Monday, 6 April 2009

Can anyone recommend...

I am planning a week of children's short stories in the near future; can anyone recommend some...?

I am probably going to use Robert Westall elsewhere. Alan Garner? Tove Jansson? I'd also be interested in long-established series carrying on past their original era and attempting to 'get to grips with' the modern world, as in the pictured example above (though I am not sure whether that example is one of the JW novels or collections of SS)...


  1. re. Garner, you might perhaps consider 'The Stone Book Quartet'.

    'William and the Pop Singers' is both the title of a book (1965) and the title of the lead short story within it. The book also contains 'William and the Protest Marchers', where Crompton gently but slightly nervously ridicules the new universities of the '60s. There is also 'William's Television Show' (1958), which I haven't read: again, this is the title of a book though it may also be the title of the 'lead' short story within it.

    The cheapest edition on Amazon Marketplace is a 1975 reprint at £6.74, but I'd be perfectly willing to lend you my original copy of 'William and the Pop Singers' - both its titular short story and 'William and the Protest Marchers' demand dissection. I don't think anything in it stands your level of analysis at all (her work doesn't, as a rule), but I have an anthology called 'Enid Blyton's Sunshine Book' (also 1965, plenty of editions on Amazon for 1p) which includes a short story called 'Santa Claus is Surprising', in which Blyton vents her spleen against what she clearly saw as an increased selfishness that was the price of post-war affluence, by having a schoolteacher's brother-as-Santa refusing to give presents to children who haven't bought anything for their parents, and a few other stories in which Blyton takes an increasingly cruel, Severe Punishment tone.

    However, the other works I'm aware of that fit your description - Antonia Forest's 'The Attic Term' (1976), Monica Edwards' 'Fire in the Punchbowl' (1965) and 'A Wind is Blowing' (1969), to an extent some of the later works of Malcolm Saville (though in 'Home to Witchend' he, heartbreakingly considering that it was published in September 1978, creates a world effectively outside normal time), are full-length novels so outside your remit. I've got a Josephine Pullein-Thompson novel from 1994 ('A Job with Horses' - you see, I *suffer* for my interests) but that, too, exists in its own parallel universe in rather the way of Howard Hawks' last two films.

  2. I've already ordered one of the cheaper 'Pop Singers' editions - couldn't resist it. The 'Protest Marchers' might be an interesting one to write about I feel. The Sunshine Book sounds interesting too.

    Have bought the Edwards FITP recently, finally.

    The Crompton will be particularly interesting for me on a personal level having quite avidly read a few of the 1920s ones back in 94-5 (mainly the Just and More William volumes). Think I might bend the rules of my this and write about two William stories. Have you read Garner's book of "British Fairy Tales"?

  3. Sadly not (re. 'British Fairy Tales') - it's one of the few Garner works I don't own. The self-doubting pop singer William encounters seems to bear most resemblance to Paul Jones, though I doubt whether Crompton would even have heard of him.

    The (it would appear) later stories in the EB Sunshine Book are interesting, in a gruesome sort of way, but nothing more. As I mentioned long ago on RAH, there's an intriguing shift in the Famous Five series between Blyton treating American influences as an amusing sideshow in 1955 and viewing them with a certain paranoia by 1960, but that's out of your scope. Though what you could *really* do with are some of the short stories mentioned here, from the final years of the Schoolgirls' Own Library - - I mean, 'Kit and Ken - Top of the Pops' (Sep 59), 'Rebel at Manorcliff' (Oct 59), 'The Girl Who Rocked Manorcliff' (Jul 60), 'Pop-Singing Schoolmaster' (Oct 61), and on the next page 'Golden Disc Girl' (Mar 63). If it is indeed true that to understand how the media work *now* you'd be better off watching Charlie Brooker than reading all the monographs and textbooks in the world (as was suggested today on the Mausoleum Club), then it may yet also be true that reading the likes of these (invariably written by authors born at the turn of the century who were clearly forced at gunpoint to come up with them) reveals more about the true tensions of their times than Sandbrook, Hennessy or even the more purely academic historians. Unfortunately I don't think these were ever anthologised elsewhere, at least not where you could be certain to find them. At the moment, though, there's an eBay seller called 'chhatarpur' who is selling some other SGOLs from 1959/60 and claims to have "lots of others" available ... should I ask him whether he has the ones I've mentioned here, or should you?

    'Fire in the Punchbowl' is indeed pretty easy to find (mainly in its Armada edition), unlike the even later 'The Wild One' and the aforementioned 'A Wind is Blowing', both of which routinely go for three-figure sums on eBay. I have them both, but it was a struggle.

  4. Ah, the covers of two of the aforementioned at least are on flickr: (Girl Who Rocked Manorcliff) and (Pop-Singing Schoolmaster)

    It takes a certain level of madness to care about this ...

    Some time soon I will hopefully come up with an epic piece about Pamela Brown's astonishing 'Summer is a Festival' (1972), which - remarkably considering her age and background - evokes the market towns of the early '70s, battered by Bolan and Bowie, fearful of Heath and Barber's boundary changes, facing the future grim-faced, with the most astounding accuracy. As the cheapest copy online is £65.00 (I managed to get one on eBay for considerably less, but it was only printed once and that may never happen again) I'd be willing to lend you mine. btw, can I assume you'd be interested in the December 1992 Sight and Sound, and two summer 1983 NMEs?

  5. I have a book of short stories published in 1961 known as Girls' Choice, which was republished in 1975 (or at least reprinted and adbridged). I later discovered (in the later 1990s) that there were many authors from the Second Golden Age of British children's literature, for example Margaret Biggs.

    Also there are 2 collections of girls' adventure stories published by World Publishing. The ones I have are called Arribadas and Cathy Stumbled upon a Secret. Some point to genre fiction, while others are more literary. Some are historical fiction, others are mysteries, others are horrors, and at least one is very realistic. Unfortunately they don't have authors or copyrights per se.

    Also there is 1000 Short Stories for Children published by Octopus Press, which also has an American imprintateur. All I know about it is that it has a pale peach cover and two children - a boy and a girl - reading. Ones I like - apart from the classics - are 'War Games' and 'A Normal Life'.

    When I was a small girl, what really got me into short stories was The Cat-Flap and the Apple Pie. There is one by Dorothy Edwards about a comprehensive school. I had a feeling it was set in the 1960s.

  6. AD - thanks, will certainly consider those. The Dorothy Edwards perhaps in particular...

    RC - I think everything can be of use to understanding an era, but certain things might take precedence. How the minds, manners and tastes of the young have been informed is crucial - sets the tone to an extent for adulthood. Or at the very least establishes a context to be reacted against, or gone with...

    what does the late '92 S&S include?
    'Summer is a Fesitval' sounds rather intriguing; I await some writing on this with interest. A loan would be much appreciated; I would be able to return it with the "Moondial" disc - *finally*. :-) (was there anything else I was going to copy you again? 'the third programme' bbc4 docu.?)

    In terms of being able to find SGOL stories, I am presuming these would be unlikely even to come up in any antiquarian book fairs or secondhand bookshops?

  7. I have 'Moondial' anyway now (from that Swindon resident you received a lot of material from) and I recorded the Third Programme prog when it was repeated last year. There is however a lot of still non-commercially-available stuff in that list you sent me ages ago that I'd still be interested in ...

    The Dec 92 S&S is most notable for including that year's critics' and directors' poll (in the ten-year cycle). The surplus NMEs I now have are of course valuable for the light they shed on one particular subculture's reaction to the 1983 election (one of them is actually from the same week) and all its attendant contradictions (though the absolute best NME response to it, Morley's "Rock Right" piece on Bowie at Milton Keynes Bowl, regrettably isn't in either of the issues I'm sending you - mercifully, neither is Parsons' all-too-typical rant about how people hadn't voted Labour because they wanted to be controlled from Brussels).

    I should, happily, soon be receiving most of the SGOL stories I'm interested in (there's also a chance my mum might have some circa '58, lurking away).

  8. Thinking about male-targeted school stories, are there many Billy Bunter or Jennings books which contain stories, or are they all effectively bovels?

    I am imagining that Rudyard Kipling might be interesting to consider in this context too...

  9. There was the odd Jennings short story here and there (I think 'A Bookful of Jennings' may have been a collection of these, though I'm not sure). Indeed, Jennings first appeared on the radio Children's Hour, and later on television, and those were short stories of a sort (though mostly long gone from the archives, I'd suspect). I've got one of the Jennings short stories in a '4th Dimension' annual (this was a 1972-75 Radio 4 attempt to revive children's radio, involving some former Children's Hour personnel, with a partially updated approach which even then wasn't enough, hence its relatively short life - the series is most notable for giving its name to what was effectively Paddy Kingsland's solo album, which includes its theme music) but it's really nothing special.

    Bunter in fact did not appear in novels until comparatively late in Charles Hamilton's very long life. In his heyday, he appeared only in 'Magnet', a comic which I think launched in 1908 (when the character first appeared) and closed in 1940 because of paper shortages during the war. So there are vast numbers of Bunter short stories, and as the majority of Magnets were reprinted in the 1970s/80s, I suspect there'd be some available on eBay.

  10. Yes, "Bunter goes to Butlins" I have found in the bookcase of v. old books we have in the house (also an early Jennings - will be good to read a background though I remember you saying Buckeridge's later entries were more interesting, in how accommodated they are to the changing times). '... Butlins' Seems to be a novel, from as late as 1961.

    May well try and get one of those Magnet facsimiles; have always liked having a facsimile edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes - a good way to read them. (although missing any annotations you might get in a modern edition - not something likely to be accorded post-WW2 children's lit. unfortunately, barring i suspect the usual Lewis and Tolkein...)

  11. Well, Buckeridge's socialism is absolutely key to the later books (which he himself preferred), in that he embraces changes that virtually all his contemporaries were deeply fearful of. Even in the early books, there's no apparent snobbery against the "lower orders", which isn't something you can say of many/most 1950s boarding school stories.

    By astounding coincidence 'Billy Bunter at Butlins' is the only Bunter I myself own! Hamilton died in 1961, but novels continued to be published until *1965*, I think with the last few written by other people under the "Frank Richards" name. The Bunter TV series, all of which Hamilton wrote, only finished with his death - quite amazingly the last series was contemporaneous with JFK, Yuri Gagarin and Del Shannon, and postdated 'Paradise Walk', a BBC children's drama aired in Jan/Feb '61 which dealt with urban tensions in the wake of post-war immigration a long, long time before anything else on British children's TV really did (it was perhaps *the* first post-Carleton-Greene programme, but was not followed up under his stewardship). The Swindonian who we've both had dealings with sent me a few episodes of the series, and to be honest I'm a bit nervous about watching them, though I fully expect that they will give off that all-too-familiar smell of a dying, rotting culture that deserved to die, but also deserved a replacement that would not merely curdle into a second dying empire.