My Lockdown Books: Fifty Eight

Who to trust. What to believe. How to survive. These are the questions battering Jack Shian as he continues his quest to find his father. The Shian world is riven by treachery and betrayal and plunged into chaos. Will Jack rise to the challenges or succumb to his fears? The second part of the Shian Quest Trilogy, Jack Shian and the Mapa Mundi, is a twisting, turning, turbulent adventure. Andrew Symon’s fantasy world is complete and convincing, his characters believable and the plot compelling. I read the book in great chunks, unwilling to leave the action suspended without resolution, and am eagerly awaiting the trilogy’s conclusion.

I’m always happy to support small, particularly Scottish, publishers.  So I was delighted to be asked to champion this trilogy from Black and White.  I read the first volume as a favour to Paul, who then worked in marketing and publicity, but I continued with the series as a favour to myself.  Fantasy really isn’t for me but I genuinely enjoyed these and was very happy to draw them to te attention of others through The Scotsman.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Two

I met Mollie Hunter a couple of times: once at a book festival I organised to mark the Carnegie Medal, held at the original Carnegie Library in Dunfermline.  Mollie was one of three Scots to win the Medal (for The Stronghold) and she was our guest of honour at an Orcadian ceilidh.  The first time I met her, though, was in Edinburgh at the launch of a book called Reading Round Edinburgh.  Mollie used the city as a setting for many of her books and some of them are mentioned in the volume edited by Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.  However, my favourite of her books is not mentioned, although it is entirely set in the city.

I read The Dragonfly Years as a teenager not long after it was published.  I hadn’t read the book to which it is a sequel (A Sound of Chariots) but that mattered not a whit.  I was completely entranced.  It’s set in the 1930s against a backdrop of rising fascism at home and abroad.  Bridie, the heroine, lives with her strict (perhaps narrow) Brethren grandparents and works in the family florist business.  It’s the story of her growing desire to write, to experience more of life, to become her own person – if she can only discover who that is.  And it’s the story of her meeting with Peter McKinley and their developing relationship.

I often reread The Dragonfly Years and every time I do I’m gripped again.  It stays in my head and when I walk round Edinburgh I subconsciously note places mentioned in the book.  I have to let you into a secret.  I still haven’t read A Sound of Chariots.  For me, Bridie will always belong in The Dragonfly Years.

How it all began

I’ve been reading and collecting children’s books ever since I could read.  My parents started me off before I can remember and I’ve just kept on going.  I have very faint memories of going regularly to Thin’s in Edinburgh with my Dad after my sister was born.  We went by bus and the family story goes that we always sat upstairs at the front.  Apparently, it was a big event in my life!

I was introduced to libraries at an early age too.  My vaguest memories are of Portobello Library in Edinburgh.  Lodged at the back of my memory is a book about Angus and a cat.  I think Angus was a dog but neither Mum nor I could ever remember any more than that.  I haven’t been back to Portobello Library since we moved from Edinburgh but I’m sure they no longer have the book.

I have clearer memories of my next library: the Ewart in Dumfries.  I have been back there recently and it’s completely different now but my memories are of a somewhat forbidding place.  I expect the shelves were quite high and of dark wood and I have the idea that the windows were high too.  My clearest memory, though, is of discovering a beautifully illustrated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  I loved that book and borrowed it incessantly.  In the end, my parents bought me my own copy.  I still have it and I can still recite many of the poems!

My last childhood library was in Lossiemouth in Moray.  It was the first library I went to on my own.  It was at the far end of the (fairly long) street on which we lived and I would often go there after school.  I have pretty clear memories of Lossiemouth Library and some of the books I found there.  It was there that I first stumbled across some book prize called the Carnegie Medal.  I saw an impression of the medal on the front cover of The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton and thought that it looked very impressive.  Later it dawned on me that the prize had also been won by Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post, a book I’d read earlier in my life.

That’s how it all started.  So it seems that my parents and public libraries are to blame for my bowing bookshelves and creaking floorboards.  My parents continued to buy me books all their lives (and I inherited many of theirs) and scarcely a week has gone past without my visiting a library.  I’ve never lost my enjoyment of children’s books and I don’t expect I ever will – although I may be forced to stop collecting them unless I buy a bigger house!