Andrew Ffrench considers those books guaranteed to give you a warm glow as England struggles to emerge from the depths of winter

AUTHOR Hilary Mantel has apologised after Bring Up the Bodies, the second instalment of her trilogy about Henry VIII’s right-hand man Thomas Cromwell, won yet another literary prize.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and I’m pleased that the author’s success is bringing it more into the mainstream.

But after trying, but not quite succeeding to finish Wolf Hall or its heavyweight successor, I’m looking for some light relief.

Thankfully it has arrived from an unexpected location – PG Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle.

I’d forgotten all about PG Wodehouse, but the BBC1 period drama at tea-time on a Sunday has reminded me just how funny the writer can be.

Wodehouse wrote 90 books and won worldwide acclaim after gaining his reputation as a comic genius, and a revival of interest in his work is long overdue.

The series starring Timothy Spall as pig fancier Lord Emsworth, and Jennifer Saunders as his widowed sister Lady Constance, is packed with laughs and adapts Wodehouse’s colourful comic prose for the first time in 50 years, since Ralph Richardson featured in a Blandings series in 1967.

The domestic dramas at Blandings revolve around romance, farce, and the life and times of prize pig Empress of Blandings.

Set in a castle and poking gentle fun at the English aristocracy, the Blandings scenarios are designed to amuse, and the TV show sent me scurrying to the Wodehouse section in the bookstore where Waterstones have helpfully stocked up on lots of Everyman editions of Wodehouse novels and short stories.

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend is a heartwarming short story and there are plenty more from the Blandings stable.

In fact, Wodehouse, who died aged 93 in 1975, liked Blandings so much that he took a manuscript of a Blandings novel to hospital with him when he got ill.

Following his death, it was published as Sunset at Blandings.

Wodehouse’s prose is bound to give you a lift because it is so clever, colourful, funny and above all never serious.

My deep joy at rediscovering Wodehouse and ditching Mantel, temporarily of course, got me thinking about other short stories that are bound to give me a warm glow as England struggles to emerge from the depths of winter.

John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories might now seem a little dated as the Government tries to cut back on the cost of QCs, but the tales of the defence barrister with a wife who must be obeyed never fail to raise a smile.

James Herriot’s stories about life as a vet are also charming and engaging and a perfect choice when the weather is cold and wet.

Herriot was the pen name of Sunderland vet Alf Wight and his All Creatures Great and Small stories turned Robert Hardy, Christopher Timothy and Carol Drinkwater into household names when they were televised by the BBC between 1977 and 1990.

For stories with a twist in the tale you could try Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, and if you fancy solving a mystery then Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are well worth a read, with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes a good place to start.

And if you really can’t be bothered with adult fiction, then hunt down stories you first read when you were a kid and re-read them, for a nostalgic journey back in time.

Anthony Buckeridge’s stories about chaotic schoolboys Jennings and Derbyshire bring back happy memories, while Captain WE Johns tales of Biggles’ adventures are the closest I will ever come to a ride in a Sopwith Camel.

And if a short story is too taxing, then grab a few graphic novels where the pictures can do a lot of the work.

If you haven’t read Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies yet don’t fret – they will still be waiting for you once you have finished having fun.