January 2021
  books monthly
Five great new titles from Girls Gone By Publishers just arrived!


This is the first issue of 2021, and time to think about the past again. In my book collection, I have dozens of books from the golden age of children's book publishing - the 1950s-1960s, including many that I originally had when I was approaching my teenage years. Even now, the art of being able to read opens up so many new worlds and universes it's difficult to overestimate the importance of this fantastic skill. I try to follow what's going on in the children's literature publishing world, and come across all kinds of strange and wonderful titles in the course of putting together the children's books page of Books Monthly. But I can't help thinking that the old way, of telling a story, of sending your readers off on an adventure, is the best way. Of course, times change, and so do people's reading tastes, but when you think about the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter stories (and the continued success of J K Rowling as she continues the adventures of Cormoran Strike - for adults, of course), I'm drawn to the fact that some people were meant to write, and some people weren't. I want to concentrate on the people who, in my opinion, were born to write, starting with some of the authors I used to read when I was a lad, growing up in a completely rural environment in the heart of Gloucestershire, at the foot of the hill we knew as Cheeseroll Hill, or Cooper's Hill to give it its proper name. At first I was drawn to children's adventure stories, such as the Barney Mysteries by Enid Blyton. I don't remember when people started to become anti-Blyton, and it's an episode of her life I would rather forget, and indeed, would rather it had never happened in the first place.

Enid Blyton wrote adventure stories. Her Little Noddy stories  contained references to golliwogs, and I suppose it was this that got the dreaded do-gooders thinking that she was some kind of racist monster. Enid had a following for her stories all over the world. She loved children and wrote to excite and to please them. Nowadays, maybe, her "adventures" were tame compared with the weird and wonderful adventures today's children can read. But there again, you can still find children's adventure stories that are really very similar to those that she wrote, and, after all, Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts are an extension of Darrell's adventures at Malory Towers. I can happily pick up a Famous Five or one of Enid's Adventure series and read and enjoy them for what they were originally intended - to entertain and stimulate. Equally, I can pick up a brand new children's adventure story and enjoy it. And the fact remains that people of all ages are clamouring for nostalgic publications from the 1950s and 1960s - which is why a new series of Malory Towers was made for television at the beginning of this year. It's also why His Dark Materials is on right now and being enjoyed by millions (It finishes this Sunday 20th December). It's the best fantasy series since Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, far better than the Hobbit trilogy, in my opinion, and proves a point: that children and adults continue to enjoy good quality literature, and also enjoy it when such literature is translated into prime-time television (and film). I learnt to read at the hands of Miss Paige and Mr Rossiter at Brockworth New County Primary School. It opened up a universe of thrills and adventures that no child or adult should be without access to.

My favourite books until I started Grammar School in 1957 at the age of ten, were the Regent Classics editions of ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN, and KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, which I read over and over again. Occasionally I found comic strip versions of both stories in my comics - not in TIGER or LION, but in the many other comics that found their way into my possession courtesy of my Uncle Lesley. My Mum and Dad were a little worried by the amoount of comics I read at that time, especially the American ones: Superman, Batman, Supergirl, Superboy, Tarzan of the Apes etc., etc., but I always got through all of my homework, I always did well at school, never finishing lower than third in a class of thirty-four at the Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, and the only comics I kept were my Tigers, Lions and Tarzans. The rest went in the bin or were passed on to my school friends. Another favourite author in the late 1950s was Frank Richards. His stories of Greyfriars School, featuring Billy Bunter and the original famous five, Harry Wharton, Frank Nugent, Hurree Ramset Jam Singh,  Bob Cherry and Harold Skinner were what started me on a long road to enjoyment of school stories in general; and it was my sister's School Friend comic that hooked me onto girls' school stories with The Silent Three. But by the time I went to the Crypt Grammar School, I was starting to appreciate other types of fiction than that specifically written for children, and I soon discovered The Saint stories by Leslie Charteris, the detective stories of Delano Ames, which I found hilarious, and featured a husband and wife team named Dagobert and Jane Brown. I also started to read ghost and horror stories - there was an excellent series of Pan paperbacks edited by Herbert van Thal, which featured the tales of M R James and others which frightened the life out of me, but were hugely enjoyable. I turned my attention to the classics, again with the aid of the excellent Regent Classics series, and read Wuthering Heights, Heidi, What Katie Did, Little Women and its sequels. Everything and anything, in fact, rather than the reading list for English Literature we were given at Grammar school! I started this with the intention of harking back to the 1950s and 1960s, and I'm still in that era.I was thirteen years old in 1960... when the world changed forever. Not to worry. I have many more memories to share with you, and you'll just have to wait until the next issue, when I shall be fully back to normal after my adventures with cancer (which I thought would never happen to me!)

Happy reading!

Yours Retro Magazine - the latest issue - out now!

The October 2020 issue of Yours Retro magazine kicks off with a fresh look at Natalie Wood. There are articles on Steve McQueen, the assassination of John Lennon, Joyce Grenfell and much much more! It's crammed with brilliant articles, information and pure nostalgia - best magazine on the newsstands! Get your copy now!

Keep scrolling down for five brilliant new titles from Girls Gone By Publishers - 1: Lorna Hill: The Secret

Published 24th November 2020

The Secret is the 14th, and final, title in the Sadler’s Wells series. GGBP first published this in 2002, and ever since then have been constantly asked to reprint it.This is the story of Vanessa and Sam – two babies found in the rubble of a theatre after an earthquake in Lorna Hill’s favourite imaginary eastern European nation Slavonia. One is the grandchild of a Northumbrian baronet whose daughter was dancing at the theatre when the earthquake hit, the other is the child of one of the theatre’s dressers. But which is which? The grandparents don’t know the sex of their baby, so both are brought to England. In the end, the little girl, Vanessa, stays with the baronet, takes up ballet and goes to the Royal Ballet School. The little boy, Sam, is brought up in Byker by the sister of a village woman who couldn’t have a baby of her own. But are they the right way around? Jim Mackenzie has written an excellent introductory article on ‘The World of The Secret, focussing on the Newcastle area he knows so well. Lorna Hill’s daughter, Vicki, wrote an article for our first printing of The Secret, which we have included here – on how her mother saw the story continuing in the next book (never, alas, to be written).

It's every young girl's dream to be a ballet dancer, and Lorna's Sadlers Wells series encapsulates that dream to perfection. In a kind of parallel to Monica Edwards's pony-driven series, and inspired by her daughter Vicki, who actually lived the dream, Lorna's stories are inspiring, character driven and fulfilling. The Secret, the final Sadlers Wells story, combines the compelling mystery of the babies, Vanessa and Sam, found following an earthquake in Slavonia, with the fulfilment of Vanessa's desire to be a ballet dancer. This is the kind of story that was serialised (in picture strip form) in Schoolfriend and Girls Crystal comics and annuals in the 1950s, and was required and desired reading for schoolgirls of that era. A superb story, brilliantly told.

2: Sylvia Gower: The World of Elizabeth Goudge

Published 15th December 2020

The World of Elizabeth Goudge was privately published by the late Sylvia Gower in 2001, and is incredibly difficult to get hold of now. There are copies advertised on Amazon from £800! We are delighted to be publishing a new edition at a somewhat cheaper price … £13 + overseas postage. Sylvia Gower wrote about Elizabeth Goudge’s life and writing, and shared her experience of visiting the locations which inspired the settings in her books – for instance, Wells which becomes the fictional Torminster. Sylvia Gower also explored “the reasons for their success and evergreen appeal for today’s readers”. Since 2001, many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books have remained consistently in print. GGBP have published not only those we have in print today but also Sister of the Angels, currently out of print. We have discovered that the Goudge Memorial Cross in New Milton has disappeared, just leaving the grave. We should like to restore this, and a Just Giving page has been set up to do this. If you would like to donate, please do so – please do *not* send money to GGBP if you are unable to donate through the Just Giving page – ask someone else to do it for you.

Elizabeth Goudge is best known to me as one of the romantic novelists I discovered and devoured during the 1950s, when I was reading anything and everything in sight! I had no idea at that time that she had also written children's stories, and I had quite forgotten that fact until GGBP sent me this wonderful insight into the life and career of one of Britain's most popular romantic novelists of the 20th century. Sylvia Gower's book  is a fascinating read, and as books about authors go, it's one of the best I've read for a long time. A  comparatively long and fruitful life saw Elizabeth established as a firm favourite for hundreds of thousands of eager readers. Superb.

3: Helen Barber: The Bettany Twins and the Chalet School

Published 16th October 2020

Which Bettany Twins? Read below …

It’s 1944. A world war is raging and the girls of the Chalet School are determined to play their part. But for Peggy and Bride Bettany, there is exciting news: their father Dick, twin brother of the School’s founder, is on his way back from India in spite of the war, and with him will be their mother and the young brother and sister they have never met. How will they adjust to living together as a family under one roof – First Twins Peggy and Rix, singletons Bride and Jackie, and Second Twins Maeve and Maurice? How will Maeve settle in at the Chalet School, so different from anything she has ever known? And what is the reason for the mysterious burglaries at the new Bettany home, The Quadrant? Helen’s latest contribution to the annals of the Chalet School is a typical EBD mix of school, family and adventure. It answers many of the questions fans have been asking years. How could Dick resign his job in India in Tom but still have it in Three Go? How did eight-year-old Maeve react to being given woolly reins as a welcome-home gift? Did Peggy really ‘come the eldest sister’ over Maeve, as suggested in The Wrong Chalet School, or was Maeve simply reacting to having an elder sister at all? And why, oh why, was Dick returning to England when clearly it is still the middle of the Second World War? Three sets of Bettany twins: Madge and Dick, Peggy and Rix, Maeve and Maurice. One Chalet School, the pivot around which their lives revolve. And a most intriguing quest! The Bettany Twins and the Chalet School was published on 16th October 2020.

Now the first of two new Chalet School stories by the two best known and best of the new generation of Chalet School books. The Chalet School remains by far the most popular girls' school series, and whilst there are upwards of fifty excellent original titles by EBD, the new authors continue to thrill with their fill-in stories. First off, Helen Barber takes a long hard look at Dick, Madge's brother, and in the course of this adventure, answers several mind-puzzling questions that have beset CS readers for many years. The Bettany Twins and the Chalet School is a thrilling mix of adventure and family and will be essential reading for all fans of the series. A beautiful front cover heralds what's inside and the story never disappoints. You can read about Katherine Bruce's The Chalet School in Guernsey below, but first it's time to look at the fourth Daneswood title by Phyllis Matthewman.

4: Phyllis Matthewman: A New Role for Natasha

Published 23rd November 2020

A New Role for Natasha is Daneswood No 4

Every girl has to be a new girl at some time or another but this difficult stage soon passes. It did not pass too easily for Natasha Vaughan. School life to her was strange and bewildering. To the girls at Daneswood the new girl was odd and incomprehensible. Her careful and correct speech, her precise manners and her prim politeness set her apart from the others.
Natasha was half Russian and the girls attributed her unusual ways to that; even so, there was some underlying mystery about her which they could not fathom. They tried to be friendly but with little help from Natasha. Only Rusty succeeds in penetrating her reserve, mainly because she accidentally discovers her secret, and their friendship runs smoothly until Pat, Rutsy’s best friend, returns to Dormitory 5. Rusty has to keep her wits about her to keep her friends, until the end of term when St Bridget’s House produce their play and Natasha’s secret is out. Georgia Corrick, a long-standing fan of the Daneswood series, has written the introduction.

The cover of this most excellent adventure is reminiscent of the pulp fiction covers of the 1950s, but really, it's just an excellent, beautiful illustration of a pivotal scene in A New Role for Natasha. Once again, it's the kind of story I used to read in my sister's weekly comics, and the big mystery? No spoilers, just to say that it has something to do with the Lorna Hill title above. A superb, romantic (in the broadest sense of the word) mystery that has all the elements of a smashing super girls' school story! Excellent!

5: Katherine Bruce: The Chalet School in Guernsey

Published 13th November 2020

After fleeing the terrors of Nazism, the Chalet School has settled into their new home in Guernsey and now the second term on its island home begins. Some old friends are delighted to return to their beloved school, but in among the new arrivals is one who has a history with the school. Mélanie Kerdec was a member of a group called the Mystic M who terrorised the school some years previously, where their bad deeds culminated in the kidnapping of Sybil Russell. Now Mélanie has come as a pupil to the school she detests and is determined to show that she has by no means forgiven or forgotten the past.

Even with that excitement, outside affairs cannot be ignored and the war continues to intrude as rationing affects both lessons and Guiding. An island-wide air raid drill gives the senior girls an exciting evening, and the war on the Continent leaves one mistress grief-stricken. Worse is to come as an investigator arrives to learn more about the previous term’s dramatic plane crash. When he cannot promise that the Channel Islands will be safe from future conflict, those in authority must consider leaving Guernsey to find a safe place for them to live for as long as the war lasts.

And finally, the new Chalet School "fill-in" by Katherine Bruce. Both Katherine and Helen produce CS stories that are actually (for me) hard to tell apart from those written originally by EBD. It's a well known fact that the Germans eventually occupied the Channel Islands, but the events in this stirring tale occur before the occupation, giving free rein to the girls to indulge in their usual high jinks and secret society stuff. I really can't fault this one as a CS story, it has everything! Absolutely enthralling!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 23rd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.

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My very good friends at Girls Gone By Publishers just sent me a package of five of their latest books, and you can read about them at the bottom of this page: