Last summer, I heard about the release of a brand new Miss Read book. Dora Saint’s daughter, Jill, had been helping to collate the articles and essays which her mother had written before her more famous Fairacre and Thrush Green novels were published. The result is Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love – a gorgeous anthology full of all the wit and charm we’ve come to expect from the pen of Miss Read.
Jill was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book:
How did the idea for Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love come about ?
I’d thought for a long time that a collection of Dora’s earlier, more journalistic, work would be interesting to publish, as it gives a wider insight into her writing career before she became well known as Miss Read. A great deal of it is from the 1950s and 60s, so is almost social history.
How did you choose the pieces included in the collection?
The publisher, Juliet Ewers from Orion Books, skimmed through the material first and picked the ones she particularly liked. Then Jenny Dereham, Dora’s long-time editor, and I added more that we thought should be used, once the length of the book was agreed. On the whole, we didn’t argue much!
Was it hard coming up with the title?
That was Jenny again, trawling through the individual titles for something a bit unusual, and this one appealed to me since Mrs Griffin was the mother of my oldest friend, Caroline. She too is delighted that our mothers have been linked in this way, as the two families were very close.
Do you have a favourite piece from the book?
The title piece, of course, for sentimental reasons, and The Lucky Hole, which started Dora’s career as Miss Read. I also enjoy the classroom ones – Unstable Element and Night and Day in particular.
Your mother was a very versatile writer. Was there anything she would have liked to have written but didn’t get around to?
She would say The Importance of Being Earnest! She did say she would have liked to write a play but felt she hadn’t the experience of theatre to know how best to construct it. She enjoyed reading detective novels but, as a writer, she thought she wouldn’t be able to work out that type of plot. The two Caxley books (The Market Square and The Howards of Caxley) were originally planned as a trilogy, but she never did the third one; I’m not sure why.
There are many wonderful insights into Dora Saint’s experiences as a teacher in the book. Which do you think your mother enjoyed most: writing or teaching? Or perhaps writing about teaching!
Almost certainly writing, which was her first choice of career, although, of course, the teaching fed most of her writing, and she was a very good and conscientious teacher.
Can we expect any more compilation books from the Miss Read archives in future?
No, because there are only a few pieces left, and we felt those were no longer relevant, which is why they weren’t included in Mrs Griffin. She wrote a great deal for the BBC, but I don’t have all the scripts and they wouldn’t, in any case, reproduce well as straightforward reading. She also reviewed many books for the TES, and those reviews wouldn’t be particularly interesting now, even if we could find copies!
Do you feel any pressure about becoming the guardian of Miss Read’s work?
Up to a point, but I have the enormous support of Jenny with her knowledge of the past work, and how best to look after it, and the current publishers, Orion, who have now reissued almost all the novels. In due course the archive will go to the University of Reading, which already has the manuscripts and proofs. Their literary archive is housed with the Museum of Rural Life, which seems most appropriate for the Miss Read material.
Thanks so much, Jill! And thanks to Jenny and Orion who are keeping the wonderful books of Miss Read very much in the public eye.