Antonia Forest’s Kingscote: Spring Term, by Sally Hayward

‘On Monday morning, much to the School’s surprise, Miss Keith said grace and then told everyone to remain seated as she had something of paramount importance to say.

“In that tone of voice,” Miranda whispered with relish, “it can only mean an execution.”’

 

‘I can’t remember a time when Autumn Term and End of Term were not sitting on the bookshelf,’ writes Sally Hayward in the foreword to her sequel to Antonia Forest’s series of books about the Marlow family, and it shows. She doesn’t just manage to capture Antonia Forest’s style, in language, plot and characters, but also courageously introduces some significant character developments of her own.

The Attic Term, last of the school stories, finishes with quite a few dangling ends. Sally Hayward continues the uncertainty between Nicola and Esther, caused by Esther’s last-minute failure to sing Nicola’s solos, on just the right note – there are no angry quarrels, just cringeworthy and painfully realistic awkwardness.

Similarly, the parting of Patrick and Ginty is, I think, entirely faithful to Antonia Forest. Indeed, Ginty’s storyline is probably Sally Hayward’s bravest and most controversial development. In The Attic Term, Mr Merrick comments that ‘I think it’s evens whether she goes to the good or to the bad. But I doubt if it’ll be very spectacular either way’, and a few lines later refers to Ginty as the Lady of Shalott: ‘”She has a lovely face, God in his mercy lend her grace”.’ In many ways Mr Merrick is right – Ginty does move a little towards the bad, but in no dramatic fashion. It’s fascinating to watch her gradual descent from shamed fibbing about the telephoning scandal of the previous term – which leads to difficulties in her relationship with Patrick – which leads to her reading his private letter to Nicola – which leads to her terrified lying in an attempt not to be found out, and eventually to the horrible showdown with her best friend Monica. It makes convincing and painful reading, and while I felt that Antonia Forest probably wouldn’t have taken Ginty down this route, there was, and still is, a continual lurking feeling that she just might have. She certainly wouldn’t have shied away from doing so if she’d wanted to; that much is evident from the boundary-breaking, trope-crushing originality of the Marlow stories.

Tied into Ginty’s storyline is the final maturing of Ann – probably the part of the book I felt was least consistent with Antonia Forest’s style, simply because I can’t help the feeling that she didn’t much like Ann and that, in her mind, Ann would always be pretty much the same person. But I enjoyed Sally Hayward’s ideas about how Ann might change, and certainly the manner in which it happens is entirely plausible. Most poignant, I felt, was the moment when Lawrie, in careless irritation, asks Ann, ‘Why didn’t you go to the Chapel and ask Him?’ and Ann’s shocked realisation that that had never even crossed her mind.

There are many other enjoyable elements to the book – Nicola’s singing lessons with Dr Herrick and her spiritual musings in the cathedral. Her resumed closeness with Patrick (I particularly enjoyed him persuading her, quite cleverly, to buy a new horse). The French Play that Miss Keith insists upon for Open Day is a challenge for both Lawrie in the starring role and Tim as producer. And Lawrie herself faces a personal trauma which she deals with in typical Lawrie fashion. Perhaps with a few too many italics and Marlow-isms, but altogether a worthy sequel to Antonia Forest and a really entertaining book in its own right.

(With thanks to Clarissa of GGBP for providing the cover image).

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Girls’ Own: the obsession begins

My name is Abi, and I read children’s books.

I started off with Postman Pat, moved on to Ragdolly Anna, and continued with A Little Princess, What Katy Did and Anne of Green Gables. My first serious collection was Arthur Ransome, beginning with Winter Holiday and ending, regretfully, with Coots in the North. From there I moved on to Just William – a more satisfying collection to build, since it contains thirty-eight books as opposed to the thirteen in the Swallows and Amazons series.

When I was nine years old I found The Chalet School at War in the school library, but since it begins with the staff discussing events that happened not only in the previous book, but during the Second World War (which I had not yet studied), it left me cold. A couple of years later my Mum completed my Just William collection with William and the Pop Stars and suggested that I borrow Mary-Lou of the Chalet School from the town library. I suspect that she now regrets this, seeing where it led, but I did as she proposed, and thus was an obsession born. I began collecting the Chalet School towards the end of the time Armada were reprinting the books, so among my first were Reunion, Future, Adrienne, Two Sams and Prefects, as well, of course, as most of the earlier books, and I do retain a soft spot for some of these later ones.

I was sixteen when I started my first job, in a second-hand bookshop. I got books for half-price, and guess where most of my wages went? After extensive, if furtive, searching on the internet, I found that Elsie Oxenham was a promising candidate for lovers of the Chalet School. The bookshop had two Oxenhams – Robins in the Abbey, a Seagull hardback, and The Abbey Girls at Home, one of the notorious Children’s Press reprints. The latter being a quarter of the price of the former, I bought it, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

That was just the pointy end of the proverbial wedge. I began to collect feverishly. At first it was just the famous names – Elsie Oxenham, Angela Brazil, Dorita Fairlie-Bruce and Enid Blyton. Then I found The Schoolgirl Refugee by Olive C. Dougan, still one of my favourites, A Rebel Schoolgirl by Frances Carpenter, Terry’s Best Term by Evelyn Smith and many, many others. Now I have more than eight hundred Girls’ Own books and my collection is constantly growing. And at last I have succumbed to the self-indulgent temptation to talk continually about them on the internet.