Thursday, 15 January 2015

Girl's Own School Stories on Amazon

An American reader of Pegasi and Prefects just asked me for recommendations for school stories. At first I didn't know what to suggest: my own collection has for years existed of books inherited from my mother and aunts and random volumes found at antiquarians and charity shops, always choosing the cheap foxed ones over the valuable editions. I ended up with everything from St Trinian's to evangelical school stories, and a lot of annuals and collections. Some of them had never been read, with pages still uncut: from the inscriptions, unloved birthday presents and Sunday School prizes.

That works in Australia and the UK, my two homes, but I wasn't sure if British school stories ever caught on much in the home of Nancy Drew and the Little House.

However, I checked Amazon, and I was in for a wonderful surprise. Since I last checked, there has been... well, let's say I might be broke for a little while. Plenty of free reading too, though!

I already knew that a lot of Angela Brazils were available on Kindle and Project Gutenberg; I have been gradually giving away my hardbacks and replacing them with free digital editions (unless I really, really like the covers.) Brazil is always a good choice. In a lot of ways she is the quintessential school story writer. In practice, her books range from brilliant to phoned in, but she formed the tropes of the slangy, less than perfect schoolgirl, and her heavily flawed heroines are some of my all time favourites.

A Fourth Form Friendship is the very best, and will be reviewed here properly at some point. Other Angela Brazil (free!) recommendations, all stand-alone novels:

The Luckiest Girl in the School
The Girls of St Cyprians
A Popular Schoolgirl
The Youngest Girl in the Fifth

If Brazil formed the tropes, though, Enid Blyton distilled them into some of the purest forms, as was her genius. Malory Towers, St Clare's and the Naughtiest Girl books (younger children, and co-ed, at a progressive child-centred school) are all available as inexpensive ebooks these days. There are also much more recently written tie-in novels, of which I will cautiously say some are very enjoyable, some less so. (I vehemently object to the renumbering of the series to include the tie-ins, though, and I can remember how cheated I felt as a kid when my new Famous Five book turned out not to be by Blyton at all.)

There are also some Chalet School books up as ebooks  from Bettany Press and Girls Gone By but, disappointingly, the ones actually written by Elinor Brent-Dyer aren't up there, just novel length fanfic. If you are a hardcore fan, though, they might be fun, if IMO over priced. The price factor is why I can't recommend any by experience, as it happens. There is also an unrelated book by Brent-Dyer called The School by the Sea, which I haven't read, but seem to have purchased at some point.

What is annoying is that some Chalet School books (and other books by school story authors) are reprinted by specialist publishers, but they don't make them available as ebooks rather than as limited print runs.  Seriously, on the tiny chance that anyone from Girls Gone By etc is reading this, please let me throw my money at you. There's no way on earth that I'm going to spend A$55 on an airmail copy of a Lightning Source reprint, but price them all at $4.99 as ebooks and I will have spent hundreds of dollars with you before I even realise what I've done. Okay, rant over.

Anne Digby's Trebizon series is also up as ebooks. They never really caught my attention, being too late for me (starting in the late 1970s), but they are so inexpensive I may well give them another shot. She also wrote the Naughtiest Girl fill-ins, which admittedly I don't like much.

The best news (for me, at least) I've saved for last: classic school stories by Evelyn Smith, Dorothea Moore, E. M. Channon and Bessie Marchant, put out by a company called Books to Treasure. THIS is why I may be pinching pennies for a bit. Of that list,  Dorothea Moore and Evelyn Smith are two of my favourite, most solid school story writers ever, reliably fun, and E. M. Channon wrote one of the best (and most unusual) school stories I have ever read, The Honour of the House.  (Not on Kindle yet, but I can hope, and I will review at some point!)

Bessie Marchant I am less sure about; she sounds familiar, but I would have to dig around the boxes in my garage to see if I can fit some books to the name.

Anyway, Smith, Channon and Moore are enthusiastically recommended, and I have some reading to do!

If you have any other recommendations of school stories readily available, please let me know. Top of my wish list is for some of Dorita Fairlie Bruce's non-Dimsie books... I live in hope!


Eleanor Beresford is the author of the Scholars and Sorcery series of LGBT YA fantasy novels. Find out more here.


  1. THANK YOU! This is exactly what I was hoping for. My Kindle is already drowning in Angela Brazil.

    1. Thank you for asking! I am ridiculously excited to be able to get Dorothea Moore books on kindle, and I had no idea.

      (Accidentally deleted my own reply to you, don't worry about it.)