The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden was first published in 1969 and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer. The book is/was aimed at older children.

Mary’s parents are getting divorced and during the school holidays she has been sent to live with her Aunt Alice and grandfather who live on the coast, while everything is sorted out. Mary is premanently angry about the whole situation, she has no friends in the area and she knows that she’s behaving very badly towards Aunt Alice and Grandfather, but annoyingly they are very understanding, which only makes Mary feel worse!

In a fit of rage Mary runs out of the house and heads for the sea front where she gets into more trouble as she’s so angry she decides to steal some sweets, but her shoplifting has been seen by young twin sisters who have run away from their older brother Simon. He’s the eldest of a large chaotic family and their father is a policeman!

On one of her trips to the beach Mary watches a small boat coming towards it, when it reaches the shingle two dark men jump out and help a young boy out too. It all seems strange, none of them are dressed for a trip in a boat and they have suitcases, when they get on the beach the boatman sails off again. The young boy has a damaged arm and as the men make their way along the beach, he’s left behind and Mary can see that he’s crying.

But in no time the men are picked up by the police, and Mary decides that she must help the young boy and hide him from the authorities, but she’ll need help from Simon.

As you would expect fromm Nina Bawden this is a really well-written book, but I found myself checking the details about when it was first published and I must say that I find it fairly depressing that she was writing about illegal immigrants in small boats – and it’s still a huge problem and very much in the news 55 years later.

It turns out that Krishna had been flying from Kenya to London to stay with his uncle, but there was a deadline to do it legally and due to plane delays he had missed it, and so began all his troubles.

My  20 Books of Summer list is here. This is the sixth book that I’ve read on the list.




Family Money by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Family Money by Nina Bawden was first published in 1991 and was reprinted by Virago the following year. It’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Fanny Pye is an elderly widow who is getting used to her singleton life after her husband Daniel’s death. He had been rather overbearing and now her various family members are beginning to try to make decisions for her too. Fanny still lives in the family home in London, the value of the house has risen a lot over the years and some members of the family would like to be able to get their hands on some of the money from the sale of it. Fanny is very attached to Ivy her cleaning lady though, and doesn’t want to upset her life.

But Fanny’s own life is upset when she witnesses an act of road rage on her way home from a restaurant and she becomes a victim herself. In hospital her recovery only goes so far as her memory has been damaged and she’s confused. Her children think this is an opportunity for them to push the idea of Fanny moving to a smaller house, but Fanny would like to buy a small house for Ivy, one close to her daughter. As you can imagine that idea doesn’t go down well with some people who feel that their father’s money shouldn’t leave the family.

When Fanny’s memory begins to come back to her she’s filled with fear and a sense of danger, she doesn’t feel safe in her home any more.

The back blurb says:

Here, the tempo of a thriller is brilliantly linked with a wry examination of the manners and morals of an acquisitive society.

I enjoyed this one although for me the ending is somewhat disconcerting.

Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

 Tortoise by Candlelight cover

Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden was first published in 1963 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1989.

It’s the 1960s, Emmie Bean is 14 years old and she’s really in charge of her family which consists of her father, grandmother, older sister Alice and eight year old Oliver. Alice is determined to become a nurse and has to study, – when she’s not with her boyfriend, she seems happy to leave all the responibility to Emmie. Oliver has problems, he is happy to lie and steal and is very manipulative. Emmie is terrified that he’ll be caught stealing something, it’s just another of her many worries. The mother had been a well-known naturalist but she’s not around, in fact the children seem to think she is dead. As the father has a drink problem, he’s a journalist and claims he needs to go to pubs to get contacts, it’s Emmie who has to worry about providing school uniforms, life is tough and money very scarce. Then to make matters worse the grandmother’s age begins to tell on her. Emmie’s mother had encouraged her to start writing a diary/notebook and Emmie wonders if getting it published could be a way out of money problems.

Emmie has had to grow up fast but when new people arrive at a nearby house things change. Marjorie and Nick are a young married couple with no worries, Marjorie’s father is very wealthy and they’re financially secure, but are living a rather empty life with nothing to strive for. They become involved with the Bean family and Emmie is quite smitten by Nick. There’s a sadness to Nick and Marjorie and the Bean family seem to fill a void for a time.

This was an enjoyable read, but a difficult one to write about. I’ve read a few books by Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War is probably her best known book and I think I liked that one more than this one, but that may just have been because of my liking for a WW2 setting.

This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Edinburgh book purchases

We were in Edinburgh earlier in the week, avoiding Princes Street we made straight for Stockbridge, my favourite haunt for second-hand bookshops, but strangely I wasn’t that lucky there. I bought a small copy of

1. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. For some reason this one eluded me through my childhood and that of my own boys. Mind you as it was first published in 1968 I would have been deemed to be too old for it back then. It’s a charming story though and I love the illustrations. After reading Judith Kerr’s wartime reminiscences in Bombs Fell on Aunt Dainty and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, I had to get this one.

2. Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden is a Virago but was first published in 1963. According to The Observer it’s – ‘An exceptional picture of disorganised family life … imaginative, tender, with a welcome undercurrent of toughness’.

Books Again

Driving across the city to Morninsgide I was amazed to see four Persephone books in the Oxfam bookshop, they almost never appear second-hand. Unfortunately I already had two of them, but I quickly snapped up-

3. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail. I’ve been meaning to read this one for years so it’ll probably jump quite high up the TBR queue.

4. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart -which I must admit I’ve never even heard of.

I also bought a copy of Shirley Jackson’s We have Always Lived in the Castle, thinking that I had never read this one, but it turned out I had. Oh well, last time I borrowed it from the library so it’s nice to have my own copy. Jack might want to read it at some point in the future.

Have you read any of these ones?

Walking Naked by Nina Bawden

 Walking Naked cover

Walking Naked by Nina Bawden was first published in 1981 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1992. It all feels very autobiographical but I gather that Bawden habitually plundered her own life for use in her novels.

The action takes place on one day. Laura is an author and is happily married to Andrew who is her second husband. He’s successful and socially adept where Laura is awkward and uncomfortable. It begins with Andrew playing a game of tennis with a visiting American business contact, with the wives looking on.

It’s a busy day as next on the agenda is a prison visit to Laura’s grown up son by her previous husband. The son is being charged with drug smuggling, he’s either guilty or a complete idiot. It’s a situation that finds Laura and Andrew feeling powerless, an unusual state for them to be in.

Laura is carrying a lot of baggage from her wartime childhood when she felt abandoned by her mother. Her anxiety manifests itself as a fear and dread that her home is silently being attacked by dry rot and is about to tumble down around her and her family.

But it’s Laura who is telling this tale and she’s a very flawed character, skipping back and forth between the past and the present the reader slowly discovers that Laura isn’t as she has portrayed herself.

This was well written but not a comfy read as it’s dealing with broken families and damaged people.

You can read Bawden’s obituary here

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden

The Peppermint Pig cover

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden was first published in 1975 and it’s one of the Puffin books that I bought fairly recently. It won the Guardian Award for children’s fiction. This book isn’t for the faint hearted as at the very beginning there’s a description of how Granny Greengrass had her finger accidentally cut off by the butcher. Then it’s mentioned that puppies used to have their tails ‘docked’ by having them bitten off by the groom at the Manor House.

The father of the Greengrass family is got rid of very quickly as after an incident at his work he decides that he should travel to America where his brother lives, in the hope of forging a new life for his family – eventually. The children and their mother end up having to leave their home in London and travelling to rural Norfolk to live with aunts until the time comes for them to leave for America. Life there is very different from London, they end up having a pet piglet, the runt of a litter which was offered for sale to their mother for a shilling.

In no time the piglet is house-trained, he’s clever and naughty and great fun, the children love their peppermint pig which is apparently what the runt of a litter is called. The piglet grows quickly, as the children were so fond of it I really thought that this was going to have a happy ending – but I was wrong!

The blurb on the back says: A charming and perceptive story by the author of Carrie’s War.

I imagine that it probably turned a fair few children into vegetarians – for a while anyway!

More Flitting and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

It has been a very busy week for us as we’ve been helping Gordon and Laura move into their new home, until now they’ve had to rent, like so many people nowadays but it has been worth waiting for and not only do they have a lovely house, they have a beautiful view of rolling green hills from their front path. I’ll get a photo of it soon, I was too busy humphing stuff to stop and click. The next time they move (not for a long time I hope) they will definitely be employing a removal company, we’re getting too old for it all!

Apparently everyone where Laura teaches was saying to her – are you flitting tomorrow? – and she had never heard the word before as although she has lived in Scotland for years she is from what she calls the grim North, meaning the Manchester area – which is definitely the south to us.

Anyway it’s great to see them settled at last. I have been reading although you wouldn’t think it because I’m way behind in my Goodreads Challenge updating. I hope to get back to normality, or what passes for normal here anyway – soon.

One book which I finished recently is Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden. It’s a Puffin Modern Classic and when I saw it in a charity bookshop in Edinburgh I thought it was about time I got around to taking a squint at it. Some parts of it seemed quite familiar though and I think I’ve probably heard snatches of it on the radio over the years. The BBC has also adapted it for TV in the past and you can watch it on You Tube.

The book is an enjoyable read, you probably already know that it’s about a young brother and sister from London being evacuated to Wales to avoid the Nazi bombs. I can only wonder what I would have done as a mother in that position, somehow I just can’t imagine packing my children onto a train and waving them off to an uncertain future with strangers. But then – there were all those bombs to contend with …