On Inheritance Books this week, we have the lovely Susan Hughes. Welcome to Inheritance Books, Susan. I’ve got scones with cream and jam (Rodda’s, naturally). Was that cream first? Or jam?
While I’m cracking the top of the clotted cream, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in the north of England and was both a bookish child and a bit of a tomboy. I had scalextric, a go-cart and liked climbing trees but once the teenage hormones kicked in I became partial to garish nail polish, David Cassidy, unsuitable boys (according to my mother) and clothes which appalled my father. No one in my family had gone to university, so I thought I might. While it had little bearing on the direction my career took, I did meet my future husband there. I now live with him and my two sons in rural Devon. I started writing late in life, inspired by a WW1 postcard I found among my grandmother’s possessions, and now feel strangely bereft if I can’t sit down and write every day. Even if I re-write it all over again the next.
I recognise that – I was a Meccanno and Lego kind of girl, myself. Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?
‘American Notes and Master Humphrey’s Clock’ by Charles Dickens and ‘A Life of Dickens’ by Charles Forster in one volume, was given to me by my father-in-law. I should preface this by saying he was very much a man of his time (born c.1920) and that he and I have had some challenging discussions over the years about many things. This book belonged to his elder brother, Douglas. On its own, it’s a gorgeous book, beautifully bound in rich brown leather with a gold embossed school coat of arms on it and well kept. The Dickens section retells his experiences of his famous tour of America, followed by a short story which introduces some characters that later turn up in the ’Pickwick Papers’. The second section is a very brief biography of Dickens.
Inside the cover is an inscription plate, partly in Latin, which shows it was awarded to Douglas as a school prize in 1935-6. By all accounts Douglas was the handsome, clever, golden boy of the family and a war hero who died young. He passed the entrance exam to attend a grammar school at a time when it was almost unheard of for a working class boy to do so in England. During WW2 he was feted as a pilot who flew Catalina boat planes. When my father-in-law gave this book to me I knew he was entrusting me with its safe keeping as someone who would appreciate its contents (I am a fan of Dickens’ novels) but also respect its provenance. I also knew this gift was an unspoken act of love and acceptance. That meant a great deal.
Wow. That is very special indeed. A family heirloom, no less. Which book (apart from A Life of Dickens) would you like to leave to future generations? Why?
Difficult this one. Finally, I decided if I had to pick just one book to leave to future generations it would be Hans Fallada’s ‘Alone in Berlin’. It tells the story of Otto Quangel, an ordinary citizen of Berlin during the Nazi regime. When the book begins he has been keeping his head down, trying not to get noticed by any of Hitler’s henchmen, because to get noticed in such an oppressive environment could prove fatal. The loss of his only son, fighting at the Front, and the devastating effect it has on his wife, brings about a profound change in Otto. He begins to leave anonymous postcards all over the city, criticizing the Fuhrer. Deep down he knows (and the reader knows) it is a small futile act – and one which carries the death penalty if he is caught – but to Otto, powerless otherwise, it is important that he feels he is resisting somehow. This book, as well as portraying a heart-stopping dangerous game of cat and mouse between Otto and the authorities, also bears witness to what it is to know one’s own mind and keep one’s integrity and humanity in the face of unfathomable evil.
What excellent choices. I’ll have to look up the Hans Fallada one for a historian I know, who would find it interesting…
Thank you for sharing your special books with us. Good luck with your own book.