30th Jul 2012
Spotlight: Slightly Foxed
I’m proud of my status as a Slightly Foxed subscriber. When, four times a year, this literary journal arrives through my letterbox accompanied by a hand-written notecard and wrapped up neatly with a coloured ribbon, my hardened layers of urban cynicism peel away and I’m transformed into some kind of bucolic fantasy character from a Posy Simmonds story.
Suddenly I’m ready to laugh amiably at other people’s shortcomings, and an afternoon spent juggling novels and scones in a flowerbed feels like time very well spent, rather than a heinous demonstration of laziness.
I first discovered Slightly Foxed whilst idling around the periodicals section of my school library, desperately seeking anything, really anything, to distract me from my impending A-levels.
Since then, it’s quietly become an indispensable part of my life. I found myself subscribing, renewing my subscription, then buying all of the associated paraphernalia (the mug, the book bag, the tea towel…) without ever once questioning whether all of this was a good idea.
For one thing, the quarterly journal looks beautiful. It has a handy A5 format, is printed on thick cream paper, and features illustrations more transporting than most of those in my favourite children’s books.
Each edition features 92 pages of articles, all around the 2000 word mark, written by eccentric and dedicated bibliophiles on a mission to spread the love for their favourite forgotten author. The articles aren’t remotely lit crit, and that’s exactly why I love them.
The pages of Slightly Foxed are filled with personal anecdotes and memories surrounding a particular book or author. Their stories are by turns hilarious, nostalgic, and revelatory, and it’s a real mood enhancer to encounter all these different personalities, each with an authentic love for a book they see almost as a close friend or family member.
Now this is all very well. I may have found a harmless source of escapist fun that’s unlikely to get me into trouble, but how does it fit in with the For Books Sake mission to champion independent bookish women?
Well, Slightly Foxed was founded nine years ago by two female literary mavericks, Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood, who left long-held jobs at publisher John Murray to set up this idiosyncratic independent journal and publishing venture.
To this day, the Slightly Foxed headquarters is Gail’s London flat, which is also inhabited by her son, her husband, and her ‘aggressively friendly’ cocker spaniel, Chudleigh.
Gail and Hazel keep tight creative control over the journal, and over everything which bears their company name. This includes the more recent ‘Slightly Foxed Editions.’
This is their line of previously unpublished or forgotten novels and memoirs, which they produce as neat coloured hardbacks in limited runs of 2000 copies. There are 19 titles so far, and a large number are written by wonderful female writers who I would never have discovered otherwise.
A bestselling example is the hilarious school memoir, Mr Tibbit’s Catholic School by Ysenda Maxtone Graham, which is an insightful look at recent British social history through the eyes of a chronically eccentric school in South Kensington.
And there are many more intriguing female names on their list, including Rosemary Sutcliff, Diana Holman-Hunt, Priscilla Napier, P.Y. Betts, Frances Wood, Dodie Smith, Suzanne St Albans and Elspeth Huxley.
So, while Slightly Foxed doesn’t have a directly feminist agenda, it’s certainly doing its bit for reviving interest in criminally underrated female writers. The same goes for the articles in the periodical. The contributors write not about books deemed ‘good’ by the values of the establishment, but about the books they love.
This necessarily allows plenty of books by underrated women writers to emerge from the woodwork. Thanks to Slightly Foxed I’ve found myself searching bookshelves for names that were largely new to me – Molly Keane, Jane Gardam, Catherine Storr and Georgette Heyer, for instance – as well as rediscovering my love of old favourites, like Dodie Smith and Louisa May Alcott.
So thank goodness for Slightly Foxed, and for its independent-minded founders Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood. Life may often be frantically busy and insanely stressful, but I’ve put my trust in Slightly Foxed to remind me what’s important. And so far that’s turning out to be a very good plan indeed.