Sunday, October 19, 2014

Anything Can Happen

Alpine Choughs

I've always been curious about the birds that Susan couldn't identify in Susan Interferes. In Chapter 8 of this book, Susan, the Carmichaels and the Gascoignes go to the top of Mount Pilatus, where Susan is intrigued by some strange birds. "Huge black birds with gleaming feathers, red feet and yellow bills hopped tamely about... Susan wondered if they were ravens, but not even the Gascoignes, who usually knew everything, could tell her." Unlike Susan, people today have access to the internet and it doesn't take long to find out more about these birds. They are called Alpine Choughs and they are a type of crow. They are found all over southern Europe, northern Africa, central Asia, India and China. They nest at a higher altitude than any other bird and their eggs are specially adapted for the thinner atmosphere up on the mountains. They are also known as yellow-billed choughs or alpendohles.

Notes on House of the Glimmering Light

While the blog was on hiatus a couple of months ago, I finally found a copy of House of the Glimmering Light and have read it twice. It was a particular favourite of Jane Shaw herself, although it is quite different from anything else she wrote. Here are some notes on the book:

1. Unlike Sara & Caroline, Dizzy & Alison and Susan & Midge, the heroines are not cousins; nor are they sisters like Penny & Jill, or even best friends like Ricky, Julie & Fay. Angela and Noël are not related at all and don't even meet each other until well into Chapter 2;

2. Noël plays imaginary musical instruments when she's thinking. At various points in the story, she plays an imaginary violin, flute and piano;
3. The story is in every respect a war story, with references to Hitler, Ribbentrop, evacuations and a Fifth Column;
4. The story is set entirely in Scotland, beginning with Angela's train approaching Dalmally and the rest of the story taking place at Tighanleys on Loch Etive, the village of Connel Ferry and Oban.

Quote of the Day

They were walking up over the lawn, the four girls and Timothy, when a young man appeared, of such surpassing elegance that they were all struck dumb: his shirt was of silk, his flannels so white, so faultlessly creased, his shoes such elegant creations in brown and white, that they all stopped and gaped at him, except Timothy who carried straight on. The vision came up, removed a fat, rich-smelling Turkish cigarette from his mouth and smiled easily and charmingly. In a rich, beautifully modulated voice, he murmured, "Good afternoon." It was quite obvious that the only thing in the world he was interested in was to find out what they wanted and to get it for them immediately.

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Places in Jane Shaw: Binic

View of the green and blue sea from the Sentier des Douaniers, which features in Susan's Kind Heart.

Quote of the Day

Perhaps it was this threat, perhaps it was just her natural ability, but by half-time Isobel had let no goals through. But neither had Manor scored: the Dragons knew all about Katherine, and were muffling her completely. The Dragons were so far the better side, but thanks to Isobel and dogged defence, the Manors had prevented them from scoring. And in the end it was Isobel who was responsible for the one goal of the match.

From THE MOOCHERS, Chapter 10, The Hoard Again.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gail and Michael

An illustration from Chapter 11, of Northmead Nuisance. Gail and Michael discuss their plan to get expelled from Northmead and St. Martin's, respectively. Michael has lost all enthusiasm for the idea, but Gail still wants to go ahead - sort of. This scene takes place at Appleacre just before the end of the half-term break.

Quote of the Day

They handed Peregrine over to his doting mother and had much pleasure in telling her that her darling boy had just been rescued from a sort of kidnapper - not that anyone wanted to kidnap Pea-green, sorry, Peregrine, it was Rudi whom the kidnapper was after - Pea-green, sorry, Peregrine, was only a minor accomplice, but that they hadn't time to stop and explain then. "And I hope that thought gives her pleasant dreams!" said Susan.

From SUSAN INTERFERES, Chapter 12, Auf Wiedersehen!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Penny Foolish

An illustration from Chapter 6 of Penny Foolsih, The Man. Miss Cook's accomplice has followed Jill to Arran and mistakes Penny for her sister.

Quote of the Day

"This is nice," said Sara next morning, as they drove through a lovely, undulating, wooded landscape. John's hat, the luggage and the cap on the petrol tank all safe, "but I wish we could come to the Black Forest."
"This is the Black Forest," said John.
"But it's not black," Sara wailed.
"It's not even a forest," sniffed Caroline.


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Gallery at Knole (Claire)

In Chapter 9 of New House at Northmead, Claire Revisited, history enthusiast Lynette is fascinated with the stately home and makes many notes and draws sketches in her notebook to help her with her history essay. After finishing her notes, "she skidded down the highly polished floor to the other two, who, for lack of anything better to do, were studying Van Dyck's portrait of the fourth Earl of Claire that the present Earl had pointed out to them".

The Great Staircase at Knole (Claire)

Today's quote is from Chapter 11 of New House at Northmead when the girls fall down the stairs at Claire. In real life, Claire is actually Knole House near Sevenoaks in Kent. The house is described as being visible from the grounds of Northmead. Nicky, Kay and Lynette are befriended by Lord Claire, who tells them that there are 365 rooms in the house, " for the days of the year, and seven courts for the days of the week and fifty-two staircases forthe weeks of the year." Knole is indeed considered to be a calendar house. The old earl also told the girls that the house is haunted by a ghost that only appears when there is a full moon. Although there are legends of ghosts at Knole, appearing only at a full moon is not one of their characteristics.

Quote of the Day

Suddenly Nicky's foot, as she slid it carefully in front of her, met empty air. "Hi!" she said. "Wait! There's nothing here! It's, it's..." She explored cautiously with her foot. "I do believe it's the stair!"
They heaved great sighs of relief and started a careful descent. All would have been well if they had remembered that the Great Staircase had two bends in it. The first they negotiated successfully, but at the second they tried to go straight on when the stair turned to the left. They lost their balance, stumbled and fell and went clattering and tumbling to the bottom - as Lord Claire unlocked the great door and held aloft a storm lantern.

From NEW HOUSE AT NORTHMEAD, Chapter 11, Rescue.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jane Shaw Artists (2): R. A. Branton

Most readers who have enjoyed the Susan books will recognize the leading character as she was portrayed in the illustrations by R. A. Branton. Some of his drawings in the books are not credited, but he does get a credit in all the Collins annuals. However, like other artists of his day, very little is known about him. Whereas Gilbert Dunlop's family continue to celebrate their father's work by holding exhibitions, no such tradition holds true for Mr. Branton. But my friend Elizabeth Lindsay set out to discover what she could about him, and I did a little investigating of my own. Elizabeth's inquiries were answered by Steve from Collecting Books and Magazines:

His full name was Robert Arthur Branton (1883-1961). He was originally a shipping clerk but later an artist who illustrated a number of children's books in the 1960s. Leslie Branton, his son, was the prolific comic strip artist from the 1950s to the 1970s, having started his career in advertising studios in the 1930s.

So, at least we know something about him. But Steve's reply reminded me of a message I received about a year ago from a woman called Jill Lamb, who said she was R. A. Branton's granddaughter. She claimed that the colour frontispiece for Susan at School was not drawn by her grandfather. It was actually drawn by her father. The illustrations in this book are not credited to anyone. The front cover is obviously by R. A. Branton, but Susan does look a little different in the frontispiece. I asked Ms. Lamb for more information, but received no reply. I did an internet search and found that she had posted a message about her father and another artist on a website. Her father had employed this other artist in his studio at one point. This led me to ask another question: why would an artist have to employ another artist? Could it be that, given the huge amount of work that some artists are credited for, they actually outsource some of their work or have people to help them in their studios? After all, if you search any database, like Goodreads, or any used book website, like Abe Books, for works illustrated by R. A. Branton, you turn up literally hundreds of results. Would it be possible for one person to produce all this on his own? Once again, I turned to Collecting Books and Magazines, and John Tipper informed me that such a situation is indeed possible and that he knew for certain of at least one case. Artists have assistants called stringers. He explained how it all worked:

Eagle comic used a team in the 1950s and it was commonplace among the bigger publishers, so no doubt it applied to children's book illustrators as well. The top man or woman would do the coloured DJ plus frontispiece and a 2nd stringer would do the line ilos.

So there we have it. As well as the Susan stories, R. A. Branton provided the illustrations for other stories of Jane Shaw that were published in the Collins annuals, including Family Trouble and Crooks Limited. That's two of the Jane Shaw artists taken care of. Now I have to find out more about Robert Hodgson, who illustrated the Northmead Books, and Thelma Lambert, who provided the illustrations for Anything Can Happen.

Quote of the Day

"The old Houses are full of tradition," Kay said coldly.
"Really?" said Lynette. "Is that why they're so dark and dingy?"
Kay and Nicky did not deign to reply to this, mainly because they couldn't think of an answer, and Lynette, who was leaning against the window looking across the school grounds, with the park and the lake and the orchards, to Claire, the great house on the other side of the valley, said, "Doesn't it ever stop raining in this place?"
"Of course it does!" said Nicky indignantly. "It has stopped now." She glanced out of the window. "Well, almost."

From NEW HOUSE AT NORTHMEAD, Chapter 1, The New House.

Fivepenny Mystery Cover

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Quote of the Day

Well, of course, said Gail smugly. "And I've got second sight, don't forget. This is the disaster I saw in your tea-cups!"
"Oh, fiddle," said Kay. "It's easy enough to foretell a disaster when you cause it."

From NORTHMEAD NUISANCE, Chapter 7, A Plan Gone Wrong.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jane Shaw Artists (1): Gilbert Dunlop

The spine from the first book in the Penny Series, Penny Foolish. My copy is a Britannic edition, lavishly illustrated and with a colour frontispiece. The illustration shows the leading charcter out for a walk in the hills of Arran. All of the Penny stories were illustrated by Gilbert Dunlop, who also illustrated other Nelson titles such as the three Thomas books and Venture to South Africa.

Gilbert Dunlop (1909-1984) was brought up in Alloa, Scotland. At the age of 18, he went to work for D. C. Thomson in Dundee, where he would spend the greater part of his life. He was hired on the strength of his talent alone. Apart from attending a few classes at the Dundee School of Art, he had no formal training. He had a varied career. During World War II, he served in the RAF. After the war, he worked mainly as an illustrator of children's books, but also designed greetings cards and did a great deal of painting. In the 1970s, he worked only as a freelancer. His output was prolific. When he passed away, he left a large collection of his work, which is still displayed in exhibitions today. His daughter Jennifer and granddaughter Jo also became artists and have run an exhibition called Four Artists: A Family Affair, with their own work, paintings by Gilbert Dunlop and his nephew Hamish. But to most people, Gilbert Dunlop will be remembered for his drawings in children's books. In addition to Jane Shaw, he illustrated many books by Enid Blyton and other authors such as Winifred Darch, Mollie Chappel and Buster Brown, to name only a few. His work also appeared in Collins' annuals, in one case (see below) alongside the illustrator of the Susan books, R. A. Branton. Both artists provided drawings for the 1954 Girls' Annual: R. A. Branton illustrated The Wilsons Won't Mind, while Gilbert Dunlop provided the artwork for Beware of Uncles by Anne Barrett.

Quote of the Day

Mrs. Thorne, as usual, seemed pleased to see them. She was delighted with her hot-water bottle cover too, and Susan, hopping from foot to foot, thought that these polite preliminaries would go on all night. "Mrs. Thorne," she burst in when she couldn't stand it any longer, "we're most frightfully interested in your lion's skin and this that's written on it saying that James Martin shot it, and we were wondering very much if you could tell us anything about this James Martin and where you got the lion's skin-"
"I can tell you plenty about James Martin," said Mrs. Thorne, smiling, "because he was my brother!"

From SUSAN RUSHES IN, Chapter 11, Lion's Skin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Twopence Coloured Colour Frontispiece

The colour frontis of Twopence Coloured from the Britannic Series. My Triumph edition has the same illustration, but in black and white. The entire Penny series was illustrated by Scottish artist Gilbert Dunlop. I would like to thank Naomi for sending me this scan.

Quote of the Day

I was just drifting off when suddenly a hand was digging into my shoulder and someone was breathing in my ear in a very tickly way.
"Whasser marrer?" I murmured sleepily.
"Denny!" It was Prune, all dramatic and agitated. "Denny, wake up!"
I moved my ear out of reach and leant upon my elbow. "Well, I am awake," I whispered. "Who wouldn't be with you yelling right in my ear-hole. "What's up?"
"Denny, there's something in my bed!"
This, I must admit, was a surprise. "What sort of a something?" I asked.
"Denny, I don't quite know! I'm petrified--"

From A GIRL WITH IDEAS, Chapter 2, The Mouse Club.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fivepenny Mystery Illustration

An illustration from Chapter 2 of Fivepenny Mystery: What Happened in Athens. Deborah goes out for a walk through the city.

Quote of the Day

They were still discussing it when Pips came back accompanied by a very silent, very sulky Robert. Pips alighted and lugged him out of the Sneaker by his left ear. She pulled him into the cabin and confronted him with the footprint. "Up with your foot," she ordered, " and compare them."
"Well, leggo my ear," said Robert. "You'd think I was an acrobat."
Pips, albeit reluctantly, released him. Robert, even more reluctantly, stood on the locker and laid his bare foot on the print: it fitted exactly.

From THE CREW OF THE BELINDA, Chapter 16, The Footprint of Blood.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Map for The Tall Man

This nice map from the Swiss tourist website shows many of the locations in The Tall Man. You can see that the villages of Böningberg and Rinigen do not actually exist. In the book, Jane Shaw combined the two villages of Ringgenberg and Bönigen.

Places in Jane Shaw: Mürren

In The Tall Man, the Waring children split up to investigate the hotel guests. Clarissa accompanies the Wicks and Mr. Broadbent to the village of Mürren for the day. She describes it as "glorious".

Quote of the Day

I've often wondered since what the Rinigen guests in all their gorgeous clothes thought of the procession which now trooped down the stairs. However smart we were when we started the evening, we had been through a lot since then, and we were by no means smart by this time - we weren't even clean. Meieli's eyes widened when she looked up and saw us; but nobody moved. In a deep hush we walked across to Frau Rinigen, and Clarissa held out the bundle of crumpled velvet...

From THE TALL MAN, Chapter 9, The End of the Adventure.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Tall Man Frontispiece

Quote of the Day

"We're almost there," said Thomas, self-appointed navigator. "Go straight ahead now and we should just about hit the landing-stage."
"We usually do," muttered Clarissa, who was rowing.
"Tish was busily rehearsing the password in a quiet voice, "Rosen-rot, Rosen-rot-"
"Don't talk so loud," I said. "Remember how voices carry across the water. We don't want the Tall Man to hear us-"
"You need not wor-r-ry," said Meieli's acid voice from the darkness beside us. "He has heard you. The Tall Man has just gone."

From The Tall Man, Chapter 4, Rendezvous with a Robber.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Twopence Coloured B&W Frontispiece

A nice clean scan of the frontispiece of the Triumph edition of Twopence Coloured. The Triumph Series all had black and white frontispieces.

Quote of the Day

The Eliots stood petrified. This was the end. The parents must have heard that and be putting two and two together. It had never dawned on them that the name of Stella's owner would be blazoned abroad like this. They stood huddled together, not daring to glance at their parents, when Candy, red with exertion and rage, cantered up. She dismounted and faced Jennifer furiously. "Where did you get that pony?" she demanded.
"I bought her," said Jennifer, thinking it was neither the time nor the place to mention the younger ones' hand in the affair. "She's mine."
"She's mine"" cried Candy. "You stole her! She's Socks!"

From VENTURE TO SOUTH AFRICA, Chapter 13, The Gymkhana.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Anything Can Happen: Les Deux Magots

An illustration from Anything Can Happen of today's quote. The scene takes place at Les Deux Magots, where Dizzy and Alison have coffee with Pierre and Alain. Funny nowadays to see an ashtray on the table!

Quote of the Day

Pierre said, "Bon. Very pretty. And we forgive you for causing us unquiet moments imagining you to have been attacked by the sinister Madame X."
"Oh," we said, deflated and anxious again. "Is there a sinister Madame X?"
"Bien sûr," said Pierre. "Have some coffee and I will tell you."
If we drink much more coffee, I thought, we'll be a-wash; but that good French coffee was comforting too, I thought, when there was bad news, liable to send cold shivers down your spine, to be told.

From ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, Chapter 5, Where is Madame Bertholet?

Places in Jane Shaw: Les Deux Magots

Still on the subject of citrons pressés, this is Les Deux Magots, where Dizzy and Alison met Pierre and Alain in Anything Can Happen. Alison remarked on how the French stomach was almost a bottomless pit when it came to drinking coffee. The girls sometimes drank coffee and sometimes the famous citron pressé. The café is just round the corner from Madame Bertholet's flat.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

With their usual enthusiasm, Kay and Nicky rushed to the courts at the earliest possible opportunity and practised at every available moment. Claire, pictures and the unspeakable Dr. Partridge were forgotten; all their thoughts and energies were devoted to tennis.

From NEW HOUSE AT NORTHMEAD, Chapter 8, Tennis Matches.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Restaurant in Montmartre

In Crooks Tour the girls spend too much money on taxis and find that they don't have enough money to pay their bill at the restaurant in Montmartre where they cool off with a citron pressé. The woman who runs the restaurant is very trusting and even lends the girls their fare back to the hotel. The restaurant is called Chez La Mère Geneviève in the book. Dizzy and Alison also visit this restaurant in Anything Can Happen. In this book, it is given its real name: La Mère Catherine.
The citron pressé features a lot in Jane Shaw's French stories. It is very strong lemonade to which the customer adds a great deal of sugar. I had one at a restaurant here in Curitiba with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. Although I normally love lemonade, this stuff was just too much and had me wincing and my eyes watering! In many Brazilian restaurants, a slightly weaker version is popular. We call it limonada suiça (Swiss lemonade). It's delicious when nice and chilled.

Quote of the Day

"Honestly!" said Julie crossly. "Mistresses! They don't listen. We want to tell her about a murder and she just charges off to get the tickets-"
"You don't think," said Ricky anxiously, "that we should abandon Ellie and go to the police instead?"
"Well, it's the same old business," said Julie impatiently. "We don't know where to find the police and we wouldn't know what to say to them if we did find them. No, no, Ellie is our only hope. Come on, we must get her to listen."

From CROOKS TOUR, Chapter 13, Crook in the Rain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fivepenny Mystery Colour Frontispiece

The colour frontispiece of Fivepenny Mystery. There were three editions of the Penny books:

1. The original Nelson books, lavishly illustrated with colour frontispieces and high quality paper;
2. The Britannic Series, also with colour frontispieces and many illustrations on high quality paper;
3. The Triumph Series, with a black and white frontis and illustrations but printed on cheaper paper that tends to tan more quickly.
I have no first editions. My Penny Foolish, Fourpenny Fair and Crooked Sixpence are Britannic books, and the others are Triumph editions.
I would like to thank Elizabeth Lindsay for providing the scanned frontispiece.

Quote of the Day

Fiona got such a shock that she almost gave at the knees. She sat down gaping at Mr. Pengelly. "But, but," she stammered, "she introduced us, and said they were to be married. Although I must say," she said, thinking back, "to do the man justice he did look a bit flummoxed when she announced the engagement."

From THE MOOCHERS, Chapter 9, The Council Thinks Again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Places in Jane Shaw: Abbey Green

In Threepenny Bit, the Carters and Mallorys befriend the le Rouxs, who have inherited a house full of antiques. Penny suggests that they should open a shop to sell all the old coins, etc. The le Rouxs live and work in Abbey Green in Bath. The giant tree in the middle of the green that is mentioned in today's quote is still standing, but the little square is no longer so drab and has been brightened up. The bin for pig swill was removed in the 1950s.

Quote of the Day

They walked along the North Parade and into Abbey Green.
"It's not what I would call a green, exactly," said Jill.
The quiet court was desolate; no touch of colour enlivened the prim Georgian houses. Under the grey sky the rain lashed a weary-looking plane tree and pattered in great drops on the pig-bin that huddled beside it. Already the leaves were falling, swirling dismally across the asphalt.
"No, but there's something nice and secluded about it," said Penny, "sheltered by the Abbey-" and she glanced up at the towering Abbey in the background.

From THREEPENNY BIT, Chapter 3, In Abbey Green.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Threepenny Bit Colour Frontispiece

Places in Jane Shaw: Louella's Bookshop

Louella's bookshop in Wichwood is featured in No Trouble for Susan. When Louella comes down with mumps, Susan and the Carmichaels run the shop for her in the run up to Christmas. In real life, the shop is called Village Books and is located on Calton Avenue in Dulwich. In the story, the children often get coffee and sandwiches at the little tea room next door. There is indeed a tea room and patisserie three doors down to the left. 

Quote of the Day

We were warm as pies, but we filled hot-water bottles, for the night would certainly get colder, and wriggled into our sleeping-bags with them. We were desperately tired and sleepy, but a sleeping-bag on a pile of coir, in a hut with about a dozen other people, who were all breathing and snorting and - in one case at least - snoring, isn't very conducive to sound slumber.

From NOTHING HAPPENED AFTER ALL, Chapter 10, Don't Get Mixed up in Politics. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Most of House of the Glimmering Light is set at Tighanleys, a boarding school in winter and hotel in the summer months, located on the edge of Loch Etive, near Oban in Scotland. The House is described as "an ancient house, tall and grey, with crow-stepped gables and high narrow windows. It had begun life as a fortress; on one side its walls went down almost sheer into the Loch, and these grim, stout ramparts still stood, although later additions and alterations in the front of the house had given the whole a mellowed and softer air." The house can still be glimpsed from the road today. According to Alison Lindsay, the house is named Dunfiunary on a map published in 1904 and is actually much smaller than Tighanleys, with many rooms, including a secret room, being added to suit the plot. Like the Carmichaels' house in the Susan stories, Tighanleys has a character of its own and adds a special quality to the story. Indeed, the story is named after the house. In Chapter 6, we are told that Tighanleys means House of the Glimmering Light.
Alison Lindsay described her day at Connel in her article entitled Connel Ferry and the House of the Glimmering Light, published in in Folly Magazine, Volume 18.
A map of the area showing the location of Tighanleys is shown below. Click on it for a larger view.

Quote of the Day

So there was Angela, crouched in a corner of the library, ostensibly reading The Popular Superstitions and Festive Amusements of the Highlands of Scotland, but in reality watching with an unwavering eye poor Mrs. Farquharson, who was sitting at the desk, writing letters. Angela had suddenly recollected, to her intense gratification, her father telling her that one of her less reputable forebears had been a detective, known as Lynx-eyed Winter. She wasn't sure that the story wasn't apocryphal, but she put that thought away, and felt Lynx-eyed Winter's blood coursing strongly in her veins.

From HOUSE OF THE GLIMMERING LIGHT, Chapter 4, Angela Investigates.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Some children’s writers have stood the test of time better than others. Enid Blyton, Capt. W. E. Johns, E. Nesbit, Angela Brazil and Elsie J. Oxenham, to name but a few, are still very popular today, decades after their deaths. Even writers who never actually existed, such as Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene, of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew fame, respectively, continue to shift books from the shelves, and their works are constantly reissued and reworked for television and the cinema.  But for every Angela Brazil, there are dozens of writers who fall by the wayside, almost forgotten. Although considered successful in their day, the likes of Valerie Hastings, Hilda Boden and Arthur Catherall do not create waves of nostalgia today; nor do they attract the attention of literary historians.

And how well has Jane Shaw fared? Has she left a legacy that puts her up there with the greats? It should not be all that difficult to gauge the popularity of a deceased writer. All that is required are the answers to a few questions: Are the writer’s books still in print? If so, how well do they sell? Has a biography of the writer been published? How much online activity and how many websites are devoted to the writer, and how popular are they? Is there a club or society for the writer, and how active is it? Finally, what do people think of the writer’s stories and characters? Let us look at the answers to these questions:

Are the writer’s books still in print?

In the last ten years, three of Jane Shaw’s books have been reissued by Bettany Press, although they do not appear to have sold very well. The last three titles of the Susan series were put out in paperback and also made available for the Amazon Kindle. As of march 2014, Susan’s Kind Heart is number 1,174,248 on the Amazon best seller rank. Where is Susan? and A Job for Susan rank at 1,246,076 and 1,180,946, respectively. Susan and Friends is doing a little better at 889,504. As far as I can tell, there are no plans to reissue any other titles.

Has a biography of the writer been published?

In 2002 Bettany Press published Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion. It is a combined biography, literary review and short story anthology. Originally issued in paperback, it too was made available for the Kindle. Reaction to this book was highly favourable.

How much online activity is dedicated to the author?

When I started reading Jane Shaw, there was very little available online about the books and even less about the author. After finishing Crooks Tour I wanted to read more, and took to the internet. Online searches mostly led to second-hand book shops. Only one website, Collecting Books and Magazines, had any information about the author: an incomplete bibliography with some scanty notes on the author’s books and life, some of them not quite accurate. However, there was enough information to give me some pointers about how to proceed with my reading of the oeuvre. But websites exclusively dedicated to the author were non-existent. After over a year of solid reading of Jane Shaw, in late 2010 I decided to start a Jane Shaw group on Yahoo!. It never attracted many members, but it got me in touch with some fellow readers who provided some interesting facts and viewpoints concerning the author and her work. In early 2011, I set up Wichwood Village, which has now been going for over three years.

With the blog activated, I imagined I could begin to gauge the enduring popularity of Jane Shaw by the number of visitors to the site and the number of comments and/or messages I received. The number of hits soon lost its meaning. Many of the “visitors” are from Russia, China and the Ukraine and their aim is to direct blog writers to spam sites. There are even automated visitors from the USA who deposit links to adware and spam. The comments and e-mails I receive, although few in number, are more helpful. I have received some positive feedback, and sometimes readers write to me with questions or to clear up doubts. But at best the response could be described as enthusiastic but limited.

Is there a club or society for the writer, and how active is it?

While there is the Enid Blyton Society, the Elsie J. Oxenham Appreciation Society and the Narnia Newsletter site for C. S. Lewis fans, where readers enthusiastically debate and reminisce about the Famous Five, the Abbey books and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on a daily basis and devour official bulletins, there is no similar society for Jane Shaw. People are not as enthusiastic about visits to Binic and Arran or the doings of Susan and Penny as they are for the places and characters of the other authors mentioned above. Now that we have the internet, starting an appreciation society is no longer an arduous or expensive operation. Even so, following the demise of the Yahoo! Group, I was reluctant to begin anything similar. But a couple of readers asked me to open a group on Facebook. So far, after almost three months, it has attracted twelve members and not very much activity.

This leads to another question: Why is Jane Shaw not as popular today as might be expected for someone who sold so many books for so many publishers?

I am certainly not the first person to raise this question. In Susan and Friends (page 20), Rosemary Auchmuty marvels at the lack of appreciation of the author in literary circles:

But turn to the critical literature on children’s books and what do we find? Apart from Alison Lindsay’s articles in Folly and The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories, there is no reference – no reference at all – to Jane Shaw’s work in any historical or critical study of children’s literature ever published… So I repeat: What has happened to Jane Shaw’s reputation? How can she have been so comprehensively overlooked, when her books continue to be so much in evidence?

Rosemary’s response to these questions is that there is clearly a need for “much more naming and (re-)instating” and that Jane Shaw’s work deserves to be right up there with the best of them. As a fan, her reaction is that we are dealing with a great writer and her greatness should not be overlooked, and if only a few memories could be jolted… My instinctive reaction is to agree with her. After all, how could anyone resist those great stories?

But others have a less positive view. Not so long ago, I came across the stub of an article published in 2003 by Sheila Ray entitled The Strange Case of the Invisible Jane Shaw. While Ms. Ray was a librarian in the 1950s and 1960s, she came across the works of Jane Shaw, but they did not make much of an impact on her or those around her, as shown in her following surprising statement:

Her [Jane Shaw’s] name became familiar to me after I began working with school and children’s libraries in 1958, but her work was not highly regarded in the library circles in which I moved – not condemned as were books by Enid Blyton, W. E. Johns, Frank Richards or Richmal Crompton, each of whom had a bad press from time to time, but certainly not up there with Alan Garner, William Mayne, Leon Garfield and the other bright lights that began to twinkle in the late 1950s and 1960s.

So, there were some in literary circles who were dismissive of not only Jane Shaw but also the authors of the Famous Five and Biggles. This could make it very easy for us to shake our heads in dismay and bemoan the high-brow tastes of academics. I did indeed receive a comment along those lines on the blog:

It sounds as if JS was popular with readers, but was probably too entertaining and “feel-good” a writer to be rated by the literary folks. It’s not unusual to prefer the more difficult and socially relevant books over the plain reads-for-fun. (Comment submitted to Wichwood Village by Sally on 9 February, 2013).

Such sentiments are not unusual in any sector of the entertainment industry and there is often a great deal of truth behind them. On the other hand, although people may be quick to make light of harsh words from the critics, I’ve yet to see anyone do the opposite and disregard or reject their praise. But in the absence of the sagacity of the experts who have chosen to ignore her, to answer the question of why Jane Shaw is not given the credit that her admirers believe she deserves, I turned to the readers of her works for their opinions, both by asking in forums and combing the web. Could it indeed be that Jane Shaw is adored by readers despite being shunned by the “literary folks”?

What do people think of the writer’s stories and characters?

There were many enthusiastic comments. Pam from Cape Town, one of the first people to correspond with me about the author, thinks that the stories are a lot of fun:

I like Jane Shaw for her humour!  I think very fondly of the scene with the three boyfriends of Charlotte’s who all appeared dressed as Father Christmas;  of the scene where Midge fell asleep whilst in a school play and had to wake up and of Aunt Lucy and Charlotte who have passionate interests, at least for a time.

The Surfeit of Santas episode in No Trouble for Susan also remained in the memory of Kerry in wet West Sussex:

I love the Susan books and was thinking about reading the Christmas ones this week: who could resist the subordinate Clauses?

This is a common sentiment among readers. Many recall particular plots, scenes or characters that they enjoyed. Kay has this to say about a particularly funny scene at St. Ronan’s:

Susan terrified and Tessa muttering “We’ll be expelled, we’ll be expelled”. I might have that for my reading-in-bed book tonight, except I’ll probably laugh too much.

Monica also has a favourite Susan book:

For me it is Susan Interferes. My grandpa gave it to me on my 5th birthday before I could even read, and I still have the same tatty (spine hanging by a thread) CP edition!

Tweety on Goodreads has this to say about Crooks Tour:

I loved this book! The characters felt real and did things I could see them doing in real life. My Favorite character was Fay. For some reason she stood out. Ricky was unstoppable. Whatever popped into Ricky's head, Ricky did. Julie was the one who brought them all back down to earth and fixed their scrapes, usually.

The most enthusiastic response is from Jane Lee, a member of the Facebook group:

I think I like everything Jane Shaw has written equally, though I particularly like her books set in Europe, for example, Breton Adventure, Bernese Adventure, Looking after Thomas, and so on. I love the domestic details, descriptions of meals and food (and the immobility and soporific effects brought about by over indulgence in it), the humour and descriptions of human foibles and eccentricities (Midge's love of sleep, for example.)

Besides the idiosyncrasies, the author’s sense of place, one of the greatest aspects of her writing, is also noted by readers. Her ability to make a house, school or city a major character in a story does not go unnoticed. Wichwood Village and the Carmichael residence in particular are fondly remembered. Barbara has this to say:

I loved Susan Pulls the Strings, probably because I had it as a child and have read it so often. Also, the Carmichaels’ house is just about my dream home.

Pam from Cape Town also likes the house on Tollgate Road:

What about the Carmichael’s house do you like so much? I would love to be in the shabby schoolroom with them all.

The sense of place is appreciated by Elizabeth Lindsay from Australia, who has a special take on Bernese Adventure:

I've just finished reading 'Bernese Adventure', the second book in the Sara and Caroline Storm series. It's certainly more entertaining and suspenseful than 'Breton Adventure'. It was published in 1940 but clearly depicts Western Europe in happier days than at the time of writing in the late 1930s, when the Third Reich was getting ready for war. There's not a Nazi in sight! Once again, I surmise that Jane Shaw has created a fantasy time for her readers. An enjoyable tale. The only word I had to look up was 'triptyque'. It's a customs permit for the temporary importation of a motor vehicle.

Food plays an important role in Jane Shaw’s stories. I loved reading about the Cornish splits that Mrs Pengelly makes for Fiona and Katherine in the Moochers stories. Leslie Smyers prefers the food north of the border:

I'm enjoying Susan Muddles Through, especially where Susan and Midge are on holiday in Scotland eating girdle scones.

But the comments concentrate on the characters more than any other aspect of the stories, and the most commented character was Susan. Although there were more stories about her than any other of JS’s creations, the biggest surprise I had while preparing this piece was to discover that she did not always go down as well with the audience as I had imagined. I have to say that I have always liked Susan. People have said that she is too unreal. But there they are wrong. Like Jane Shaw (and Susan herself) I’m from Glasgow and grew up there, and I can assure you that if you go into any school yard you will find a Susan there: cocky and sure of herself, ready to voice an authoritative opinion on subjects she knows nothing about and more than willing to stick her nose into other people’s business, but always with good intentions. As Pam from Cape Town says:

Susan is Susan and she always means well.

Nevertheless, not everyone is willing to give Susan so much leeway. Although many readers enjoy Susan and her antics, it has to be admitted that she is far from universally popular. In fact, there is even some hostility towards her, and also to some of Jane Shaw’s stories. Pam K has this to say about Susan and her enemies the Gascoignes:

I have to say I’ve always found Susan rather irritating, and the Ghastly Gascoignes truly ghastly and unbelievable as characters.

I agree about the Gascoignes. In my opinion, Jane Shaw’s biggest mistake was to keep them in the series past the first book. If they had moved away from Tollgate Road at the end of Susan Rushes In, the ensuing stories would have benefitted greatly from their absence. Other readers are quick to concur. Leslie Smyers from Canberra particularly detests Peregrine:

I can tolerate Gabrielle and Adrian, but I just can’t ‘thole’ obnoxious Pea-green (as Susan would put it)… Pea-green nearly did me in Susan Muddles Through. Susan should have buried that gun, not tried to hide it on top of the wardrobe!

Elizabeth Lindsay once again has a different take, disliking the Gascoignes, but recognising them as a necessary evil:

They are irritating but they add ‘flavour’ to the books, don’t you think?

Returning the focus to Susan, Rona says in response to Pam K:

I don’t like the Susan books either (think I have only tried one once, but that was enough).


I'm afraid I also cannot [bring myself to] like the Susan books.

Pat Hanby from Reading:

Have to admit I don’t like Susan either! I quite liked Susan Pulls the Strings when I first read it age about 10, but it’s the only one I read as a child and trying a couple of others much later I found them difficult to finish – in fact I think I gave up on Susan at School before the end.

Susan D:

I'm not a huge Susan fan either, I've only kept one.  I find bits funny but overall she's a bit too much.

Ann adds her more conciliatory opinion:

I am not a special fan of Susan. I don't DISLIKE the books, and there are some very funny bits (like the episode in one book where Susan has a cold, and her cousin is trying to practice her nursing skills while at the same time not getting close enough to catch any germs!). But I wouldn't go out of my way to get the books.

Another character who comes in for criticism is Sara from the Holiday Series. Commenting on Breton Adventure, Kirsti on Goodreads claims that Sara ruined the book for her:

The story is about two girls, cousins from what I can gather, visiting France in order to improve their French. They don't do much of that however, and spend most of the book muddled, eating, bathing or overexcited. I just couldn't get into it, and the stupidity of the character Sara probably had a lot to do with it.

Also on Goodreads, Cheryl in CC NV, despite enjoying Bernese Holiday, was not so impressed by the characterization:

Well. Definitely felt like I was coming into the story in the middle, as if Shaw assumed we'd read a book about the characters before this. But it was charming, and eventually I figured everyone out. Trouble is, the characters were more iconographic than real. And, um, all this gadding about by Brits across borders in Germany & surrounding countries in a book published in 1940? It must have been nostalgic, or something...

However, most of the people who said that they did not enjoy the Susan or the Holiday books said that they did enjoy some of Jane Shaw’s other works. One character who received no criticism at all is Penny. Once again, Pam from Cape Town gives her point of view:

I rather like Penny as it is very refreshing to have a heroine who does not push herself front and centre all the time. Actually, now I think of it, it was clever of Jane to create such opposite heroines.

She also says:

Susan Pulls the Strings was my first Susan book, my first Jane Shaw book too. I am a big fan of Shaw. I rather like Penny as a shy and diffident heroine in the other books.

Pam K also likes Penny and most of JS’s books, despite taking another dig at the hapless Susan:

My favourite series is the Penny series… I think the Susan books are my least favourite. I find the humour a bit forced, the characters a bit caricatured, and particularly hate how the Gascoignes nearly always come up smelling of roses. But I do like the Penny books (still looking for the final one) and most of her others.

The Moochers also receives some praise. Susan D was reluctant about reading this book, but soon warmed to it:

I was never a huge Jane Shaw fan so never bothered reading The Moochers when I found a copy then finally did later and adored it.  I really enjoyed the heroines being a bit subversive and not your typical fervent-for-the-school type girl. Nice to see it not taken so seriously.  This is by far my favourite Shaw… Although the Moochers Abroad is amusing, The Moochers is just SO much better.  Probably because I prefer school stories to holiday/adventure but there’s so much more room to turn the typical school story on its head in the Moochers than the Moochers Abroad.

Despite the negative comments about the Gascoignes, it is only fair to point out that not everyone voices a negative opinion of them. Kay has this to say about Gabrielle:

Now I think Gabrielle Gascoigne is hilarious.  The way she carries on and produces/directs Ronanson Crusoe, the pantomime written by Midge, is just brilliant.

Lindley Walter-Smith on Goodreads missed Gabrielle when she read A Job for Susan:

This feels like Shaw phoned it in, really - the characters just go through the paces, and most of the energy and humour of the early Susan books is missing. It's nice to have Tessa, but without the ghastly Gascoignes, there's no really satisfactory antagonist. The grumpy baronet is no substitute for Gabrielle and her ability to make Susan and Midge feel inferior and resentful.

As shown at the beginning of the above quote, there were also some criticisms of the stories. One reader complained of the lack of creativity, claiming that in The Crew of the Belinda there was nothing new, although the plot was not a total loss:

I have met most of the plot points in other books, but this does seem an interesting pastiche.

Lindley Walter-Smith provides more details of her disappointment with A Job for Susan:

I spent years searching in vain for this book at dealers, and I was so happy to find out that Bettany Press released it as an ebook… When I finally got my hands on it, though, it took me three months to finish, while I've read other Susan books over and over… There are sparks of fun and humour, and it's not a bad book or anything, but it's completely forgettable, and made me think wistfully of better Shaw stories like Susan's Trying Term. I'm glad I read it, as a completist, but I can't imagine anyone who read it as their first Susan book going on to bother with any more.

Kirsty on Goodreads goes further in her criticism of Breton Adventure, although she recognises that JS is capable of writing better stories:

An alright book, I suppose. The writing was just so boring though! Stupid bursts of excitement followed by paragraphs of nothing. None of the characters really even stood out very much… There is a final, quick chapter in the end where the girls discover lost books and save the family they're staying with from financial ruin, but all in all, a very odd and boring book for its genre… Definitely not my favorite Jane Shaw work, she often writes better than this. Still, probably improved if you know a little French, or about the differences between French/British culture in the time the book is set.

But there is no shortage of positive comments. Lindley Walter-Smith has this to say about Where is Susan?:

It's a typically rollicking, humorous Shaw "kid thriller", with the fantasies of child independence, as Susan and Midge find themselves without adults or a hotel room in Venice, pursued by a beautiful Russian spy. So much fun.

On The Moochers, Dorian states that:

This is a mildly subversive and very entertaining school story… I found it a hugely enjoyable book.

Pam from Cape Town likes the Northmead books:

I have New House at Northmead, I rather like it.

My friend Ruth from Crail in Scotland is an avid Susan fan:

When I say I love Jane Shaw, what I really mean is that I love the Susan books. They were her best works.

Pam from Cape Town returns to the theme that the Susan books are a good laugh, although she voices some sympathy for Aunt Lucy:

I agree that the Susan books are more fun… I do feel sorry for Aunt Lucy who seems to have given up her hopes and dreams in order to take care of everybody but perhaps she feels happy in the domestic life. She just never seems to have a life of her own, somehow.

Catching up with Susan after a number of years, CL McLean was delighted with Susan’s Kind Heart:

I started reading all the "Susan" books available when I was eleven, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to read one new to me through Kindle all these years later. Straightforward good fun for eleven year olds and me, and I'm going to read another one.

So we can see that 45 years after the publication of her last book, Jane Shaw continues to be remembered, albeit by a small group of people. The statistics on Goodreads show that some of her works are hardly remembered at all. Titles such as Anything Can Happen and Venture to South Africa have received only one rating. Not surprisingly, the Collins books, such as Crooks Tour (15 ratings) and the Susan stories (10 ratings for Susan Interferes) fare better. But as of March, 2014 Jane Shaw’s books have received only 186 ratings on the site, an average of 4.72 per title, while Enid Blyton, Britain’s most popular children’s writer, has received 305,734 ratings, an average of 421 per book. The authors have similar average ratings, 3.99 for Enid Blyton and 3.92 for Jane Shaw (with The Moochers as the most highly rated at 4.61 and the lowest being Breton Adventure at 3.0).

This brings us back to Rosemary Auchmuty’s original question. Why is JS not celebrated today? The comparison with Enid Blyton is a valid one. Both wrote about middle-class children who solve mysteries and eat a lot, and yet one continues to sell by the truckload and the other is mostly forgotten. Enid Blyton message boards and forums are abuzz with activity, while online activity concerning Jane Shaw is almost non-existent. Of course, this question should be rephrased as “Why is Enid Blyton still so popular when so many writers of her time are forgotten?” We could also ask why the Beatles continue to be successful while most other music from the 1960s is forgotten, or why Casablanca is still such a popular film. Some things have an indefinable enduring appeal. If we knew what that mystery ingredient was, we could bottle it and sell it.

This post provides information about what people think of Jane Shaw today and how wide an appeal she continues to have. Admittedly, that appeal is much narrower than an enthusiast would like, and the popularity of her work has waned. But there are still a number of people who remember the happy times they had reading the works of Jane Shaw.