Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Joy Forever — Fruity Shirts and the Survival of Children’s Fiction



I received a parcel in the post recently that made a pleasant change from junk mail and bills. Girls Gone By Publishers republish a selection of the most popular children's fiction from the 20th century. They concentrate on those titles that are most sought-after and difficult to come by second-hand. Having republished nearly all of Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series, Girls Gone By are planning to bring out an edition of Man with Three Fingers this autumn. Man with Three Fingers was first published in 1966 but my own copy dates from 1971 when I was 10 years old. I’m thrilled, therefore, to have been invited by the enterprising folk at GGB to provide an introduction to this new edition.


So what was in the parcel? Two sample copies of GGB books -- two handsome paperback reprints of Saucers over the Moor and Sea Witch Comes Home. These books really are a thing of beauty and, as Keats wrote:  ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases...’

Saucers over the Moor has an atmospheric cover that is a reproduction of the 1955 dustwrapper, while Sea Witch Comes Home sports the original cover from its 1960 first edition —  an innovation that combined a photograph taken at Walberswick in Suffolk by Malcolm Saville himself with superimposed portraits by the illustrator Terry Freeman of the main characters, David and Rose. The representation of David Morton with a fruity-coloured shirt and tucked-in neckerchief makes him look uncannily like a young Michael Portillo!

The Girls Gone By reissues have lots of bonus material; they use the text of the first editions and rigorously but sympathetically check and correct these, providing detailed notes on the text, along with a new introduction, a biography of the author, a detailed publishing history and often ‘extra features’ such as essays about the illustrators and the locations of the books. Rather like Persephone Books — who reprint neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers — Girls Gone By are providing an invaluable service, producing beautiful objects of nostalgia and enjoyment. They are true to their aims of making these books ‘available at affordable prices and to make ownership possible not only for existing collectors but for new collectors so that the books continue to survive.’ Like David Morton and Michael Portillo, I'm more than happy to don a fruity shirt and join in the campaign to celebrate the survival of things worth keeping.

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Tony Gillam lives in Worcestershire and his fiction and non-fiction has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, academic journals, textbooks and blogs. His blog – passengersintime.blogspot.co.uk – purports to be about books, music ... and time travel. Tony is also a singer-songwriter, guitarist and dulcimer player with Worcestershire's most undiscovered indie-folk band Fracture Zone.