibbons fans out there?

Picture credit: portrait of Stella Gibbons taken from Wikipedia, with thanks.


Landing Author: Sam Hawksmoor

Today’s post is given over to a guest blog spot, this time featuring YA author Sam Hawksmoor. I have known Sam (in a virtual sense) since long before I ever had a Twitter persona or a blog to call my own. As well as writing teen fiction, Sam has edited a great writer’s website called Hackwriters since 1999 and he has kindly published several of my pieces on books and bookselling over the last few years.

Sam HawksmoorAccording to his author website, Sam has taught creative writing, he wrote for radio and screen, travelled widely and has even done the odd bit of gold prospecting in British Colombia. All of this experience led up to  becoming a fully fledged kids’ writer, with two brilliant sci-fi thrillers  The Repossession and its sequel The Hunting being published by Hodder last year. The two main protagonists, Genie and Rian weathered many storms together and I’m sure that I’m not the only reader to hope for the ending they deserve in the final volume of their adventure. I was pleased to see that The Repossession has been shortlisted for two book awards, The Leeds Book Awards (May 2013) and the Amazing Book Awards (July 2013).

Sam has gone on to publish a time travel adventure this year, The Repercussions of Tomas D which is as yet only available as an ebook (thus challenging my technological skills). It was worth grappling with the Kindle app, to follow Tomas’ experiences as he inexplicably finds himself in the middle of World War II as Britain struggles to keep going during The Blitz. We may have fantasies about being able to time travel, but what might the consequences be if we could travel in time? Tomas and his not-exactly-girlfriend Gabriella are plunged into a whole new world as a result.

I asked Sam if he would write a piece for The Landing about how he got started writing for teens, how he chooses what to write, what approach he takes to the subjects.

In other words: The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ about writing for a YA audience:

I can say precisely when I decided to write young fiction.  It happened the very day that a friend and I were held up at gunpoint at his apartment in Hollywood.  They tied us up as they robbed everything he had.  I was only visiting, so they had nothing to steal from me.  Remember dial phones?  Try dialling 911 with the tip of your tongue.  A SWAT team arrived real fast but of course the baddies were long gone.   But that very evening I had the sudden inspiration to write The Bears You love – a girl, her robot bear, an evil relative who wanted her money and her flight into a desolate climate changed America.  That was a long time ago.  I wrote it.  Couldn’t find a single publisher who’d read it, let alone reject it.  Lot of heartache in that book, lying in a suitcase somewhere rotting.  Writing for kids wasn’t fashionable back then.  And don’t think I was an amateur just having a go.  At the time I had two adult novels in print and was working on a third.  Just the very idea of writing ‘for kids’ was not really on the radar and a tough story about mega cities of the rich surrounded by scavengers surviving by diving into the city dumpsters wasn’t ‘cute’.  ‘Completely wasting your time writing juvenile fiction.’ Said my then publisher at Sphere.

Cover of The Repossession

Every writer has tales like these.  I have a lot of ‘as yet to sell’ novels awaiting daylight.  Who’d be a writer anyway huh?  Yet, once you have the idea, you have to put it down and if you’re going to put it down you have to get the end and then… what stick it on Smashwords?   Hmmm.  After the Bear episode, I was distracted by writing screenplays.  If you think selling kids books is hard, trying getting a script made.  Yes I had a few optioned, but after knocking my head on many walls I finally realised, hell I need a real job.  A salary – a life – before it’s too late.  Nothing like teaching students to put you off writing forever it seems.  I had to begin at the bottom.  No one was interested that I had published anything, especially fiction, (which is sneered at in academic circles I discovered). Real writing was what they did for obscure academic journals peer-reviewed by similar narrow-minded obscurists and the less readable it was the higher the esteem it gained.  Anything remotely accessible was clearly garbage.   When I finally got to run something (Falmouth Post Grad) I brought my enthusiasm for children’s writing to it.

Times had changed.  Someone called J K Rowling was gaining attention.  Philip Pullman was respectable and brilliantly written.  It was OK to talk about literary values in children’s fiction, study it even.  Later I was running courses in Children’s Writing at Portsmouth University and they were massively oversubscribed.  Everyone wanted to write for kids and there was a lot of talent there (if not the necessary staying power).  I took it further into the MA that I ran there.   I decided that here I was discussing all this exciting material, but I wasn’t writing it.  My first attempt was something called Mean Tide set in Greenwich, written under a pseudonym and although it was mentored by Beverley Birch at Hodder, it didn’t get through the hoops there.  I learned something important though; keep it focussed on the kids.  My adults got a lot of equal time in that book, a mistake it seems.  I still have a fondness for it, so I put it out on Lulu as a calling card.  The Repossession and The Hunting came out of my screenwriting days.  I had been working in Vancouver at the time and a number of incidences that my wayward niece and her friends would get up to was kind of shocking to me.  How little they thought of their own safety and just how many kids disappeared and how little their families seemed to care.

cover of The Hunting

The central character Genie is based on someone I know.  In fact I wrote it for her and she would await each chapter and give me quite harsh notes that I had to take on board.  (Yes someone really was forced to live behind bars at home when they came back from school each day – I saw it with my own eyes).  The mother was a teacher! Did it turn out all right?  No.   What happens in those two books and the concerns the kids have follows from observations and talks with Canadian teens.  The schools they go to are huge, it’s hard to stand out.  Kids work to pay bills.  It’s very different to the UK.  My nephew’s best friend was blown away – shot at point-blank range – they were just walking from a coffee shop and wham.  No reason.  Social media is like viral poison.  Huge numbers can gang up on you, destroy lives.  There is no restraint.  I don’t try to adopt their language.  Couldn’t even if I tried. It moves on too swiftly.  But issues such as love, doubt, fear, peer pressure are universal and tapping into that puts me back in my own school days.  It was harsh, yet somehow I survived – and if I could survive, then today’s kids can.  That’s how I see it.  So when I write fiction for teens I put myself in their shoes.  The world doesn’t make sense.  Yet more often than not the kids are good, ambitious, want to be something and usually the opposite of whatever is happening at home.

Is the subject difficult?  Well putting a kid through teleportation experiments isn’t pretty, especially when you know it’s not going to work.  It’s fantastical, but rooted in the tradition of experimental science.  I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground, rather than write something that couldn’t be believed.  In Repercussions of Tomas D, I’m playing with time travel.  In time stories you can spend a lot of time building a machine and all that.  But I rather liked what happened in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and for my ‘hero’ Tomas D it’s something that happens to him, not a choice.  I like the idea too that in creating a ‘hero’ that stops the war, he automatically becomes the greatest traitor that ever lived.  The fun in writing comes with the consequences of the situations you create.  Tomas D’s girlfriend is left behind and discovers the day after Tomas disappears that she is the only person in her school who remembers that Germany didn’t win the war.

To be honest that’s the fun part of writing, inventing a new present for young Gabriella to live in.  Dealing with the past is about research. But here again I draw upon two personal experiences.  One is the beach I frequent each year in France where the German gun emplacements are still intact. 70 plus years on, there is a visible reminder of war every hundred yards or so along the French coast.  That and finding a picture of my grandfather buried up to his neck in rubble – still alive – from a German air raid on Lincolnshire.  This was the second time he had been bombed.  The first time was in 1914 when a German Zeppelin dropped a bomb on his home killing his brother and parents.  There’s a photo of him in his pyjamas standing in his bedroom with the front of the house blown off.   So for Tomas D to have this nightmare about being buried alive by German bombs  – it comes from a reality.

cover of The RepercussionsHow will this appeal to teens or young readers?  Hmm.  In doing my talks to schools, I am acutely aware of how little history is taught and how varied.   Increasingly the names Hitler and Churchill mean nothing (unless it is a nodding dog on TV) so the story of a boy going back in time and altering everything really only appeals to a kid who knows something about our Island story. (I should send a copy to Michael Gove).  This is why publishers increasingly are wary of publishing ‘historical fiction’ I guess.  I would argue that history – especially ‘economic’ history should be a much bigger part of curriculum’s to provide a better understanding of how society works and where it is going.  I am but a straw in the wind on this.  I am in progress on a number of works.  All YA fiction.  One survival story set again in Canada, the second in a parallel London at war with the French.  I live in hopes they will see the light of day.

I take the business of writing for kids very seriously.  Some of the best fiction ever written is I would argue for kids.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher for example. Clever on so many levels and stretches the imagination.  Never dumbed down and it’s inspirational.  Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi one of the most vivid and yet plausible visions of our future on this planet. Hopefully one day I’ll find a way to do that myself.

Sam Hawksmoor 2013

Sam Hawksmoor … until recently was the Course Leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University and a similar programme in Falmouth, Cornwall. He is the joint-editor of Sam is the author of ‘The Repossession’ and ‘The Hunting’ with Hodder Children’s Books.  Sam currently lives in windswept Lincolnshire but misses Vancouver, the mountains and the coffee bars, the setting for several of his YA novels.

Credits: author photo and bio taken from Leeds Book Awards site; other pictures from author’s own site.

Historic Letters and #LetterMo

Cloth boundcover of The World's Great Letters

In my first Landing Reading Challenge post, I mentioned a collection of historic letters on the landing bookshelves. As February is the month of a brilliant letter writing challenge (Month of Letters set up by Mary Robinette Kowal), I decided to start my own particular reading challenge with a browse through the volume of historic letters. I cannot remember exactly when I bought this book but at a guess, I would estimate about fifteen years ago. The book was published in 1950 and at some point, an unknown hand had written the date 29/4/71 on the flyleaf. I am not sure that it really counts as being on a TBR Pile however, since it is the sort of book that you browse through rather than read cover to cover.

I must digress slightly at this point to admit that though I have signed up to the letter writing challenge I did sign up a few days late. In my defence though, I have actually been diligently writing and posting cards since 1st February but without any coherent plan in mind. I think I may continue to do it that way. I will decide in the morning to whom the day’s offering will be sent. In this case, the lucky recipient will be (almost) as much a surprise to me as it will be to them. So, two challenges in one for me this February.

A Month of Letters Partcipants' badge

Letter Writing Month Badge

In the meantime, back to The World’s Greatest Letters, which covers a fair slice of history beginning as it does with Cicero and ending with a letter written by an Air Raid Patrol (ARP) Warden in World War II. The nice thing about this collection of letters is that apart from a chronological list, it also has a classification of letters by subject. This means that you may go straight for the ‘Letters of Controversy, Hatred and Enmity’ should you so desire. If that seems to be too strong meat for your stomach, you might try ‘Letters in a Light Vein’ or ‘Letters about Nature’. Perhaps as 14th February is not too far off I should consult the more romantically inclined letter writers for Valentine’s Day inspiration.

I will let you know next time how I get on with reading the bygone love letters; it is time to write the next instalment of #LetterMo. I really must pop out and buy some more stamps. Juggling between a letter writing and a reading challenge will be a challenge in itself, but it is nice when they can overlap like this. I am going to enjoy both writing letters and reading some historical letters.

Twitter: @LetterMonth (#LetterMo)