Mary-Dorothy Devine – Interview with a Heroine

Mary-Dorothy Devine, Elsie OxenhamFollowing on from my very successful chat with Madge Bettany, today I’ll be talking to Mary Dorothy Devine, featured in Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey Girls books, about what makes her – and of course her books – tick.

 

 

 

 

Mary-Dorothy, could you start by telling us a little about what led you to writing in the first place, please?

Oh, I’d love to. As a matter of fact, I think I’d really been a writer all along, but that wish was crushed by my father – not that he meant to do it, of course, but he was such a brilliant man himself and he didn’t want to me to end up disappointed and saddened. And of course he really did think my stuff was rubbish.

And what sort of writing method do you use? Plotter or pantser? Research before or after?

Plotter or what? That’s certainly a term I’ve never heard before! I think I understand what you mean, though, and the truth is that I rarely plot a book really thoroughly before writing it. I usually have some idea of what will happen, but beyond that, no. I feel that I’m simply a loudspeaker – the characters have their own lives and they speak through me. I just write down what they do and say. As for research, I feel that I’m doing that all the time. There’s rarely a time when there aren’t girls in this house somewhere, so I’ve always got young people around me. You see, I didn’t start writing my things down again until I met Joy and Jen.

I’ve heard a bit about that. Can you tell me how it was from your point of view?

Magic. Quite simply, it was magic. As though a part of me that had been shrivelled and wasted just grew buds and came alive. Like spring arriving after you think winter has become eternal. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

But things weren’t always perfect between you and the Abbey girls, were they?

(pauses) No, that’s true. I’ve thought a lot about that, and I’d really rather not discuss it now. All I’ll say is that it was at least as much my fault as theirs – I had unrealistic expectations of them and that never makes for a good or a true friendship.

Of course. In that case, could you perhaps tell us a little bit about your life now?

Well, as you know, I’m Joy’s secretary. But that doesn’t take up all my time by any means. I spend plenty of time writing – and correcting, and I can tell you that that is not by any means such a joy! Apart from that, I like to spend plenty of time with anyone who happens to be visiting. Joy is so hospitable and such a delightful hostess; there’s almost always someone or other here, and most of them are old friends. It’s marvellous to talk to them and to hear stories about the girls before I ever knew them.

And I believe that you’ve been able to help a few other people yourself.

(looks a little embarrassed) Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean – yes, I do try to help people. I feel that it’s the least I can do, really, when Joy and Jen helped me so tremendously when I was just a shell, a shadow of a person. It took me a little while to realise it, but once I did, I simply had to go on and think and learn so that I could help others.

That’s good to hear. So what has been your greatest challenge in life?

Bringing up Biddy; there’s no doubt about that. I wasn’t so very much older than she was, and I simply had no idea about life at all. I really wasn’t a fit person to be in charge of a fifteen year old girl. Fortunately I was rescued before I could make a real mess of things.

Now, finally, could you tell us a bit about what you see for yourself in the future? Is there a husband on the horizon?

Certainly not! I doubt I’ll ever get married; not at my time of life. In any case, I’m quite happy as I am. I believe that for many people marriage does what folk dancing and the Abbey girls and – well, just living here and having this life – have done for me. I don’t need a husband; my life is full already and more happy than I could possibly have imagined.

And after that I don’t think there’s really much more I can say. Thank you so much for talking to me today, Mary Dorothy.

Thank you.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Mary Dorothy Devine today. Watch this space for more interviews with heroines!

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Who would you marry?

Lovers?Have you had a crush on one hero for years, or have you always wondered which Girls’ Own hero was The One for you? Take this quiz now to predict your wedded bliss!

 

 

1. We all know that looks aren’t important, but they still count for something… What does your ideal man look like?

a) Bearded with twinkling blue eyes.

b) You don’t care too much about looks.

c) Big and blonde.

d) Tall, broad and pleasant.

e) Slim and dark.

 

2. But he’s not the only one who’s important. What kind of person are you?

a) Fairly similar to him, though not in every particular.

b) Eager and lively, with appealing looks.

c) Intelligent, womanly and full of common sense.

d) A child at heart.

e) Passionate, loving and a bit of a dreamer.

 

3. What kind of job would he have?

a) Something solitary and outdoorsy, perhaps working with animals.

b) A doctor.

c) Very important in his own area of expertise.

d) Something interesting and adventurous

e) He’s an artist to his fingertips, utterly devoted to what he does best.

 

4. How many children would you like to have?

a) I haven’t even thought about it!

b) Just one or two, most likely – certainly not too many.

c) I like a large family but not too enormous.

d) The more the merrier!

e) One’s plenty for me, thanks.

 

5. And how much time would you spend with your husband?

a) I’d like to work with him.

b) What do you mean? The average amount, I should think!

c) I don’t mind him working long hours, though I’d rather he spent more time with me.

d) I’d really rather spend a lot of time with my friends.

e) I’ll see him any time I want to! Except when I’m working, of course.

 

6. What’s his personality like?Husband or brother?

a) Gentle and caring.

b) Very kind, but also heroic.

c) He’s a man and he knows what he wants!

d) Awfully jolly and a frightfully good sort.

e) Eccentric and a bit obsessive, but adores you.

 

7. Finally, what would you say should be his outstanding quality?

a) Intelligence.

b) Heroism.

c) Authority.

d) Goodness.

e) Passion.

 

How did you score?

Mostly As: Kester Bellever (Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School). Congratulations on your excellent taste! Kester is kind and considerate, and a highly intelligent man with whom you’ll never find yourself bored.

Last Term for Helen, by Margaret BiggsMostly Bs: Peter Gilmour (Dorita Fairlie-Bruce’s Dimsie). You’ll be very happy with Peter. He may not have the best looks in the world, but he more than makes up for that with his caring ways and heroic nature.

Mostly Cs: Jem Russell (Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School). You’re the kind of person who wants to be with a real man who knows his own mind and isn’t afraid to go his own way in life. He’ll be verysuccessful and an excellent husband.

Mostly Ds: Kenneth Marchwood (Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey Girls). You might not spend as much time with Ken as you’d like, but when you do he’s not only your husband but your best friend. You will have a long and very jolly life with him.

Mostly Es: Sebastian Scott (Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells). Life will never be dull with Sebastian! He’s eccentric and sometimes unforgiving, but he loves you with all of his passionate heart, and that will make you feel like the happiest woman alive.

 

Find Your Inner Heroine!

You might be a Joey-hater and a Dimsie-lover; perhaps you find Darrell excruciating and Jen delightful, but have you ever wondered which of them you most resemble? Discover your inner heroine today by answering these simple questions!

 

 

 

1. We’re often told that appearance isn’t important, but it’s worth thinking about. Are you…

a) Blessed with big brown eyes?

b) Black-haired, and you look jolly nice in your new school uniform?

c) Pale, thin, and fragile looking?

d) Yellow-haired with very blue eyes?

 

2. You’ve just arrived at your new school, uniform crisp, nightcase neatly packed and tuck-box full. How are you feeling?

a) Is it going to be like the stories? Is it? Is it?

b) A little warm feeling comes into your heart and you are glad the school is going to be your home for the next few years.

c) You want to do everything and be friends with everyone!

d) You’re looking forward to everything most frightfully, though you have to be brave too, as it’s your first time away from home.

 

3. There’s never a huge amount of free time at school, but when it does come along, how do you like to spend it?

a) In launching crusades against whatever kind of silliness is currently rife in the school.

b) In playing tennis and lacrosse as frequently as you’re allowed, or in perpetrating silly pranks.

c) Oh, you’ll do anything really – read, write, sing, dance, play games, climb mountains, rescue people – so long as there are plenty of friends to enjoy it with you.

d) In learning folk dancing and playing cricket – if only you could decide which you prefer!

 

4. What is your attitude towards the crush, or Grande Passion?

a) Unhealthy nonsense! Launch a society against it immediately.

b) Actually, you don’t really understand the question…

c) You’re profoundly uncomfortable with any kind of sentimentality and think it’s all a lot of rot.

d) You haven’t really thought about it. The fact that you and your best friend refer to one another as husband and wife is irrelevant.

 

5. You find out that someone is planning to cheat in a school exam. What do you do?

a) Cheating of any kind is a terrible sin and a crusade must be launched against it immediately.

b) Catch the cheat in the act in the middle of the night and physically attack her.

c) What tosh! No decent schoolgirl would do something like that.

d) Exams? What do you mean, exams?

 

6. So what do you feel that the future holds for you?

a) Marriage, a herb garden and a rather restrained two children.

b) Going to university and then becoming a writer.

c) Eleven children (plus wards) and a string of best-selling books.

d) Marrying a Title and producing eight children.

 

7. Most real heroines marry eventually. What is your dream man like?

a) A sensitive, gentle, war-wounded doctor.

b) Man? Gosh!

c) A solid lump of comfort (and a doctor).

d) Jolly, semi-invisible and titled.

 

8. And how, briefly, would you describe your own character?

a) Apparently cheeky but actually simply endearing, with a habit of launching crusades.

b) A frightfully jolly schoolgirl with a talent for writing.

c) A sensitive, highly-strung dreamer, a natural leader and eternal schoolgirl.

d) Jolly, yet also a fount of wisdom and a strong motherly instinct.

 

Now, add up how many As, Bs, Cs and Ds you scored, and check the results below to discover your inner heroine…

 

Mostly As – Dimsie Maitland (Dorita Fairlie Bruce)

‘Well!’ exclaimed Erica in a shocked voice, ‘I’ve always known you had plenty of cool cheek, Dimsie Maitland, but I never thought the day would come when I’d see you advising Miss Yorke as to who should be moved up and who shouldn’t. You’ll certainly be expelled one of these days!’ (Dimsie Moves Up)

Your youthful charm and habit of addressing even the headmistress as though she is a contemporary and equal carries you through many sticky situations. You are prepared to indulge in mischief so long as it isn’t deceitful in any way, and you have a heroic streak which can lead you into some unfortunate and dangerous situations.

 

Mostly Bs – Darrell Rivers (Enid Blyton)

The girls stared at Darrell, who shook back her black curls and gazed with clear eyes at Katherine. Why, they hadn’t needed to have a meeting at all! They hadn’t needed to judge Darrell and set her to make amends. She had judged herself and made amends herself. The girls looked at her with admiration and Mary-Lou could hardly keep still. What a wonderful person Darrell was, she thought! (First Term at Malory Towers)

You are intelligent, courageous and honest, but you also have a hot temper which you struggle to control. You throw yourself into school activities with enthusiasm and, while you don’t always get everything right, you learn from your mistakes and are a popular member of your form.

 

Mostly Cs – Joey Bettany (Elinor Brent-Dyer)

To make matters worse, Miss Maynard, the mathematics mistress, had brought back for Joey a copy of The Appalachian Nursery Song-Book, and Joey had sung them in season and out of season, till even the donor of the gift was beginning to regret that she had ever brought it. (Jo of the Chalet School)

Delicate and highly-strung, your impulsive behaviour continually gets you into trouble. You are a natural leader and your friendliness and liveliness means that you are well-liked throughout your school career. With a highly-developed imagination and a habit of acting without thinking, you are inclined to end up in more scrapes than you need to.

 

Mostly Ds – Jen Robins (Elsie Oxenham)

“She’s the only girl in a family of brothers, and they call her Jen at home. She won’t be dancing; you need to learn the dances, and Jen is so very new. But I shouldn’t wonder if she becomes a dancer quite soon; she’s made for it, and she’s light on her feet. Perhaps cricket will claim her, however; it’s too soon to say.” (Schooldays at the Abbey)

You’re a tomboy with a love of mischief and adventure, but you also have a deep love of beauty and the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of the Abbey ruins draws you strongly. You love making new discoveries, and this can sometimes lead you into unfortunate situations, but you are able to learn and grow through all your difficulties.

Nine Girls’ Own Heart-Throbs – Plus One!

Literary crushes: We all have them. At least, I hope so, otherwise it’s just me and I’m going to look pretty stupid in a minute. However, I’ve heard the respective merits of Jem Russell and Jack Maynard discussed with passion, although no conclusive agreement has ever been reached (for the record, I prefer Jack of the two, but neither of them makes it onto my personal list). Sorry I don’t have pictures for everyone, but I did my best. I feel sure that many will disagree with my choices here – please feel free to comment below and fight the corner for your own particular favourite!

 

9. Neil Sheppard (Elinor Brent-Dyer, Chalet School series)

Neil’s entry here means that, most unfairly given her record in creating desirable men, Elinor Brent-Dyer has two characters on the list. But I had to put him in because he makes Grizel happy, which after fifty books and a hell of a hard life, I think she deserves.

 

8. Grant Rossiter (Jean Estoril, Drina series)

Grant is very lovely. He’s sensible and sweet, and waits patiently for Drina to decide she really does want to marry him. But he doesn’t get a higher spot on here, because…well, he’s just not very interesting. None of those dark-blue sparkling eyes and sensitive musician’s fingers. Sorry, Grant.

 

7. Dickon Sowerby (Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden)

He tames animals and takes birds and foxes around with him. He brings gardens to life and makes people happy and alive again. Need I say more?

 

6. Fatty (Enid Blyton, Five Find-Outers series)

Frederick Algernon Trotteville – I love him for many reasons. He can disguise himself perfectly as anyone from a waxwork of Napoleon to an elderly gipsy woman. He’s quite intelligent, a tiny bit up himself and can spout doggerel poetry as though pouring water from a jug. Also, when the other Find-Outers are mean to Bets and laugh at her, Fatty is always kind and encouraging, which is something that always appeals to me.

 

5. Tom Dudgeon (Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons series)

Because, frankly, he’s awesome. He sails in a no-nonsense, I’ve-done-this-all-my-life-and-this-is-the-way-life-is way and boats are pretty much the centre of his life. Yet he sacrifices his boats-are-all-important principles to save a coot’s nest across which a large and obnoxious motor cruiser has moored. Also, despite being the oldest in the Coot Club, the doctor’s son and very much the one in charge, he isn’t bossy or annoying, and he facilitates Dorothea in her detecting admirably and is entirely unthreatened by her magnificence. I am convinced that they ended up together.

 

4. Patrick Merrick (Antonia Forest, Marlows series)

I really like Patrick. Partly because all of Antonia Forest’s characters are so brilliantly drawn that it’s almost impossible not to believe in them as real people (I do suffer from Fiction Confusion quite badly), but also because I just like him. He’s interesting and intelligent and has fabulous, slightly eccentric hobbies such as falconry. I also like the way he’s happy to talk completely openly about his religion – he’s from a strongly Catholic family. My only gripe with Patrick is – why Ginty?

 

3. Teddy Kent (L. M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon series)

She thought Teddy could have whistled her clear across the world with those three magic notes.

Firstly, he’s tall, dark and handsome: ‘…she was acutely aware of his tall, boyish straightness, his glossy black hair, his luminous dark-blue eyes.’ Secondly, he’s a brilliant artist, famous for his pictures of beautiful women – every one of which has just a tiny bit of Emily in it. Thirdly, there are all those years of sobbingly miserable separation, when each of them loves the other and can’t or won’t say so. Not to mention his crazy mother, who does her best to put a spanner in the works and for a long time succeeds. And then that gorgeous scene at the end where he confesses, ‘I’ve been trying all my life to tell you I loved you.

 

2. Kester Bellever (Elinor Brent-Dyer, Chalet School series)

Normally Elinor Brent-Dyer’s not particularly good at men, but Kester Bellever is something special. He’s only a minor character, but he is uniformly lovely (there are no pictures of him, but we think the young David Attenborough does the trick). He first shows up taking little Cherry Christie out for the day, and then it turns out that he’s a famous naturalist. But it’s the way he treats Annis that really gets me swooning. After she runs away, he finds her climbing his cliffs to escape the tide and ties up her ankle, carries her to his hut, puts her to bed and makes her soup. And then he makes her tell him what’s wrong and takes her back to school. And finally, “Kester Bellever faced Miss Annersley with his shy smile. ‘I see it’s not necessary to ask you to be gentle with that poor kid,’ he said. ‘I’m glad the school’s got such a Head.’

Sigh.

 

1. Sebastian Scott (Lorna Hill, Sadler’s Wells series)

His eyes were blue – not light blue, but dark, and sparkling, and slightly on the slant. His hands fascinated me. They were strong, and slender, and very sensitive, and he moved them about continually as he talked. I’d never seen anyone with hands like that. In fact I’d never seen anyone like him at all. I wondered what his name was.

What? Oh, sorry…

Yes, Sebastian, my first and greatest literary crush (the one I used to sob into my pillow for at the age of fourteen), is indisputably number one on my list. If he rolled up waving a wedding ring I would be up the aisle before you could say “arrogant bastard”. Which he isn’t. He’s funny and clever, and very imaginative and sensitive. Also, he adores Veronica and even though he says awful, unforgiveable things after throwing an almighty strop because she forgets about his concert, and then refuses to apologise, she is just as furious and they still love each other and are madly happy together. And he is fabulously flamboyant and eccentric.

 

PLUS – The Amazing Tristan Denny

Because what’s not to love about a vague, eccentric musician who is ‘…the weirdest creature the girls had ever seen. He was tall and gaunt, with long brown hair falling wildly into his eyes and on to the wide collar of his shirt. He wore an enormous brown bow at his open shirt-throat. There was something untamed about him, and his vivid pink-and-white skin added to his unusual looks.