My Lockdown Books: Forty

After The Edge of the Cloud, A Pattern of Roses is my favourite KM Peyton novel.  I am young enough that I read some of Kathy’s books as a teenager but ten years or so after they were first published.  This is one of them.  After I read the Flambards trilogy (as it was then) I moved onto A Pattern of Roses.  This cover makes it look spookier than it is and I’m glad the copy I borrowed from the library was the original hardback or I might have given it a miss!

A Pattern of Roses tells two stories: a contemporary one featuring two teenagers unsure of their way in life, and the Edwardian history Tim and Rebecca are trying to unearth.  I had no problem at all with the latter but the contemporary part felt very old-fashioned to me ten years after its publication.  And yet I had no problems at all with the Chalet School which was more than fifty years old.  Perhaps the distance is the issue.  Tim and Rebecca were close enough in time for me think of them as being modern whereas the Chalet School pupils were clearly of a different age.

Anyway that’s a musing for another time.  A Pattern of Roses explores what it means to have what the characters refer to as ‘perfect spiritual grace’ which they define as a contented frame of mind.  There are parallels in the two stories but also a realisation by the modern protagonists that their choices are much wider than they would have been sixty years earlier.  Not that this extent necessarily makes decisions any easier.  In fact the opposite might well be the case.

6th December

It was The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton that first made me aware of the Carnegie Medal.  I borrowed it from Lossiemouth Library back in the day and the front cover had an image of the Medal on it.  I didn’t know what it was at that point but it was clear that this book had won it and it was significant. The Edge of the Cloud is still one of my favourite books – and I now have a signed copy, a treasured possession.  Set in the run-up to the First World War, it’s the story of Will and Christina and Will’s passion for flying.  It’s also the second book in Flambards quartet, to which, I might add in passing, has now been added The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery (written with Kathy Peyton’s approval).

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears.  When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more.  Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia.  Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue driven.  He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them.  The characterisation is truly outstanding; even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop.  The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that even I, a middle-aged, female Scot, would like to inhabit.

The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery

Flambards by KM Peyton was published just before I was born.  I discovered it twelve years later when it was still the first in a trilogy although that trilogy would develop into a quartet a year or so later.  I enjoyed Flambards, although I was not then, and am not now, at all horsey!  The hunting and horse-riding and mucking out stables was all very well but I was really grabbed by two things: the house and the heroine.

Christina, an orphan, arrives at Flambards at the age of twelve to live with her unsympathetic Uncle Russell and his two sons, Mark and Will.  She realises that her uncle would like to marry her off to Mark, the elder, favoured son, so that her inheritance could be used to preserve Flambards.  But Christina dislikes her cousin as much as she loves the house.  It is Will, who has a passion for flying, to whom Christina is attracted.  And so the scene is set for the struggle between old and new, tradition and modernity.

The second book remains my favourite.  In fact, it is one of my favourite books of all.  The Edge of the Cloud, which won the Carnegie Medal, is Christina and Will’s story and is set away from Flambards although the house and all it stands for looms over their lives.  And to my mind it is this book that Linda Newbery has written a follow-up to.

The Key to Flambards is not a sequel to the quartet; it is a modern story with new characters but it is set in the house and it revisits some of the action and characters from KM Peyton’s novels.  It is important to say that Linda had Kathy Peyton’s blessing in writing her book and I am sure that the latter is pleased with the result.  Grace, the main character, is Christina’s descendant.  She and her mother arrive at Flambards, now a residential centre, for the summer and Grace is captivated by the house and her family history some of which the centre manager has unearthed.

As everyone who has read Linda Newbery’s books would expect, Flambards leaps off the page.  Linda’s settings are always wonderfully evoked and this is no exception.  As I read, a picture grew in my mind and I could see the action very clearly set in a definite environment.  And her characters are her other strength.  This is not a plot-driven novel.  It’s the story of a house and some of the people associated with it.  It is an exploration of family, friendship and love, and a consideration of the concept of continuity.  Perhaps that makes it sound too worthy, though.  I should point out that I read it in one sitting, finishing at two in the morning!  It was properly a page-turner.

Anyway it’s here now, published today (with a beautiful dust wrapper by Katie Harnett)  and it’s a real treat.  It’s an excellent book in its own right whether or not you’ve ever heard of the Flambards quartet.  You certainly don’t need to have read KM Peyton’s books to enjoy or understand Linda’s, although, if you have met them before,  you’ll get a kick out of hearing about Christina and Will again.