Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tudor Boy

From Crooked Sixpence. Penny catches a glimpse of the Tudor Boy.

Jane Shaw Quiz 2

Today's question is about the Susan books. Dotty Miss Johnson is a member of staff at St. Ronan's. Which subject does she teach?

The answer to yesterday's question: Penny's favourite sandwich is tomato (see Threepenny Bit, Chapter 1).

Binic

At the moment I'm rereading The Moochers Abroad, most of which is set in Binic, Brittany, although the little town is called St. Brioc in this book. This is the bay of Binic today, a little bit more crowded than in Jane Shaw's books. You can see more pictures of this picturesque location by clicking here at the Trip Advisor site. 

Quote of the Day

Ever since Raymond had pointed them out to her - a dim outline on the horizon - from the cliff above the grève, the very thought of the islands had fascinated Sara, and her imagination, never unfertile, was stirred by those mysterious bare rocks which only became visible at low tide.
"Anything in the way of adventures might happen on such exciting islands," she enthused to Caroline.
"The most exciting thing will be if you go and get left behind again, and drown yourself," Caroline replied - rather unnecessarily, Sara considered.

From BRETON HOLIDAY, Chapter 6, Shrimping.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Elvira's Curtsy

It's a happy new year for Elvira Wilson and her family in the short story The Wilsons Won't Mind. Madame Polinskaya recognizes her talent and offers her free tuition. She also gives unemployed Mr. Wilson a job as a stage carpenter. All thanks to Susan, of course.

Jane Shaw Quiz 1

A new feature to allow readers to see how much they remember about Jane Shaw's stories and characters. We'll start off with one that isn't too difficult. The answer, and a new teaser, tomorrow.

What is Penny's favourite sandwich?

Quote of the Day

When they finally did row round to Luss Straits, the scene was even more lively than as described by Andy, via Elizabeth. The place seemed to be black with boats full of slightly hysterical people trying to pick up rather sodden pieces of paper: a quite serious row was developing between a scruffy-looking dinghy and an even scruffier canoe as to who had first seen a certain five-pound note: at least five people were in the water, two of their own accord, and though the drowning tale was pure rumour, as the girls watched, an ancient tub gently capsized and the three occupants began thrashing about in the water, yelling for help, which a well-meaning but inefficient little man in glasses and a bowler hat tried to give by sloshing one of them over the head with an oar, thus precipitating another first-class row. From all sides, vessels of various shapes and sizes could be seen approaching.

From THE CREW OF THE BELINDA, Chapter 14, Treasure on the Waters.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Buried Treasures 1

The frontispiece of the short story Family Trouble, published in 1961.

Quote of the Day

Fiona and Katherine waved Miss Barclay and Celia off in the ten o'clock bus and wondered how they would spend the morning. They discussed various possibilities, and then Fiona said, "Let's go and see Mrs. Pengelly," just as if the idea had that moment occurred to her.
"You're like Winnie the Pooh," said Katherine. "At even the distant approach of eleven o'clock you begin to feel the need of a little something--"
Fiona didn't deny it, and soon they were comfortably settled in the big, low, beamed kitchen of Little Nance, with its slate floor and great wide fireplace, enjoying glasses of creamy milk and splits spread with jam and cream.

From THE MOOCHERS ABROAD, Chapter 4, Curiouser and Curiouser.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No Trouble for Susan (Review)

NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN

PART ONE: THE OPUS

The eighth book in the Susan series begins on the first day of the Christmas holidays with Susan and the Carmichael family having their long, leisurely breakfast. During this meal, Midge delights in the fact that the dreaded Gascoigne family have gone skiing in Switzerland. However, there is a new enemy to be dealt with in Wichwood Village: Sir Arthur Symes, aka the Wicked Baronet, or Bad Bart for short. Susan is shocked to hear that this old miser is about to evict an elderly tenant, Mrs. Gregson, because she started a petition against him to prevent him tearing down the local theatre and building a block of flats on the site. And there are Bill’s new friends the Wichwood Players, the theatre company that is fighting tooth and nail to avoid eviction by the dastardly Bad Bart. All this news gives Susan two new crusades, but there is much more for her to heap on her plate before the morning is through. When the cousins call in on their friend Louella Foster at the local book shop, they find that she is having problems too. First of all, she is being plagued by a gang of urchins, led by Timmy the Terror, who come into her shop and knock things down and generally cause havoc. To make matters worse, Louella is also coming down with an illness and fears that she will be unable to keep on running her shop in the run-up to Christmas. Business is not so good because there is competition from a new book shop. Seizing an opportunity to help someone, Susan immediately offers to run the shop until Louella is back on her feet again. The indolent Carmichaels agree, albeit with much less enthusiasm than Susan.

The story now moves into top gear, with so many events that readers in later years find themselves surprised to discover that they all form part of the same story. Louella is diagnosed with mumps and ordered to take to bed, leaving the cousins in charge of the shop for far longer than they imagined. Susan dreams up a bargain bin and a lucky dip and tries out a number of ideas to generate new trade. The Wichwood Players visit the shop to borrow books as props. They are caricature theatre types, who call everyone dahling. They rope Charlotte into the play to replace a sick member of the cast. One of the series’ most memorable minor characters, the gossipy Mrs. Weatherby, storms into the shop one morning claiming that she lost her precious brooch there during an altercation with Timmy the Terror and his gang and insists that the children discover its whereabouts. Mrs. Gregson, the kind but rather dotty and forgetful widow, asks Susan to sell a valuable old book for her and the sly Sir Arthur tries to purchase it from the bargain bin. There is ice skating on the pond, with Timmy up to his usual nonsense and running afoul of Sir Arthur. A rival gang is out to get Timmy and cause even worse chaos in the village. But there is also the traditional carol singing, cozy meals and happy chatter. The story never slows down, and culminates with Charlotte’s premier night when she gets a pot stuck on her head and has to be replaced at the last minute by Midge, who falls asleep during the performance! Many minor characters give a touch of added flavour to the story: the tough Butch who tries a hold-up at the box office, the irascible producer, Jimmy Wilson, who shouts and seems incapable of anything else, and Charlotte’s potential suitors who all turn up to play Santa Claus at the shop on the same day. Further comedy is provided by Susan and Midge who, while acting as ushers at the theatre, send everyone to the wrong seats, incurring the wrath of the boisterous Mrs. Weatherby. But, as always, although there are many problems to be solved, we know that it is not a matter of if but how. How will Mrs. Gregson be spared eviction, how will the Players survive, how will the gang make a success of the book shop?

There are some developments in the lives of the characters. Bill’s policeman friend Joe Taylor is now a sergeant. Charlotte goes through not one but two new crazes. First of all, she informs a surprised Aunt Lucy that she has always wanted to work in a book shop. Then comes the acting, although this passion is extremely short-lived, the pot on her head dampening her enthusiasm. However, it is at the theatre that she discovers her niche in life: art. The book ends with Charlotte continuing at the theatre, but as a painter of scenery. This will lead to her going to Perugia the next year to study art. Susan and Midge, on the other hand, remain unchanged. Susan is the helpful busybody and Midge is the unenthusiastic sidekick who is dragged along for the ride. The author has clearly decided that allowing these girls, especially Susan, to “grow up” would take away some of the essence of their personalities. Another character that really breathes life into the tale is Wichwood Village itself. The whole story is set here but with so much variety and so much action that the reader never feels boxed in.

No Trouble for Susan is an excellent book and a joy to read. It was published in 1962 by Collins, is 192 pages long and lavishly illustrated by R. A. Branton, with a beautiful coloured frontispiece. It is easily one of the best not only of the Susan series but of all of Jane Shaw’s works. I would rate it at 9 out of 10, with a couple of reservations which are outlined below.

PART TWO: THE TURNING POINT

This publication was the last book of Jane Shaw’s to enjoy high sales. There would be no more Susan books for three years (after many years of almost regular annual publication), and the last three books, despite keeping to an incredibly high standard for so long a series, did not fare as well as their predecessors. The reason for this was the changing society of Great Britain in the mid 1960s and Jane Shaw’s unwillingness to conform to it in her books. No Trouble for Susan, despite all its laudable qualities and high standard of plotting and writing, was aimed at an audience that made up only a part of her potential readership: upper middle class children living in a semi-Victorian cocoon. Her portrayal of the working class children in the story as delinquents and thugs makes the book appear dated even for its time. All the working class people employ shocking grammar and dropped aitches and claim that they’ve done “nuffink”. They are rude and cruel for no other reason than that this is how they are expected to behave. Yes, there are working class children who behave this way, but the author has made it a rule that they must all do so (at least in this book; little Sid the orphan in the Penny stories is somewhat of an exception). Unlike her middle class characters, some of whom are nice and others not so pleasant, there is very little room for maneuver here. As a working class person myself, I can attest to the fact that there were indeed a number of Timmys at my school and in my neighbourhood, but there were also others who wanted to get on in life. Yes, there were the truants and vandals, but conversely many of us went on to be engineers, teachers, doctors and stockbrokers, and still more went on to “ordinary” jobs without turning to a life of crime or brawling in pubs. In the 1960s, The Beatles and Rolling Stones were showing that people from a less privileged background could be talented. Michael Caine and other actors were out to show that Cockneys could do more in the movies than touch their caps and say “Aw right, guvn’r”. This seems to be something Jane Shaw could never get to grips with or was simply unwilling to address. This may have been due to her living so far away in South Africa, only remotely aware of the changes and unable to observe them enough to write about them convincingly; or it may simply have been that now that she was comfortably into her fifties it was too late for her to change. However that may be, she was losing ground. Books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators were pouring in from America with heroes that did not go to public schools or have titled relatives. Children’s programmes on television were carefully crafted to be inclusive. Legendary BBC presenter Brian Cant recalls that he was instructed to avoid saying things like “you can do this at home on the lawn” because children in high-rise flats didn’t have lawns. In fact, roles were reversed. In the 1970s, politicians strove to be men of the people and downplayed any upper class connections they may have had. Aristocrats in the media were assigned comic roles, and anyone who employed the term “old boy” inevitably turned out to be a crook. The press began to take delight in stories about cash-strapped royals such as Princess Michael of Kent and barons who could no longer afford the upkeep of their stately homes. Although these portrayals were no less fair than depicting the working classes as unwashed, foul-mouthed yobs had been in the 1950s, they are examples of how society changes. And if you can’t keep up with the changes, you find yourself shunted aside. If Jane Shaw had been living in the UK in the 1960s, she may have been able to accompany these changes and avoid the stereotypes. Sid was based on a school friend of her son Ian’s, a boy named Johnny Orpen. This showed that when she had a chance to observe people, she could move away from the stereotypes. But she was far away in South Africa and No Trouble for Susan did indeed mark the beginning of her waning years as an author.

Fiffigt, Fifi!

The Swedish cover of Susan's Trying Term, showing the dramatic scene from Chapter 4, So Long at the Fair, when Susan catches a small boy who is thrown off a roundabout.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

No Trouble for Susan (frontispiece in B&W)

Timmy the Terror knocks down Sir Arthur Symes, the Wicked Baronet or Bad Bart, in No Trouble for Susan while skating on the pond in Wichwood Village.

Penny Foolish Blurb

Ricky, Julie and Fay

Rare black and white scan of Ricky, Julie and Fay, the heroines from Crooks Tour, in the short sequel Crooks Limited, 1962.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anything Can Happen illustration

From Chapter 5, Pierre tells the girls about Madame X.

Quote of the Day

"Now then, now then," cried Joe, who was always trying to sound like a proper policeman, "what's all this 'ere?" He ran towards the black figure which was still on its knees - and stopped as abruptly as if he had come up against a brick wall. "Sir Arthur!" he exclaimed.
Susan stopped too, wishing she had never started. Sir Arthur Symes was the terror of the neighbourhood.
Midge unobtrusively kicked the bowler again, a little harder this time, striking a blow for the widows and orphans. Tessa, still clutching the umbrella, looked on in terror at what she had done.
Sir Arthur was obviously in a flaming temper, muttering furiously, "Disgraceful... quiet stroll round the garden... set upon... dangerous young thugs... gang... set upon... HELP ME UP, TAYLOR, YOU FOOL!"

From A JOB FOR SUSAN, Chapter 3, Encounter with an Ogre.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the Bird Market

One of my favourite parts of the Thomas books is Chapter 6 of Looking After Thomas, when the Warings go to the little bird market near Notre Dame and Uncle Thomas buys two little birds for Thomas.

Quote of the Day

Of course, many of the customers knew the Carmichaels, and had to have the full story of Louella's illness and the girls' efforts to help her; and most of them were quite polite and patient except a terrifying old lady called Mrs. Weatherby who told them that they were obviously no possible use to Louella who would have been better advised to seek the help of Mrs. Weatherby herself.
"I can't understand why she didn't think of me," said Mrs. Weatherby, "she knows that I'm a real book-worm and that I should have been delighted to help her. I'm amazed that she didn't think of me. I've often hinted that I should consider a partnership if she wanted some expert help, but all she said was that Mrs. Telford has a B.A. degree. A degree! Everybody knows that all the degrees in the world won't give you the feeling for books. You young people," she boomed, while the other customers in the shop listened with interest, "you young people know nothing about books these days. Used to nothing but comic strips and television, whereas as a child my dear father used to read Kipling and Dickens and Sir Walter Scott to us every Sunday evening-"

From NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN, Chapter 2, Crisis. The gang's first encounter with the infamous Mrs. Weatherby.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Threepenny Bit illustration

Penny's first contact with Marietjie is not so pleasant. The angry South African girl throws her grandfather's old coins out the window in frustration, thinking that they are worthless. Penny knows better and goes to explain to the new girl that the coins are Maundy Money.

Quote for the Season

There had been a slight difference of opinion among the carol-singers as to what they should sing, some voting for the old favourites like The Holly and the Ivy and Good King Wenceslas; the others, particularly the Hepburns, suggesting that something a little more unusual should be tried. Jennifer had shuddered in her affected way. "No, no," she said, "I couldn't, simply couldn't, sing Good King Wenceslas. David has some heavenly carols that they sang in his college choir. Go on, David, sing some of them-"
"Yes, well, they're jolly nice," said Midge after they had listened, "but don't forget that half the people to whom we'll be singing are expecting Good King Wenceslas and so on, and they won't realise that these are carols-"
"We could have some of each," said Charlotte.

From NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN, Chapter 8, Carol-singing. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Foiled Heist

From Chapter 3 of Fourpenny Fair: Operation Primrose. Penny and John put an end to a jewel robbery.

Quote for the Season

Bill, who had cut holly before, was not quite so enthusiastic. However, he cut away cheerfully enough, climbed into the holly trees, climbed up the steps, reached for the branches with the most berries; while Susan gathered the cut branches and tied them together and piled high the wheeelbarrow.
They had trundled two loads down to St. Francis's where they had been greeted most warmly by the people who were decorating the church and they had decided that another load would be just about enough or there would be no holly left on the trees for horrible Sir Arthur - not to mention the fact that they were getting jolly tired. It was no joke climbing in among all those prickles, Bill pointed out...

From A JOB FOR SUSAN, Chapter 14, Heigh-ho the Holly.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bernese Adventure (frontispiece)

Thanks to my new friend Pam Kirkland for sending me this wonderful scan from the second of the Caroline and Sara series, Bernese Adventure. Illustrations from the Sara and Caroline stories are not easy to come by, mostly because very few were ever drawn, and what did appear was not used in every edition. This one from the 1953 Seagull edition of Bernese Adventure shows the group at the top of the Drachenfels. A rare find for me and a great addition to the blog. Thanks again to Pam, and to Pam Airth from Cape Town for introducing the topic of Jane Shaw's birthday on GO. This is what I call team work!  

Quote of the Day

Susan was doing her homework. And doing it rather well too, she thought complacently, drawing a line under the theorem that she had just proved. "I quite like geometry," she thought. "If you have a decent point on your pencil. And algebra's not bad. But I don't like arithmetic-"

From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 1, Changes. In this opening paragraph of the very first book in the series, Susan seems to be a little bit more dedicated to her school work at her school in Glasgow than she proves to be at St. Ronan's the next year! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Venture to South Africa (Review)

Today, 3 December 2011, is Jane Shaw’s 101st birthday and it seems appropriate that if I’m going to review one of her books on this day, it ought to be Venture to South Africa. This story was originally written and sold to Lutterworth Press, which had recently published her two Moochers stories, in 1953 under the title Venture to Africa. Lutterworth later sold it to Nelson, the publisher of the highly successful Penny books, and it eventually saw the light of day in 1960.



The story chronicles the transition of the Eliot family from their home in a comfortable London suburb to Johannesburg. The central character is fourteen-year-old Jennifer, who from the very beginning detests the idea of moving away from England. But her father’s doctors have told him that his fragile health requires him to live in a drier, warmer climate than muggy London. So, along with her mother, her cousin Eleanor and her little brother Mike (12) and sister Belinda (10), whose nickname is Blinky, they set sail on the Dumbarton Castle.

Three whole chapters are dedicated to the voyage on the ship. Along the way the children enjoy good meals, the swimming pool and games. They meet the Rivett twins, Candy and Peter, who become their new friends, although Jennifer, against everything South African, takes an instant dislike to Candy. They visit their dog, Susan, in the ship’s kennel. And along the way they stop at Las Palmas, where Belinda and Mike try to cheer Jennifer up by getting her a little white puppy and smuggling it on board. Jennifer loves the dog, whom the children name Little Black Sambo, but she is determined not to like South Africa, which they reach a few days later.

Dr. Eliot greets his family in Cape Town. Having managed by good fortune to smuggle Sambo through customs, the family set off for the long drive to Johannesburg. All of the family are impressed by the new country, although some things about Johannesburg surprise them, e.g., people resting on the roadside at lunchtime. Their lives are documented as they find a place to live, schools, a social life, extra-curricular activities, such as riding and swimming, and friends. Regular riding classes and swimming all year round are things that Jennifer finds hard to resist, and it is obvious that she enjoys them, but she has set her mind on criticizing South Africa at every opportunity. She deliberately gets bad marks at school and picks fights with the other girls in her class whenever they mention British rule.

But the family in general, even Jennifer (secretly), love the visits to the Game Reserve and Loch Vaal, all lovingly described. They enjoy braaivleis, a South African form of barbecue. The younger children happily adopt the local dialect, with words like dabby and gee. Jennifer, of course, refuses to make use of this “ridiculous” form of speech. Mike and Blinky, in their last desperate attempt to improve Jennifer’s mood, buy her a pony from a ragged native boy, with inevitable disastrous consequences. At Christmas they love shopping in Johannesburg and comparing Christmas in the blazing hot sun of South Africa with the festive season back in the freezing United Kingdom. But the underlying theme of Jennifer’s misery permeates the whole story, and in the end even her family tire of her attitude until there is a dramatic showdown between her and her mother that apparently opens her eyes at last.

Like all Jane Shaw stories, this one is well plotted and very consistent in characterization. The descriptions of South Africa are detailed but not overstretched to the point where the reader becomes bored by it. There is the usual comedy and carefree banter between the children and lots of excitement as the new vistas of life in another country are revealed and the family have to adapt to the ways of others and learn to respect them. We learn a great deal about South Africa in the same way that we learn about Brittany in Breton Adventure and Switzerland in Crooks Tour and Susan Interferes, more so as a matter of fact, as the other books are not quite so rich in detail. There is also drama when a lion sits on the bonnet of the Eliots’ car and when Jennifer is confronted by Candy after a gymkhana in a dispute over her pony.

However, there are also differences. This book is one of only four single titles (the others being The House of the Glimmering Light, The Crew of the Belinda and Crooks Tour) in the Jane Shaw oeuvre. And while most of her characters happily blunder along, this story is perhaps the only one where we see a leading character in absolute misery (even for Belle in Susan's Helping Hand things turn out well in the end). It is also unusual in that the ending is not such a happy one. Jennifer reaches the end of the story in a reflective mood and with thoughts that are not exactly joyful; in fact they are quite solemn. That is not to say that there have not been other books where not all has ended well for the main characters. Let us take a look at the closing lines of Susan Muddles Through, when Aunt Lucy receives a letter from Selina Gascoigne:

Darling Gabrielle has been so happy with Midge and Susan that I think it would be nice for them to see more of her. So I have written to their headmistress in Kent to ask if she can squeeze Gabrielle in next term… I’m sure Miss Phillimore will find a place for her. Tell Midge and Susan, I know they’ll be pleased.

Is this a “happy” ending for Susan and Midge? Of course not. But the reader laughs, imagining the conflicts and comic situations that lie ahead. Let us also consider the end of New House at Northmead:

To have restored his picture to Lord Claire was some consolation. There weren’t many others; for in the end-of-term results New House came bottom in every House competition with unfailing regularity.
“Gosh, it’s bad,” said Nicky. “Bottom in everything.”
“Never mind,” said Kay, joyfully throwing clothes, shoes, books into her trunk, “next term we’ll fix it.”

Again, the girls have worked throughout the story to make something of New House and failed miserably. But now they’re off on holiday without a care and the reader doesn’t feel sorry for them. Quite a contrast to Jennifer’s final thoughts in Venture to South Africa as she accepts that living in South Africa isn’t so bad after all but she can’t help pining for her homeland.

What also sets this book apart from the rest is that it is clearly the most autobiographical of Jane Shaw’s works. Jennifer Eliot’s initials, J.E., might also stand for Jean Evans (in 1937 Jean Patrick married Robert Evans). Jennifer went to South Africa because of her father; Jean Evans went because of her husband. The story was written in 1952-53; Jean Evans moved to South Africa in 1952. Jennifer sailed on the Dumbarton Castle; Jean Evans sailed on the Warwick Castle. Jennifer never gives up her dream of returning to Britain; neither does Jean Evans. When Robert retired in 1978, their first move was to return to Scotland, setting up house on Arran. Of course, other books of Jane Shaw’s were based on trips she had made. Highland Holiday is a return to her youthful days holidaying on Arran. The trips to Switzerland that feature in her stories follow routes she took with friends and family and on her honeymoon. But all her other characters returned home and none of these books have such a personal feel about them as does the story of the Eliot family. Jane Shaw learned to love South Africa and it was used as a location in three other stories: Fivepenny Mystery, the opening of which is set in Johannesburg; The Matchmakers, a short story published in the Collins’ Girls’ Annual 1960; and Nothing Happened After All, the second Dizzy and Alison novel. Jennifer’s story is also told in reverse in New House at Northmead, when Lynette has trouble adapting to England after spending most of her life in Rhodesia.

I enjoyed Venture to South Africa a great deal and highly recommend this realistic and honest story, which provides some insight into the feelings of Jane Shaw herself as she underwent the experience of leaving everything behind to go overseas at a time when travelling to South Africa took weeks rather than hours and visits home were few and far between. An excellent story, and I give it nine out of ten.

Surfeit of Santas

An illustration from Chapter 7 of No Trouble for Susan, A Surfeit of Santas. To curry favour with Charlotte, John Hunter, David Hepburn and Jeremy Vernon show up at Louella's book shop in Santa Claus outfits. At first all three are furious at their rivals for Charlotte's attention, but they soon see the funny side of it. It turns out to be a stroke of luck for the girls to have these three young men in the shop because Butch and his gang of louts are planning a rotten egg attack.

Quote of the Season

And all this time Christmas was rapidly approaching; the shops broke out in a perfect rash of reindeer and tinsel, Christmas cards appeared on the counters, and the schools broke up for the long summer holidays. Dr. and Mrs. Eliot had told the family long ago that there would be no seaside holiday this year, but Uncle Alec had promised them the cottage at Loch Vaal for as long as they liked; and also a visit to the Kruger National Park was promised, although all their friends objected that it was not the proper season; so these were delights to look forward to when Christmas was over.

From VENTURE TO SOUTH AFRICA, Chapter 10, Christmas Holidays.

Jane Shaw 101

Jane Shaw was born Jeanie Bell Shaw Patrick in Glasgow on 3 December 1910, the youngest child of Dr. John Patrick and his wife Margaret (née Shaw). Jean, as she was known, was born into a professional, middle-class family; like his father William, John had studied medicine at Glasgow University, graduating MB, CM in 1893... Jean was first  taught at home by a governess, but when she was eight her parents sent her to Park School at 25 Lynedoch Street, about five minutes' walk from their home.

From A GLASGOW GIRL, by Alison J. Lindsay, Chapter 2 of Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion.

Yes, today is Jane Shaw's 101st birthday. Although she passed away in 2000, just a few days short of turning ninety, she is fondly remembered by thousands of readers around the world who enjoyed the Susan and Penny books and the many others she wrote. Susan and Friends was in preparation when she passed away and she was pleased that her works would enjoy a bit of a revival, although she was reportedly very modest about her achievements as an author. All that aside, I for one feel that the Jane Shaw experience has really brightened up the past two years and provided me with many fun moments, which was the purpose of her books to begin with. Sometimes we get carried away with concerns about a writer's place in history and their literary legacy. But at the end of the day, it's all about telling a good story. And nobody does that better than Jane Shaw. So happy birthday Jane!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jane Shaw on Deadlines

In 1970, Jane Shaw gave was interviewed by the Johannesburg Star. In that interview, she revealed that she needed a deadline hanging over her to get some work done. Many readers must have imagined her as the dedicated writer, churning out one book after another for her fans. Although this is an attractive image of a favourite author, the reality was a little different. She told the newspaper: "If you knew the schemes I devise to avoid getting started... like cleaning cupboards, which is always a sign in our home that I should be working." Another surprise is that writing was not her main occupation. During her years in South Africa, where her husband Robert Evans worked as an accountant, she worked in the Children's Bookshop, and her writing was a secondary activity reserved for evenings and weekends. She would write with a notebook and pens and pencils balanced on her knee. Then she would type out her stories on a flimsy portable typewriter on her dining-room table. There were few changes between the first draft and the finished product, evidence that her plots were carefully worked out before she began the writing proper. In some cases the characters' names would be left blank, only being decided on after the story was finished.

Susan Rushes In

An alternative spine from Susan Rushes In. 

Quote of the Day

Penny was to eat her words before the day was out. She had often, in Cornwall and on small farms in remote places, seen people stooking corn, standing the sheaves in triangular stooks, and she had thought that it looked very pretty and quite easy. It was a big shock to her when she first tried it for herself. To begin with, each sheaf weighed about a ton and, she discovered, to hold one while propping another couple or so against it really needed three hands, for as soon as she got one sheaf upright two others fell down.

From CROOKED SIXPENCE, Chapter 3, Fair Waved the Golden Corn.

Crooked Sixpence (illustration)

From Chapter 3 of Crooked Sixpence, Fair Waved the Golden Corn. Penny and Laura help Mrs. Greenwood, who has hurt her leg.

Jane Shaw Encyclopedia

Progress on my Jane Shaw Guide or Encyclopedia has been slow, but every now and then I manage to add something. Here's all that has been done so far.

Amanda’s Spies

Amanda’s Spies is a short story that was published in the Collins’ Girls’ Annual 1941. It was to be the first of many Jane Shaw stories to be printed in various annuals over the next twenty-two years. The story is set during World War II in Scotland, more precisely on Loch Ard near Aberfoyle, and stars two girls, Elizabeth and Amanda (their surnames are not given). To escape the horrors of the war, Elizabeth has been sent to stay with Amanda in this out-of-the-way place and is grateful for the relative safety that the remote location offers. Amanda is a more adventurous type and wishes to emulate the achievements of a woman she has read about in the newspaper who reportedly captured a Nazi spy single-handed. Riding around the loch in their dinghy, they are caught in the rain and decide to seek shelter at Larachbeg, the house of a local school mistress, Miss Potts, known to the girls as Potty. No one has seen the woman for some time and the girls believe she is off in the army, although she is also known to have inherited a healthy legacy and may be off on holiday somewhere. With Nazi spies on the brain, Amanda and Elizabeth are shocked to hear a voice calling out in German as they approach the house. After considerable confusion, it is revealed that Miss Potts is holed up in the house training parrots to carry messages. Carrier pigeons, she explains to the girls, can be caught and their messages read, but her parrots memorise the messages and only reveal them after hearing a password. The parrots are also taught some German words to confuse any enemy agent that might capture them. When the girls voice their scepticism, Miss Potts admits sadly that this unlikely scheme has so far only met with moderate success, to put it lightly. The story rounds off with a sharp and comical exchange between Amanda and one of the parrots.

This would be the only appearance of Elizabeth and Amanda in Jane Shaw’s work, and also the only time that Loch Ard was used as a setting for one of her stories. Amanda’s Spies is not the most memorable of the author’s tales, but it is a good solid story that shows signs of great things to come and also paved the way for her to become one of the most important contributors to Collins’ annuals for children of all ages for the next two decades.

Carlisle, Rock

Rock Carlisle is a famous writer of thrillers with tough characters who use tough American slang. In Susan and the Spae Wife, Susan and the Carmichaels are delighted that he will be a special guest at the church fête on the isle of Arran. Susan expects that he will turn up “with a gun under each arm and a switch-knife between his teeth”. But Mr. Carlisle actually turns out to be a short, fat bald man. After a robbery at the local bank, the teller can only remember one detail about the hold-up man: the scar on his hand. When Susan sees a scar on Mr. Carlisle’s hand while she is telling his fortune, she attacks him, giving him a black eye, and accuses him of being the thief. Lady Alison and the minister are shocked and Susan is forced to apologize. However, the day before he leaves the island, Rock Carlisle visits Susan and confesses that he is indeed the bank robber, explaining that he needs to experience events for himself before including them in his stories. He gives the stolen money to Susan and asks her to return it to the bank once he has got safely of the island. Susan and the Spae Wife is Mr. Carlisle’s only appearance in a Jane Shaw story.

Harding, Jennifer

Jennifer Harding is a young woman and friend of the Carmichaels who lives in the centre of Wichwood Village with her mother and little brother Michael. At the beginning of Susan and the Home-made Bomb, Jennifer has been awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Sloane School of Art, but cannot afford to take it because she has to help her mother keep the house and get a job as a secretary to help make ends meet. Gabrielle Gascoigne accompanies Susan and the Carmichaels to tea at the Harding home to talk to Jennifer about setting up a meeting with a director of the Sloane, Tootsy Fitzgerald. During tea, Peregrine plants a home-made bomb in front of the fire. Susan throws it into the fire and there is a terrible explosion. Susan loses her eyelashes and eyebrows and there is damage to the room. But Jennifer notices a scratch in a worthless old painting by her late grandfather and discovers that there is another painting underneath. This turns out to be an Italian Primitive, a Fra Angelico. The Hardings sell the painting for £7000. They use the money to refurbish their house and convert it into flats that they can rent, and of course Jennifer will be able to go to the Sloane School without help from the Gascoignes.

Susan and the Home-made Bomb is Jennifer’s only appearance in a Jane Shaw story.

Magic Ships

Magic Ships is a short and lavishly illustrated book for young children, published in 1943 by Collins. It begins with Robin and his sister Jane being taken for a tour of the R. M. S. Queen Mary on the River Clyde in Glasgow. Robin is looking for material for the history essay assigned to him by Snooker, his history teacher. The children’s Uncle Archie is the Chief Engineer of the ship. He tells them they can play in a room full of toys. A sailor doll comes to life and turns Robin into a cabin boy and Jane into a ship’s cat before sending them on a series of adventures in time. The children are first transported to Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria. When he meets Columbus, Robin blurts out things about his future and the crew mistake him for a wizard and throw them off the ship. They then find themselves on board the Golden Hind and meet Sir Francis Drake. More adventures follow on other ships until they find themselves back in the playroom on the Queen Mary as Robin and Jane again, where they are reunited with their father and uncle. Robin is happy that he has enough material to do at least ten essays.


Mr. Egg

Mr. Egg is an abstract metal sculpture by Tertius Smith, an artist in Wichwood Village, and spends some time on display at the Little Gallery. It features heavily in three chapters of A Job for Susan. When Bill takes a cleaning job at the gallery, Susan, Midge and Tessa pitch in to help him. While cleaning the curious egg-shaped work, Tessa knocks it into a bucket of water. After cleaning it, she puts it back on its pedestal upside down and dresses it up in a raincoat and balaclava and gives it its nickname, incurring the wrath of the offended artist. Mr. Smith then arranges to remove his work from the gallery for repair, but Susan thinks he is a thief and calls the police. The furious Mr. Smith removes all his work from the gallery. The ultimate fate of Mr. Egg is not given, and whether Mr. Smith ever managed to sell it remains a mystery.

Redfern, Judy

Described on the first page of Northmead Nuisance as little, round, merry and red-haired, Judy is a new girl in the Fourth Form at Northmead. She surprises the other girls by telling them that going to a boarding school has been her lifelong dream; she is looking forward to joining clubs and getting involved in the school play. Unfortunately, her unbridled enthusiasm is not matched by talent. She is clumsy, careless and accident prone. On her first visit to Appleacre, she falls into the pond, and on the second she plunges into a quarry. When put in charge of scenery for the school play she sends it all crashing down during rehearsals. In a hurry to get to the hockey game, she leaves a tap running with the plug in the sink, causing a mini flood in the school and her friend Gail to slip and break her wrist. After Gail makes some vague predictions while reading tea leaves, which apparently come true, Judy believes that her friend has mystical powers and avidly studies the questions in an exam paper that Gail pretends to see from afar using second sight, resulting in her coming top of the class in History with a 92. However, she innocently spills the beans and blurts out to the teacher that she knew the questions in advance, resulting in her and her friends getting no points. Despite her blundering behaviour, which always makes her bright red with embarrassment, she is liked by the other girls and is quickly accepted into Nicky and Kay’s circle of friends. Judy is fourteen years old at the start of term, and celebrates her birthday just before the half-term holiday. Before moving to Northmead, she studied at a day school in London called St. Mary’s.

Susan and the Spae Wife

Susan and the Spae wife is the last of four short stories about Susan Lyle and her cousins the Carmichaels. It was published in the Collins’ Girls’ Annual 1960. While on holiday in Arran, the gang are roped into helping at the local fête, and Susan and Midge are given the job of collecting the takings at the tent of the spae wife (fortune teller). Along with all the stalls and festivities, an added attraction is the presence of a famous novelist, Mr. Rock Carlisle. When Mirren, the spae wife, is called away on a family emergency, Susan takes her place in disguise and surprises her unsuspecting friends and family by telling them the details of their life with amazing accuracy. However, Susan also hopes to use her new job to discover the identity of a daring robber. The day before the fête there was a daring hold up at the bank, with the thief making off with five hundred pounds. The bank teller told Susan that the thief had a scar on his hand. When a little fat bald man enters the tent, Susan attacks him during the reading of his palm because he has a scar on his hand. The ensuing uproar brings the minister and Lady Alison into the tent. Susan is embarrassed and stunned when she discovers that the little man is actually Rock Carlisle. She is forced to apologize. But next day Mr. Carlisle visits her and admits that he was the robber after all, claiming that he needs to experience events for real before putting them in his books. He asks Susan to return the money once he is safely off the island.

Susan and the Spae Wife was published in the same year as Susan Muddles Through, also set in Arran. These were the last of the four Jane Shaw stories to take place there, the others being Highland Holiday (1942) and Penny Foolish (1953). The style of the story is a little different from the average Jane Shaw tale in that instead of being told in sequence, this story begins with the gang looking back at the events after they take place. In addition to the Collins annual, the story was reprinted in 2002 in Susan and Friends.  

‘Ware Warings!

‘Ware Warings! is the battle-cry of the Waring family in the Thomas books. It is used against Paris underworld figure Le Singe in Looking After Thomas, and the mysterious Man (real name Mr. Collet) in Willow Green Mystery. It is also the title of the respective chapters in these two books. In the third book of the series, The Tall Man, the battle-cry is not used.

Full Rulle, Fifi!

This is the last of the Susan books to be published in Swedish, No Trouble for Susan. The cover shows the scene from Chapter 13, Mad Success, when Charlotte gets a saucepan stuck on her head. This is my favourite of the Swedish covers. For more information on the Swedish editions of the Susan books, see Fifi and the Fish: Susan in Swedish, by Eva Löfgren, in Susan and Friends. This is an excellent article that tells us why the series was called Fifi in Swedish rather than Susan and provides a wealth of additional information.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quote of the Day

The boxes of dim and rather dreary pictures in heavy, dark and discoloured old frames, certainly did not seem very inviting. "Where d'you imagine these came from?" asked Tessa.
"Got left over when the St. Ronan's sold up the house, I should think," said Midge.
"So they can't possibly be worth a docken," said Susan. "Still, we've got to give the kids something and we've chucked out everything else-"
The pictures in the first box were mainly of a lot of dead animals, stags and the like, against a background of mountains and heather. Susan was aghast. "We can't give these to the kids," she said, "they'll have nightmares. Let's try the other box."

From SUSAN'S TRYING TERM, Chapter 12, Junk.

Susan's Trying Term (illustration)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quote of the Day

Clarissa waited till they were all singing again and then cautiously moved off; but she hadn't allowed for Miss Twidger, offended by the others' disbelief, watching the snowman out of the corner of her eye. Miss Twidger screamed again and pointed a trembling finger. "There!" she shrieked. "I told you! It's walking away!"
The carol came to a discordant stop. The Glee Club stared after the shuffling snowman. Scarcely able to shuffle for laughing, Clarissa hurried on as fast as her hobbled legs would let her.

From THE ADVENTURES OF A SNOWMAN.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Louise Escapes

Last time we saw Louise from Twopence Coloured, Marie foiled her escape from the Manoir de la Falaise. This time, in Chapter 14, The Rescue, she makes it and is happy when she meets Penny and Jill who have come to help her get away.

Quote of the Day

At the airport a surprise announcement awaited them. For reasons unspecified, Flight B.E.A. 506 had been delayed.
Sara's eyes gleamed. This was better! This was more like the thing! Their aircraft would burst into flames in mid-air and she would have a wonderful time rescuing everybody! Or maybe there was a fog in the Channel and they would be lost in the fog and would fnd the way to London for the pilot! Oh yes, this was certainly better!
Two hours later, when they were still sitting at Le Bourget, she wasn't so sure.
"John," she said, "really I'll die if I don't get something to eat! It's nearly nine o'clock and we haven't had a bite since that cake we had in the pâtisserie in the Rue St. Honoré and that was at four o'clock."
"For the three hundredth time, Sara," said John, "we have no money. Our last thousand francs went on that, that bunch of daisies." Vanessa pretended not to hear.

From SARA'S ADVENTURE.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Griselda and the Rain Fairies

Colour illustration from Griselda and the Rain Fairies, the first story in My Book of Elves and Fairies, published by Collins, undated but from the 1950s. This is the frontispiece, drawn by Mays.

Fritt Fram, Fifi!

The second of the Susan titles in Swedish, Susan's Helping Hand. Funny to see Susan wearing jeans and a T-shirt! Fritt fram means "Go ahead" or "You've been given the green light". It might even have a comic ring to it as in the English Carry On films, so that the title might be translated back into English as Carry On Susan. Note Jane Shaw's name on the signpost, even though the text makes it clear that the farm belongs to Cousin Barbara. This scene with the runaway lawnmower was also used in the later laminated board edition of the book by the Children's press, replacing the original with Susan and Bill hunting for clues at Folding Manor, although the Swedish version is far more over the top. The full list of titles and publication dates in Sweden are given below:

Fina fisken, Fifi!, 1965 (Susan Pulls the Strings)
Fritt fram, Fifi!, 1966 (Susan's Helping Hand)
Fara pa färde, Fifi!, 1967 (Susan Rushes In)
Det fixar, Fifi!, 1968 (Susan Interferes)
Farligt fiffel, Fifi!, 1969 (Susan at School)
Fula fiskar, Fifi!, 1970 (Susan Muddles Through)
Fiffigt, Fifi!, 1971 (Susan's Trying Term)
Full rulle, Fifi!, 1972 (No Trouble for Susan)

The Wonder Story Book

Another annual with a Jane Shaw story, this time Griselda and the Goblin. For more information about the Griselda stories,  click here.

Quote of the Day

"We must just come back another day," said Charlotte. "After all, the birthday isn't till Wednesday."
"And by that time they'll be sold, all the maps will be sold," Susan cried wildly. "I expect thousands of trippers will be in the village this week-end and they'll all buy maps!"
"I don't see how they can if the shop's shut," said Midge reasonably.
They trailed disconsolately back to the little shop and tried to peer in at the high windows, past the bright-coloured china and earthenware.
"Give me a buckie-up, somebody, I can't see," said Susan.
Bill kindly bent down and Susan scrambled up on his back. "Oh help," panted Bill, tottering, "this is more than I bargained for."

From SUSAN'S HELPING HAND, Chapter 6, Susan is Inquisitive. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Cat and the Cabin Boy (illustration)

Following Smoky's instructions, Ben hoists the Jolly Roger to let the crew of the merchantman know they are being assailed by pirates. From The Cat and the Cabin Boy.

Listen with Mother Tales No. 6

From 1949 to the mid 1960s, Jane Shaw penned some stories for BBC radio shows such as Listen with Mother and BBC Children's Hour. These recordings no longer exist, unfortunately, but one of the stories, A Tale of Three Puppies, which was broadcast four times between 1951 and 1959, survives because it was anthologized in Volume 6 of Five Listen with Mother Tales, edited by Jean Sutcliffe and published by Adprint in arrangement with the BBC. Jane Shaw also submitted two stories to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (The Elves and the Shoemaker, and The Cock and the Mouse and the Little Red Hen), both of which were accepted in August 1953. However, whether they were ever broadcast remains unknown.

The Jolly Play Book

Collins certainly got a lot of mileage out of their writers. Many Jane Shaw stories were anthologized twice or more over a number of years. This book, The Jolly Play Book, had a reprint of The Onion Man. You can see the cover of the annual I own with this short story by clicking here.

Fina Fisken, Fifi!

Fina Fisken, Fifi! (Fine Fish, Fifi!) is the Swedish title of Susan Pulls the Strings. The first eight Susan books were published in Swedish, in slightly abridged form, between 1965 and 1972. In Susan and Friends, a chapter by Eva Löfgren provides a lot of detail about the series in Sweden. Although Susan's name remained unaltered in the text itself, the publishers  felt obliged not to use the name Susan in the titles because they were already running a "Susan" series and wished to avoid confusing readers. So they opted for Fifi, which is the abbreviation for Josefina or Sofia, but also an endearing term used for girls in general. The Swedish titles all have alliteration with the letter F. As they were published from the mid 60s onwards, the girls' clothes are more modern than what they wear in the British illustrations. All the Swedish covers were illustrated by Heidi Lindgren.

Quote of the Day

For tea they had large hunks of home-made cherry cake that Mrs. Eliot had brought, and after tea they decided to set off for the Hippo Pool. They followed the signposts - TO THE HIPPO POOL, 13 MILES - and eventually came to two native huts and still another notice, TO THE HIPPOS.
"I see the Afrikaans name for a hippo is sea-cow," said Belinda. "How sweet!"
"Well," said Eleanor, "we call it river horse."
"We don't!" said Mike indignantly.
"I mean its derivation means river horse," said Eleanor, who knew things like that.
"Cow or horse," said Dr. Eliot, "this is the longest thirteen miles I've ever gone."

From VENTURE TO SOUTH AFRICA, Chapter 12, Big Game.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pea-green's Old Trick

Peregrine pulls his old stunt of frightening Susan by dressing up as a hairy monster in Susan's Trying Term, when the girls take a break from school in Wichwood Village.

Quote of the Day

"May I -ah - enquire," said the little man, and that was the way he spoke, like a book, an old-fasioned book, "what you were searching for?"
"A mouse," said Dotty.
"A mouse," said the little man. "Well, well." And he looked at Dotty more strangely than ever.
"Yes, my mouse," said Dotty, and then she went on, "and I'm really very sorry that I sat on your tent, but we thought that this place was more or less private. It's our special Mouse Training School-"
Red-face turned, with an even more bewildered expression, to the young man and asked him something, it was perfectly clear that he was asking if he thought Dotty was quite right in the head, but the young man was laughing again. I looked at them both very oddly; I was not at all sure that they were right in the head.
However, we all cheered up - especially Prune - when the young man said, "We were just going to have some tea - if the thermos has survived - would you like some?"

From  A GIRL WITH IDEAS, the novella written under the pen name Jean Bell in the 1960s but which was only published in Susan and Friends in 2002.