This book was first published in 1945 and as Anna Buchan says, it’s a chronicle of the Buchan family. Anna is of course better known by her pen name of O. Douglas and as you can imagine a lot of this book is about the life of the most famous member of the family – her brother John Buchan of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle fame.
The Buchan’s hailed originally from the Peebles/Broughton area of the Scottish Border country and it’s obvious that it was an area which the whole family loved although they had to live in Fife (Kirkcaldy) and in Glasgow for large chunks of their lives. It looks to me as if it wasn’t possible for their father the Rev. John Buchan to get a church in the Borders and so he had to go elsewhere, or perhaps he felt a calling to work amongst the poor where he could be of most use to people in need.
John Buchan himself said that he made up his adventure stories entirely from his imagination but his sister was happier to write about things which she had experienced, she just put down her memories on paper, quite true, if you have read some of her books it’s obvious that she put so much of her family life into them. The Buchan children were wild ones and I can well imagine that the church congregation would have been forever complaining about them, although maybe not to their parents!
This is a must read if you are into reading O. Douglas’s fiction but it was a bit disappointing because I had hoped to learn about her private life but she doesn’t give any personal information away. No stories of lost loves or anything, she writes about the personal lives of the other family members but when it comes to herself she only writes about her own writing career and about lecturing to women’s groups during the war.
I feel that she must have had a lost love, like the one which she writes about in The Proper Place. She was a woman who had a penchant for cheeky wee boys and she had to make do with the ones which her siblings added to the family, instead of providing some of her own.
Anna took up writing because her mother was one of those women who only wanted to read about ‘nice’ things in books, she complained that her son John’s books were full of swear words so she never got very far into them before giving up. So Anna’s books were written for her mother really. John read the manuscripts for his sister and sent them back to her with suggestions for changes – it’s obvious that he didn’t think she should have the preachy Christian/Biblical bits in them but Anna stuck to her guns, probably for her mother’s sake.
Like almost all of her books, this one has its sad moments too, it isn’t all pink sugar. World War 2 hadn’t come to an end by the time she finished this book but the Buchans had already had a sad loss by then, with the unexpected death of her brother John, following an accident. I think that must have spurred her on to write this family history, as for her the most important of them was gone.
If you know Peebles at all then you’ll probably be able to pin-point the various houses which family members lived in within the town. But maybe they already have blue plaques on them.