What On Earth Books

What On Earth Books are new to me but Laura Smythe who works as part of the publicity team is not and she sent me two of the company’s new books.  And I am delighted because they are wonderful in their own right but they are also about two things in which I am passionately interested: language and islands.  (I know, it’s an unusual group.)


Literally, written by Patrick Skipworth and illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson, does what it says in the subtitle.  Patrick has chosen a selection of English words with different roots.  He explains, with the artistic help of Nicholas, where each word comes from, how to pronounce it and how its meaning has changed.


I’ve chosen this one as my example as it demonstrates one of the reasons English has so many synonyms, something I was very interested in at Glasgow University where I studied English Language.  The history of language and its development is a fascinating thing and this book is an excellent starting point.


Amazing Islands is by Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman and it is due out next month (June 2020). They have chosen some isands and some island groups for a variety of different reasons, be it geographical, geological or literary.


I collect islands in a loose sort of way and am fascinated by the literal insular nayure of them, how it affects the people who live there and the particular phenomena it gives rise to.  Svalbard and Prince Edward Island are two isands I would love to visit and for the reasons in these descriptions.  I’ve been as far north as the top of mainland Norway but I’d really like to go norther still!  And for most of my life I’ve been dreaming about meeting Anne on her home ground.


Although the publisher has aimed these books at quite young children, I’d say that anyone of whatever age will find something interesting in them.  And it might well lead on to further journeys of exploration, virtual or actual.


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: Twenty Four

I’ve been reading Mabel Esther Allan’s books for about forty years.  I’ve collected them more seriously recently but have limited myself to her teenage novels as her output was prolific.  Originally I was only interested in the travel romances but now I’ve branched out into the mysteries as well.

I have visited more places than I’d realised because of her books or to see specific things she mentions in them: Kandersteg, Lugano, Montmartre, Lindau…  The list goes on.  Mabel loved to travel but hated to be a tourist and I can relate to that.  I love travelling and trying to blend in.

A Summer at Sea is almost my perfect travel novel.  As you do if you’re a middle class girl who’s not interested in a career and has been unwell, Gillian gets herself a temporary job in the shop on board a small cruise ship.  (Actually her aunt, who works for the company and is well in with the Captain, gets it for her.)  I read this one as an adult and I was so jealous!  Not only does she spend a summer at sea, but she visits Bergen multiple times.

Bergen is one of my favourite places in the world and I have only ever been there when embarking or disembarking a ship.  But that’s not as a result of this book.  I first visited Bergen on its own merits and because it is the departure point of the Hurtigruten ships.  The Bergen in this book, set in the 1960s, is very different to the Bergen I know in terms of economy and tourism but the geography of the city is perfectly recognisable.

Oh, to be able to spend a summer at sea in Norway.  I’m saving up to do two Hurtigruten coastal sailings back to back.  That might have to do!

My Lockdown Books: Four

As a teenager I collected Bodley Head career novels.  I had loads; they were easy to find.  And then, in one of our moves, I got rid of them.  Naturally, later in life, I regretted throwing them out and started to collect them again.  Now they are much harder to find and MUCH more expensive.  Still I have persevered and branched out into books from other publishers.

Air Hostess Ann by Pamela Hawken was one of the first titles I ever read.  Like many (perhaps most) of the books it was published in the 1950s and in some ways it’s hilarious seen from the perspective of the twenty-first century.  But the story here stands up.  That’s not an inevitability.  Many of these titles have very little plot and were written almost as information books.

I was reminded of this one recently as flew across the world, home from New Zealand.  It took me just over thirty six hours, owing to the travel disruption and an eight hour transit time in Dubai.  The eponymous heroine of today’s book would never have imagined that such a speedy journey could ever be possible.  Her first flight from London to Bermuda (with a stop in the Azores for refuelling) took twenty two hours.

In many ways these books are about a different world, a world where flying was not commonplace, where the idea of a middle-class girl having a career was still unusual.  They are, in fact, wonderful pieces of social history.  But the  best of them are also great stories.

My Lockdown Books: Three


My choice today is all about the illustrations.  Around the World in Eighty Days has been published in many editions since Jules Verne wrote it but this one, illustrated by Australian artist Robert Ingpen, is my favourite.  It makes me feel that I am part of the journey and it fuelled my desire to travel as far as possible without flying. I reviewed it in The Scotsman on its publication.  Here’s what I said:

This edition of Around the World in Eighty Days is illustrated by Robert Ingpen and is a delight from cover to cover. The well-known tale of Phileas Fogg’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe in his allotted time has lost nothing of its humour and excitement with the passing of the years. And being firmly set in a world without air travel, it has novelty value for today’s well-travelled readers. The changing scenery of Fogg’s journey is entrancingly illustrated by the brilliant Robert Ingpen. He is equally as able to bring to life people, places and modes of transport and these illustrations are a perfect partner for Jules Verne’s timeless prose.

I discovered that Robert Ingpen lives fairly near some of my Australian cousins and I was very excited when they arranged for me to meet him.  Sadly, the arrangement was for earlier this month and never happened owing to my early return to Scotland.  It’s an incentive to make a return to Australia as soon as possible, though, and I daydream about being able to do that by land and sea…