Written by Ali Hope
There is probably no greater joy for a book lover than to discover a new author. I found Mary Hocking nearly three years ago, in the back of a green virago book I was reading. Is there a name for those pages that you find in the back of older books highlighting novels from the same publisher? Well on one of those pages there was a paragraph or two about a novel called A Particular Place by Mary Hocking – an author completely unknown to me. I was assured that: ‘Mary Hocking is confirmed as the successor to Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym’. Well that had me pretty much sold. Now, I am still undecided about how helpful that comparison is – as now that I have read a lot of Mary Hocking novels and have become a big fan, I tend to think of Mary Hocking as being just herself, and for me that is more than good enough. Like Taylor and Pym (and perhaps this is where the comparison comes from) Mary Hocking is a fine observer of human beings, she stands back a little from her characters (all of whom are very well drawn), with a cool observant eye. Also like Taylor and Pym, Hocking’s world is generally, recognisably English.
I began buying and reading old copies of Mary Hocking books, I blogged about them, I tweeted about them, I held a couple of Mary Hocking reading weeks to encourage others to read her books. Happily I discovered there were a lot of people out there who loved her books too, people who remembered how Mary Hocking had been a very popular novelist in the 1960s 70s and 80s. At this point I was fairly sure that she was still alive, and I wanted to know more. I felt like I was boring the universe about Mary Hocking. In May 2014 a commenter on my blog told me that Mary Hocking had died in February of that year. Someone who had known Mary commented on the post I wrote following that, she told me that all Mary Hocking had wanted was for people to read her books. I felt strangely devastated about the death of a woman in her nineties who I hadn’t even met – and who I suspect had had a pretty good life. Unfortunately – despite still having a lot of fans out there – many readers had never heard of her. A friend of mine on Facebook offered to write a Wikipedia page for her – as there wasn’t one – there was very little about her online at all.
So fast forward to around January of last year – with very little thought, I dashed off a rather cheeky email to Bello books suggesting that they might like to consider adding Mary Hocking titles to their already extensive catalogue. Quite quickly, I think, I forgot all about sending that email. Then last summer, while I was spending a few days in Herefordshire, I received an unexpected reply to that email, from someone at Bello, telling me that they had acquired the rights to publish twenty-four of Mary Hocking’s novels. Bello informed me that the decision had been inspired by my enthusiasm for Mary Hocking. I was stunned and elated all at once. I was even allowed to break the news on my blog. The novels were to be made available in two batches of twelve – twelve books in February and twelve in July 2016. By that time I owned eighteen of Mary Hocking’s novels (not all of them read I hasten to add) – and so it was arranged that I would loan Bello my Hocking books for scanning – I sent them off in October and they arrived home a few weeks ago. Bello generously sent me some free books as a thank you – but naturally I was just pleased to help Mary Hocking’s books reach a new audience. Now of course I just hope that people order some of Bello’s quality print on demand and e-books – as I keep remembering that phrase – that all Mary Hocking wanted was for people to read her books. Not much to ask is it.
Ali Hope blogs at Heavenali and she is hosting a second Mary Hocking Reading Week as we publish.