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.

Collecting the Carnegie

I first made an abortive attempt to collect a copy of every winner of the Carnegie Medal back in 2007 when I was involved in organising the Carnegie Children’s Book Festival in Dunfermline. I did track down some of the older titles but since then I’ve moved house twice and not all of them have survived those processes!  Now, ten years on as the eightieth anniversary of the Medal is celebrated, I’m starting again.

Some of the books have been part of my life for a long time irrespective of their Medal-winning status. It was The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton that first made me aware of the prize.  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 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.  An even earlier acquisition is Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome, the very first winner.  I read all of the Swallows and Amazons books at a very early age and they remain on my shelves.  And so, in an aside, does Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick, a fictionalised account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia.  It was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal but unaccountably didn’t win.

There are other winners on my shelves including the Scottish trio of The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater, The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter and Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin.  Naturally, I have A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce as I was involved in awarding those two Medals.  And as I looked back through the list of winners I realised that along the way I’ve acquired many others simply because they’re books I want to have: One by Sarah Crossan, Just in Case by Meg Rosoff, Tamar by Mal Peet,The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo, Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, Wolf by Gillian Cross, The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Last Battle by CS Lewis, We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold, Visitors from London by Kitty Barne, The Circus is Coming by Noel Streatfeild and The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett.

So here we go again. Some will be easy to find as they’re still in print, others will be trickier and a few, I have no doubt, will be nigh on impossible. A Valley Grows Up anyone?  Or The Story of Your Home?  But I love a challenge!