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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New House at Northmead illustration

This picture from New House at Northmead shows the ladies from the Historical Society, Miss Inglis, Mrs. Pomfret and Miss Redfern,  discovering Lynette in the cloakroom. Meanwhile, outside the girls' plan to "fix" Miranda Patterson has gone badly wrong and Nicole and Kay are discovered by Miss Merriman.

Jane shaw Guide: 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.

Quote of the Day

Over their coffee and rolls next morning the Society for Outwitting Miss Grey Inc. held a meeting. Katherine wanted to know what Inc. meant and Celia said it was a thing societies were but she hadn't an idea of what it meant. "And I don't think it's very important, either," she said.
"It's foiling Miss Grey that's important," said Fiona. "Somehow we must see her without her glasses."
"And see the back of her neck," murmured Katherine.
"But how?" said Fiona, scooping some butter out of a little crock and carefully transferring it to her roll. "I mean, you can't just go up to her and tear the specs off her nose and the bun off her neck. At least I can't. Katherine might."

From THE MOOCHERS ABROAD, Chapter 7, Eclairs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


In Chapter 5 of Fourpenny Fair, Penny Goes into Commerce, Penny baptizes her Dachshund puppy Candy.


Working class characters in Jane Shaw's books are rare, and especially in No Trouble for Susan Timmy the Terror's gang of stereotyped Cockney street urchins gives the impression that the "lower" classes are all good-for-nothing trouble makers. However, in contrast, one of her most sympathetic characters, in the Penny books, is Sid the orphan. He is a quiet little boy with a stammer, who tries to avoid using rhyming slang. He recognized that calling a hat a "titfer" (titfer tat, i.e. tit for tat) won't get him far in life. In Susan and Friends, JS's son Ian Evans explains why Sid comes across so well. It was because he was based on a close friend of his: "the orphan Sid (Crooked Sixpence) was based on one of my school mates Johnny Orpen, whose hyperactivity when visiting our house for parties totally amazed my parents". Sid also played a key role in Fourpenny Fair.

Again, this is a facet of the changes that took place in Britain in the late fifties and especially in the 1960s. Michael Caine, for example, has often stated that one of his goals as an actor throughout his long career has been to improve the image of Cockneys. When he first entered the film industries, his class were limited to tipping their hats to the squire and saying "Aw right, guvn'r". In this he was successful. Britain moved away from the Eliza Doolittle model, where a working class person could only hope for recognition by "moving up" to a posh accent. With the arrival of The Beatles and the success of Glasgow Celtic and Manchester Utd. on the football field, the upper classes were no longer the idea role model. It was possible for working class people to make a name for themselves without aspiring to be socially upwardly mobile. In fact, being working class became fashionable. By the late 1970s, the children's TV show Grange Hill showed that the lives and problems of working class children could be just as interesting as those of the upper classes; more so, in fact. Ratings for Grange Hill were far higher than those of the TV dramatization of The Famous Five, who came to be seen as outdated. This was a factor in the decline of the works of Jane Shaw and other writers who lived in the secluded world of the upper and middle classes.

Nothing Happened After All (blurb)

Santa Maria

An illustration from MAGIC SHIPS.

Quote of the Day

About nine, everybody started yawning and there was a general exodus. We went back to our huts and Tommy brewed us all great mugs of cocoa before we retired to bed.
Dizzy and I, unnerved by Rob's story of the frozen water in his tent, went to bed with so many clothes on that we looked like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. We had on vests, winter pyjamas, woollen bed-jackets, bedsocks; we had hot-water-bottles and the beds were piled with blankets, rugs, eiderdowns, coats and any odd item of warm clothing that happened to be lying around. The result was that in about five minutes flat we thought we had malaria or prickly heat or something and had to take most of them off again, cursing Rob for spreading unnecessary alarm and panic.

From NOTHING HAPPENED AFTER ALL, Chapter 9, Positively the Only Appearance. Dizzy and Alison overdo it when they attempt to fend of the cold African night.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Tall Man (blurb)

The blurb for The Tall Man, the last of the Thomas series. published in 1960 by Nelson.

Fourpenny Fair (frontispiece)

In the second-last chapter of Fourpenny Fair, Penny shows that she has grown as she prepares to bonk the crooked Joe the stable man on the head with a ewer. And she is successful: "When George unlocked the door and came in, she brought the jug down on his head with all her strength. To her intense satisfaction - and surprise - George rocked on his heels and slid unconscious to the floor."

Northmead Nuisance (Review)

Northmead Nuisance, 209 pages, published in 1963 by Nelson, is the second and last of the books about the boarding school in Kent. Chapter 1 kicks off with Nicky and Kay, the stars of New House at Northmead, welcoming two new girls to the school: Judy Redfern, a short, bubbly and enthusiastic girl; and Gail Lester, a sulky, dark-haired girl who detests being at a boarding school.
Gail sets out to become a nuisance. She and her twin brother Michael are furious that they have been split up and forced to go to boarding schools. Therefore, they have concocted a plan: to get themselves expelled. From day one, she sets out to be as big a pest as possible. Sloppy schoolwork, lack of interest in sports and indifference to all school activities are the ploys she adopts. But to no avail. The teachers give her the benefit of the doubt and think it will just take her some time to settle down. She herself, inevitably, ends up coming to like some things about the school and the other pupils, especially being cast in the school play, but she forces herself to believe that she really does want to be expelled.
The other girls do not take kindly to Gail’s so-called Operation Nuisance, but that does not keep them from accepting her invitation to spend a weekend at her aunt and uncle’s farm, Appleacre. To Gail’s disgust, Michael has also brought a friend with him, a taciturn, bespectacled boy by the name of A. J. Wotherspoon, to whom Gail takes an immediate dislike. Michael is full of stories about rugby and his new teachers and classmates and only reluctantly agrees with his sister that their plan is still on. There is a little drama at the farm too. All the farmers in the district have been plagued by poultry theft, and the police are unable to get a lead on it. Of course, the children set out to do a little investigating of their own.
Back at school, the girls from New House are determined to improve their lot. During the house’s first year of existence, it had come bottom in just about everything. But now the girls are working hard to get better results, with a little success. The story is packed. Sports, exams, the school play, another trip to Appleacre at half-term and Gail’s dramatic midnight adventure all keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page.
When writing the Northmead books, Jane Shaw drew on a different seam of her imagination and produced stories that are quite unlike her other works in several ways. Like the first book, Northmead Nuisance makes use of anti-climax. The children work out how the thieves are making their getaway and inform the police. However, they are not present when the crooks are arrested and only hear about it by letter when they are back at school. Another aspect that differs from her other works is that her characters mature a little. There is a clear difference between the Nicky and Kay of the first book and the girls now that they are in the fourth form. They have become just a bit more serious and enjoy the extra responsibilities they are given. This is quite different from Susan, Midge, Caroline and Sara. Up to this point, Penny was the only character in her works that showed any sign of a maturing process. This was probably due to Jane Shaw’s editor at Nelson, Jocelyn Oliver, who was described as very “blunt” to his writers, even though Jane Shaw was a close friend of his whom he addressed as “my dear wee Jean”. In 1960, her editor at Collins also warned her that her characters were becoming caricatured, and this seems to have spurred her on to develop them more.
Of course, there are also the Jane Shaw hallmarks that really inject life into the plot. The other characters in the story really give it a lot of colour. Lynette, the Rhodesian girl, has ceased her moaning about England and has become more tolerant. Elizabeth Byrd, known as the Sparrow, who once nearly blew the school sky high with a chemistry experiment, has given up photography and taken up geology. At one point Gail tries to pair her off with Wotherspoon, but the two have little to say to one another despite their common interests. And there is the comedy, provided mainly by the clumsy Judy Redfern, always falling all over the place and carelessly blurting out secrets, although there is also the light-hearted banter that permeates all of the author’s work.
In my opinion, the Northmead books are underrated. Both books are well plotted and have excellent characterization. However, when they were published, the school story as a subgenre of juvenile literature was on its way out or at least changing. Following World War II, stories moved away from boarding schools toward comprehensive schools. Therefore, by the 1960s, books such as the Northmead novels would be viewed as outdated and perhaps stuck in the British class system. Books were now being read by children from all walks of life and were no longer the privilege of the upper and middle classes. Most children would be unable to relate to Jane Shaw’s characters, with their farms in Kent, flats in Paris and sprawling houses in South Africa, and would seek other sources of reading. The writer’s inability or unwillingness to move with the times resulted in a rapid decline in her readership throughout the 1960s, albeit, needless to say, without a loss of quality. In this respect, Northmead Nuisance cannot be faulted, and I would rate it 9 out of 10.
The review of New House at Northmead, which I wrote earlier this year, can be read here.

Louise's Foiled Escape

An illustration from Chapter 6 of Twopence Coloured, At the Manoir de la Falaise. Penny's new friend Louise Carrington attempts to escape, but the watchful Marie catches her in the act.

Quote of the Day

"Sara," her father came into the consulting room and interrupted, "will you please come off that telephone? You'll be preventing at least a dozen doctors getting in touch with me---"
"I haven't been here a second," Sara objected. "All right, I'm just finishing."
"What?" said Caroline's voice.
"It's Daddy," answered Sara, "he seems to want the phone. Such a nuisance."
"Well, I suppose you had better go. We'll see you at the station---"
"How much would a private line to my room cost, do you think?" Sara went grumbling on, not listening. "I shall have one installed when I sell my thriller---"
"First catch your hare," said Caroline.
"What d'you say?"
"Nothing. How far have you got?"
"Well, I actually haven't written anything at all yet, but I'm working like mad on the plot. You remember that bit I told you about where the heroine is shut up alone in the haunted house and she hears awful noises coming from the lab? Well---"
"Oh, yes, all right, Daddy. Listen, Caro, I'll have to tell you in the morning, Daddy's bawling at me again---"

From HIGHLAND HOLIDAY, Chapter 2, Arran Revisited. It's obvious that Sara would love the concept of the mobile phone.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jill's Escape

A dramatic scene from Chapter 3 of Penny Foolish, Exile for Jill. After she finds out that her father's assistant Miss Cook is stealing his secret work, Jill grabs his notebook and flees, with the treacherous Miss Cook and her accomplice in hot pursuit. This is one of the very few scenes in the Penny series that takes place at home in Wychwood Village. Unlike the Susan series, where a number of stories are set in London, we rarely see Penny and Jill at home. The Penny series was illustrated by Gilbert Dunlop. This picture accurately depicts Jill as having fair hair, like her sister's (it is stated more than once that the girls are often mistaken for twins). However, in later stories, Jill's hair was black in some drawings. Strange, as they were all done by the same artist.

Quote of the Day

As they sat in the sun having breakfast next morning, Sara helped herself to enough cherry jam to last a normal person a week, fed surreptitious morsels to the Alpenrose hound and said, "What's the dog's name, Caro?"
"Towser," suggested Caroline.
"Oh, it couldn't be---!"
Caroline sighed. "It's too easy getting a rise out of you, Sara."
"What d'you feel like doing to-day?" Sara changed the subject.
"Lying on my back in the sun somewhere and sleeping," Caroline answered, poking moodily at her bread and honey and privately longing for some bacon and eggs.
"Gosh, Caro, you lazy pig! You can't possibly sleep all day in Switzerland---"
"Oh, can't I? Believe me, I can hardly keep my eyes open. It must be the strong air."


Wednesday, November 2, 2011


An illustration from the first of the four Susan short stories, The Wilsons Won't Mind. Elvira shows off her ballet dancing talents, impressing the excitable Madame Polinskaya.

Quote of the Day

Penny was horrified, for she was not at all a nosey-parkerish sort of girl. "It's quite all right, Mrs. Browning," she said, "if you don't want to tell me - I didn't mean to pry-"
"But I do want to tell you," Mrs. Browning interrupted, quite fiercely really, "because it was all a mistake, that I know, our Sid's no thief, I'll take my dying oath on that-"
Penny would have taken her dying oath on that too. "But Mrs. Browning," she said, bewildered, "what happened?"

From FOURPENNY FAIR, Chapter 9, Cavalier's Tree.