|The huge scan of the Children's Press laminated board edition of Susan Interferes with spine, circa 1965.|
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Apparently the cold weather had decided to reform, because when they woke on Easter Day, the sun was shining madly and the birds were singing madly too, and there were boiled eggs for breakfast, gaily-coloured, pink and green and yellow. There were other eggs too, Easter eggs - big chocolate ones from Dr. Carmichael, with chocolates inside; and cardboard ones decorated wth rabbits and lambs and yellow chickens with presents inside from Aunt Lucy, and the little presents that they had given each other.
From SUSAN'S HELPING HAND, Chapter 6, Susan is Inquisitive.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Here was a fix. They couldn't take an infectious Deborah across Europe, giving her germs to every child they met; Frau Walther at the Gasthof Alpenrose hadn't a corner to offer them. But when the Gräfin heard, she laughed. "Everybody will pack up and come to us," she said. "It is very appropriate that you should be our firsts guests at the Schloss Adlerhorst, new style!"
From FIVEPENNY MYSTERY, Chapter 13, Rescue.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
In Susan at School, Susan and Tessa come across an old map in the library. It is a map of St. Ronan's from long ago and on the map a cryptic message has been scrawled: R. H. Here. The girls decide that it is the hiding place of the legendary treasure known as Ronan's Heap, hidden from the messengers of King Henry who went about the country dissolving the monasteries and plundering their treasures. The hunt for the treasure culminates in a hilarious scene in which the girls dig up rusty old kettles and pap boats. However, a couple of questions are left unanswered. First of all, who wrote the mysterious message and why didn't he go and dig the "treasure" up himself? Susan and Tessa do indeed give some thought to this, with Susan reaching the conclusion that the unhappy treasure hunter of yesteryear died, possibly of old age, before he had a chance to get his hands on the gold and jewels. After feeling sorry for this person, the girls give him no further thought and concentrate on digging. But who wrote the message in the first place? I imagine a former pupil on a rainy afternoon puttering about in the library and doing it for a joke, maybe smiling at the idea of a future pupil taking it seriously. And did Ronan's Heap really exist to begin with? In Jane Shaw's world, it would be safe to imagine that it did, and that Susan was meant to find it in a later story. The author undertook to write four or five books set at St. Ronan's, although only two ever materialized, and I can imagine the treasure being found. In The Moochers, Fiona and Katherine found the famed Pendragon Hoard, so there would be a good chance of Susan uncovering Ronan's Heap in her blundering way.
"Oh goodness, I shouldn't think so," said Aunt Lucy distractedly, "I promised to make ten pounds! Here, have a look at the leaflet, it tells you all about the fête." As if she was going to make the sweets that minute, she stuffed her last piece of toast in her mouth and got up. "Oh, and don't forget to tell the Gascoignes about the fête - they might like to come and I told Mrs. Mountford-Jones that I'd bring as many people as I could--"
There were rebellious mutterings and angry murmurs from the family. They couldn't even enjoy a fête without these Gascoignes, it seemed.
From SUSAN RUSHES IN, Chapter 5, Buried Treasure.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Well, of course, everything now was absolutely clear. Really, this bracelet was creating quite a disturbance. Fancy old Grey Suit padding up and down the Rue de Rivoli for - how many days was it? - on the off-chance of seeing us again! Which of course he had, often. It wasn't so surprising, really, when you think how we haunted that street. I blushed to myself for having the conceit to think that Grey Suit was following us for our irresistible beauty, so I quickly said, "Oh, Monsieur, but of course. Of course we'll bring back the bracelet. As a matter of fact, we saw your---"
"We'll bring it tomorrow," Dizzy interrupted firmly.
From ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, Chapter 9, Up Among the Gargoyles.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Susan at School, published by Collins in 1958, is the fifth book in Jane Shaw’s Susan series, although chronologically it is the second. The story backtracks to early January just after the events of Susan Pulls the Strings and The Wilsons Won’t Mind to chronicle Susan’s first term at St. Ronan’s.
The story begins with Aunt Lucy dropping Charlotte, Midge and Susan off at St. Ronan’s. Susan is soon introduced to many of the most memorable characters in the series. First of all, there is her dreamy friend and fellow newcomer, Tessa. Then there are Charlotte’s fellow prefects, the boisterous but likeable Hippo and the nasty Hermione Pennington-Smith, known to her many enemies as H. P. Sauce. Susan also befriends Ann Burton, the girl with a lisp, and Elizabeth Rogers, the budding actress. However, and unusually, it is on Susan and Tessa that the story mainly focuses, with Midge in many chapters taking a back seat. Other characters that are still remembered years later by readers are the teachers: Miss Phillimore, the imposing head mistress, “Dotty” Johnson, the Latin teacher and the dreaded Miss Ferrier, a.k.a. the Ferret, the maths mistress.
The story that follows is one of Jane Shaw’s most humorous and is also interesting because it goes against the grain of the school story genre. The girls do not form a tight bond with the school. They tend to be underachievers and very little learning takes place. They go through prep and classes with the minimum possible effort. But Susan does win her place on the hockey team and is anxious to help provide funds for the new and badly needed school hall. Not surprisingly, there is a long-lost treasure supposedly buried on the school grounds that can help achieve this. And there is the added mystery of dotty Miss Johnson’s mysterious comings and goings to an old shed.
Unlike other Jane Shaw stories, this tale thrives on anti-climax. Miss Johnson’s supposed secret has Susan and Tessa chasing all over the place, but turns out to be an ancient car that everyone else in the school already knew about. And the most hilarious is the uncovering of the so-called Ronan’s Heap, the long-lost priceless treasure. Susan and Tessa are convinced that the location of this collection of jewels and gold is marked on an old map they find in the school library by the cryptic message “R. H. Here”. A hilarious scene has the girls unearthing a collection of broken kettles and other 19th century trinkets. However, not all is lost, as these items turn out to be worth a few pounds. The story rounds off with a triumphant Susan helping her team to win a hockey match away from home. Even getting to the hockey match involves adventure, with Miss Johnson’s ancient car saving the day, transporting Susan and the team’s equipment to Moreton Grange just in time.
The book is not run-of-the-mill Jane Shaw in other ways too. The author gently pokes fun at the school genre throughout the story by having Tessa compare everything that happens to her with what she has read in her mother’s old books about boarding schools (supposedly books penned by the likes of Angela Brazil). Everything that happens in Tessa’s books is in contrast with the reality of St. Ronan’s. There is no permanent threat of expulsion, the mistresses have no big secrets and the prefects do not bully their charges, rather it is the younger pupils who get the better of them. This story also depends more heavily on slapstick comedy than any other Jane Shaw story. A lot of humour is derived from Tessa’s slow intellect, and there are times when this is laid on a little too thickly. A final point of note is that it is at St. Ronan’s, ironically, that Susan actually excels at something, i.e. hockey. In all the other stories, her busybody nature usually does more harm than good, with only the predictable coincidences saving her at the last minute, but here she actually has a skill that she can proudly call her own.
Although the author claimed that she did not enjoy writing school stories, Susan at School is an excellent, well-plotted piece of work and was a huge success in its day with many memorable characters. I give it a ten.
Mrs. Carmichael is the deceased mother of Charlotte, Midge and Bill Carmichael, wife of Dr. Charles Carmichael and sister-in-law of Margot Lyle and Lucy Carmichael. She is only referred to in the stories as having passed away when Bill, her youngest child, was very young. Very little information is provided about her. She studied at St. Ronan’s and was in St. George’s House. She probably studied with Lucy and Margot and it is likely that they introduced her to her future husband during visits to their home during the school holidays. All the children appear to have come to terms with her passing and the hole that she left in their lives is partially filled by Aunt Lucy. It is likely that the author decided that the Carmichael children would have no mother to enable their household to be run by an “eccentric” Aunt Lucy, as Lucy’s behavior in Susan Pulls the Strings would be more acceptable coming from an aunt than a mother. However, the concept of an eccentric Aunt Lucy soon fell away and she became a more “sensible” maternal figure, and in the subsequent books the absence of the children’s birth mother was always quickly explained away in the opening pages. The cause of Mrs. Carmichael’s death is not given, nor is her first name, although it was possibly Margaret.
Susan too found it very disappointing; so far as she could judge, Tessa's tales were all a lot of rot, boarding-school was just as bad as day-school had been - boring to a degree - hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks passed without anything exciting happening at all; instead of mistresses with sinister secrets there was nothing but boring old lessons and prep; instead of prefects persecuting girls and making their lives a misery the boot was on the other foot, as she heard that afternoon when Diana came in and, with a gusty sigh, flung herself as usual into the one armchair.
From SUSAN AT SCHOOL, Chapter 5, Miss Johnson's Secret.
Friday, March 15, 2013
|The Retro Press cover of Crooks Tour. The spine shows a scene from Chapter 2, Crook in the Station, where Julie, Ricky and Fay collar the young man rushing through the train station at Basle. Thanks to Jan Johnson for this nice scan.|
Susan didn't want to be a dog-in-the-manger, but really it was asking more than flesh and blood could stand to stay and watch Tessa playing in B game, and she certianly wasn't going back among the rabbits in G game, she was tired of scoring goals. Nobody would miss her, she thought, mournfully, feeling feeling sorry for herself; she would go for a long walk to Maidstone perhaps, or to Tunbridge Wells.
From SUSAN AT SCHOOL, Chapter 3, Tessa is Promoted.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Eventually she stood on a chair, and with a lot of puffing and blowing and straining she managed to heave her suitcase and hook it on to the front of the wardrobe. She had just got down and pushed the chair away when suddenly to her horror the whole contraption, wardrobe, suitcase, dresses, the lot, swayed slowly forward and crashed to the floor.
From FIVEPENNY MYSTERY, Chapter 2, What Happened in Athens.
Monday, March 11, 2013
They all bustled about getting more stuff to burn, and then at last Cousin Barbara thought the potatoes would be ready. She poked them out of the fire with a long stick. "Oh, just a minute, Susie!" she cried. "They're burning hot, let them cool a little!"
"But it's half the fun, surely," said Charlotte, "to get your fingers burnt---" and she seized the charred object, which didn't look as if there was an edible bite in it, and broke it in two and began to eat the delicious, flurry inside. Cousin Barbara came in for much praise for her excellent timing, the potatoes were cooked to perfection.
From SUSAN'S HELPING HAND, Chapter 7, Bonfire.