Have you read… Nancy Spain?

Apologies to Karen/Cornflower for borrowing her ‘Have you read?’ title, but I need to crowdsource this one.  I was recently re-reading Ann Thwaite’s biography of A.A. Milne, and towards the end she writes about a meeting between AAM and Nancy Spain, as Spain wrote about it at length in her autobiography.  So I went hunting to learn more about her… and, by a lovely coincidence, that fantastic Invisible Ink column in The Independent did a piece on Nancy Spain this week. (That link isn’t working for me at the mo, so if you’re having trouble then maybe Google it… and it might only work in the UK?)

She sounds a fascinating woman.  Apparently she was once famous on panel shows and the like, but – of more interest to me – she wrote detective novels in the 1940s and ’50s. And they have brilliant titles (Death Before Wicket; Out, Damned Tot; Murder, Bless It and so forth) – not to mention that several are set in a girls’ school called Radcliffe Hall. Ahem, if I may.

What really intrigues me is that (as I found out here) she was turned down from the Detection Club as her detective novels were considered too funny. I want in.

Many of the series are incredibly expensive and scarce, but – matching up with the gaps in my Century of Books – I have bought Cinderella Goes to the Morgue… so I’ll report back soon.  But does anybody already know her novels?  Are they due a reprint?

27 thoughts on “Have you read… Nancy Spain?

    • April 25, 2014 at 9:13 pm
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      Yes, she seemed to write a few non-fic, and THOSE are available in my local library too… but not the detective novels, sadly!

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  • April 24, 2014 at 10:24 am
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    Oh dear….. she sounds absolutely wonderful and I haven't read any of her work – yet. I may have just indulged in a little clickety-click…..

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    • April 25, 2014 at 9:14 pm
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      I will report back! If she's as good as she sounds, maybe she'll join this vogue for reprinted classic detective fiction?

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  • April 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm
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    Haven't read anything by her, but I've had Thank you, Nelson on my TBR list ever since first hearing about her (in Thwaite's AAM biography, of course).

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    • April 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm
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      I'm keen to read that too, but those detective novels drew me in first… Somehow I'd entirely forgotten her appearance in Thwaite's biography before.

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  • April 24, 2014 at 2:28 pm
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    She sounds right up my alley. Now on the hunt. Thanks, Simon.

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  • April 24, 2014 at 8:32 pm
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    I love the sound of her. Radcliffe Hall! Brilliant!

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  • April 24, 2014 at 10:23 pm
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    Coincidentally, Simon, I am reading Poison for Teacher right now. I'm enjoying it, but some readers could find it a bit too far on the campy side. Lots of rather broad, arch references to lesbianism (duh–Radcliffe Hall!), making the most of its girls' school setting! Interestingly, her detective is based on Hermione Gingold, if the Virago introduction to my edition is to be believed…

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    • April 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm
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      Oh, what a fun coincidence, Scott! That was one of the books that was quite readily available, but clashed with my Century of Books (i.e. I'd already read a book for that year). I do love a *bit* of archness, but we'll see if it's too much for me…

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  • April 25, 2014 at 7:54 am
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    Read and enjoyed Poison at Play a couple of years ago, and have Cinderella goes to the Morgue on TBR shelf – since learning something about her amazing life in Rachel Cooke's Her Brilliant Career (also warmly recommended), looks as though her experiences were good material for her books.
    Cora (selected anonymous from drop down box as don't understand other options, alas)

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    • April 25, 2014 at 9:21 pm
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      Thanks Cora, good to hear from someone who's read her AND read about her! If you get the impulse to read Cinderella, we can compare notes… And I think I might have Cooke's book somewhere…

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  • April 26, 2014 at 12:21 am
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    My sister and I devoured these on a long beach holiday in the 60's- in battered old copies from the dusty shelves of the library of a little seaside town in Australia. We were absolutely enchanted by their iconoclastic nature . Your piece makes me want to read them all over again -what a pity we didn't have the foresight to buy up the whole sleepy little library. That was the summer we also discovered Dagobert and Jane (we probably wouldn't like them as much now) and the magnificent Pamela Branch, who can stand endless re-reading.

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  • April 26, 2014 at 7:36 am
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    Do read the chapter on her in Her Brilliant Career before the novels. In fact, read all of Her Brilliant Career. I'd second the recommendation, I'm sure you'd really enjoy it.

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  • April 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm
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    I've read Poison for Teacher (highly amusing) and Poison at Play (also amusing, a bit racist to modern eyes). They are very camp and extremely cheeky – the humour reminds me quite a lot of Round the Horne in that they are probably funny even if you aren't in on the joke, but if you are in on the joke it's hilarious. There is an excellent biography of her by Rose Collis called A Trouser Wearing-Character, sadly out of print although there are second-hand copies out there.

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  • June 10, 2014 at 8:40 am
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    You inspired me to track her memoir down, easy peasy and I'm delightedly half way through. Witty woman who moves in enviable almost unbelievable circles: Hermione Gingold (yes she promised her she'd include her in novels and did in about 5!) Noel Coward, Elizabeth Bowen, Angus Wilson, Colette!!, etc etc. I remember her as a regular on the Home Service. When I've read it I'll be passing it on to my next sister and searching out the detective stories.
    Thank you so much!!

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  • June 10, 2014 at 8:43 am
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    HECK! I checked out the Rose Collis biography, it is £399.00

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