Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Filling in the blanks (part 2)

I posted not long ago about some of the most interesting new information I've come across—largely thanks to John Herrington's tireless research—about authors who were already on my Overwhelming List, as opposed to authors newly added to that list, which is what most of my previous updates have been composed of. Last time, I focused on authors of mainstream and genre fiction, but I also added quite a lot of new information on school story authors, the lesser-known of which are notoriously difficult to track, since so many wrote under pseudonyms and publishers and critics often didn't take them seriously enough to document them as clearly as they might have other authors.

Not surprisingly, we found several of these authors had some kind of connection to schools themselves. For example, John found that E. E. (EDITH ELIZA) COWPER (1859-1933), author of girls' stories "in the Bessie Marchant tradition," as Sims and Clare describe them, was married to a schoolmaster, while MARY ALICE FAID (1897-1990), author of the 10 "Trudy" stories, which trace their lead character from school years to adulthood, was herself a schoolteacher for several years before her marriage.

WINIFRED ELLAMS (1917-     ), who only wrote a single school story, The Girls of Lakeside School (1949), nevertheless probably tops all other school authors for the sheer number of connections she has to the profession. She was not only the daughter of a headmaster and a teacher herself, but she also had four siblings who were all teachers! According to a comment left by Ellams' niece last year on another site, Ellams, who was born in Newcastle, was then 97 years old and still living in the Midlands.

Grace Easton's one school story

MINA FAHY (c1861-1916) is also a minor figure in the school genre, publishing only a single title, St. Clement's, in 1910, but it was interesting to discover that she was born in Ireland and, as of the 1911 census at least, she and her sister were running a small school of their own in Henley-on-Thames. And John discovered that GRACE M[ARY]. EASTON (1895-1985), who published The School on the Hill (1940), set in a school for children of missionaries, was—perhaps not surprisingly—a missionary herself, as well as being the daughter of a missionary. She spent at least a portion of her life in China.

Anne Treneer, whom we now know was aka S. K. Ensdaile

Perhaps the best known of the authors we discovered had real-life school experience is one about whom new information only recently revealed has allowed me to merge what were previously two entries on my list. Formerly, S. K. ENSDAILE was the unidentified author of four school stories praised by Sims & Clare for vivid characterization. But thanks to a revelation in a recent edition of ANNE TRENEER's memoirs of life as a schoolteacher—School House in the Wind (1953), Cornish Years (1949), and A Stranger in the Midlands (1952)—we now know that Treneer and Ensdaile were one and the same. There's little doubt that there are more similarly unidentified school authors who are also the pseudonyms of writers of other types of books, and hopefully more such revelations will be made in the course of time. For now, though, the Ensdaile entry has been removed and the pseudonym added in the entry for Treneer—one fewer author to keep track of!

Inscription by Wilfred Oscar Bishop ("Freda Russell")
to his sister, courtesy of his grand-niece Jennie

Or, actually, I could say two fewer authors to keep track of. I recently heard from the grand-niece of Wilfred Oscar Bishop, who, it turns out, was the author of three school stories, The Island School (1926), Dormitory No. 19 (1926), and Smugglers' Gap (1927), under the name FREDA RUSSELL. Sims & Clare said of the books that they "should not be missed by anyone who enjoys daft thrillers." Nevertheless, Bishop clearly doesn't belong on a list of women authors, so I've removed him from my list. Many thanks to Jennie, his grand-niece, for providing this information.

Title page and frontispiece from The Island School by "Freda Russell"

We also had to work through a couple of other pseudonym questions. For example, ANN ERSKINE is credited with a single girls' school story, Kath of Kinmantel (1958), but John discovered that Erskine is actually the pseudonym of an identified man, John Erskine Tuck, and an as-yet-unidentified woman, Ann Hawkesworth. So, we have a bit more information, but the net result is the same—an unidentified woman writer.

And, also interesting in terms of pseudonym confusion (and some of the confusion still remains) is SYBIL HADDOCK. She was the author of several girls' stories of the 1940s (and 1950s?). A couple of months ago, in a comment on this blog, David Redd noted his suspicion that the final two Haddock titles I had listed, published in the 1950s, are probably nothing more than reprints of earlier titles. I'll bet he's correct, but I haven't been able to definitely confirm it, so for now I've kept all five titles in my entry for Haddock. If anyone can confirm this for sure, please do let me know. 

Obituary of Sybil Haddock, from
County Press, June 2, 1979

David also mentioned that, in addition to her girls' stories, Haddock appears to have written a column for the Methodist Recorder under the name Margaret Harwood, and some of those writings also appeared in book form under the Harwood name. I immediately assumed that this meant that the author's real name was Margaret Harwood, and she had used the Haddock name for her fiction. That somehow seemed like the more expected scenario. But when I turned it over to John, he came back with the information that she was in fact Sybil Fern Haddock (1887-1979), née Nume, born in Yorkshire. Interestingly, her obituary mentions the Methodist Recorder writings, but does not note that they were written under a pseudonym (it also doesn't mention her girls' stories, but that is perhaps not unexpected). And by the by, I just noticed in glancing back at the obit that her husband, Mr. Wilfrid Haddock, was headmaster of Niton County Primary School for 35 years up to and including World War II. Thanks to David for getting the ball rolling on identifying Haddock!

Brenda Colloms, who had earlier penned two school stories
under her earlier married name Brenda Cross

Among John's other discoveries was the fact that BRENDA CROSS, who published two Breary-esque school stories—Barbara's Worst Term (1950) and Barbara in the Lower Fifth (1953)—was an earlier married name of journalist and Picturegoer film critic Brenda Colloms, and he even found an interesting obituary and photo. So, it makes sense that her two girls' stories feature a film star's daughter, since she knew a bit about film stars.

When I first added WINIFRED DONALD (1917-1999) to my list, I noted that a source had mentioned that she also wrote mysteries for adults. But although John was able to identify her and provide her life dates (and the fact that she graduated from Aberdeen University in 1939), the mysteries she supposedly wrote remain, well, a mystery. John reported finding a letter in the Hutchinson archive, dated 1948, in which Donald writes of giving up writing for children now that she is writing adult fiction. But the additional layer of mystery here is that the five books we know of by her all appeared after 1948. Does this mean there are additional, earlier children's titles, perhaps under another name? How does one "give up" children's fiction if one has not in fact written any? And how to explain that the five books we know of were all published after she says she is giving up children's books for adult fiction? Perhaps the adult fiction didn't work out after all? Or, as John suggested, perhaps the adult fiction referred to fiction for periodicals rather than books. For now, however, it is all genuinely mysterious.

Sometimes there is so little information available about an author that a definite identification cannot be made, but a very probable one can be. I've added probable life dates and other information for several school authors, with the appropriate note that the identification is not definite. These include AUDREY DINES (?1900-?1987), CECILIA [FRANCES] FALCON (?1889-?1959), and CICELY FRASER (?1914-?1950). Some other more definite identifications that may be of interest to fans of the genre are MAUDE S[ARAH]. FORSEY (1885-1971), MARGARET C[ECILE]. FIELD (1903/4-1975), BERTHA MARY FISHER (1859-1914), LUCY GLADYS FITZPATRICK (1892-1970), and BARBARA HECTOR (1902-1985).

And finally, you know how I love finding connections between authors on my list, and this time I have one between two girls' school authors. It turns out that BERTHA LEONARD (1883-?1959), author of a dozen or so school stories and other children's fiction, was the mother LEONORA FRY (1913-1999), who published a single school title, For the School's Sake (1934). Steve at Bear Alley was the one to trace this connection and detail it, and you can read his very interesting post about the mother and daughter here. He was unable to definitely confirm Leonard's death date, hence my question mark, but there is no question of the connection between the two.

That's all of the newly-acquired info on school story authors for now, but John is still working his way through some of my other untrackable authors, so I hope there will be more interesting discoveries to come. Of course, if anyone reads this who happens to have information to clarify any of the uncertainties above, please do contact me.


  1. As always, I love that cover art! Your blog would be worth following for the cover art alone! Interesting indeed to follow the tracking down of these mystery women (and some men too).


    1. Thank you Jerri! The tracking down process is probably more fun first hand than to read about, but it's probably the part I enjoy the most.

  2. I always look forward to reading your blog. I find your book "back" stories fascinating! And what a tribute to all these authors from the past. Thank you for all your valuable research.

  3. Yes indeed. It makes me think we don't wear head scarves (not hijabs, I mean) nearly enough any more. So handy to have a folded silk square in your pocket in the event of high winds or cold ears or popping into a church. (Okay, that last is dated too; think Tilly in The Four Graces.... :^))

    1. You always notice something in the book covers that I haven't thought about, Susan! And I do think those scarves look very fashionable. We need someone like Angelina Jolie to bring them back into fashion...

  4. OH! Drat, Jerri - I was going to open my reply by saying "As always, I love the cover art," but you beat me to it! Well, anyway, I do! And this time I am particularly taken by the illustration of "Vera the Vet!" Love her with the monkey!

    1. One would think that monkeys would have been a rather arcane area of veterinary medicine in those days, but perhaps one would be wrong? Were monkeys more common in ordinary life in those days?


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