Monday, October 3, 2011

Jane Shaw Guide: 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.