Saturday, March 08, 2014

Voices From the Past: What I have learned from reissuing a historical novel, a guest essay by Ian Skillicorn

I'm happy to present a guest essay for Small Press Month that offers a small press publisher's perspective.  Corazon Books specializes in women's and historical fiction, and here publisher Ian Skillicorn speaks about his experience reissuing a favorite historical novel.


Voices From the Past: What I Have Learned from Reissuing a Historical Novel 
Ian Skillicorn, Corazon Books 

When I was given a copy of Lily’s Daughter, written by Diana Raymond, the novel had been out of print for some time. While extremely popular when it was first published in the 1980s, it had been neglected in more recent years. Almost as soon as I began to read it, I knew that I wanted to bring this work back to the attention of the reading public.

My fiction imprint, Corazon Books, specialises in digital editions of out-of-print works (although it is now expanding to include original fiction and print editions of some titles). For a while, I had been actively looking to publish some historical fiction, having already secured the license for an ebook edition of a Catherine Gaskin novel with a strong historical element.

Lily’s Daughter is the coming-of-age story of seventeen-year-old Jessica Mayne, in 1930s England. At its heart, it is a study on love and loss. After committing her mother to a psychiatric hospital, Jessica is summoned to the home of her estranged Aunt Imogen. There she meets a number of people who will have a profound influence on her. Jessica is drawn to her charming but fickle cousin Guy, while Aaron, a Polish Jew about to return to Warsaw, warns her of the inevitable conflict about to sweep across Europe and beyond. Despite dealing with serious issues, Lily’s Daughter is a touching tale told with much warmth and wit.

I was introduced to Lily’s Daughter by my mother, who knows the author’s family. She had been lent a copy by Diana Raymond’s daughter-in-law, and felt that I would also appreciate it. At that point, I didn’t know a great deal about Diana Raymond, who died in 2009. I was more familiar with the name of her husband, the author Ernest Raymond. His books had lined my grandparents’ bookshelves, and were now on mine, as I had inherited them.

What I did know, from reading Lily’s Daughter, was that Diana Raymond was a perceptive writer with an acute understanding of the human character. In fact, The Daily Telegraph called her ‘… an observant, sensitive writer whose characters come alive’, while Country Life said that ‘The outstanding characteristic of Diana Raymond’s work as a novelist is the sagacity with which she feels her way into the personality of her people.’ Having gained the rights to publish a new edition of the novel, I wanted to learn more about Diana Raymond. Not only would this give me a deeper insight into her writing, it would enable me to acquaint a new generation of readers with the author. This led me to research both the author’s life, and the times she lived through.

Diana Raymond was born in 1916, the year before her father died in the preliminary bombardment to The Third Battle of Ypres. The loss of her father in the fighting is one of the experiences she shared with her protagonist in Lily’s Daughter. By coincidence, I came to publish the book in time for the centenary of the start of the Great War. It prompted me to find out more about the fatherless children of the First World War. I read newspapers from the era, and was struck by the many appeals from charities and orphanages for financial aid to help the children of the fallen. Diana herself benefited from this charity, by being educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College thanks to the Officers’ Families Fund.

My research into Diana’s life was made much easier by having personal contact with members of her family. I was very fortunate to be given a copy of her unpublished memoir, Are We Nearly There? Reading it in one sitting, it left me with a strong sense of this intelligent and enlightened woman. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet her. I understood how Diana’s love of poetry, especially that of Keats, helped formed a bond with the father she never knew. A Lecturer in English at Goldsmiths College, London University, his last book, published posthumously, was an anthology of Keats. I was moved by her account of the first visit, as an adult, to her father’s grave in Belgium.

I was fascinated by Diana’s experiences of the next world war through which she lived. I found out that she worked for the British Government both before and during the Second World War. In fact, at one time she was personal assistant to General Ismay, who went on to be Churchill’s chief military assistant, and then the first Secretary General of NATO. Married during the war, Diana and Ernest would watch air raids on London from their home in Hampstead. These recollections inspired me to read more about the war on Britain’s home front, through contemporary newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts.

Although my interest and research into the life and times of Diana Raymond is far from over, I now feel I have an even greater appreciation of Lily’s Daughter and its author. This literary and historical journey has been an enriching one. I will leave the last word to Diana. Speaking to Contemporary Authors about her work, she said: ‘I would hope that what I write expresses for some people an aspect of their experiences, joys or griefs, that makes them say, “Yes! This is what I felt but I could never get it into words”.’


Are We Nearly There? Diana Raymond (private memoir)
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009.

About Corazon Books

Corazon Books is a successful and expanding publisher of women’s and historical fiction. Its aim is simple - to bring readers great stories with heart. Recent successes include a Top 10 bestseller on Amazon, and a #1 in the Women Writers & Fiction category.

Corazon Books publishes both new fiction and reissues of popular out-of-print works. Its list includes the first digital edition of a novel by the internationally bestselling ‘Queen of Storytellers’ Catherine Gaskin. The imprint also supports and encourages new writers with a number of writing competitions held throughout each year. It is currently running a competition in partnership with the Mature Times newspaper, for an unpublished writer aged over 50 to win a publishing deal.

NEW as of March 17th:  Corazon Books has partnered with the Historic Houses Association to launch a special short story competition with fantastic prizes. Writers are invited to submit a short story which is either inspired by or set in a historic house.  Details here.  There is no fee to enter the competition.

Full details can be found at  Diana Raymond's Lily's Daughter is available as an ebook from Corazon Books from Amazon UK (£1.99) and Amazon ($3.99).

About Ian Skillicorn

Ian Skillicorn is a publisher and audio producer. He established his successful fiction imprint in 2012. For many years Ian has produced audio for writers and publishers, including an audio story project supported by Arts Council England. Ian is also the director of National Short Story Week, which he founded in 2010. He is a frequent speaker and workshop leader at writing conferences around the UK.

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