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Nancy Mitford was a brilliant personality, a remarkable novelist and a legendary letter writer. It is not widely known that she was also a bookseller. From 1942 to 1946 she worked in Heywood Hill's famous shop in Curzon Street, and effectively ran it when the male staff were called up for war service. After the war she left to live in France, but she maintained an abiding interest in the shop, its stock, and the many and varied customers who themselves form a cavalcade of the literary stars of post-war Britain. Her letters to Heywood Hill advise on recent French titles that might appeal to him and his customers, gossip engagingly about life in Paris, and enquire anxiously about the reception of her own books, while seeking advice about new titles to read. In return Heywood kept her up to date with customers and their foibles, and with aspects of literary and bookish life in London. Charming, witty, utterly irresistible, the correspondence gives brilliant insights into a world that has almost disappeared.
John Saumerez Smith has worked at Heywood Hill's bookshop since 1965 and managed it since 1974. He reviews, catalogues and lectures on books, advises on private and other libraries, acts as Honorary Librarian at Chequers, and has been variously described as a book man, a book expert and a book doctor.