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As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During & After the Second World War [Hardcover]

Emma Smith
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Aug 2013

Uprooted from her beloved Great Western Beach, Emma Smith moves with her family from Newquay to the Devonshire village of Crapstone. But the dust has hardly settled when tragedy strikes, and Emma's father, a DSO-decorated hero of the Great War, is so frustrated by the hardship of life as a lowly bank clerk and by his thwarted artistic ambitions that he suffers a catastrophic breakdown - from which disaster Emma's resourceful mother rallies courageously. Then, in 1939, the war again becomes a reality. Emma's pretty sister Pam at once enlists with the WAAF and Jim, her politically minded brother, after initially declaring himself a pacifist, joins the RAF. But what should Emma, aged only sixteen, do? Secretarial collage equips her for a job with MI5 but it's dull work and Emma yearns for fresh air. She is rescued by a scheme taking on girls as crew for canal boats. Freedom! The war over, Emma travels to India with a documentary film company, lives in Chelsea, falls in love in France and spends time in Paris where she sets about mending a broken heart by writing her first novel. Sitting beside the Seine during a heatwave with her typewriter on her knees, she is unwittingly snapped by legendary photographer Robert Doisneau.

The zest, thirst for life and buoyant spirits of Emma, as she recalls in evocative detail the quality of England in the thirties and forties give As Green as Grass the feel of a ready-made classic.

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Frequently Bought Together

As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During & After the Second World War + The Great Western Beach + Maidens' Trip
Price For All Three: 25.45

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  • The Great Western Beach 6.29
  • Maidens' Trip 7.27

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (15 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408835614
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408835616
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Emma Smith was born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923 in Newquay, Cornwall, where she lived until the age of twelve. Her book, Maiden's Trip, was first published in 1948 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. It was republished in 2009. Her second, The Far Cry, was published the following year and was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1951 Emma Smith married Richard Stewart-Jones. After her husband's death in 1957 she went to live with her two young children in Wales, where she published four successful children's books, a number of short stories and, in 1978, her novel, The Opportunity of a Lifetime. In 2008 The Great Western Beach, her memoir of her Cornish childhood, was published to widespread acclaim. Since 1980 she has lived in the London district of Putney.

Product Description


Smith tells the story of her teenage and adult years up to 1951 with her customary verve, precision and humour ... As Green as Grass, she says, is definitely her last book ... But there is a twinkle in her eye. I hope it's not true. I'm desperate to know what happens next (Observer)

A delight (Spectator)

There are memoirs that barrel along happily, due to the swift clip of a life well lived, and there are those lifted by the vivacity of the voice. Emma Smith's As Green As Grass exhibits a rare marriage of both virtues ... A wonderful journey beautifully told, and like all great memoirs, remains with the reader like the echo of friendship (Independent on Sunday)

Evocative and arresting ... hugely engaging ... Told in three sections it is a clear-headed and engagingly candid account of the formative life of an intelligent young woman ...The afterword will break your heart (Daily Express)

I loved Emma Smith's evocative childhood memoir, The Great Western Beach, and am just as excited about As Green as Grass . A captivating coming of age (Woman & Home)

Emma Smith has written a book that should - and I hope does - endure as a classic among memoirs of childhood. I savoured every page (Miranda Seymour, on The Great Western Beach)

One envies Emma Smith's precise and sly humour in her portrait of life (Michael Ondaatjie)

I've rarely come across a more gripping childhood memoir (Diana Athill)

Wonderfully written, humorous and humane, and beautifully evocative of the time (Independent, on Maidens' Trip)

Optimistic, generous and thoroughly enjoyable (Giulia Rhodes Sunday Express)

Emma Smith's previous memoirs, Maidens' Trip and The Great Western Beach were both highly regarded as modern classics. Smith's final memoir in the trilogy will no doubt be given the same accolade (The Lady)

An entrancing memoir, a dazzling evocation of what it is like to be young, quick-witted, hopeful and very slightly silly. It is much more than all right. And now, please, for the next volume (Jane Shilling New Statesman)

Irresistible ...

With any luck she will give us a sequel to this captivating memoir

(Iain Finlayson Saga)

A cracking memoir (Bel Mooney Daily Mail)

A beguiling evocation of what it is to be young, talented, hopeful and very slightly silly (Jane Shilling New Statesman Books of the Year)

Delightful (Elizabeth Grice Oldie)

Book Description

The new memoir from the author of Maidens' Trip and The Great Western Beach; a remarkable story of a young woman growing up against the backdrop of the Second World War, and postwar life in India, Paris and bohemian Chelsea

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb - beautifully written. 20 Aug 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I can sum this book up in one word: Superb. Emma Smith's memoir is a delight to read. Her prose is so fluent and readable. But more importantly she engages your interest. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. By writing in the present tense she has adopted what at first feels strange. After all you're reading about events that happened in the past. But if you also find this odd at first then don't worry - it really does work. Her life is fascinating. This book knocks for six all those celebrity (auto-)biographies and exposes how facile and vacuous they are. This book is about the life of someone who has really lived - she's about ninety now, not 18 or 24 or 26! This is a beautifully written book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Warm and Engaging Memoir 21 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Emma Smith, born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923, is a novelist of both adult and children's fiction, and in this engaging memoir 'As Green As Grass' she shares with the reader details of her life beginning as a schoolgirl in the mid 1930s, up until her marriage in 1951.

Divided into three sections, the first part of the book begins with the Hallsmith family's removal from Emma's much-loved seaside home in Newquay, to Crapstone, in Plymouth, a village on the edge of Dartmoor, when her father is transferred by the bank which employs him. Emma's father, a war hero from the Great War, is a difficult and bitter man, whose ambition to become an artist was thwarted by the outbreak of war and whose mood swings and unpredictable behaviour worsen over the years, making life very difficult for the whole family, but particularly for Emma's long-suffering mother. Eventually Emma's father has a total breakdown, tries to strangle his wife and after the verdict of two doctors: "Daddy, they agreed, has completely gone off his head, and he must therefore be put into a lunatic asylum." Emma, expecting her mother to collapse with the shock of her husband's breakdown, is surprised by her mother's transformation now that she is no longer held back by her bullish husband: "In twenty four hours she has reverted miraculously to the person who once, during that far-off period of the Great War, was not just able to drive an ambulance, but was Commandant, no less, of King Edward's Convalescent Hospital for wounded soldiers...
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read 27 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An interesting and informative remembrance of life on the cut and autobiography. I bought it on recommendation from a friend and will recommend it to all our canal travelling friends
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but 8 Jan 2014
By Gossy
Format:Kindle Edition
not as good as the previous part of the memoir. Parts totally absorbing, but other parts seem to lose momentum
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Totally riveting throughout. We owe a lot to this woman, who spent 3 years during WW2 ferrying coal on canal boats to keep the industry going in England. A very arduous task for a young woman. She, and 2 other young women , who changed from time to time, worked in all weathers, and in grim conditions, at a task which had not been done by women before, but now when men were in the forces, they stepped in. Always with a sense of humour, she describes a long and eventful life acutely observed, and with great modesty.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read 4 Dec 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A superb sequel to Great Western Beach. Thank you for sharing these memories. A highly entertaining recollection written in the present tense which gives an immediacy and spontaneity to the stories.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable summer read. 8 Nov 2013
By Claire
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I chose this as my poor mother passed away this summer and as I was going through her address book to invite her old friends to the funeral, I saw a group of friends under the heading 'The Bargees' as I started to contact the ladies it became clear that they were all part of a girls school group calling themselves by this name as their favourite teacher was a barge woman during the war who helped to take scrap metal to Wales on the canal barges then return with barges loaded with coal. All to help the war effort! I heard the author interviewed on Woman's hour and then saw an article in the press about her story. It was a moving account and a most enjoyable read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual read 30 Sep 2013
By Buster
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It took while to judge the direction the story was taking in other words, a rather slow start, but as her life unfolded it began to develop more substance such that I quite enjoyed the remaining two thirds . The four star rating is because of the odd start.. By all means folks - give it a go!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars GREEN AS THEY COME
Published 3 months ago by Mr. Kevin W. Hayes
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Very good read could not put it down and wanted much much more, brilliant, what a woman! I recommend it
Published 8 months ago by susan handy
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful sequel to the The Great Western Beach
Anyone who enjoyed Emma Smith's account of her Cornish childhood would want to know what happened when the family moved from Cornwall and at last the sequel has arrived - a... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. Caroline Carne
5.0 out of 5 stars Emma Smith is wonderful
She writes with deep understanding...and usually hits the spot directly! I can echo many of her experiences,,and I grew up in Germqny! Read more
Published 9 months ago by Brigitte Lister
5.0 out of 5 stars SEQUAL TO gREAT wESTERN bEACH
Just as interesting as the firs book written in the same style which might ave become tedious but did not. Read more
Published 9 months ago by maryrose
4.0 out of 5 stars A much enjoyed book.
Having had Maiden's Trip as a school reader in approx 1955 and being born in India in 1942 I found this compulsive reading. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Sally
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable recollection!
There's an immediacy, a freshness that you don't often get from writers recalling their youth. She writes in the voice of a teenager caught up in the prelude to the war, then as a... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ha Stewart-jones
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