DE Stevenson was a best-selling author of her day, the mid-twentieth century. She wrote romances and family stories often with a bit of an edge. A number of different publishers have re-issued her titles recently but it’s also possible to buy first editions of many of the books. She’s another author that Mum read and collected; I read them intermittently over the years and kept Mum’s collection after her death. I have lots of favourites: Charlotte Fairlie, The Blue Sapphire and Katherine Wentworth spring easily to mind. But my choice for this list settled on Listening Valley. I like the settings, the heroine and the meandering story without any real plot. I feel as though I’ve just stepped into someone else’s life when I read it.
And finally we come to Until We Win. It has so much going for it: written by Linda Newbery, published by Barrington Stoke and with a plot about the campaign for votes for women, it ticks loads of boxes. But actually it’s a self-indulgent choice as it’s dedicated to me. I never ever imagined that an author, a well-respected, prize-winning one at that, would even consider dedicating a book to me. And on days when I feel disheartened by my impending redundancy it helps me to remember that maybe I have made a difference through my work.
For many years I had books that I almost always re-read at Christmas. They formed a mixed bag but, inevitably, they all had a strong sense of community. The only children’s book regularly in my Christmas collection was Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, one of my all-time favourites. I’ve written about it elsewhere so suffice it to say that, despite its wartime setting, it is a warm and welcoming story, inviting the reader to become a part of life in Easterbraes. It ends just before Christmas but it’s easy to imagine what a wonderful time the characters will have then. My other regular Christmas reads do have descriptions of Christmas, very different Christmases. One is Taken by the Hand by O Douglas and the other is Charlotte Fairlie by DE Stevenson. They both have solitary heroines surrounded by crowds. Beatrice Dobie in Taken by the Hand finds herself part of a small community for Christmas, though, while Charlotte Fairlie remains alone until afterwards. I’m not sure why I always read these books but something about them fitted my mood.
This is all in the past tense, however. Last year I was in Norway for Christmas (where it was mostly warmer than it is here in lowland Scotland just now. In Tromso, well inside the Arctic Circle, it was 10C on Christmas Day; in Stirling on Christmas Eve it’s around -5C) and I didn’t want to take books with me that I’d have to bring home again. So I read a completely random selection, including The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder which was excellent (see last year’s blog).
Having broken myself of reading the same books last year, I haven’t gone back to them. Instead I’ve spent this week reading books on my to-be-read pile: books that I’ve taken home from work, books that I’ve been given as presents and a couple of old children’s books that I bought myself (Maddy Alone and Maddy Again by Pamela Brown). Still awaiting me is Murder at the Flood by Mabel Esther Allan. This is a reprint by Greyladies of her only published adult novel. Also on the pile is British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War by Owen Dudley Edwards. I bought it at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and haven’t started it yet!
However the book that will keep me from re-reading my usual Christmas books is much more exciting than any other. I bought it in November and started it immediately. However, I got halfway through and then stopped. This is not because I wasn’t enjoying it but, rather, because I couldn’t bear to finish it. Enough suspense? Okay. The book is a previously unpublished title by LM Montgomery called The Blythes are Quoted.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know how much I like her books and so you can guess how excited I was when I read that Penguin Canada was publishing this title. It is a collection of short stories, poems and conversations between various members of the Blythe household. Most of the stories and one of the poems were published in a collection called The Road to Yesterday (which, of course, I have) in the 1970s but the stories were edited, most of the poems and all of the conversations were missed out. For me, reading The Blythes are Quoted is like meeting friends I thought I’d never see again and I am determined to make the meeting last as long as possible.