My Lockdown Books: Eleven

I tell anyone who’s unwary enough to stop and listen that this book is about me.  At least, I qualify, its heroine and I are roughly the same age and it’s almost set in Moray where I was that teenager in the 1980s!  The fishing industry and its future, which form part of the backdrop of this book, are concerns I recognise.

Saskia’s Journey by Carnegie Medal winner Theresa Breslin is a story of self-discovery, family secrets and a journey to the north east of Scotland now and then.  It’s set in a fishing community very like the one I group up in and depicts it very well.  Like Saskia, I was an outsider.  To belong in Lossiemouth means you and your family have lived there for generations.  Being an outsider wasn’t bad and didn’t mean I wasn’t accepted.  But I was set a little apart from the locals.  To be fair, so were the people from Hopeman six miles along the coast!

Theresa Breslin is a remarkable writer who never lets her research get in the way of telling a good story.  She uses all the knowledge she acquires without ever letting her readers see her hard work.  Her plots and characters unfold and develop naturally.  That is why I read her books.  With hindsight I see I have absorbed information and pondered situations but, as I read, only the story matters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Saskia’s Journey is my favourite of Theresa’s books.  But I’d happily recommend any of them to you.

Back Beside the Sea

As I write, it is a beautiful autumn day: the sun is shining, the sky is blue and there is scarcely a breeze.  The view from my windows is glorious: the trees still have their autumn colours, there are swans swimming in the pond and I can just catch a glimpse of the cathedral.  Where am I?  In my new office in Elgin.

I’ve just recently been fortunate enough to be given the post of Senior Librarian in Moray.  I have a varied remit including, I’m pleased to say, services to young people.  It’s a great job and I’m working with friendly and helpful people.  But, best of all, I’ve moved back to Lossiemouth after an absence of over twenty years.  From my house I can see the sea and the view is wonderful!

As yet, I don’t have all my books with me which is clearly not a good thing.  Deciding which titles to bring was tough and, in the end, I went for a random selection.  I do work in a library after all!  It’s been fun, though, reading my way through the books I brought.  I’d forgotten all about some of them and they’d got hidden away in my collection.  Maybe less really is more.

What did I bring?  Well, some are books I can’t be without.  Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery, Sisterland by Linda Newbery and Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce for example.  I also brought some short series: the Carol books by Helen Dore Boylston and the Merry titles by Clare Mallory.  And then there are some that I’ve acquired since moving.  I love Ottoline at Sea by Chris Riddell and Big Bear, Little Brother by Carl Norac and beautifully illustrated by Kristin Oftedal.

I have others, too, some of them even for grown-ups, but to feel completely at home I’ll need all my books with me.  The day can’t come fast enough!

Revising and Updating Books: some thoughts occasioned by re-reading Jean Estoril

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been re-reading the Drina books by Jean Estoril (Mabel Esther Allan).  I really liked these books as a child; I discovered them for myself in the library in Lossiemouth.  The first one I read was Drina Dances in Italy, the fourth title in the series, which was a bit confusing but I struggled through!

I read the first six titles eventually and thought for a long time that that was them all.  I was reading them as published by Collins as part of the Collins Ballet Library and, to the best of my knowledge, only these six were ever published in that edition.  The next one I read was Drina Goes on Tour, at that time the last in the series.  I discovered that in a charity shop or a secondhand bookshop and from it I found out that there were another three titles (numbers 7-9 in the series).  I got hold of those eventually and that’s when I realised that there had been some updating going on.

Later on (I think in the 1990s) the books were published in paperback by Simon & Schuster.  They had beautiful covers and I couldn’t resist buying them.  Naturally that meant I read them again and saw that they had been updated further.  Exctingly for me, another title was also published at this time.  As far as I know, Drina Ballerina was newly-written and it clearly went with the updated updated books!

I don’t know who decided that the books needed revised or why it was thought necessary.  In this case, it only works to an extent, partly because of the travel element of the books.  It made me wonder how other people feel about revisions and if there are any other good or bad examples…

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!