Friday, 28 March 2008

Comment from Donna Coonan, current editor of Virago Modern Classics

Donna has just posted at the end of our original thread on Virago Modern Classics, having read all of your comments. So, it just goes to show that it's worth commenting, and she is taking notice of your views and recommendations on what to bring back into print, and your thoughts on the covers. That thread is getting very long -- 45 comments, so far -- so you could respond to her here?
Thanks so much everyone...

19 comments:

Rob Hardy said...

I do hope Ms. Coonan will find a copy of The Bront√ęs Went to Woolworths and prompt Virago to reissue it. Copies are increasingly hard to find, and getting expensive!

Ragged Roses said...

Hello I followed a trail and found you at the end of it! Looking back at a couple of posts I just wanted to say how much I love "I Capture the Castle" too, it is one of my all time favs and I have a very old, worn Virago copy which has been read countless times by my daughter and me
Kim

Kirsty said...

I still prefer the old covers and I'm 26. Evidently old before my time. :)

Justine Picardie said...

Kim, I love the idea of book trails that lead through the internet, as if through the various magic doors and rabbit holes that populate 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Rob, I'm trying to find The Brontes Went To Woolworths, too. Let's hope Virago take the hint and reissue it!
Kirsty, you clearly have impeccable taste. Need I say more?

Sally said...

It's a matter of record that most book buyers today are women over forty. Whilst I understand that time can't stand still and that younger readers might find the old bottle-greens unappealing, I have to say, as a woman fast approaching her 57th birthday, I mourn the old covers. I always snap up any I find in second hand shops. You always knew that bottle-green = a great read. Many of my favourite books have been find by the old covers alone - but none by the new.

I was horrified when the wonderful Stanley Spencer painting that were a perfect match for the Virago's Barbara Comyns titles were ditched in favour of those ghastly and totally inappropriate black and white photos. No wonder most are no longer in print! (another complaint of mine.) I adore all of BC's books and have them all apart from one I haven't been able to find anywhere (and never published by Virago) - Birds In Tiny Cages.

Penguin have published their classics with that distinctive black covers for years and they never seem to go out of fashion. I still think Virago made a big mistake and am glad Justine has given me the opportunity to vent my feelings!

Ragged Roses said...

There's lots of copies of The Brontes went to Woolworths on Abebooks.co.uk

Kirsty said...

Thanks Ragged Roses, I just managed to track down a second hand copy of The Bronte Went to Woolworths.

Juxtabook said...

Much though I like some of my older VMC (like I said on your original post yesterday) I can quite see Donna Coonan's point about keeping the look up-to-date and the need to appeal to new or younger readers. When I used to teach we (teachers) used to fight over getting the newest copies of GCSE texts out of the stock cupboard. The kids would respond so much better if the set of 30 you presented them with looked new and fresh and modern. It is better to keep presenting us with these new 'old' classics in print than starve on your principles I think. Though give it another 20 years and you'll be producing the original covers on mugs and notebooks like Penguin do with their classic orange/cream or green/cream banded covers!

Juxtabook said...

re The Brontes went to Woolworths there is also a copy on antiqbook.com (Dutch site but you can click through to read in English, and the copy is in England) and several on ukbookborld.com

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks -- have just snapped up a copy on abe, and also bought another of my lost favourites, Paul Gallico's "Flowers for Mrs Harris" (though I prefer the title as I imagined it -- Mrs Harris Goes to Paris -- or maybe that was an American edition?).
And I'll be interested to see what you all make of the new VMC series that is coming out soon, with newly commissioned covers. Delafield's "Diary of a Provincial Lady", for an example, with an introduction by Jilly Cooper, and a cover of Cath Kidston roses. (One for Ragged Roses, perhaps?).
I do take your point, Juxtabook, about the need for fresh covers. Finally, I must say, as a writer, I really welcomed the opportunity that Virago gave me to write new introductions to reissued VMCs: Rosamond Lehmann's "The Swan in the Evening", Daphne du Maurier's "The King's General" and "The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte".

dovegreyreader said...

Sally, I echo all that!
Donna, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the Virago covers and completely understand why the old covers mean so much to so many of us and yes, why you also had to update. It's a tricky marketing balance indeed and I wonder whether next time round, doing as you suggest and keeping perhaps a green band on the spine or across the cover would keep us all happy.Virago has had such an important place in my reading life and it would be good to just keep a little hint of an acknowledgement to us older (me, not speaking for anyone else!) devoted readers who have kept the faith for so long. I'll admit I don't willingly buy the new editions, the cover image often seems blurry and ill-defined and gives me little hint about the read that may await.The old Viragos told me exactly what was waiting and still do and look, even young Kirsty agrees with this old fuddy-duddy:-)

Donna Coonan said...

Juxtabook - I completely agree - I'd love to see the old covers on cups and deckchairs one day. I'd buy them all!
Dovegreyreader - well, you can please some of the people some of the time ...
I love the list and do my very best to ensure our covers are appealing, but not everybody is going to love everything. Some of the old greens were absolutely gorgeous and gave you a real feel of the book, but some really weren't. Sometimes nostalgia doesn't give a very balanced view.
As I've said on another thread, for a while there were too many pretty but out of focus pictures of women, but I'm glad to say those days are over. Some recent covers that we've had a really great response to are Barbara Pym's Jane and Prudence, our 30th anniversary edition of The Women's Room and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God - not a blurry woman in sight.

Justine - I've got Mrs Harris Goes to New York on my shelf - not sure if she made it to Paris or not.

Justine Picardie said...

Donna -- Hurrah for Mrs Harris! She did go to Paris first, before she went to New York. The Paris trip is in the first book -- Flowers for Mrs Harris -- when she saves up for the Dior dress. In fact, I've just written about it in one of my columns for Stella (out next month). It so deserves to be back in print. Can I vote for it now?

Carmen Callil said...

Dear Everbody, I am sitting at my machine with Justine Picardie standing next to me, teaching me how to do my first blog.
My name is Carmen Callil, and I started Virago, and the Virago Modern Classics thirty years ago.
I have just been writing about the history of Virago and the classics for the Guardian - it should appear sometime in April. In the meantime, i have loved reading this blog, and finding out that there are people who still love my classics! I had thought they were entirely forgotten, so you can imagine how pleased I am they you all love these writers, and find their books.
For now, only two points
1) Finding the novels for the Classics and meeting and getting to know many of the writers, was the best thing I ever did in my life
2) As to the covers, I agree with most of you: I much prefer my old design, but Donna Coonan has a point... I am nearly 70 and she is a young woman, and wants her generation to read the books.
That said I am absolutely convinced that one day they will decide to reissue the old design, and ( I hope) some of the old classics and that they will sell like hotcakes and the sales department ( who tell editors like Donna what you the people want) will have red faces and be ashamed of themselves.

More anon, thats enough for today.
Carmen Callil

Rob Hardy said...

I'm happy to see that Virago has published one of Margery Sharp's novels (The Eye of Love). I'm wondering if we might have more of her books. Sharp's The Foolish Gentlewoman is one of my favorite novels.

Justine Picardie said...

Good idea!

Katarina said...

I should like to say to Miss Carmen Callil that I have enjoyed her article on Virago Modern Classics (The stories of our lives). I should like to talk with her whole day long...

Katarina Zavodszka
kzavodszka@gmail.com

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