This week’s Inheritance Books are from Josa Young.
Hi Josa, welcome to Inheritance Books. Please take a seat on the lovely sofa. While I go fetch the biscuits, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself.
I have been a writer all my professional life, working out how to earn a living by writing as I wasn’t ready to write novels as a very young woman. Besides I didn’t think fiction could produce the means to support my three children. So I was a journalist, initially on Vogue after being a finalist in the Talent Contest, and then more recently a copywriter, while writing fiction all the time because I can’t help myself. Years ago I went on a residential fiction writing week in the UK with Arvon and was encouraged by the late novelist Beryl Bainbridge, who even offered to put me in touch with her agent. I was very pleased and thumped out a whole novel in five weeks between two magazine contracts. Unfortunately I bumped into another agent, whom I knew, just as I was on a high from typing all those words in some kind of order. After a lot of enthusiasm, he failed to sell it. That, and other things, gave me writer’s block for years. However One Apple Tasted was finally published by Elliot & Thompson in 2009, and I at last felt able to write again, producing Sail Upon the Land, which came out at the end of 2014.
Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?
I was prompted to ask if I could contribute because I found one of mine and my later mother’s most favourite books the day I first read your blog. It is called The Changing Face of Beauty, by Madge Garland, published in 1957. It starts with pre-historic shapely female forms, without heads, and ends with Marilyn Monroe. long hair streaming across her face. We would pore over the beautiful black and white images constantly, fascinated by the different shapes of women who were admired – fat medieval tummies, with skinny, tiny chests and huge feet, hourglass ladies tightly laced (Minoan, Edwardian, Christian Dior) and gamine enfants terribles. We regarded all their faces as beautiful, and I inherited my love of the history of fashion and its underpinnings from my mother mostly via this book.
One image always haunted me. I felt a great affinity for the lady in question, Queen Uta, gazing out from her 13th-century Naumburg cathedral niche, with her collar turned up against the German winter, lost in thought. Turning the pages now gives me a shiver of delighted recognition, remembering the closeness I felt with my beloved mother as we studied and discussed these women of the past.
Another book, that turned up at the same time last week, was one she read to me when I was very young called The Cow Who Fell in the Canal, by Phyllis Krasilovsky. It concerns a subversive Dutch Friesian Cow, who takes a trip down to the cheese market on a barge and creates havoc. The memories that the pictures evoke are as potent as scents in stirring up emotion.
I think we have two copies of The Cow Who Fell in the Canal, somewhere. Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?
My collection of 19th-century coloured fairy books, by Andrew Lang, republished by Dover when I was a child, and given to me every Christmas by my grandmother,. I am sure that reading those stories of love, violence, anguish, trickery and turmoil taught me storytelling. I loved the brave and tough heroines who gallop through their pages. There was Baba Yaga the Russian witch, whose house ran about on chicken legs, while she pounded across the tundra in her stone mortar rowed with its pestle. Ashputel is a proto Cinderella, both helped and haunted by her mother’s ghost, and Katy Wooden Coat was cursed to wear a barrel as a dress until she won her prince. I read them over and over again to myself and later to my own children.
They sound amazing. Old fairytales are very different to the Disney versions that my kids accept as The Fairytales.
Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us, Josa. All the best with Sail Upon the Land. I love the cover.