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.

9th December

Busman’s Honeymoon is the last of Dorothy L Sayers’ novels about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. If I had to pick one of the series as my favourite this would be it. In fact, I did choose it as one of the books in my extravaganza of a birthday cake earlier this year. Why do I like it so much? At least partly it’s because it is unusual in following a fictional relationship through the wedding into married life. So many series of novels end with the impending marriage or resolved relationship of the hero and heroine. But Busman’s Honeymoon explores the complexities of a developing committed relationship. As far as I’m concerned the murder is simply a backdrop to the profound mystery of Peter and Harriet’s marriage and their growing awareness of each other’s multi-faceted personalities, vulnerabilities and sensitivities. The Lord Peter Wimsey of this novel is so far removed from the man we first meet in Whose Body? that they might as well be two different characters. Interestingly, his constant companion, Bunter, has changed not at all. It would take Jill Paton Walsh to alter that – but that’s a post for another time!

If you want excellence in historical storytelling for young people, Theresa Breslin’s novels are a good place to start. Perhaps because of this year’s centenary commemorations of the Armistice it is Remembrance that jumped to mind in compiling my list of favourite books, although, in fact, I will usually cite Saskia’s Journey as my favourite of her novels. Remembrance is a study of the First World War as seen through the eyes of two families in a small Scottish community. It’s a superb piece of writing and tells the story of this cataclysmic event in a beautifully understated and very personal way. There are dramatic scenes of course but the plot and characters are grounded in the real world of the time. It’s a compelling and rewarding book.

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!