school fiction

Published by: mike on 17th Dec 2017 | View all blogs by mike

“She was the kind of schoolgirl undreamed of even in the pages of Angela Brazil.‘ (aunt Kathleen)    

       Angela Brazil - a writer of school stories - is not forgotten. I notice that a play has been written about her and it was performed this year at the ‘Edinburgh Fringe.  I’ve put this together the interest for writers of fiction for children.  I came across Angela Brazil when I looked at one of  Kathleen’s essays last week.

      Squidge recently raised an issue of girls’ fiction and boys’ fiction.  Do boys read fiction which has a strong female protagonist?   I think it unlikely.  The ‘school’ genre seems to have been gender specific.  Is it now redundant?  Rowling can be congratulated in writing books in this genre which can appeal to all sexes.   I saw the film ‘Wonder Woman’ last week but don’t know if it had a male teenage audience?

    My computer is really the Phol Pot of political correctness.  I am urged to replace ‘lady’ with a word that is not ‘gender specific’ but no mention is made of the use of ‘gentleman‘  I find this sexist!   The male stereotype is the problem.  Watch ‘Movies for Men’ on ‘Freeview’

    This is not my field,  though I had written a teenage novel with a female protagonist -  the lead singer in a pop group.    This was written around 1980.   I am unbiased in the matter.

       My interest is in an aunt’s writing and my connection with her is that she made me the executor of her estate.   Her will was settled some years ago. There is no mention of her writing in this will and she had little published.   I try to keep her writing ticking over.  I typed everything out but have not changed a word.    Her essays are as she wrote them and I’ve only added a few later essays - and an introduction to her book.

    At Christmases I used to make a booklet out of a poem or an essay and sent it round as a Christmas card.   I have added a story at the end of this blog.  I must admit it could be cut .The first two paragraphs can go.  I am convinced Maureen Lipman, or others, could make comedy out of this.  Maureen Lipman has portrayed Joyce Grenfell and Kathleen's essay can be turned into a monologue.  The only audience might be radio 3!  (The films of St Trinians are a bit too late to have influenced Kathleen)

    Her essays on childhood were written when she attended Naomi Lewis’s classes at the City Lit in London and are considered in this respect.  They were written after the second world war, when she lived with her husband in the house where I was born.  This was in Tulse Hill, South London. The house - Victorian Gothic - is described in Kathleen’s concluding  essays where it is made apparent that she has moved to London and is recalling her Edwardian childhood in Manchester.  In one of the later essays she describes a schoolfriend, Maudie Bannister, and comments: ‘She was the kind of schoolgirl undreamed of even in the pages of Angela Brazil‘    Two novels of Brazil are mentioned in the essay and one of  the titles  is the title of the play performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

     Angels Brazil’s stories -  - set in a girls’ boarding school - were the stories that Kathleen might well have read when she was a schoolgirl.    Brazil’s first story ‘the Fortunes of Phillipa’ was published in 1906 and her books were the popular stories of the period.  I don’t know if her books are remembered now?   It does not seem likely, if you look at Amazon UK.

     The Edwardian era covers the years 1901 to 1910 - the years of King Edward’s reign - but this does seem rather arbitrary.  The era seems to include the first world war.    I think of it as a time when radio and film - and recorded sound - were in their infancy.  It was a time of books and periodicals.  According to her ‘wiki,’ Brazil’s stories were popular well into the century.

     Nesbit’s ‘The Railway Children’ was also published in 1906 and Nesbit has the lasting success.     I did hear  Jacqueline Wilson on radio 3,  and she recalled that the book had been an influence on her own writing.   (‘The Railway Children’ had been set on the suburban railway line that I take into Kent)  I recall Wilson  mentioned ‘Little Women’ and ‘What Katy did’  but I looked at her ‘Wiki‘   The two writers are separated by a good many years, but the influences seem the same.  I wonder if Wilson is a fan of the Brontes?

      Kathleen’s essays are written for, I think, and adult audience and she did compile them into a book which she tried to publish.  I do recall that she felt her writing was too middle-class for the time and there might be some truth in this.  I do recall that, in the seventies, ‘culture’ was dominated by ‘On the Buses’ etc.  It was the era of television.  Her children’s novel is really Nesbit  set in 1960 and this was the time.of the Beatles.  The artist that would exemplify Kathleen is  Kathleen Ferrier and, in particular, Ferrier’s rendering of ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ but the essays only refer to the piano music of the Edwardian era.

      Her influences are as likely to have been Virginia Woolf as much as Nesbit.  She could write an effective parody of T.S Eliot as well as poems for tiny tots.  She had been extremely literate.  She and her husband made a yearly pilgrimage to Howarth and the Brontes were her favourite authors.   She wrote an obituary of the dog who greeted visitors to the Bronte Guest house and this was published in ‘The Guardian’  It was one of her few  published articles, though some of the essays  on childhood were used by the RNIB  and many of her childrens’s poems were published by a magazine for teachers.

  I have posted her essay on ‘Maudie Bannister’ as Maudie does rather pre-figure St Trinians.  But the essay does reveal what the literary interests of Kathleen had been.  I do not know if they were the interests of her school friends.  Many of essays recall cricket in the backstreets of Manchester and, if Kathleen is to believed, she might not have done well at school as she was a truant. She, and her straw hat, were a permanent feature of Old Trafford cricket ground where she sat at her favourite spot near the grass roller.  





     On an afternoon in the spring term the new girl, Maudie Bannister, passed a note along the back row of the Upper Fourth which read,  ‘What hero in English Literature would you most like to fall in love with?  Mine is Heathcliff.’

    The question was a startling one but we were not to be outshone,   Six names were returned smartly to Maudie’s desk.  These read:  Sir Lancelot, Mr Rochester, Silas Marner, John Ridd,  Quentin Durwood and King Arthur.  Below King Arthur Dolly Reach had written ‘Who is Heathcliff?’

    Falling in love, until Maudie Bannister came into the Upper Fourth, was an experience which had not yet soared beyond a thrilling exchange of smiles with the boarders of Moat Park College.  Every day the boarders walked in twos past the High School gate wearing dark green caps with silver badges.   The tall boys walked at the front of the precession and the small boys at the back with Mr Buskett, the Housemaster.  Sometimes in the summer the smallest boy had his hand in Mr Buskett’s, but in the winter they all wore their coats turned up round their ears and walked with their hands far down int their pockets.  Each girl in the Upper Fourth had a boarder of her own and was true to him for, at least, one term.  It had not occurred to us, as we went steadily with the English Mistress though ‘Jane Eyre,’ Lorna Doone’ and :Idylls of the King’, to identify ourselves romantically with Rochester’s Jane, John Ridd’s Lorna and Sir Lancelot’s Queen Guinevere.  As Maudie read our choice of heroes it was plain to see, in her look of bored contempt, that one of them was not worth a halfpenny compared with Heathcliff, whoever he might be.

    It is true to say of Maudie Bannister that, by the end of her first week at the High School, she had completely undermined the stability of the Upper Fourth.

    To begin with she had already been to four other schools which made Maudie’s father, who travelled, seem of far greater importance than the more permanently placed fathers.  Maudie had been in love with three Mistresses and had nearly died of love over a Geography Mistress in Bradford.  Maudie wore shanting silk blouses instead of cotton and she was the only girl in the Form to wear a gold wrist watch.  She was poetic, disdainful  - it was because of Maudie’s scorn that we had hidden our Burns and Shakespeare Birthday books - dramatic, and terribly gorgeous to look at.  She had blue-black eyes behind black, fan-shaped lashes and she wore her hair loose, in long ripples, to her waist.  Across her forehead was cut a thick, black, demoralizing fringe.  She was the kind of schoolgirl undreamed of even in the pages of Angela Brazil.

    Fringes were considered by most mothers to be rather bold and indolent-looking.  Hair, at fifteen, must be combed back severely into the less seductive confines of ribbons and slides.  Dolly Reach, it is true, had a fringe but against Maude Bannister’s it was a poor thing indeed.  To make it grow thicker Dolly, encouraged by Maudie, would lick the tip of a finger and then stoke down, for a few minutes each morning-break, the isolated strands until they stuck to her forehead in a damp, forlorn row.

    Another enviable - and quite illogical thing - about Maudie Bannister was that, although she never ate spring greens, she never broke out in spots.  If we were to believe our mothers and the rule of logic the eating of greens every day was a positive spots antidote.  Maudie detested greens and was not made to eat them.   It was a matter of some wonder to the rest of the Upper Fourth that, as each in our turn came to school with a face daubed with camomile lotion, Maudie, with no greens inside her, should remain unblemished.

    But it was not only her watch, her fringe, and her immunity from spots which lifted Maudie magnificently beyond the heroines of ‘For the School Colours’ and ‘The Most Popular Girl in the School’.   Maudie was doing a simply terrific thing.  She was writing a book.   On the afternoon of the note, and after Maudie had ruthlessly dismissed our choice of English Literature heroes, she told us all about it as we sat in a ring on the tennis court.   There were pages and pages of it which she kept hidden at the bottom of her schooling.  The story was to be called ‘Eagle’s Rest’ and it was about winds roaring over the moors and slabs of rock and a great many wicked people dying inside old grey, weatherbeaten houses.  Maudie had drawn a map of the living rooms at ‘Eagle’s Nest - all passages and flagged floors and lattice windows.   There were to be twelve chapters and the hero and heroine’s names were Caroline Thorncliffe and Roderick Nigel Marsh.  Maudie said that ‘Eagle’s Rest’ was twice as passionate as ’Wuthering Heights’.  If  she were not already in love with Heathcliff she would certainly have fallen in love with Roderick who was twice as wild as Heathcliff.  Maudie had actually walked miles across the moors to Wuthering Heights and she had become inspired to write her first chapter of ‘Eagle’s Rest’ sitting in Heathcliff’s stone porch.  One summer holiday, and perhaps on a winter night of snow, she had intended to sleep out on the heather and walk barefoot across the moor to Penistone Crag.  She had read ‘Wuthering Heights’ six times in a year. At this point Maudie extricated from the depths of her schoolbag a battered book from which she read aloud: ‘He’ got onto the bed and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulled at it, into an uncontrollable passion of tears.  ‘Come in!  Come in!’ he sobbed “Cathy, do come!  - Oh, do - ONCE more.‘   It was very impressive.  ‘That,’ Maudie said, ‘was  Heathcliff at his nicest.  There are some parts a hundred times wilder than that...”

    By the times Maudie Bannister had finished with Heathcliff and ‘Eagle’s Rest’ it was quite clear to the back row of the Upper Fourth that she had every reason to say ‘Rats’ to its choice of tame, milksop heroes.  Not one of us had read Wuthering Heights nor could anyone boast of having been near their hero’s scene of action; although Myfanwy Brent, who had chosen John Ridd, could remember a picnic on Dartmoor, which was not far from Exmoor.  And nobody in or out of English literature had ever stirred us into writing more than two pages for our Friday night composition. Inflamed by Maudie’s Heathcliff, which of us could happily fall in love with Quentin Durwood or Silas Marner.   Even Mr Rochester and John Ridd, who might be said to be of the same calibre as Heathcififf, paled before Maudie’s eloquent adoration.  Dolly Reach was the only one to keep the faith.  If she had to fall in love with someone other than the tallest college boarder, Dolly insisted with spirit, than she would rather chose the brave Sir Lancelot or good, noble King Arthur,



  • Penworthy
    by Penworthy 2 months ago
    Well done for keeping your aunt's writing on the go. As for Angela Brazil, I recall reading "The School by The Sea" in my early teens, or thereabouts. I can't remember much about it now, except that there was a girl called Gerda in it and, if I remember rightly, it was suggested that she was a German spy. Sadly, fashions change.
  • mike
    by mike 2 months ago
    Dear Penworthy,
    Angela Brazil is not forgotten as you remember her! The essay is 1000 words long and it probably only needs 500 words to make an anecdote or memory. Angela Brazil would have to be the trigger. There are so many plays doing the rounds where one actor 'impersonates' the writer and talks to the audience. Well Richard 111 did this! Maudie Bannister has also been given a voice. Kathleen had been a friend of Sir Neville Cardus and his death, announced on the radio, would trigger shared memories of cricket and Manchester. There are enough children the essays to make up a cricket team - well,one suitable for s suburban garden whose verandah windows can open out into the past.
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