Tuesday 19 August 2008

Oxford Stories

I've been attending my very first book launch! Not for my book, you understand, but for The Lost College & other Oxford stories, a collection by OxPens, a group of writers in Oxford. Last year they very successfully published The Sixpenny Debt & other Oxford stories, which I've read *almost* all of, and most of the authors make a repeat performance the second time around - and, what's more, have secured the approval of Colin Dexter. He, who indirectly provides most of the University's funding through Morse filming, was at the launch, and gave a kind, unassuming and funny talk. Also suggested that a potential future short story title could be 'The Identity of the Second Dog Handler'...

Keen followers of Stuck-in-a-Book will recognise a few names from OxPens - Mary Cavanagh (The Crowded Bed), Margaret Pelling (Work For Four Hands... still haven't reviewed this, but it's very readable!) and Jane Gordon-Cumming (A Proper Family Christmas - now back in print! ) It was very nice to meet Jane and Margaret, and to see Mary again - this blog really has given me all sorts of lovely opportunities.

I can't review The Lost College etc. because I only bought it a few hours ago, but there were some very promising readings from the authors included. I especially like the sound of Sheila Costello's 'Rabbit Fenley and The Body in the Garden'. Having read The Sixpenny Debt etc., though, I'll chat about that, in the hope that I'll have read The Lost College etc. by the time the next anthology comes out... I always find it so difficult to find anything unifying to say about short story collections, so it is a blessing that OxPens have done this for me - all the stories in both collections are connected with Oxford. That can be quite far-ran
ging, I'll admit - from Tchiakovsky's posthumous visit to the Sheldonian through to the accidental stealing of a library book in the distant past, from the confusion arising when a child understands everything adults say entirely literally, to the dangers of cycling in Port Meadow. My two favourite stories, though, are both connected with the middle classes committing murder... what does that say about me? Jane Gordon-Cumming's Education in Action opens: 'Dulcie was the scourge of the evening class. Which one? No, I don't mean any class in particular. Dulcie was the Scourge of the Evening Class, generic. And I use the term loosely, to include day-time classes, weekend courses, summer schools - Dulcie was the scourge of the lot.' You know the sort... The Rising Price of Property by Laura King contains an ingenious motive for murder, and is wonderfully cynical.

For a taste of Oxford from its real residents, though with real life being something usually foreign to these collections, do seek out The Sixpenny Debt & other Oxford stories or, I'm sure, The Lost College & other Oxford stories. Me, I'm just excited about having been to a book launch.


  1. The first book launch I went to was for Alexander McCall Smith's "Portuguese Irregular Verbs" in 1997, which was before he was famous. It was a truly hilarious event, held in a lecture theatre in Edinburgh University's Law School, where he taught at the time. Little did we all know then how his literary career would take off!

  2. What a lovely write-up! Thank you very much Simon & also for the kind words about my story in The Sixpenny Debt - I trust you will enjoy The Lost College as much (though I had to stick to the scene-setting bit in my reading last night as things get a little more complicated when I reach the end of 1887 & transfer to the parallel tale in 2007!

    I shall add your charming blog to my blog roll forthwith - always a bonus to find another quality local blogmate too!

  3. It was lovely to meet you in person last night, Simon, and we're extremely flattered by your kind comments about our stories!

  4. If you have read Random today Simon you will see that I have written about Oxford Letters one of the Oxford based mysteries by Veronica Stallwood which, after a slow start, I am enjoying very much

  5. I would have paid money to have accompanied you...

  6. Being rather less bookish (and probably literate) than most of your readers I have only been to one book launch; over 25 years ago now. It was a book written by the Natural History photographer Heather Angel to which I had contributed. I met David Attenborough amongst others, and indeed went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant with a group including the publishers. Quite exciting for an undergraduate student to come down from Edinburgh for such a party in London.

    Happy Days! Dark Puss


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