Monday, June 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

The three girls were lying on a flat rock overhanging the river. The hot African sun warmed their backs, below them the clear waters of the Umlambonja rushed by, round them towered the great mountains of the Drakensberg, the Horns, the Bell, the Cathedral Peak and opposite them the Baboon Rock: well-named, for the girls had often seen an old baboon crouching in just such a way on the mountain slopes while the flightier members of his family played around him. There were no houses in this remote spot among the mountains, only the hotel hidden in a fold of the hills, and, up and down the valley, the  native kraals with their round thatched huts like old-fashioned bee-hives. The sky was a deep and cloudless blue, nothing disturbed the stillness and the peace except the noisy brawling of the stream below, and far across the valley, a native boy on a Basuto pony was threading his way up a tiny mountain path.
Things were not quite so peaceful with the girls, who had other things on their minds besides the beauty of the mountains. They stared moodily at their sister Elizabeth, who was sun-bathing on the other side of the river, and at the young man who was sitting hunched beside her, his hands round his ankles, his chin on his knees. He was staring moodily at Elizabeth too. Sisters! Jennifer thought. The young ones aren't so bad, she thought, glancing at Jill and Tina, because mostly they do what they're told - eventually. But the ones old enough to get married give you nothing but trouble. "We'll have to prod her on," she said aloud.
"I should think so,"said Jill. "She could have been married twenty times over by now. I could have been a bridesmaid ages ago."

From THE MATCHMAKERS, Jane Shaw's only short story set in South Africa, published in 1959.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Places in Jane Shaw: Binic and Northmead

Jane Shaw had a habit of changing the names of places that her characters visited. Binic in Brittany was renamed St. Clos (Susan's Kind Heart), St. Brioc (Breton Adventure & The Moochers Abroad) and Kerdic (Twopence Coloured). However, after looking up the atlas and being unable to find these places, the sharp-eyed reader could identify it in the dedication to Twopence Coloured (For Katherine, Remembering Binic). In New House at Northmead, set in Kent, the girls visit two stately homes: Claire and Falconhurst. These are not real names, but the places are not so hard to identify. Claire (pictured above) is really Knole, a huge 16th century palace not far from Sevenoaks. Falconhurst (below) is really Penshurst Place, which is near Tunbridge Wells. It is not difficult to understand how Lynette became an English history enthusiast so quickly.

The Seine

In Chapter 9 of Anything Can Happen, Up Among the Gargoyles, Dizzy and Alison enjoy a walk along the Seine on their way to the tower of Notre Dame.

Quote of the Day

There was great excitement when Tessa got the letter about the USA from her father. At least, no one, according to Susan, had ever seen Tessa more excited than a half-dead fish in an aquarium at feeding time - "she opens her mouth a little wider than usual, that's all," Susan maintained - but Susan was excited enough for two anyway.
The letter came at breakfast time just before the Easter holidays, when everybody was pretty sick of school anyway and any diversion was welcome. Midge, Susan and Tessa were dallying over breakfast, reluctant to leave the warm dining room and face the icy March winds outside on their way to prayers, when the post was handed round by a prefect. Tessa read her letter in her slow deliberate way and Susan, who had no letters herself that morning, fidgeted. "Well, go on, tell," she said eventually when Tessa had been given enough time to read a book, "what's the news, Tessa?"
As usual, Tessa didn't answer directly. "You know my father?" she said.
"Of course I don't know your father," said Susan.  He's always abroad, never even comes to Speech Day-"
"No, well, but you know who I mean-"
"Och, I know who you mean."
"Yes, well, you know that he is in the Foreign Service?"
Susan said that she did know that, but she'd often wondered if Tessa hadn't made some sort of mistake about that, because she had always thought that these diplomatic types were supposed to be very clever, diplomatic and all that jazz, yet how could a clever diplomatic father have a dim daughter like Tessa?
Tessa was indignant. "Well, of course I haven't made a mistake," she said. "Surely I should know what my own father does?"
"Well, you would think so," said Susan, "but you know what you're like, Tessa, you never know what's going on half the time."

From SUSAN IN TROUBLE, the planned 12th Susan book. The plot has the girls planning to go to the USA and Mexico. However, Jane Shaw only wrote six pages of the book before abandoning it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Wilsons Won't Mind Illustration

An illustration from the first Susan short story, The Wilsons Won't Mind. Another case of the artist switching the characters. The text reads: Susan reluctantly picked up her wand while Midge wound the ancient gramophone. Every story states that Susan has dark hair and Midge has blond hair; yet they are often switched round by the artists. Puzzling. Having said that, it's still a pretty good drawing.

Quote of the Day

The "post-office" at Chitengo was rather touching too. It was a tiny hut, presided over by a huge African with the stupidest face that I have ever seen. We looked at him in dismay, for our wants were fairly complicated - airmail stamps for postcards to Johannesburg, France, England and Scotland, letters to England, sea-mail stamps for the postcards that we were too mean to send airmail, and the whole issue further complicated by Aunt Sophie who wanted to send an airmail postcard to a friend in Australia. None of us had the faintest idea of how many escudos would be needed - we had barely mastered how many escudos there were to a pound. But the postmaster, in his torn white shirt and khaki pants, took the whole thing in his stride, handed us out little bundles of stamps, airmail stickers and, in due coure, little piles of change.
"It just shows you," said Dizzy, "that appearances can be just as deceptive with Africans as with English. He looks a complete moron, but he must actually be a sort of mathematical genius to cope with that lot."

From NOTHING HAPPENED AFTER ALL, Chapter 7, Hatching Plots.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

R. M. S. Queen Mary, blazing with lights, lay berthed in the Clyde. Jane and Robin, slightly dazzled by the wonders they were seeing, were going over her with their father and the Chief Engineer - a very important person on board, it seemed, but only Uncle Archie to them.
They went down a sumptuous staircase - and again Robin bumped into Jane. "Robin," she said patiently, "that's the third time you've tramped on my heels."
"I can't help it," said Robin. "I can't write in my notebook and watch your heels at the same time."
"But," said Jane, "why d'you have to write in your notebook?"
"I told you. When Snooker - our history master - heard I was coming to see the Queen Mary he said I was to write an essay on 'Ships of To-day and Yesterday.' So I've got to take notes, haven't I?"
Jane said, "I'm glad I didn't tell anyone at my school-" And just then Uncle Archie opened a door.
"You pop in there for ten minutes," he said, and Jane and Robin found themselves in a lovely room, with bicycling bears and things painted on the walls and crowds of toys all over the floor.
"Oh," cried Jane, sliding down the chute, "isn't this fun?"
"Yes," said Robin gloomily. "But I'm worried about my essay." He poked with his foot at a sailor doll sitting on the floor. "You're a sailor," he said, "I wish you'd help."
"I might," said the sailor doll, "if you'd stop kicking me about. What d'you want?"
Robin was so surprised he didn't stop to ask questions: he just said, "I want to know about ships of long ago-"
"That's easy," said the sailor doll, "I'll put you on board one or two. What will you go as - Captain, or Mate, or-"
"Cabin-boy would be safer," said Robin modestly.
"Ship's cat would be safer still," said Jane.
"Right!" cried the sailor doll. And the room suddenly went dark...

From MAGIC SHIPS, Part One, Boarding the Queen Mary.

The Moochers Abroad

I finished reading this book last night. One of the terms I use most on this blog is "mind-boggling coincidence". For this story, I would need a much stronger word. Perhaps mind-blowing or astounding would do the trick...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New House at Northmead (Review)

Published by Nelson in 1961, this is the first of the two books about Northmead, a girls’ school in Kent. The story begins with Elizabeth and Anne, senior girls at the recently established and aptly named New House, lamenting that just as they have reached the upper echelons of Clarke’s House, where Elizabeth was about to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming head girl, they find themselves transferred to New House. They voice their concerns that only the less talented girls will be put in the house, thereby crippling their hopes of trophies and shields in sports events and intellectual competitions, a fear that is not unjustified.
The focus then shifts to the main characters, third-form girls Nicole Charteris and Kay Crawford. Unlike many of Jane Shaw’s other stars, such as Susan and Midge and Caroline and Sara, Nicky and Kay are not cousins. However, like most of the author’s other characters, they are skivers, being described as full of enthusiasm and wishing to improve the Form, the school and the human race which, unfortunately, doesn’t leave them much time for things like maths and Latin. There is a new girl at the school, Lynette du Toit, from Africa. She is having great difficulty in adapting to life in England, bemoaning the lack of sunshine, the fog and drizzle and the fact that she has no servants. The two busybodies decide to take her under their wing and show her how good England can really be.
However, there is an amusing episode before they get down to helping Lynette. Nicky and Kay decide to set up the New House Insurance Company. Other pupils can adhere to the scheme by paying a premium. In return, the co-owners will take care of lines, punishment exercises and house marks (the scheme promises to compensate house marks with sixpence). After a brief initial success, the whole thing backfires as the younger girls craftily catch on to the fact that they can actually make money from the scheme and start forcing teachers to give them house marks. Fortunately, the head mistress finds out about the venture and puts an end to it, much to the relief of Nicky and Kay, who can now turn their attention to the plight of the homesick Lynette.
The best way to make the “colonial” appreciate her new country is to show her England at its best, and what better way to do this than take her to a stately home? Lynette appreciates the beauty and grandeur of Claire and Falconhurst and becomes keen on English history. But there is another reason to be interested in these places. Paintings disappear from the houses, expensive pictures, replaced by clever forgeries. The authorities are baffled. The girls, however, are not. When they develop the photographs they took on their visits, they notice that on both days there was a man with a “woffling” moustache on the scene. Suspicion immediately falls on him, although no one can explain how he switches the paintings with hordes of visitors swarming around. However, on a second visit to Claire, the girls get locked in and have to be rescued. In the gallery with them is the man with the “woffly” moustache. When confronted by Lord Claire, this man introduces himself as Dr. Partridge, curator of an art gallery in Johannesburg. He rambles on, using fancy flowery language and talks his way out of the house. Lynette, who has lived in Johannesburg, knows that he is lying.
Back at school, the girls plunge into the sports events: the swimming gala and tennis tournament. New House does better than expected but... will they ever get a trophy? And as the term draws to a close and the day of the pageant arrives the girls notice, to their great surprise, that Dr. Partridge is in attendance. They take to calling him the “unspeakable” Dr. Partridge, which is very comical because he is a short, non-descript rather fussy middle-aged man, bursting with self importance but in no way evil looking. Why is he at the school? There is a big showdown with him. And suddenly the story ends with the girls going home for the holidays.
I found this a very enjoyable book, yet among Jane Shaw enthusiasts it does not seem to be very fondly remembered. This may be due to the huge anti-climax. At the swimming gala and tennis tournament, there are moments when you imagine that the New House underdogs can actually win. In other Jane Shaw books, no matter how incompetent or unlikely the characters are, things always pan out for them. The opposite happens here. In the Susan stories, the cousins come out with wild ideas that don’t come within shouting distance of common sense and yet their suspicions are usually justified. But not here. An element that runs through this story is that Lynette is painstakingly writing a history essay; quite a few pages are devoted to this. So you can’t help expecting her to win first prize. However, after the essays are handed in, they are simply never referred to again, the book ending with: 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.”
The target audience, i.e., children, cannot help feeling let down. They want New House to beat the odds and win at least one medal, they want Lynette to become an Anglophile and win the competition; yet the book just suddenly ends with the girls happy to get away and apparently not giving a toss. The only triumph is the capture of Dr. Partridge, although even that is not particularly dramatic. Instead of a chase or anxious search, what we get is:
Out of the corner of their eyes they saw the unspeakable Dr. Partridge tiptoeing off into the trees and Inspector Burford striding after him saying “Just a moment, Dr. Partridge, sir, if you please...”
Tiptoeing? He could have stolen a car with the police in hot pursuit. But no, another anti-climax. Even so, this aspect of the story was what I found most amusing. All that build-up for nothing! It’s quite funny when you come to think of it.
As always, the minor characters in the book are well written. There is the eccentric Elizabeth Byrd, known as the Sparrow. She’s always doing scientific experiments that Anne claims will “blow us all to glory”. Anne and Elizabeth, the despairing senior girls, are also interesting, as is Lord Claire and, of course, the unspeakable Dr. Partridge.
The best aspect of this book is the humour. As already noted, the anti-climax is a point in question. But there is also a great deal of less subtle humour, which even gets a bit slapstick at times. Anne and Elizabeth are amusing when discussing their future charges:
“All the terrors unloaded on New house.”
“Didn’t I tell you? They’re all either mad or bad-“
“Maniacs or morons-“
“Prim or potty-“
“Wild or wicked-“
“Nuts or nuisances-“
Nicky and Kay have their funny moments too:
“This is something like it!” said Nicky, bouncing more and more wildly in her efforts to hit the ceiling. “This is the first bed that I’ve ever had at school that has sound springs!”
“And your last, I should think,” said Kay, moderating her own bounces. “You needn’t think you’ll get another mattress if you go through that one.”
The best part of the book is Chapter 15, Rough Girls, when the indignant Dr. Partridge is knocked over by the girls:
Meantime, Dr. Partridge had struggled to a sitting position, shouting furiously and almost incoherently at the girls “...such treatment... after a friendly chat... scarcely expected to be set upon in this scandalous fashion... train to catch... important appointments in London...”
“Oh, put a sock in it!” said Kay rudely.
Dr. Partridge’s florid style of speech is also amusing:
“I had no choice, my dear sir, no choice in the matter at all. When carried away by my interest in your exquisite home... I became separated from the party of sightseers, I was not alarmed. I employed that little leisure time in looking again at my favourite pictures... Nor, when I descended the great staircase and found the door locked and barred, was I alarmed, I was merely happy to have a little longer among your treasures.”
Although viewed by many as a run-of-the-mill school story, I find that the story grows on you and you find more in its subtleties every time you read it. I would give this book 9 out of 10. I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up, Northmead Nuisance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fivepenny Mystery (4)

I'm now on the final chapters of Fivepenny Mystery. This morning I woke up early and read a few pages about the exciting kidnapping of Penny. Although abduction is a serious crime, Jane Shaw manages to work a lot of humour into it. Penny, who in the earlier books began to tremble if anyone so much as asked her for directions, is now standing up for herself. Earlier in the book, she tells Jill to shut up when her sister makes one of her sarcastic comments, and now she is not intimidated by Brown Hand, whose real name turns out to be Pifillitapoulos, whom Penny nicknames Piffle. The following dialogue is an example of the new Penny and the humour in Chapter 11, When Greek Meets Greek.

"You are staying with me till Saturday. Or I am keeling Agamemnon. You are doing what I am telling you. Or I am keeling Agamemnon. You are not shouting for help. Or I am keeling Agamemnon. You are not running to the police. Or I am-"
"All right, all right," said Penny testily. All this talk about killing Agamemnon was getting on her nerves. "I get the idea. I'm not stupid like the Nisosians..."

Piffle locks Penny in Agamemnon's caravan and forces Agamemnon to drive. Penny, knowing that Stephen and Deborah will guess what has happened (as they inevitably do) decides to blaze a trail, chucking Agamemnon's personal belonings onto the road. This above illustration shows her throwing a frying pan out of the window. Instead of landing on the road, it sails into a peasant's house, causing a furious uproar. This scene is hilarious. Fivepenny Mystery is definitely one of the most tightly plotted of Jane Shaw's books and a masterpiece in every detail.

Quote of the Day

The mumps epidemic hit Pendragon Manor School when the summer term was almost over. According to the Upper Fifth it was a silly time to have an epidemic, because the summer term was quite good fun anyway and not so much in need of some excitement as, say, the Easter term, when all those exams were going on. Besides, the epidemic was making havoc of the inter-house tennis matches. As if that weren't bad enough, those girls still walking about began to get more and more nervous as the holidays approached.
"Much as I dote on Pendragon," said Fiona Auchenvole morosely one day at tea-time in the Seniors' sitting-room of Manor House, "it's not my idea of where to spend a happy holiday."
"Oh, I don't know," said Isobel, "you might do worse. Lots of people come to Pendragon Haven for holidays. You might have been at a school in the middle of - in the middle of Liverpool, instead of on the coast of Cornwall."
"Bella, my pet," said Katherine Morton, "if you want to preserve our beautiful friendship, I'd advise you not to be so smug. Just because you had mumps as a child and will be setting off for your holidays in a week, you needn't think you can come pointing out the bright side to us."
Isobel was instantly apologetic. "Oh, Katherine, I'm not," she said. "Besides, I'm sure they'll let you go home, even if you are in quarantine."
"Oh, gracious yes," said Fiona, "I expect so. They've written to the parents about it. Mumps isn't one of the dangerous diseases after all...."
But at the end of the week, when the school officially broke up and all those who had had mumps had gone home, Fiona and Katherine, alone of Manor House, were still there.

From THE MOOCHERS ABROAD, Chapter 1, Three Letters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Looking After Thomas

The cover of Looking After Thomas, the first of the three books in the Thomas series.

Susan Rushes In

At the very beginning of the blog I posted a scan of my edition of Susan Rushes In. Here's an earlier cover, showing Susan and Midge's first encounter with Gabrielle Gascoigne. One of the complaints about Gabrielle was her hair. In the mid sixties the Carmichaels and Susan disliked the ghastly girl's closely cropped hairstyle. In the fifties they disliked her ponytail. However, Jane Shaw did move with the times a little. In Crooks Tour (1962), her heroine Ricky wore her hair in a ponytail. But the author found it hard to make other changes. Her heroines for the most part continued to live in their middle-class cocoons and act young for their age. Only Dizzy and Alison have any romance in their lives. Charlotte, despite being described throughout the Susan series as a great beauty, never has a boyfriend and her romance is limited to going to the cinema with Adrian Gascoigne and a couple of other young men.

Quote of the Day

They spent a delightful evening laying their plans, and preparing lengths of clothes-line to tie up the Mad Collector, and a gag. Susan had once been bound and gagged herself, and she insisted on a gag for the first enemy of society whom she happened to encounter.
"Now, what about the sleeping rota?" said Bill, determined to do the thing in a business-like way.
"I suppose it has occurred to you," said Charlotte, "that if once Midge goes to sleep nothing on this earth will wake her? Short of dynamite."
"And we haven't any dynamite," said Susan. "Bother."
"Well," said Midge, "if you think I'm going to stay awake all night just because I'm difficult to waken, you've got quite the wrong idea about how much I'll put up with."
"Midge and I can take the first two hours," said Susan. "From twelve - or whenever the old folk go to bed - until two."
"And it will be our job to waken Midge," said Charlotte gloomily, "at four o'clock."
"Oh well," said Bill, determined to keep cheerful at all costs, "I daresay he will come in the early part of the night."
"I dare say he won't come at all," said Midge. "What a sell that will be!"

From SUSAN'S HELPING HAND, Chapter 9, Behaviour of an Antique Dealer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New House at Northmead (illustration)

In Chapter 2 of New House at Northmead (New House Insurance Scheme), Miss Pollinger announces the termination of Nicky and Kay's insurance venture, which had backfired on them. I'm preparing a review of this excellent book. Although people have told me that the Northmead books are pretty standard school stories, I have to say that I found New House at Northmead to be a very entertaining story, especially the humour about the "unspeakable" Dr. Partridge, the fake head of an art gallery in South Africa, with his "woffling" moustache. The word "unspeakable" is used to great comic effect, since the man, despite his criminal activities, is actually pretty pathetic and nondescript, an echo of the unlikely (and somewhat ridiculous) crooked school master Mr. Port in Threepenny Bit.

As a footnote to this post, I am happy to say that I have recovered the bookmark of Table Bay, Cape Town, tucked into the back of my copy of New House, while researching this post. This was a gift from me from my friend Pam Airth from Cape Town, and I would have been very sad to lose it. It was one of those moments of distraction... But now it will be placed into the midst of Fivepenny Mystery and never mislaid again!

Quote of the Day

Before they had time properly to discuss the most providential recovery of their parent, Pips was waxing enthusiastic about her new clue.
"What clue?" said Lilias.
"Didn't you see him?" said Pips. "Sir Henry Chalmers with a pot of caviare."
"Oh, well," said Lilias, "people as wealthy as that probably eat caviare all day long."
Pips said flatly, "You needn't try to tell me that it's a usual thing for people to walk about with pots of caviare in their hands even if they're so wealthy that pound notes stick out of their ears. It's far from common - why Fanny and I didn't even know what it was! Do you know what caviare's like, Liz-bags?"
"No," said Elizabeth, who didn't know what she was talking about.
"There you are," said Pips, "I tell you it's a clue. At least if it's not a clue it's a link."
"What exactly," said Lilias, "does it link?"
"I don't know why I should bother explaining it to you, when you're all so rude about it," said Pips. And if I were a detective in a book I wouldn't explain a thing to you - I'd just look mysterious and..."
"I know," interrupted Fanny, "and it's maddening. That's why I never do read thrillers, apart from the blood, of course. I never see the importance of any clue and it's just like trying to read Greek or something. Don't let's have anything like that, Pips. Tell us as we go along or I'll not know what's happening."
"Nothing's happening," said Lilias.
"I suppose you call all those bad fivers nothing? And men attacking Belinda nothing?" said Pips, disgusted.
"And all that untying the boat and so on and we had to swim for it," Fanny reminded her.
"I like that 'we'," Pips murmured.
"What are you all talking about?" Elizabeth, looking slightly fogged, asked.
"Pips seems to know," said Lilias. "Pips is going to tell us."
Pips refused to be drawn. "Yes, but not till we get back to Belinda," she said. "I'm going to write it all down - that'll make it clearer."
"That's a comfort anyway," said Fanny.

From THE CREW OF THE BELINDA, Chapter 15, Re-union. 

Penny Foolish Illustration

After Jill catches her father's secretary, Miss Cook, up to funny business, Miss Cook and her accomplice try to catch her. Seizing her father's notebook with his secret work, she escapes to Euston Station and makes her way to Arran, followed by the crooks. Her presence on Arran has to be kept a secret, and she and Penny look for a place for Jill to sleep, settling on the shed at Rashiedrum. However, Penny is not so sure about her sister's new quarters. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fivepenny Mystery (3)

I'm now over halfway through the carefully plotted Fivepenny Mystery. This is the scene where Brown Hand attempts to kidnap Penny. She is recovering from chicken pox and cannot go into the village with the others when the car runs out of petrol and ends up dropping off in the front seat. When she wakes up, the villain is forcing the car door open. I'm really enjoying this story. Like the Susan stories, the Penny series just gets better and better.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fivepenny Mystery (2)

This week I’m reading Fivepenny Mystery. It’s unusual in that for the first two chapters and most of the third, Penny doesn’t appear at all. The book is split into two parts: Deborah’s Journey (3 chapters) and Persecution of Penny (13 chapters). Deborah is travelling to Austria to meet up with her cousins Penny and Jill. She begins her journey in Johannesburg, flying to Athens, Rome and Switzerland before finally joining her cousins in Innsbruck. She spends a couple of days in both Athens and Rome. But strange things are going on. A fake customs officer tries to steal something from her luggage and someone snatches the film out of her new camera. And she has no idea why! What’s happening? I’ll have to read on and find out. Deborah’s favourite city en route is Athens. This illustration shows her making her way around the city.

Quote of the Day

Most of the silly things that happen in our school are caused by my friend Dotty Ellis. Her real name of course isn't Dotty, it's Dorothea - can you imagine? - and that's what the staff and other grown-ups call her, but everybody else calls her Dotty, it suits her much better. There's nothing wrong with her brain, mind you, quite the reverse, it's just that she gets these ideas. There was one time last term, when she had spent all her pocket-money - on another of her ideas, I forget what - and she got this idea of doing everybody's maths prep for sixpence a time. It worked like anything for a while, too, and Dotty made stacks of cash, but as Dotty happens to be a sort of mathematical genius (her father really is a genius, top man in nuclear physics if you know what that means, we don't) we all got such good marks that eventually even Miss Parker, who isn't all that bright in the head, smelt a rat. There was a fearful row and Miss Parker wanted us all expelled, but after all you can hardly expel a whole form so we just had lots of boring old detentions and gatings and so on instead. It was maddening, we were all dying to be expelled and go home for an extra holiday.
Then another time Dotty thought that she would wire up the dorm so that she and I, who had been put at opposite ends for talking or something, could speak to each other in the middle of the night. So she wrote to her father for all the bits and pieces (she has no mother and he spoils her like mad) but before she had even got the thing going properly she'd got tangled up in the electricity and fused all the lights in the whole school and there was a bit of a rumpus about that.

From the novella A GIRL WITH IDEAS. The story is told in the first person by Denise Wilson and centres around Denise, Dotty and new girl Lisa Russell. Lisa secretly keeps a pet mouse in the school and Dotty has the idea of starting a mouse club. The story progresses from there in typical Jane Shaw fashion. The familiar elements are all there: lazy pupils, teachers with names that happen to form perfect nicknames, like Nosy Parker, and of course an ancient mystery to solve, this time it's not buried treasure but King Arthur's castle! In the mid 1960s, Jane Shaw began to use the pen name Jean Bell (although the final Susan books were, of course, published under the name of Jane Shaw). The result was two books for younger readers published in paperback in the Collins 'Spitfire' series in 1967. These books were Paddy Turns Detectives and The Penhallow Mystery. Collins also requested A Girl With Ideas, which began life as Adventures of a Mouse. This story was written before 1967 and later lengthened and expanded. Although it is excellent, Collins never got round to publishing it and it was only to see the light of day in Susan and Friends in 2002.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Northmead Nuisance

This is one I don't have yet, Northmead Nuisance, the second book about the school in Kent. I really enjoyed New House at Northmead and hope this book is up to the same standard. Most people who have written to me about it seem to think it's a pretty run-of-the-mill story. But we shall see... The only problem about this book is its price: the cheapest copy I've found is 170 GBP. But I'm hopeful that I can come across a better deal during my trip to the UK next month. 

Quote of the Day

Ricky slipped the newspaper cutting out of her desk and read it again. She had cut it out of the morning paper - much to her father's annoyance because he had not yet had a chance to read the paper - and she had been studying it at every suitable moment since. Not that this was a suitable moment, really, because it was in the middle of a history lesson, and she should have been listening to Miss Perry expounding the causes of the French Revolution instead of poring over a rather sensational newspaper cutting. However, it was to the cutting that she was gving all her attention:


it was headed, and it went on to say: Members of the public are warned of a gang operating in Glasgow and surrounding country districts. The gang drives up openly in a removal van to a house from which the owners are absent and empties the contents from the house into the van. This was the method thought to have been used when the house of Sir John McLintock in Whittington Gardens was burgled, as a removal van, which has since not been traced, was seen standing outside the house for two hours. Sir John McLintock, a former Lord Provost of the city - Ricky skipped that bit and hurried on to - the house of Mr. William Lambie, the well-known Glasgow surgeon, at Killearn, was also thought to have been robbed in this way. It is significant that both Sir John and Mr. Lambie are well-known collectors of art and antiques -
Miss Perry, glancing round the form, saw Ricky's studiously bent head, which was enough in itself to make her suspicious. She paused in what she was telling the form to say in her sarcastic way, "Erica has, I suppose, such a thorough knowledge of the causes of the French Revolution that she doesn't need to listen?"
Ricky, absorbed in her cutting, paid no attention. Anyone, the cutting finished, who can give any information about this furniture van should telephone the police immediately. Oh, goodness, she thought, if only I could see this van! I'd telephone the police all right! I'd-
Ricky jumped and looked up. "Yes, Miss Perry?"
"Have you a thorough knowledge of the causes of the French Revolution, Erica?"
Ricky gaped at Miss Perry. What a daft question! She didn't know the first thing about the French Revolution! Except, of course, what you could learn about it from The Scarlet Pimpernel. "Och, no, Miss Perry," she said.
"Then I suggest that as you apparently don't choose to listen in class, you can stay in this afternoon and make good the deficiency," said Miss Perry.
"Yes, Miss Perry," said Ricky, subdued.

From the short story CROOKS LIMITED.  

Crooks Limited

Here are two illustrations from the short story Crooks Limited, starring the Glaswegian trio Ricky, Julie and Fay. As I've mentioned before, the problem with this story is that the artist got Ricky and Fay mixed up. That spoiled it a bit for me...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tall Man Illustration

It's been a while since we had something from the Thomas books, so here's a nice illustration from The Tall Man. 

Quote of the Day

"Och, I know things haven't gone too well today," Susan admitted humbly, "but we'll show these Gascoignes in their true colours to Uncle Charles yet-"
"Unrelieved black," said Midge.
"Uh-huh. And meantime we ought to be thinking how we're going to raise five pounds to pay Mrs. Thorne's repairs."
"I wish I could find some wonderful arky- whatever you call it treasure like Charlotte said," said Bill. "I wish I could dig somewhere -"
"Well, not in the garden, ducky," said Midge hurriedly, following the direction of Bill's glance.
"It's an old house," Bill mused on, "and the foundations can't have been disturbed for years-"
"It's too late tonight," said Midge firmly. "It's practically pitch dark."
Charlotte said witheringly, "You don't find archaeological treasure in back gardens. You find it at Mycenae or on the site of Troy or Babylon, or in Crete or among the ruins of ancient Byzantine cities -"
Nobody knew what she was talking about. Bill said again obstinately, "Well, it's an old house-"
"Listen," said Charlotte. "This house is about two hundred years old and the ruins that Sir Arthur Evans found in Crete were six thousand years old - four thousand B. C."
"Help," said Bill, "that makes me feel quite tired."
"I'm not surprised," said Midge, "considering that it's long past your bed-time. In fact, we'd better all go in, and Bill, you'd better go to bed."

From SUSAN RUSHES IN, Chapter 4, The Ghost of Mr. Worthington.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

Her eyes nearly staring out of her head, Amanda whispered, "Shut up for goodness sake. Did you hear? Did you hear? That was German, that bit about donner and blitzkrieg - it means, oh, something or other. And the other one - did you hear him? It's a nest of spies, Nazi spies -"
Elizabeth swallowed once or twice, then croaked out, "Let's go back to our boat," and started to run. She looked neither to right nor to left until she reached the shore, then, panting with terror, she crawled underneath the dinghy. Her heart was beating so loudly she simply did not hear the approaching footsteps - heard nothing until the little boat creaked under the arrival of a heavy weight, and then her heart stopped beating altogether.
"Tut," Amanda clicked her tongue angrily and drummed her heels against the boat, "Where is the ass?"
A muffled and sepulchral voice form the depths answered, "You're practically sitting on me."
Amanda lifted the boat.
"Come in, do," said Elizabeth hospitably.
"Lily-livered knave," Amanda stormed. "What's the good of that? If they've heard us the first thing they'll look for is a boat, if they don't see us on the road, they'll tip this up and we'll be caught like rats."
"Let's go then," said Elizabeth, beginning to crawl rapidly away.
"Come here, poltroon," said Amanda, dragging her back by one pigtail. "We must have a plan."
"I have a plan," said Elizabeth, "I'm going home."

From the short story AMANDA'S SPIES, published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1941. This was Jane Shaw's first of many short stories that would be published over the next twenty-two years in a variety of annuals. Her last published short story was Jumble Sale in 1963.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Susan & the Spae Wife Illustration

When Mirren the spae wife (i.e. fortune teller) has to go home to look after her mother who has just suffered a broken leg, Susan takes over and tells people a lot of facts about their lives and makes lots of predictions, a role that she enjoys a great deal. From the short story Susan and the Spae Wife, published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1960. Set on Arran, this is the last of the four Susan short stories.

Quote of the Day

"Nothing ever happens to me," said Ricky Andersen, putting down the book that she had just finished and sighing gustily.
Her friends, Julie Mitchell and Fay Macdonald, had heard this gloomy grumble so often in the past that they did not even bother to glance up, far less answer. They went on with what they were doing, which was in Julie's case cataloguing a batch of new books for the library, and in Fay's case nothing.
The three girls were in the school library doing a spell of duty as library monitors; but as usual Julie was the only one who was doing any actual work - Ricky's idea of being a library monitor was to read all the books, and Fay's was to ignore the whole thing as far as possible and sit thinking her own thoughts.
Ricky's proper name, which she despised, was Erica; fortunately, however, no one called her by it, not even the mistresses except under extreme provocation. She was tall and long-legged, and her hair, which was done in a very neat pony-tail, was smooth and shining and so fair as to be almost flaxen. According to her friends, she had inherited her fairness and startlingly blue eyes form some remote Viking ancestor along with some very peculiar Viking ideas, like this constant itch for excitement. Ricky rather liked to dream about a remote Viking past and compare it unfavourably with a staid Glasgow present, living with her parents and two small brothers in a flat near the Botanic Gardens and going to a staid Glasgow day-school. Her life, as she would have put it herself, was one long wait for something to happen, one long search for excitement.

From CROOKS TOUR, Chapter 1, Excitement at Last?. These are the very first words by Jane Shaw that I ever read.

The Game Reserve

The most dramatic moment in Venture to South Africa is in Chapter 12, Big Game, when the Elliots visit the Game Reserve and a lion jumps onto the bonnet of their car. It is a particularly frightening moment for Dr. Elliot, who is outside the car mending a flat tyre when the lion approaches.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

And suddenly there was a new danger. The phantom footsteps ceased, and a voice rang out. "Come out at once!" the voice shouted. "Don't imagine that I cannot see you! Come out!" and the voice was the voice of Mr. Port!
Penny was much too frightened to come out. If he wanted her, he would have to drag her out - why, she couldn't even stand on her legs, they were trembling so much! And just as she was making plans to resist to the death, there was a crash, as if the whole school was tumbling down and taking a thousand buckets with it. When the echoes had died down she could hear Mr. Port muttering furiously; then came another crash and a light was switched on.
This is the end, Penny thought, and shut her eyes tight.

From THREEPENNY BIT, Chapter 14, The Clue. Mr. Port, a schoolmaster at Friars and known to the boys as Old Starboard, doesn't appear to be a mild-mannered teacher anymore.

In Pursuit of Penny

Mr. Port pursues Penny across the quadrangle of Friars School in Chapter 14 of Threepenny Bit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review of Highland Holiday

Published in 1942, Highland Holiday is the third and final novel of the Caroline and Sara series. It kicks off with the girls’ mothers going to visit them at the prize giving at their school. Sara’s mother breaks the news to the girls that they will not be going to Skye for the summer but will be returning to another old haunt of theirs instead: the isle of Arran, just off the Ayrshire coast. Unlike their other holidays, where the girls were accompanied only by Caroline’s sister Vanessa and her husband John, this time the whole extended family will be there, including Sara’s rascally little twin brothers, Rufus and Robin. And there will be another visitor from Sara’s side of the family: Jane, the daughter of her Uncle Thomas, a scientist who has returned to Scotland from Vienna. Sara and Caroline are delighted that they do not have to live in the big house the family has rented, having been given their independence by being allowed to occupy a small cottage on the same property (although they don’t enjoy this independence so much when it means having to cook their own meals).
Arriving on Arran, Sara takes an immediate dislike to Jane and feels that she is encroaching on her relationship with Caroline. At first unaware of this, Jane attempts to be friendly, but ends up overhearing Sara saying some nasty things about her. The result is that Jane begins to torment her cousin. Joining forces with Robin and Rufus, she gets to know all of Sara’s foibles and phobias, such as fear of mice, and makes Sara’s life a misery. Caroline, in the meantime, tries to keep up a good relationship with both. Instead of photography, which was her hobby in the previous stories, Sara has now taken to writing a novel, with the characters being loosely based on her companions on Arran. Jane uses Sara’s weak points and lack of confidence to make contradictory suggestions about the book, plunging the budding authoress into further depths of misery.
One familiar Jane Shaw element that is missing from this story is the lost treasure. In this story there is no cache of diamonds or forgotten masterpiece, but there are many other threads to fill the pages. The girls are cajoled into putting on a play at the local village festival and Sara takes on the task of writing it. This leads to a delightfully humorous scene in which Jane, the producer, almost tears her hair out in an attempt to get rehearsals started, only to be put off by one distraction after another. Uncle Thomas, a scientist who is working on a cure for the common cold, is baffled to discover that someone has broken into his laboratory and stolen his notes and his prototype formula. After he tells them that the serum actually induces a cold before it cures it, Sara gets it into her head that the Countess of Monmore, who was sneezing at the play, is the thief, and there is a hilarious chapter dedicated to pursuing the countess, who turns out to be allergic to hydrangeas. There is also a dramatic episode. Sara, having been forced to accept the hitherto unthinkable notion that Jane doesn’t like her, decides to try and be her friend. A suspicious Jane gives her a cool reception. But one day, while out swimming in the sea, they are almost attacked by a shark. Scrambling for safety on a rock, Jane slips and bumps her head. Sara then saves her life and helps her home. Jane is grateful and the feud is laid to rest.
Now only the missing formula remains. Caroline works out how the thief manages to remain in hiding and they set a trap for him. One typical Jane Shaw moment that is definitely not missing from this story is the mind-boggling conclusion. The thief turns out to be a German spy who believes that rather than working on a cure for the common cold, Uncle Thomas is actually working on a “deadly silent explosive”! The idea that such secret work could be conducted out in the open in an unguarded cottage requires a considerable stretch of the imagination. But there we have it… The book ends with a touching scene in which Sara offers to dedicate her book to Jane and Caroline (the dedication being the only words that she has actually got down on paper!). Jane gracefully accepts.
Highland Holiday is more in the vein of Breton Holiday than of Bernese Holiday. It has many descriptive scenes of Arran and the surrounding area and there are many meals and lazy afternoons in the sun. The girls are blessed with an unusually long hot summer, quite unlike the Scottish standard. It is a good, solid story, yet it was never reissued as an Adventure, as the others were. In Susan and Friends, when discussing Highland Holiday, Rosemary Auchmuty claims that
“Highland Holiday never enjoyed the success of its predecessors. I can only assume it was not reprinted in such quantities because it features a German spy for a villain. This dates it as a wartime novel (which, of course, it was) and had it reappeared alongside Breton Holiday and Bernese Holiday, it would have caused them to appear dated too.”
She then goes on to say:
“I don’t think that Highland Holiday is as good a book as the other two because I find the characters overdrawn and some of the humour, too.”
So we have two possible reasons why it was never reissued. I have to disagree with the first one. The German spy only makes his appearance in the final pages of the book. Throughout the entire story there had been almost no mention of the war and it does not impinge on the plot at all. The spy could easily have been recast as someone from a rival pharmaceutical company or a jealous doctor wishing to steal the formula for his own dastardly purposes. That leaves us with the other possibility: that the book simply wasn’t considered good enough to reissue. There seems to be considerable support for this point of view. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has read the book has claimed not to like it very much. But once again my opinion differs. I wouldn’t say the characters are overdrawn, apart from Sara (in Chapter 9 there are four pages of her rambling train of thought). However, I would say that if there is a fault in the book it is that part of the plot is overdrawn. I felt the story began to drag during Jane’s persecution of Sara. Making her think that there were mice in her room and shattering her confidence in her abilities as a writer was enough, but the torture went on to the point of bringing in witches and ghosts, and at that point the plot began to lose its way for a while. One aspect that would seem dated today is the red herring, the Indian wandering salesman. When she answers the door when he calls, Sara is surprised by a “black face”, although in the next line he is described as a “poor little Indian” who was “only coffee coloured, and not even black coffee”. There is some suspicion of him as he is seen wandering around on the night that the formula is stolen and a local woman voices her distaste of a “black man on the island”. However, her husband criticizes this point of view and the couple take the salesman into their home until he is cured of the cold he caught when he fell into the burn. Once again, these passages could easily have been rewritten.

I would give Highland Holiday 7 out of 10. Despite its occasional long-windedness, it is a solid tale and a fitting farewell to Jane Shaw's earliest heroines (although they would reappear briefly in the short story Sara's Adventure in 1953). It was also nice to get a closer look at characters that had only appeared or been referred to briefly in the previous stories, such as the twins and the girls' parents. The island of Arran is a perfect setting and is well depicted by the skilful pen of Jane Shaw. I'm glad I added this book to my collection.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Venture to South Africa (2)

First illustration from Venture to South Africa. I've just started reading this book and it promises to be a good story.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Susan Interferes

Quote of the Day

"Funny looking station," said Charlotte looking round. A large wheel whirled round above their heads from which came a cable making queer clanking noises.
"No train," said Midge.
Susan still said nothing. She was liking the idea of this cable-car less and less.
Bill's inspection of the station didn't take long as there was nothing to inspect. "Hey," he said, "here's a telephone, what d'you reckon that's for?"
Midge suggested that it was for summoning the ambulance when the cable-car crashed down the hillside to the bottom, which didn't improve Susan's peace of mind. Charlotte told Midge absently not to be silly and they all crowded round a very antiquated telephone which hung on the wall. Beside it was a notice in three languages. They supposed one of them to be English as it gave helpful instructions like Ring onc. Pic up receivre. Eventually Charlotte said doubtfully, "I think the idea is that when you want the cable-car you have to telephone to the top for it."
"For goodness sake!" said Midge. "Go on then Susie, ring for the thing."
"Who, me?" Susan squeaked.
"You're the one who wanted to go to Wissifluh."
"I didn't particularly want to go to Wissifluh," said Susan in an offhand voice. "In fact, I don't care if we give up the whole idea and go home."
Midge looked at her in surprise; but meantime Bill had tackled the telephone. He picked up the receiver and wound a handle. "Oh, hallo," they heard him saying. "I mean Bonjour, I mean Grüezi" (this word was the universal greeting in Switzerland, the one word that they had all learnt) "Voulez-vous, I mean..." There was a pause, then bill said, "Ja."
Susan said, "What did they say to you, Bill?"
"How should I know?" said Bill. "They were speaking some foreign language. Let's wait and see what happens."
What happened was that in a very few minutes a tiny speck began to swing down the thin silver thread and eventually there arrived at their feet a small red tin box.
Susan felt quite faint. She glanced at the others and was relieved to find rather anxious expressions on all their faces, which gave her the courage to say, "Are we supposed to go up a sheer mountain-side in that tin can?"
"I expect it's stronger than it looks," said Charlotte in a quavering voice.
"It had better be," said Midge.

From SUSAN INTERFERES, Chapter 5, Looking for Fräulein Amacher. Clearly, the Swiss mountains are no place for those without a head for heights!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Susan Muddles Through

The cover of Susan Muddles Through. This picture describes the quote of the day from 19 April, which you can see at

Quote of the Day

We hauled out a splendid collection - an old table with a wobbly leg, a bird-cage, two or three pictures, a vase with only a tiny chip in it, a chestnut-roaster, a silver toast-rack, black with age and lack of polish, a fire-screen, with a picture of a King Charles spaniel sewn on it, among other things - but when my mother saw them she started hauling them all back again. "Oh, darling," she said, "you can't have that, it's a lovely old table, it's only waiting until your father has time to fix the leg, Jennifer might be glad of it... and not the bird-cage, we'll have another budgie one of these days... and that toast-rack, not that, the Mortimers gave it to us for a wedding present, Lady Mortimer would be sure to notice it on the White Elephant stall and never speak to me again... but darling, your great-great-grandmother sewed that fire-screen, I couldn't part with that and I can easily mend that little bit where the moths have got at it when I have time." My mother is a bit of a hoarder.
But, eventually, she did screw herself up to part with a few things and promised when she had time to look them out.

From JUMBLE SALE, published in the Collins Annual 1963.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adventures of a Snowman (colour illustration)

Quote of the Day

Sara handed the butter to the woman with the red rose. Inspector Roberts loomed up from nowhere and took her by the arm.
And so Sara was a kind of heroine after all. Inspector Roberts, who had hopes he would be able to round up the whole smuggling organisation from his capture of the woman with the red rose and Sara's description of the little woman in black, was in high good humour and congratulated them all; and it was long past midnight when the weary four eventually tottered off to John's ancient and battered car.
Suddenly Sara gave a yell and clutched her stomach.
"Sara!" said Vanessa in a panic, "what is it now?"
Sara said, wide-eyed, "I've just remembered! I swallowed one of those diamonds!"

From SARA'S ADVENTURE, the short story from 1953, and the last words of the Sara and Caroline saga. A speciality of Jane Shaw's was the extended sentence that didn't leave you feeling out of breath. The second sentence of the second paragraph contains 44 words.