My Lockdown Books: Forty Six

As many of you will know, Jean Estoril was one of Mabel Esther Allan’s pseudonyms.  I, however, did not know that when I came across Drina Dances in Italy in this edition in Lossiemouth Library.  It’s the fourth book in the Drina series so I had a bit of catching up to do but I loved the book and quickly set about finding the others.  Only the first six were published in this Collins Ballet Library series and for a long time I was unaware that there were in fact another four books (at that time; an eleventh was published much later).

Drina is half Italian, half English orphan who lives with her maternal (English) grandparents.  It turns out that she is in fact the daughter of a world-famous ballerina, although she only discovers this at the end of the first book.  Her two sets of grandparents fought over the right to bring her up and this book sees her first meeting with her Italian grandmother.

In small ways the Drina books cross with some of the books published under Mabel Esther Allan’s own name.  I remember being puzzled when the Lingeraux Ballet School and Company appeared in Black Forest Summer and later (in terms of my reading history) in Amanda  Goes to Italy.  I had first come across it in Drina.  I have a theory that the books Amanda starts writing in Italy are a variation on the Drina books – which, I admit, is maybe far-fetched.  An author putting her pseudonymous creation as fiction into another of her books, published in her own name,  maybe says more about the convoluted way my mind works!

My Lockdown Books: Fourteen

How dated is this cover?!  I never even thought about it when I first read See You Thursday by Jean Ure because I was a teenager in the 1980s.  It’s one of the books I found for myself in Lossiemouth Library.  Not long after I read it, the second book, After Thursday, was published and I read it too.  Meanwhile I had discovered more of Jean Ure’s books and thoroughly enjoyed them.  In fact, in my current collection I have kept three sets of hers.  As well as Marianne and Abe’s story (which was completed in Tomorrow is Also a Day), I have the two Sebastian books, If It Weren’t for Sebastian (I appreciated the subjunctive even as a teenager) and Always Sebastian, and the ballet duo, A Proper Little Nooryeff and You Win Some, You Lose Some.

Two of these books were published when I was an adult, a youngish adult, and not at a time when I was specifically collecting children’s books.  However, I bought a copy of Tomorrow is Also a Day and Always Sebastian out of my meagre salary.  That, I think, demonstrates how much I enjoyed Jean Ure’s writing.

I chose Thursday for my lockdown random selection because it was the first book by Jean Ure I read.  These days I don’t suppose it would appear unusual to a teenage reader but it has a blind male lead and a tentative age-gap relationship.  At fourteen or so I found it different enough to be significant although I can’t say that it impacted on my reaction to the book.

15th December

I discovered the Drina books by Jean Estoril serendipitously in Lossiemouth Library as a child. I read them in a random order as and when they were available. And only the first six, which had been recently re-issued, were available at all. The last of these chronologically is Drina Dances in New York, set partly in that city and partly on board a transatlantic liner. I may have said before that I grew up with my Mum’s stories of sailing to Australia and back, and ship-board life had always fascinated me. And I was a great reader of ballet stories so this was a combination guaranteed to appeal. I still re-read the Drina books and I now have all of them, including Drina Ballerina, published MUCH later than the others when the series was issued in paperback. I have them in a variety of editions as I find their publishing history fascinating. They’ve been updated over the years but haven’t suffered too badly. Honestly, I could have selected any of the books for inclusion in this list but the description of life at sea probably brought Drina Dances in New York into my mind first!

A few years ago Greyladies, a small independent publisher, re-issued some of the books of Susan Pleydell, a mid-twentieth century Scottish writer. I enjoyed them (Summer Term and A Young Man’s Fancy) so much that I checked the library catalogue to see if we had any of the rest of her ten novels. And thus I found Brighouse Hotel, her final offering. It’s set in the fictional Glen Torran somewhere unspecified – between Inverness and Fort William is my best guess – in the Highlands. Clunie Ritchie, a regular visitor to the area as a teenager, suddenly finds herself homesick for the mountains. So when the receptionist at Brighouse Hotel is rushed into hospital, Clunie is delighted to deputise. The hotel, as well as being frequented by walkers and fishers, is the local Mountain Rescue base and much of the plot revolves around this. But really this is a story about people and relationships and how both change and develop. It’s a charming novel without being at all cloying and enough of the real world of the 1970s intrudes to make it believable.