Excerpt from “Q’s Legacy” by Helene Hanff ~~Marks & Co~~

picture-QsLegacy-HanffThen, in September of ’69, I got an assignment to write a full-length book for teenagers on the young reformers of the Sixties. With money coming in I decided to splurge on a set of Jane Austen for my best friend, whose birthday was coming at the end of October; and for the first time in two years I wrote to Frank Doel. (‘Still there, are we?’ I began. And Frank wrote back: ‘Yes, we’re all still here.’)
He had no Austen to sell me, which turned out to be a blessing because the teenagers’ book took much longer than I’d expected and by December, when I began the final draft of the book, I was very low in funds. I thought I’d better phone the editors of the two children’s history series and get an assignment for February.
Both greeted me warmly on the phone, not having heard from me in six months. And in my memory, both broke the same news to me in the same words:
‘Oh, we’re not publishing the history series anymore. These kids won’t read history; they say it’s not relevant.’
That evening I tried to take stock of myself and my future, but there seemed no stock to take. I was a failed playwright, a TV writer whose experience in live TV was useless in an age of film and a writer of children’s history books nobody was publishing anymore. I was nowhere. I was nothing.
In January, revisions of the Sixties book staved off the blank future for a few more weeks. Early one morning I left the house to spend the day going from library to library in search of transcripts of Southern civil rights trials. It was nearly six when I walked into the lobby and stopped in the mail room to pick up my mail. I had an armload of books and I went through the mail that lay on top of them as I rode up in the elevator. Among the pile of bills and throwaways was the familiar blue envelope from Marks & Co.
There was something wrong with it. Frank Doel always typed the name and address single-spaced and always spelled out my first name. On this envelope the typing was double-spaced and the letter was addressed to ‘Miss H. Hanff’. I thought:
‘He’s left the shop.’
I was tired and depressed and the wrong-looking letter threatened to depress me further. I put it on the table and decided it would wait till after dinner. I made myself a rare and extravagant martini and worked a Guardian Weekly crossword puzzle as I drank it. And the letter waited.
I cooked dinner and went on working the crossword puzzle as I ate. Then I poured a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. Feeling more cheerful (‘If he’s left the shop, you can always write to him and Nora at home, you have their address’), I reached for the blue airmail letter.

Excerpt from 84 Charing Cross Road ~~Frank Doel~~

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Q’s Legacy” by Helene Hanff ~~Marks & Co~~

  1. Helene Hanff was born in Philadelphia, USA on 15 April 1916, and died in New York on 9 April 1997, aged 80 years. She had been corresponding with Frank Doel for twenty years.

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