Ann And Her Mother by O. Douglas

This book was first published in 1922, it was the fourth book to be written by O.Douglas and it comes in between Penny Plain and Pink Sugar. It is exactly as the title says, all about Ann and her mother, the Ann being O.Douglas (Anna Buchan)herself. The mother was of course also mother of John Buchan.

I really enjoyed this one, apart from anything else it gave me so much information on the Buchan family and answered a lot of questions I had had. By this time Mrs Douglas is a widow who misses her husband a lot and is becoming quite depressed and ready for her own appointment at the pearly gates. Ann has decided to write her mother’s ‘life’, it’s a way of getting her mother to talk about happier times and her three children who have already been ‘taken’.

The family originally came from Peebles (Priorsford) of course but they moved to Kirkcaldy (Kirkcaple) when Mr Buchan (Douglas) became the minister of the Free Church of Scotland in the town.

I had often wondered how they managed to survive such a change of scene from the soft hills and river scenery of the borders to the icy North Sea blast of Kirkcaldy, and this book has the answer. The family seems to have been full of wild children, not what you would expect from the children of the manse at all.

They did move away after staying in Kirkcaldy for about 13 years but I can imagine that when this book was first published the townsfolk must have been quite thrilled as there are so many local streets mentioned and even the names are local ones, I wonder if they were the real people or the names had been changed.

Glasgow was their next destination and that must have been an even bigger shock to them as they found themselves in a very poor and deprived neighbourhood with not much of a congregation. There is an inevitable churchiness and biblical quotations abound in these books but they are very readable and I think that O.Douglas would have made a good agony aunt for a magazine because she is full of good common sense and helpful observation. Given the time this was published I imagine that it was read by many a woman who had lost sons in the Great War, and it might have given them some solace to read about another woman in their position.

The Buchans were members of the Free Church of Scotland which is the very strictest form of Presbyterianism, so I was surprised to see that a Christmas tree was mentioned. They must have been a fairly lax set of ‘Wee Frees’ – as they’re nicknamed. It was only a few years ago that a minister was on the news because he had banned a Christmas tree from outside a primary school. They’re seen as pagan symbols and so I suppose the work of the devil. It was also mentioned that they sang hymns, something else which I thought was unheard of as they don’t allow music – it’s also the work of the devil.

The only thing the Wee Frees really seem to enjoy is fighting amongst themselves and every ten years or so they have a big fight and break into yet another schism, then they have a big argument about who owns the church and manse.

Anyway, none of that nonsense goes on in this book and I think this is my favourite of her books so far.

Autumn Break Book Purchases

I came back home with very few books this time, slim pickings indeed. I didn’t see one Angela Thirkell book but I did buy:

Fire, Burn! by John Dickson Carr
A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols (sequel to Down the Garden Path)
and on the way home I bought a 1970s edition of Four Hedges by Clare Leighton.

The bookshop in York, just beside the Minster is one of those ones which sells a lot of prints too. I always find that quite sad because most of them have been ripped out of books. But I couldn’t help admiring some woodblock prints by Clare Leighton, I don’t recall ever seeing anything by her before, so when I picked up a book in an antiques centre at Powburn, Northumberland I was amazed to see that the book underneath was one by Clare Leighton with 88 illustrations by her. How lucky was that?! At only £5 it was definitely coming home with me. You can see some of her work here.

When I got home I looked her up and discovered that her brother was Roland Leighton, whom I always think of as O Roland – if you’ve read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth you’ll know that she was engaged to him but of course he died of his wounds in 1915. Four Hedges is subtitled A Gardener’s Chronicle and needless to say I won’t be breaking it up to hang any of it on my already overcrowded walls.

So that was it, just three books bought whilst in England but today we wandered down the High Street and I went into one charity shop and ended up buying:

The Demoniacs by John Dickson Carr
Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell and
Taken By The Hand by O. Douglas

I’d better get down to some serious reading at the rate the TBR pile is growing, especially as two of the books which I had requested from the library have also turned up. I still haven’t got around to sorting through the photos I took whilst we were away. Maybe tomorrow!

The Setons by O. Douglas

If you have a look at my library thing you’ll see that I’ve been reading John Buchan’s Witch Wood, but I have to admit that I only got to page 43 before deciding that I wasn’t in the mood for it. I almost never give up on a book completely so it’s just waiting until I feel more like reading it, or as we used to say in Scotland – until it comes up my back. Do not ask me where that saying comes from as I haven’t a clue!

Anyway, I felt that John Buchan’s sister O. Douglas matched my mood more, so I settled down with The Setons which was first published in 1917.

This book follows a now familiar pattern of a family with widely differing ages of children. It’s set in Glasgow and of course it’s the Seton family who live there, the father being a widowed church minister. Elizabeth, his daughter, is in her 20s and she takes the place of ‘mother’, especially to her brother ‘Buff’ who is only five years old.

It’s a comfy book, very autobiographical I’m sure, it’s probably an accurate depiction of the sort of life which O. Douglas experienced when the Buchan family was living in Glasgow, no doubt she used plenty of her acquaintances as characters. There is inevitably quite a lot of Scottish Presbyterianism and mentions of the Bible.

She was very fond of having a wee boy who was doted on in her books, it seems such a shame she only had brothers and never had any children of her own. Although the mother in this book is dead, the Buchan’s mother was very much alive and the book is decicated to her.

They sought the glory of their country: they see the glory of God.

Towards the end of The Setons the Great War rears its ugly head and it moves from being the usual cosy, romantic and amusing tale with interesting Scottish social history, to something altogether more sad but no doubt it echoed so many peoples’ experiences at the time.

I of course enjoyed it for the Glasgow setting, as I was born there and brought up not far away from the streets mentioned. There were quite a lot of visits to shops and Glasgow owned up-market department stores which I had remembered being in as a child. They’re all gone now, such a shame, but it was quite a nostalgia trip for me. It’s always good to be able to imagine an exact location, even when almost 100 years has gone past since the book was written. I think you can get The Setons from Project Gutenberg.

Olivia in India by O. Douglas

This is the first book which O.Douglas, sometimes known as Anna Buchan, had published (in 1912). It’s very autobiographical and it’s written in the form of a series of letters, the first of which is written from a ship in Liverpool which is ready to set off on the long voyage to India. Olivia is going to India to spend time with her bother, affectionately nicknamed Boggley. He is in India doing some sort of Empire related job.

We only read the letters which Olivia is writing and it’s very near the end before we learn who she’s actually writing them to. There are never any replies, although she sometimes alludes to something which has been mentioned in a letter to her. Obviously the early letters are all about the voyage and the other passengers but when Olivia reaches India she’s all over the place, experiencing as much of the life there as she can, taking trains across the country, visiting the Taj Mahal and meeting all sorts of people, good and bad.

So it’s all very different from her other books which are set in Scotland but she does write about home and reminisces about the past. She even mentions that she’s writing a book, encouraged by her brother John’s books’ good reviews.

So I started wondering how much of this book was fiction and I had a look at the index of O.Douglas’ biography “Unforgettable, Unforgotten” and sure enough she did go to India to visit one of her brothers. I’ll have to get around to reading that one soon.

I enjoyed Olivia in India and I think it is probably a realistic account of life in India for Anglo-Indians, the fear of mutinies and disease and the odd bomb or two being thrown as Indians became more and more dissatisfied with their position as part of the British Empire.

I borrowed “Olivia in India” from the library but I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to look at books when I return the ones I have out. Last week I went to two libraries in two different towns and apart from this book I also borrowed:

Symposium by Muriel Spark
The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts
Augustus Carp Esq. by Himself
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe

The Poe book is one of those ones that I feel I should have read years ago and for some reason or other I haven’t.

So, with an eye on the due back dates I’m neglecting my own books and Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree in particular has been glowering at me from the top of a pile of books which are balanced on a cantilevered sewing box near my bedside. I’m banning myself from the library!

Priorsford by O. Douglas (Anna Buchan)

Priorsford is a sequel to Penny Plain which you can read about here. It was published ten years after Penny Plain and the story has moved on just about the same amount of time. Jean now has three children and is living in England at her husband’s estate. It’s years since she has been to visit the folks back in Priorsford (Peebles) in Scotland so when her husband has to go away for the winter with a friend who is very ill, she takes the chance to move her family back to where she grew up so that she can catch up with all her old friends and neighbours. Mrs. Duff Whalley thinks the worst, of course, as that type always does.

I think I enjoyed this one more than Penny Plain which was a wee bit too preachy in parts for my liking. This is an enjoyable comfort read but there are plenty of mentions of the hard times which so many people were experiencing in the 1930s. The problems were all so similar to what’s going on today and I briefly thought to myself that we’ve always had periods of unemployment and poverty – and then I remembered what it was that got us out of the 1930s depression – war! They’re going to have to come up with a better solution this time around!

This excerpt is towards the end of the book when Jock is complaining about his office job:

‘It’s a good opening,’ Betty reminded him. ‘Just think how many there are who would be thankful for it.’

‘Oh, I know,’ Jock agreed. ‘There are dozens of men who were with me at Oxford, most of them better scholars, all of them quicker in the uptake, and they simply can’t get a bally thing to do. And people rave about the youth of our country having lost the spirit of adventure, and asking why they don’t go to the Colonies and carve out careers for themselves. But these men have little or no capital, and the Colonies don’t want them.’

As you can see, Priorsford is more than a comfort book, it delves into the problems of the day, but the inhabitants of Priorsford are much the same as before so they’re all recognisable ‘types’. Jean as a wife and mother is rivalling the mother in Little House on the Prairie books for being mild mannered and almost saintly, the way she puts up with her husband and family!

I’m looking forward to going to Priorsford (Peebles) soonish and I want to go to where the Laverlaw meets the Tweed, local legend has it that Merlin is buried there! Have you heard about that Evee, and did you ever discover the location of The Riggs?

More from Evelyn

Just a quick one tonight!

I discovered recently that Evelyn of Evee’s blog is an even busier bee than I thought she was as she also has a blog called Peebles for Pleasure which is obviously about the Scottish Borders town of Peebles and is just full of gorgeous photos of the area, by Iain Mackay.

I really don’t know the area all that well as I’ve only been to the town itself for very short walks along the high street whilst on our way to visit nearby relatives. I’m going to have to give Peebles more time next time we’re there because we’ve been missing all the great bits. Just going by the photos I’d definitely move there if it wasn’t so far away from Perth and Dundee.

If you read books by O. Douglas (Anna Buchan, John Buchan’s sister) you’ll be interested in Peebles for Pleasure. It’s easy to see why Anna loved the place and wrote about it, giving it the name of Priorsford in her books.

The Buchan family moved to Kirkcaldy in Fife when their father, who was a Scottish Free Church minister was preaching at a church here. I think they lived in Fife for at least eleven years and Mrs Buchan in particular must have been ‘pining for Peebles’ all that time as the blast from the north sea must have come as a shock to her. They did eventually get back to the Peebles area.

It’s a bit of a miracle that I found Peebles for Pleasure because I don’t think Evelyn has it on her sidebar, unless I just can’t see it for looking at it – if you see what I mean. If you haven’t found it before and you like lovely photos do yourself a favour and hop over.

Road Trip Book Haul

October 2011 books

I suppose there are worse addictions to be afflicted with but I just couldn’t stop myself from hitting every second-hand bookshop which I found on our journey from Fife to East Anglia. My excuse is that I think we’re going to suffer yet another horrendous winter and if we’re snowed/iced in again I’ll need plenty of reading material, but if I’m honest, I’m never going to be in danger of running out of books to read. I think they just about all come under the category of comfort reads and they’re all fairly ancient, the most recent publication is Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and even that’s fairly old – 1985, and probably isn’t a comfort read but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. So this is what I bought and I have to say that I don’t feel too naughty because I could have bought a lot more …

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Setons by O. Douglas
The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
Going It Alone by Michael Innes
Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher
An Academic Question by Barbara Pym
An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
Ankle Deep by Angela Thirkell
Close Quarters by Angela Thirkell
Growing Up by Angela Thirkell
Enter Sir Robert by Angela Thirkell
Summer by Edith Wharton

… and last but not least Crime Stories from The Strand which is a lovely Folio book of short stories by crime writers such as Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, A.E.W. Mason and many more. I was especially chuffed to get the four Thirkells, three of which I bought from a stall in Cambridge market, her books don’t often turn up in Scotland for some reason, strange really as she’s at least half Scottish.

I’m hoping to have sorted through some photos from our trip by tomorrow.

Pink Sugar by O. Douglas (Anna Buchan)

I had no intention of reading this book any time soon but it sort of jumped out at me when I went up to the library to snaffle The Slaves of Solitude last week before anyone else got to it. I thought I might as well give it a go, I’m sure I saw it mentioned favourably on a blog quite recently. The book was first published in 1924 and it runs along similar lines to her earlier book Penny Plain.

Kirsty Gilmour is just 30 years old and is quite well off but for most of her life she has had to travel around with her very demanding and selfish step-mother who liked to live her life just moving from hotel to hotel. The hotels were never in Scotland because the step-mother hated that country so Kirsty hadn’t been home for 22 years. In all that time Kirsty longed to go back to Scotland, her place of birth so when her step-mother died Kirsty rented a lodge house in Muirburn, a small village in her beloved Scottish border country. It’s the first real home which she has ever had and the house goes by what I think is a wonderful name – Little Phantasy.

Kirsty’s whole life has revolved around her step-mother and she finds it difficult to live just for herself so when her elderly Aunt Fanny suddenly finds that she has to give up her own home Kirsty is delighted to offer her a room at Little Phantasy. Then Kirsty hears about three motherless Scottish children who are relatives of a friend and the poor wee things are having to spend the summer in London. Before you know it they are at Little Phantasy too and the usual servants of that time complete the household.

The children provide the humour and it’s almost exactly the same as Penny Plain really. It’s a sort of Mapp and Lucia meets Just William at a Scottish Cranford. Quite enjoyable in a way and something that you can safely recommend to any delicate souls of your acquaintance. If you enjoy Scottish settings of the early 20th century then you’ll probably like this one. The landscape is painted with real affection and becomes as important as any characters, which is usual in most fiction by Celtic writers, I think.

The title Pink Sugar comes from the pink sugar hearts which Kirsty wanted to eat as a child but she was never allowed to because it wasn’t wholesome. Ever since she has had a weakness for pink sugar.

“Surely we want every crumb of pink sugar that we can get in this world. I do hate people who sneer at sentiment. What is sentiment after all? It’s only a word, for all that is decent and kind and loving in these warped little lives of ours…”

I think from that that O. Douglas must have been condemned by reviewers for being too sentimental and she was determined to have her right of reply.

O. Douglas was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t want to use the family name in case people thought that she was trading on his name as he was already very successfull as a writer.

Penny Plain by O Douglas (Anna Buchan)

I wanted to read something by O. Douglas, or Anna Buchan as was her real name, and I came across Penny Plain recently in a second-hand book shop. It’s the easiest to find and also the cheapest by far, but I’ve just discovered that I could have downloaded it for free, such is life!

Anna Buchan was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t write thrillers. I think she would be best described as a romance writer and Penny Plain comes under that category ‘kailyard’ which was so popular in the early years of the 20th century.

The novel was first published in 1920. My edition was published in 1922 and it is the 12th edition which gives you an idea of how popular the book was in its day.

It’s set in the Scottish border country in a small town called Priorsford and is the story of Jean Jardine whose parents have died and she has to bring up her two younger brothers and a very small boy who is no blood relation at all, but as he is an orphan she feels obliged to look after him. They all live in a small cottage by the banks of the River Tweed which they rent from a man who lives in London, and Mrs McCosh from Glasgow helps with the housework.

The next-door neighbour, Bella Bathgate, takes in lodgers and Pamela Reston who is an ‘honourable’, a lord’s daughter from London, takes up residence as her guest and becomes great friends with the Jardines, which leads to big changes for all concerned.

There are times when the book gets just a wee bit too religious and Presbyterian, but I suppose that was to be expected from the daughter of a Wee Free minister. The Free Church of Scotland is the strictest form of Presbyterianism, no singing, no music, no dancing, do nothing on a Sunday except go to church and read the bible, don’t even cook a meal!! But then again her brother John never felt the need to bring it into his books.

Having said that the book is full of great characters who all ring true to me as typical Scots, especially Mrs McCosh the Glaswegian and even the dog Peter is a ‘card’. There’s plenty of humour as well as sentimentality.

If you do take a look at this book you might like to know that the wee boy is nicknamed ‘the Mhor’ which is Gaelic for ‘the great one’ and in Gaelic ‘mh’ together is pronounced as a v.

Book Haul

It’s half-term and we went to Stockbridge in Edinburgh again and had a good snoop around the bookshops. Too good actually because I ended up spending just over 30 quid – ouch.

The Jasmine Farm by Elizabeth von Arnim
Penny Plain by O. Douglas
Cromartie Versus the God Shiva by Rumer Godden
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
The Singer not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop
The Corn King and The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
The Republic by Plato
The Building of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor
County Chronicle by Angela Thirkell

I don’t feel too bad about it though because quite a few of them will be read for The C P R Book Group – eventually!