Sunday, February 4, 2018

Update: New children's authors (1 of 3) (and some naming news)

Taking a break from my ongoing work on the new American list, I've now completed a new update to my British list, sprucing up a few entries for which new information had come to light and adding 73 new authors, for a new grand total of 1,966. I was hoping I would finally break the 2,000 mark with this update, but alas. We will certainly get there, however, as a few new authors have already come to light for the next update…

Special thanks as always to John Herrington, who reviewed the new additions and helped immeasurably to flesh out information I wasn't able to find on my own. My research skills may have improved, but they still pale by comparison to his.

Among the 73 new entries are a disproportionate 41 that wrote children's fiction (though a few of these did also publish some adult fiction)—I think this update is weighted toward children's writers as a result of some obsessive perusing of the marvelous World of Rare Books website just before Christmas. As it happens, that perusal didn't result in me placing any orders (phew! a Christmas miracle), but it did provide some tantalizingly unfamiliar names. There's never a better excuse to share some cover art than with some new children's authors—the covers are often tempting even if the books themselves might not be—so here we go with the first of three posts about them.

It's a little surprising I haven't come across EILEEN O'FAOLAIN before, as she was both the wife of a well-known author (Sean O'Faolain) and the mother of one (Julia O'Faolain). She was particularly known for fairy and fantasy stories and for retellings from Irish mythology, and her works include The King of the Cats (1941), Miss Pennyfeather and the Pooka (1942), The Children of Crooked Castle (1945), May Eve in Fairyland (1945), Miss Pennyfeather in the Springtime (1946), The Shadowy Man (1949), and the collections Irish Sagas and Folk-Tales (1954) and Children of the Salmon and Other Irish Folktales (1965).

By the way, O'Faolain was also (obviously) Irish, which reminds me to mention another change to the list (and even, as some savvy readers may already have noticed, to the subtitle of this blog). I've long agonized about calling my list "British," which was my main area of interest, but also not wanting to exclude writers who were properly Irish through and through. I couldn't very well have excluded Irish authors even if I had wanted to, since my list's dates extend both before and after Irish independence, so I have finally broken down and done what I probably should have done from day 1, which is to retitle the main list "BRITISH & IRISH WOMEN WRITERS OF FICTION, 1910-1960". Hopefully now the ghosts of Kate O'Brien, Molly Keane, and EilĂ­s Dillon, among a fair number of others, will stop sitting in our chairs at night glaring malevolently at me…

And now that I'm also at work on an American equivalent, the subtitle of the blog clearly had to change to "off the beaten page: lesser-known British, Irish, & American women writers 1910-1960." It's quite a mouthful, and my first and strongest passion will always be for British authors, but in the interests of accuracy, it had to be done.

Now, on with the new additions. Like O'Faolain, BARBARA LEONIE PICARD's children's fiction includes some with fairy tale themes, including The Mermaid and the Simpleton (1949), The Faun and the Woodcutter's Daughter (1951), The Lady of the Linden Tree (1954), and The Goldfinch Garden: Seven Tales (1963). Some of her stories were collected in Selected Fairy Tales (1996). She also published historical novels for children, such as Ransom for a Knight (1956) and The Young Pretenders (1965). On a side note, according to her Contemporary Authors entry, during World War II she worked for a library and faced the unenviable task of deciding which books should be kept in circulation and which should be provided as scrap for the war effort. The mind boggles. It's like a booklover's version of Sophie's Choice.

It's easy to forget how much children's fiction has changed since the early 20th century. For me, this was driven home by my research on LEILA BERG, who published nearly 50 children's titles and was best known for editing and contributing to the "Nippers" series for early readers, books which were innovative at the time for attempting to represent the lives of working class and immigrant children and families. Of that series, Berg's Guardian obit said: "Family life involving such mundane yet never before represented activities as eating fish and chips and doing the pools, or details such as an unemployed father, was incorporated into chatty, playful narratives with repetitive cadences and unexpected, humorous twists." Some critics, however, found the works too realistic for young readers, or too stereotyped, though some of them, including A Box for Benny (1958), drew on Berg's own childhood.

Similarly portraying some of the realities of working class life are the six children's books by ELISABETH STUCLEY, particularly her well-received 1960 book Magnolia Buildings (1960, aka Family Walk-Up), about a family of children getting into difficulties while their mother is in hospital. Springfield Home (1961, aka The Contrary Orphans) is about a girl raised by her gypsy grandmother adjusting to life in an orphanage. She also published four novels for adults, about which I could find no details, and Teddy Boy's Picnic (1958), a memoir of her experiences running a boys' club. 

Stucley presumably knew her subject matter, as she was headmistress of St. Cuthbert's Finishing School in Bathampton for several years and spent much of her life in social work or other efforts to benefit children.

I can't attest to the realism of MARION CONNOCK's two works of fiction, but they do sound intriguing. Treasure in the Dark (1957) was described by a bookseller as about "a family come to live in a centuries-old manor house on the Cornish coast with their soldier father & French Resistance heroine mother," while The Boy from Spain (1963) is about the young son of a Spanish Civil War hero.

And I wouldn't want to place a bet on the relative realism of LUCY W. BELLHOUSE's ten children's titles, but some of them, beginning with The Caravan Children (1935), certainly portray a family in the unusual circumstance of living in a caravan. One of her later titles is The Helicopter Children (1956)—did they by chance live in a helicoptor? Surely that wouldn't be practical. (A trivial detail: The British Library shows her unusual middle name as Wilered, but various records, including a customs card she completed for a trip to the U.S., clearly show Wilfred. No wonder she went by the initial only…)

From living in a caravan to living in a warren, MARJORIE A. SINDALL published more than a dozen children's books, many in a series about just such a warren. Titles include The Children of the Warren (1953), The Budds of Paragon Row (1954), Strangers in the Warren (1954), Holidays at the Warren (1955), The Larks of Jubilee Flats (1956), Surprises for the Warren (1960), Caravan at the Warren (1961), and Down Came the Houses (1970).

One of my new authors has a decidedly impressive pedigree: CHRISTABEL COLERIDGE was the granddaughter of the one and only Samuel Taylor Coleridge of Ancient Mariner fame. Alas, her more than 40 volumes of fiction for both children and adults sound just as decidedly Victorian in tone—stories to inspire Christian girls to wholesome ideals. It's only her final book, Up-To-Date, and, A Lucky Sixpence (1910), that qualified her for my list at all. She also published a biography of her friend Charlotte Yonge (1903).

I'd bet that MILDRED DUFF's two works of children's fiction, also just squeaking into my time frame, are a bit on the preachy side as well, but perhaps I'd be wrong? She was a Salvation Army officer and the author of biographies for children of major religious figures, so I think it's a safe bet that Rude Rosa (1904) and Rosa's Resolve (1910) aren’t exactly edgy.

I added two authors to my list whose work includes what might be called career stories. The first, TRUDI ARLEN, might have to be removed again in the future, if it turns out to be a pseudonym for a male author. Arlen is credited with two entries in the "Shirley Flight, Air Hostess" series, as well as at least two romantic novels, Beware My Heart (1956) and Never Love Me Less (date unknown). Arlen is credited with Shirley Flight, Air Hostess in Hawaiian Mystery (1960) and Shirley Flight, Air Hostess in Spain (1960), while other titles in the series were credited to Judith Dale, a known pseudonym of Edward Reginald Home-Gall. Several sources note that Arlen is also a pseudonym, but his/her true identity has so far eluded me. If anyone has more information than I do, I'd love to hear from you.

RITA LEWIN is better known for her romance novels than her children's books (she published under at least four pseudonyms—Rachel Lindsay, Rozella Lake, Roberta Leigh, and Janey Scott). But she also published (under the Janey Scott pseudonym) four stories about Sara Gay, a young model—Model Girl, Model Girl in Monte Carlo, Model Girl in New York, and Model Girl in Mayfair (all 1961). 

According to her Wikipedia page, Lewin was also the first British woman television producer to have her own production company. She created several puppet series for children and wrote many of the episodes. 

And rounding out this first batch of new additions is a twofer. NORA LAVRIN and MOLLY THORP collaborated on a single book, The Hop Dog (1952), which was later filmed as Adventure in the Hopfields (1954). However, while the latter remains unidentified, the former was actually a noted artist and illustrator of books for children and adults by other authors (including Hilda LEWIS and Elisabeth KYLE). Some of her artworks documenting the Women's Land Army in World War II are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

That's enough for now, but tune in next time when I'll start with an author who only qualifies for my list because of her fiction for children, but who may well be of interest for her very temptation-inducing humorous memoirs…


  1. Wonderful informative post! Thank you! I can't wait to read some of these authors. :-)

  2. OK, I admit, I haven't been up that long, and am still on my first cup of coffee, but try as I might, and I HAVE!, I am not seeing a reference to Trudy Arlen's "Never Love the Less," and while I ADORE the cover art, where does it fit in with the children's theme, except perhaps, "Girls, this is not what we aspire to be when we grow up." WHERE did I go wrong? (I mean on today's column, not in general!)
    Someone PLEASE explain about the Trudy Arlen title!
    All that aside, Scott, it is so pleasant to have this blog to look forward to again. Many many thanks!

    1. Sorry for the confusion Tom. I just couldn't resist sharing the tawdry cover of one of Arlen's romance novels, even though it doesn't fit the theme of the post. But I don't like that cover quite so much as the Shirley Flight cover where Shirley appears to be smiling seductively at her captor...

    2. BUT, at least we can all have fun with it, right? I do love to read vintage children's novels - this is giving me some great leads!

  3. Oh it's there, Tom. "Trudi" with an "i".

    Yikes. Yeah, even though Never Love Me Less is cited as a romance, I'm feel this potentially female author doesn't deserve to be among the Girls' Career Stories writer crowd, if only for the placement of Mr. Greaseball's hand on Ms. Basic Blonde with Pearls' breast.

    1. You're right, Susan (see reply to Tom above). I just couldn't resist including the cheesy cover, and should have made a note to that effect.

  4. I seem to have lost my comment... Was trying to say I read some of these when I was a child!


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