After waving goodbye to the rocks, cliffs and sands of the north Cornish coast, Emma Smith (born Elspeth Hallsmith) and her family are uprooted to the Devonshire village of Crapstone, on the outskirts of Dartmoor. Emma's father, a decorated hero of the First World War, has suffered a terrible breakdown and - in between weekly visits to the hospital and sibling rivalries with her very pretty elder sister Pam - Emma has to get used to a very new kind of family life.
When the Second World War breaks out in 1939, Emma is training as a secretary. The gas masks they are issued with make people wearing them look inhuman, like creatures in a nightmare. Her budding philosopher brother, Jim, joins up with the RAF and rebellious Pam enlists with the women's branch. Unable to believe she is making any difference to the war effort - and still trying to understand why German fascism has its own name, Nazism - Emma chooses instead to work on the canal boats, where she must learn to deal with hard manual labour, a sinking boat and buckets instead of toilets.
When the war finally ends Emma's newfound adventurous spirit takes her all over the world: to literary London where she meets Laurie Lee and begins to forge her own writing career; to India to film a love story during the Darjeeling tea harvest; to the coast of France to work in a boarding house where she falls helplessly in love with a boy; and to Paris where she is photographed by Robert Doisneau and sees a then-unknown Edith Piaf on stage.
Relating her experiences before, during and after the Second World War, As Green as Grass
is a remarkable coming-of-age memoir. Endlessly engaging and capturing English life in all its charm, it tells the story of an unusual young woman maturing against a backdrop of enormous social change and a life shaped by fortuitous opportunity.