Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Another Budleigh author's fan discovered in cyberspace

One of Joyce Dennys' illustrations from her book Henrietta's War

After the excitement of finding an admirer of Budleigh Salterton writer George Mills in Florida that I last described at comes mention via a Google news alert of another literary name closely associated with our town.

And this time it's an American enthusiast from Massachusetts! Who not only knows Brewster and tells me it's a "lovely" town but has preached in that beautiful typically New England First Parish Unitarian Universalist church.

Joyce Dennys, some of whose work is in Fairlynch Museum, was an illustrator, painter, author and playwright born in India in 1893. She was also the wife of Budleigh Salterton GP Dr Tom Evans. There is a truly excellent biographical sketch of her life by London-based art gallery owner David Cohen at which is well worth a read.

Budleigh Salterton author and doctor's wife Joyce Dennys at the age of 93

Her literary career took off during the Second World War when her pieces from 'Henrietta' the voice from the home front were published weekly by Sketch magazine as "funny and quietly naughty gobbits of wartime life" as David Cohen puts it.

When she was in her nineties, living in Budleigh, the pieces were republished by Deutsch and then by Penguin as Henrietta’s War; news from the home front 1939-1942 (1985) and Henrietta Sees It Through; more news from the home front (1986).

It's that last title which Cape Cod blogger Sarah Clarke wrote about admiringly on 25 January at her site "A light-hearted view of the home front" indeed, is how she describes the author's portrayal of Britain's battle for survival against Nazi Germany, " but never without the sense of the strain and tears the humor is trying to combat."

And then a sentence which struck a chord with me because I'd described a similar wartime tragedy in my 1995 book Oundle's War. "Her most poignant column is one that abandons humor completely as she reports the death of the younger son of friends who have already lost their elder son."

As a resident of Joyce Dennys' town who'd written about life during World War Two I couldn't resist contacting Sarah, who lives in Rockport, Massachusetts, to give my book a plug on the other side of the Pond. It turns out that she had particularly enjoyed Dennys' connection with Budleigh Salterton. "As you know, I'm sure, Budleigh Salterton is in the dialogue of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, a play dear to my heart," she told me.

Right now Sarah is going through a phase of discovering English authors and tells me she is enjoying Fred Secombe's vicar/curate series, which I have not yet discovered. "As I was a UU minister for 10 years, I identify with his stories," she says. It turns out that she had preached at Brewster when "precandidating" for the parish of Plymouth, Massachusetts, where she was a minister for three years, and saw a lot of Cape Cod.

My world is getting smaller by the minute.

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