Stella Gibbons, author of Cold Comfort Farm (1932), the cult satire on the doomy English novels of, amongst others, Mary Webb and Sheila Kaye-Smith, seems to have been a very generous and good natured woman, according to her nephew and biographer Reggie Oliver (b1952), who was also a playwright and the author of horror stories. In three pages of a typescript found at Jot HQ, which he sent to the bookseller Joan Stevens (and which may subsequently have been incorporated into his biography, Out of the Woodshed), Gibbons met some colourful characters at the mid- seventies parties she held at her home in Oakshott Avenue, Highgate, which incidentally was a two minute walk from my late uncle, Denis Healey.
One was the then fashionable (now almost totally forgotten) novelist John Braine, the former librarian who found fame and fortune with such blockbusters as Room at the Top and The Vodi. Here is Reggie’s description of the man:
‘ He was large, shaggy, genial and physically repulsive. A distinctive presence, enhanced by an unusually loud voice, allowed him to dominate the conversation. I got the impression he was one of those writers—by no means uncommon—whose interest in literature was confined to that produced by themselves. Certainly, I never heard him discuss any books but his own, and even those rarely. But he had pronounced views on almost everything else; and I can remember one enjoyable afternoon when he laid down strict guidelines for us all on the correct method of making bread. Continue reading