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Emma Smith (1) (1923–2018)

Author of The Far Cry

For other authors named Emma Smith, see the disambiguation page.

8+ Works 424 Members 15 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Emma Smith was born Elspeth Hallsmith in Newquay, Cornwall, England on August 23, 1923. During World War II, she worked the War Office and volunteered to crew canal boats carrying vital supplies along the Grand Union Canal. After the war, she worked as a runner-cum-secretary for screenwriter Laurie show more Lee. Her first book, Maidens' Trip, was published in 1948 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize. Her other books included The Far Cry, The Opportunity of a Lifetime, and a series of children's books. Her memoirs included The Great Western Beach and As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During and After the Second World War. She died on April 24, 2018 at the age of 94. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Emma Smith

Associated Works

The Real Thing: Seven Stories About Love (1979) — Contributor — 7 copies

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Common Knowledge

Legal name
Hallsmith, Elspeth (birth name)
Other names
Stewart-Jones, Elspeth
Birthdate
1923-08-21
Date of death
2018-04-24
Gender
female
Nationality
UK
Birthplace
Newquay, Cornwall, England, UK
Places of residence
Putney, London, England, UK
Radnorshire, Wales, UK
Education
privately educated
Occupations
novelist
children's book author
Relationships
Lee, Laurie (employer and mentor)
Short biography
Emma Smith was the pen name of Elspeth Hallsmith, later Elspeth Stewart-Jones, born in Newquay, Cornwall, England. Her parents Janet and Guthrie Hallsmith had both served in World War I, she as a nurse, and he as an officer decorated for bravery. As a child, Elspeth and her three siblings roamed the local beaches, playing in rock pools, swimming and reading to escape their unhappy home, where their parents’ marriage was unraveling and their father took out his frustration from his job as a bank clerk. He and Elspeth read poetry together, but she was relieved when he abandoned the family following a breakdown when she was 12. At the outbreak of World War II, she went to work for the British War Office, headquartered at Blenheim Palace, and then volunteered to crew canal boats carrying vital supplies along the Grand Union Canal. This experienced inspired her to write her first novel, Maidens’ Trip, published to popular and critical success in 1948, which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. Her second novel, The Far Cry, was written in Paris, where as she sat on the Île de la Cité typing, Robert Doisneau snapped her photo for Paris-Match magazine. The Far Cry was published in 1949 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1951, Emma married Richard Stewart-Jones, with whom she lived in London and had two children. After his death from a heart attack 1957, she was left with heavy mortgages and two youngsters to support. She took them to live in Wales, where she wrote a series of children’s books and a novel, The Opportunity of a Lifetime (1978). After her return to London, she also published two volumes of memoirs, The Great Western Beach (2008) and As Green As Grass (2013).

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Reviews

Emma Smith manages to speak not as an adult remembering her childhood, but with the voice of herself as a child.
½
 
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MarthaJeanne | 2 other reviews | Jun 11, 2017 |
When World War II began Emma Smith was very nearly grown up. She saw young men she knew sign up, she heard news of deaths, she saw other working on the home front, and she wanted to do something too. In 1943 she found her role. She signed on with the Grand Union Shipping Company, who were employing women to get boats that had been lying idle moving again, to move cargoes up and down the country.

I read about those years in Emma Smith’s second volume of autobiography, ‘As Green as Grass.’ It’s a wonderful books, but the Cornish library Service’s copies are in heavy demand, and so I had to hand my copy back before I had time to pull my thoughts together and write about it.

But I had this book, the book that Emma Smith wrote about her wartime experiences right after the war, the book that won the James Tait Black Memorial Award for 1948, on the shelf; I had to pick it up and read.

‘Maidens’ Trip’ is fiction, but it is very close to fact; this is the story of one journey, up and down the canal, inspired by many trips made and many people met until the end of the year.

It is a wonderful adventure for three young women – Nanette, Emma and Charity – all from conventional, middle-class backgrounds, who have completed basic training and have been dropped into the very different world of the boating fraternity.

They will manage two boats – a motor boat to provide the power and a butty boat to provide the space – and they will move cargo between London and Birmingham.

“It must have been an astonishing imposition for the canal people when the war brought them dainty young girls to help them mind their business, eager young creatures with voices pitched as to be almost impossible to understand. It must have been amazing, more especially since the war changed their own lives so little, for they read no newspapers, being unable to read, and if they did possess a wireless, seldom listened to the news …”

Emma Smith paints wonderful pictures of those people: some are curious, some are helpful, some are competitive, and only a few are hostile.

The three girls take to their new life with gusto. They live in cramped conditions, rising early, cooking on a camping stove, and go out in all weathers to do hard physical work. They learn much along the way, they laugh, they cry, they squabble; but it is clear that they have a wonderful camaraderie, that they are completely wrapped up in what they are doing, and that they are absolutely determined to succeed.

The war, home, family, seem so far away, and are barely mentioned. That’s how caught up they are …..

The workings of the boats, the mechanics of the canal and the boats form the backbone of the story, and though I knew little it was easy to understand, and the spirit of the girls always held my interest. If they could do it then I could read it!

There are some wonderful incidents along the way. A kitten is rescued and named Cleopatra. A girl is forced to run along the canal bank when she is left behind, after going in search of proper bathroom facilities. A few tins of food are turned into a wonderful feast. A leak creates panic …

Emma Smith took all of this – day-to-day minutiae and wonderful memories – and she turned it into a wonderfully engrossing tale. She told it with such verve, such wonderful economy, such subtle wit, such elegant prose; and she brought a world and a time that she clearly loved to life on the page.
… (more)
1 vote
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BeyondEdenRock | 2 other reviews | May 11, 2016 |
I picked up “The Great Western Beach”, Emma Smith’s memoir of her Cornish childhood between the wars, with great expectations.

I had lots of reasons for optimism. I love childhood memoirs and I know Emma Smith to be a wonderful writer. She writes of Newquay, a town that I know and worked in for a short period a few years ago. It is very like the town I grew up in on the opposite coast of Cornwall and the author is of the same generation as my mother.

“The Great Western Beach” more than lived up to my expectations. It is a wonderful book.

Emma’s parents are sadly mismatched. Her father was decorated for bravery in the 1st World War, but he struggles with family life in peacetime, his job as a bank clerk and the financial constraints that imposes.

He in unkind and cruel to his wife who, having losing three fiancés to the war and fearing that she would lose her chance of a family of her own, married in haste.

Emma’s elder sister Pam copes with a mixture of bravado and secrecy, but Pam’s twin Jim is terrorised by their father, who despises the timidity that he largely creates in his son. Emma keeps her head down and is his favourite as a result, a position she is far from comfortable with.

All of this sounds dark, but one of the great strengths of this book is the empathy and understanding that Emma has for all her family. Her father is not a monster, but a flawed and unhappy man.

And there is so much light.

Emma recalls so many details of a wonderful childhood by the sea and writes of it wonderfully well.

The excitement of a trip to the cinema, the thrill of owning a motor car, the arrival of the town’s roller-skating rink, tennis parties, birthday parties and so much more. The details are packed in but the author’s skill is such that the book never feels crowded.

The family’s maid Lucy brings great warmth and Newquay’s varied array of residents and visitors are all portrayed with great charm.

And best of all, there is the beach. Emma and her siblings spent their free time on the beach, on the sands, in rock pools, swimming and surfing, shell-collecting, reading and observing life all year round. There are holiday-makers, donkeys, ice cream and deck-chairs in the summer and there is a quite magical emptiness in the winter.

Trips to the beach seem to be the times when all of the family can be happy and enjoy together.

All of this is related in wonderful clear prose, and the author balances the perspective of her childhood with her greater wisdom as an adult wonderfully well.

Emma’s mother receives an inheritance from an uncle and the family move to a bigger house and enjoy some financial freedom. As they advance in society more and more possibilities open to them.

Eventually though they advance right out of Newquay when Emma’s father is promoted and the family move to Plymouth. As the book ends Emma is aware that a significant part of her life is over and that she will miss in very much.

I loved this book and I miss the world it recreated now I have finished reading.
… (more)
1 vote
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BeyondEdenRock | 2 other reviews | May 11, 2016 |
In September 1946 23-year-old Emma Smith set sail for India, to work as an assistant with a documentary unit making films about tea gardens in Assam. She was dazzled by India …

‘I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.’

… and she wrote down as much as she could about her experiences because she so wanted to pin down the wonder of it all.

A few years later she would use what she remembered and what she wrote as the foundation for a wonderful, wonderful novel that would go on to with the James Tate Black Award for 1949

‘The Far Cry’ tells the story of 14-year old Teresa Digby. She’s an introspective and rather award child, and I think it’s fair to say that she is what her circumstances made her. When her parents’ marriage broke down her mother left her to go to America and her father left her for his sister to bring up. Teresa’s aunt wasn’t unkind, she was bringing her up as well as she could, but she lacked warmth and she lacked empathy.

When he learned that his wife was returning to England, and that she wanted to see her daughter, Mr Digby decided that he would take her to India, to visit his daughter from an earlier marriage, who was married to a tea planter. It wasn’t that he was interested in his daughter, it was just that he didn’t want his wife to have her.

He was a self-absorbed, dull-witted man who could never be the man he wanted to be or have the roles in life he wanted to play, but who would never acknowledge that, even to himself.

It’s telling that he remains Mr Digby from his first appearance to his last,

His sister knew his weaknesses, knew what he was lacking, but she believed that she had played her part and it was time for him to play his.

“He polished off this diplomacy and his visit with a kiss that landed haphazard on the nearest part of her face, and so left. Such kisses are interesting. For it might be thought that lips which had once, so any years before given off those dark flames of roses must always at a touch bestow a scent, the merest whiff, a pot-pourri of passion. But no, nothing like it.”

The relationship between between father and daughter is awkward, they are uncomfortable with each other. They don’t know each other, they don’t particularly want to know each other. He disdained her awkwardness as she dealt with so much that was unfamiliar – getting in and out of taxis, eating in restaurants, holding on to things like gloves and tickets – but she struggled through, and she came to realise that in attaching so much importance to such things and in not understanding how new and strange things must be for her it was her father who was lacking.

“Teresa, who had watched defeat and then recovery first line and then illuminate his face, observed the breach in his armour: he was old, and therefore weak. And she was young, with her strength growing. Age shook him as fiercely as he had yesterday shaken her in the street. Thoughtfully she ate her breakfast. That she had seen his weakness and was bound to take advantage of it was a tragedy, and a tragedy that the only alternative to his conquering her seemed to be for her to conquer him.”

When they set sail for India Teresa find a role and her confidence grows a little more. She helps with young children, and she formed a tentative friendship with Miss Spooner, an elderly spinster who was travelling to visit her sister. Her father lacks a role, and is left to worry over mosquito nets and play the occasional game of piquet.

In India though the story that had played out in London would play out again. Teresa was overwhelmed and that made her awkward, leaving his father to organise and mange their progress. He was ineffectual, and so Teresa stepped forward, with the interest in the strange new world they were encountering.

The early pages of this novel were an intriguing character study, so well done that even seemingly unsympathetic characters became interesting, but in India there would much more. Through Teresa’s eyes I saw the wonders of India, and I was as smitten as she was and as Emma Smith had been. She caught so many impressions so very, very well.

“Teresa’s head was full of sound and colour. Her head was a receptacle for tumbled rags of impression, rags torn from exotic garments that could never be pieced entirely together again; but the rags were better.”

The sea voyage, the journey though India, the feelings of strangers in a strange land are caught perfectly; every detail, every description feels so right.

In Assam Teresa meets the older half-sister her father adores.

Ruth is a beauty, she had been told that since she was a child, but her tragedy was that she was so caught up in presenting that image to the world, that she had lost the woman she really was. Edwin, her husband adored her, she wanted to tell him how she really felt, but she lacked the courage to tarnish the façade she had worked so hard to create.

It’s a compelling, heart-breaking, horribly believable portrait.

The presence of her father and her half-sister unsettles Ruth’s world; Teresa didn’t realise, she was caught up with new experiences and impressions.

There was a tragedy and Ruth thought that it might offer her an escape. Maybe it did ….

Sadness and hopefulness mingle in the end of this story

There is so much that makes it special.

Smith’s prose really is gorgeous. It’s distinctive, it’s right, and the descriptions so lovely and they catch every sensation. She follows the journey and she manages the both the day-to-day and the set pieces wonderfully well.

“Lights, no bigger than the candles on a Christmas cake, fringed every balcony, every wall, every stall, every hovel, a multitude of tiny red flames flickering alive in the huge dark night. They were still being lit: glistening haunches bent forward, hands poured a trickle of oil into saucers…The warm air was soft with sorrow. They trod among the muddy unseen ashes of the dead. Widows lay along the slushy steps, prostrate in grief, or crouched forward silently setting afloat their candles in little boats of tin the size and shape of withered leaves.”

The characters and relationships are captured beautifully; with the understanding and the empathy that they lack.

The direction that the plot takes is unpredictable; it isn’t contrived, it twists and turns as life does,

And everything works together beautifully, in this profound story of people alive in the world.

“India went on and on, on and on, as though it had no end, as though it had no beginning, as though seas and shores and other continents were only part of a feverish dream, as though this was the whole world and nothing exited beyond it; a world fat and dry on whose immense surface, far apart from one another, dwelt men and their beasts, living and dying together, generation after generation.”
… (more)
½
 
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BeyondEdenRock | 8 other reviews | Nov 20, 2015 |

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