My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan – 20 Books of Summer

My Friend Flora cover

My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan was published in 1962, it’s part of a long series of ‘My Friend’ books. These are generally a light-hearted keek into another way of life, the setting is the Highlands of Scotland, a remote crofting community where all families have a nickname. Often it’s just the name of the farm where they live. Janet Sandison’s family are all named Reachfar as a surname. Reachfar being the name of where they live.

It begins in 1915 when Janet goes to the small local primary school and meets Flora Smith for the first time. Flora is a few years older than Janet and her bye-name as they call it is Bedamned because her father is always using that word, but it seems that the bye-name is more like a curse on the family as disaster after disaster befalls them. For that reason this book is different from the others in the series that I’ve read, admittedly I haven’t got my hands on many of them yet.

Janet is sorry for Flora, it seems like a life of selfless drudgery with no thanks from anyone, particularly her harsh and morose father, but Flora is happy with her lot and her situation shows that what seems appalling to one person is a source of love and even pride to another.

Towards the end of the book the action moves to the USA briefly, via a trip on a ship and aeroplane, something that would have seemed very exotic to most readers of the book.

This was an enjoyable read despite Flora being the sort of character that you wanted to give a good shake and also some uncomfortable scenes involving a dog being tormented. There is comeuppance which is always a good thing.

20 books of summer

My Friend Muriel by Jane Duncan

My Friend Muriel  cover

My Friend Muriel by Jane Duncan is the second book in the author’s ‘My Friends’ series. It was first published in 1959, which was a very good year by the way! This one was a perfect read for these Covid-19 times, it’s a great light read with plenty of laughs. I took this book out to the garden to read on a glorious day last week and it grabbed me immediately. It’s a first person narrative with Jane Duncan – or Janet Sandison as she is in the book telling how she met her friend Muriel who is definitely a bit of an odd bod. It begins in 1930 when Janet was a student at the University of Glasgow and she was lodging with family friends in a village on Clydeside between Clydebank and Dumbarton, which just happens to be where I grew up (see my header photo – it’s Dumbarton). So I knew exactly where Jane was. On her commute to uni every morning she could see No 534 being built at John Brown’s shipyard, the ship was of course eventually named Queen Mary.

It’s just the wrong time to be graduating from uni as there was just about no chance of any graduates getting a job due to the Great Depression. Janet is faced with having to go back to her family home in the Highlands, but before that happens she is troubled for the first time in her life with toothache and while waiting in the dentist’s waiting room she peruses the magazines. An article titled Are You Lonely catches her eye and the upshot is that she writes off to a given address to get a pen friend from the writer of the article Mrs Whitely-Rollin. This eventually leads to an offer of work in England where Janet meets Muriel who pops up off and on throughout Janet’s life.

This book takes Janet from the age of 20 to her mid thirties so it includes WW2 when she joined the WAAF, working in the Operations Room and getting engaged from time to time as she was the only female there! There were lots of familiar situations in this book, for me anyway. There’s even a character called Alexander Alexander and you might think that is an unlikely name for anyone to be given, but I knew a man with that name, although he was called Sandy Eck by everyone – both of those being diminutives of Alexander.

The blurb on the front says: A riotous romp – moving, funny, fresh and alive. Second in a series that is making publishing history.

Back in 1959 this book cost all of 2/6 which if you aren’t old enough to remember pre decimal coinage is 12 and a half pence. It cost me all of £1.60 on our February trip up to Aberdeen (which must have been our last trip away from home) it was money well spent.

Aberdeen book purchases

Jack had done his homework and looked up the addresses of the secondhand bookshops in Aberdeen before we got there. There’s a great online directory that you can see here.

So when we were in Aberdeen the first port of call was Old Aberdeen Bookshop, which took us to a part of the city we hadn’t been to before. It was my kind of place, not very big but crammed with books, double parked on the shelves and piled all over the floor. I dug into the piles and Jack even found a couple of books there he knew I would like, so it’s not all my fault! But I thought I had only bought five books there – it turns out it was much worse than that. It’s a real mixed bag and showcases my catholic taste I suppose.

Books Again

The Enchanted Land (1906) by Scottish author Louey Chisholm and illustrated by another Scot Katharine Cameron. The illustrations are really enchanting and you can see some of her work here.

The other book for children (of all ages) that I bought is Cockle Button, Cockle Ben (1943) by Richard Phibbs and illustrated by Gladys M. Rees which has very different illustrations but is very much of its time and is almost equally charming.

Jack found Money by Emile Zola for me, another one to add to my Classics Club list.

He also found Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada, a great find as his books rarely pop up in secondhand bookshops – at a reasonable price anyway.

The last three are all by the Scottish author Jane Duncan who also writes as Janet Sandison.
My Friend Flora
My Friend Muriel and
My Friends the Miss Boyds

I read some of her books back in the 1970s when they were very popular but I can’t remember anything about them. The blurb is hopeful though, one front cover says: A riotous romp – moving, funny, fresh and alive. They might be the perfect light reading for when the news is too depressing.

Have you read any of these books?