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on 23 August 2017
Best book I have read in a long time. Well written about her life and loves. Found could read between the lines about her relationships and can relate to her and what she goes through. Wish she'd written more books. Her story is delightful and her brother is right - the most important thing is kindness!
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on 20 September 2017
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on 26 April 2017
slick easy cliche'd writing. So much of this is just re-gurgitated facts about the war. Awful
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on 30 September 2013
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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VINE VOICEon 20 August 2013
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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on 22 January 2016
Emma Smith has had somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, with the republication of her novel 'The Far Cry' and her World War II memoir 'Maiden Voyage' and the publication of two volumes of autobiography. This, her second volume, takes us from her family's move to the unpicturesquely named village of 'Crapstone' (as she was coming into her teens) to her marriage, with a quick summary of her later life on the final page. Smith certainly had quite a varied time of it. Her early teens were spent watching her mother struggle on the family's limited income, and her father - a clerk with aspirations to becoming an artist - gradually go mad. During her final years of schooling her father abandoned his family altogether - they survived due to Smith's mother's toughness (and presumably some family money from somewhere?). Smith had little in the way of academic ambition, but, knowing she had to work, agreed to go to secretarial college. Her time there was interrupted by World War II, during which she worked operating barges carrying industrial cargo up and down Britain's canals. When the war ended, she decided to become a writer, and launched herself into London's bohemia. She changed her name from Elspeth Hall-Smith to Emma Smith, and became the girlfriend of film director Ralph Keane, who took her to India and introduced her to London's literati including Laurie Lee - when she decided Ralph was too old for her, she decamped to France to write her first novel and fall in love with a young Frenchman. When that ended, she was back in London, where 'The Far Cry' made her a literary celebrity. A brilliant career as a novelist seemed to beckon - but that second novel just wouldn't come. Luckily a husband did, and Smith swopped literature for love (in later years she was to return to writing, largely children's fiction).

This memoir makes Smith sound an extremely nice person - a great companion for a night out in London, or on a barge voyage. She has a good dry wit (her father's mental collapse is portrayed with virtually no self-pity) and a great enthusiasm for life. I imagine she was a godsend for her employers during World War II. She's also got a knack of describing places, writing well about the canals of England, London, Paris and India. I will definitely be interested to read 'The Far Cry' after this.

However, I have to say that I didn't personally find this as interesting an autobiography as I thought I would. As an autobiography of a nice, enthusiastic girl from a very English background, it's a good read - but somehow I'd expected (possibly unfairly) something more from a writer's autobiography. I kept remembering William Burroughs's remark (one of the few really sensible things he said!) about how genuine writers had always been at one time avid readers. I somehow didn't pick this up from Smith's autobiography. Apart from a couple of mentions of reading Thomas Hardy on her barge trips, there was little sense that Smith was a particularly literary girl or adolescent, or indeed had a particular hunger for reading and writing (which made her declaration after World War II that 'I'd always wanted to become a writer') surprising. Her childhood, mad father not withstanding, is a rather matter-of-fact, jolly English affair, with lots of 'naughty adventures' with schoolfriends, and jolly games on the village green - there's little introspection, and few details about her inner life. The descriptions of life on the barge are interesting enough - but it was clearly mundane and repetitive work, and again a rather 'jolly' tone dominated. Later, there was plenty of detail about Smith's - often slightly juvenile - affairs, but little about how she decided to become a writer, what she wrote about and why she was able to write her first novel at such speed - I could have also done with more descriptions of Paris. I increasingly got the feeling that Smith might have been one of those writers who enjoyed living more than writing - and one who actually didn't set that much store by imagination (she mentions that she couldn't write her second novel as she didn't have a life experience she particularly wanted to write about). And the ending - several pages on 'why I couldn't write a novel' followed by marriage - went a little flat. Smith seemed to imply that she had to choose either marriage or literature - but it doesn't have to be like that. It also seemed a shame - unless she's planning a third volume - that she detailed so little of her later life: her tragic widowhood (I was so sorry to read about that), her return to writing and how, as a not very wealthy widow, she's managed to move back to London and survive financially when her literary output has been so small.

A well-written memoir then (hence the four stars) but one that I found curiously unsatisfying - possibly because Smith and I have such different personalities that I found her hard to really understand. Still, I suspect my problems with the book were quite personal, and I'd definitely recommend it to people with an interest in 1930s and 40s life, women in World War II and the literary world of the late 1940s.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 August 2013
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..."

The second part of the book takes us into the years of the Second World War, where Emma starts secretarial training at Queen's Secretarial College in Clarence Lodge, and by 1942, at the age of eighteen, Emma is a qualified secretary, living in Oxford and working at Blenheim Palace for MI5. However, secretarial work is not exciting enough for Emma and, feeling that she should do something more to contribute to the war effort, she applies for a job on the canals where she ferries vital cargoes for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company. Working on the canal boats, Emma meets other young women from a variety of different backgrounds and although the work is physically exhausting, Emma's life is transformed. After the war, in part three of the book, Emma's life changes again as she works for a documentary film maker, travels to India to make a documentary film with Laurie Lee, lives in bohemian Chelsea, falls in love and out of love, spends time in Paris where she tries to mend a broken heart writing a novel, and is photographed by the legendary photographer, Robert Doisneau.

This is a very engaging memoir, told with enthusiasm, energy and honesty and, as it is written in the present tense, the reader almost feels as if they are experiencing Emma's life alongside her. Warm, evocative, friendly and very readable, this entertainingly told story (with its very poignant Afterword) is one to keep on the bookshelf to enjoy again and also one to share with family and friends.

4 Stars.
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on 8 September 2013
I read this because I heard Emma Smith interviewed on radio 4 and I thought she sounded interesting. The account of living through the war was indeed interesting. However, the writing was a little flat and there were numerous spelling errors (particularly when quoting French) - I found this exasperating.
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on 19 December 2013
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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on 8 November 2013
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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