Nancy Breary, Gretchen Breary, Folly and a cast
article was first published in "Folly" for more
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Thanks to the editors of Folly and the author (?*) for permission to reproduce this article.
"I think new girls who swank should be suppressed." [Dimity Drews First Term, page 40] The same probably applies to new readers of Folly, but this one is going to!
In Part 2 of Mainly About Nancy (Folly 8) Sue wrote: "If anyone has a copy of Too Many Girls or knows where one is to be found, please let Folly know.
Well, I do have a copy; in fact, I have Gretchen Brearys (Nancys sister) own copy. Would you like to hear about it? Are you sitting comfortably? Then Ill begin.
Once upon a time there was a little girl and every week on her way to Guides she went to the library. Once week she borrowed a book called No Peace for the Prefects, and enjoyed it so much that she borrowed it again the next week, and about once a month after that. Years later the little girl, now grown-up, decided that she would like to read that book again. Of course, it was out of print, so she began haunting second-hand bookshops. No luck, though she did bury some other books by Nancy Breary. Then, greatly daring, she decided to advertise for a copy, and her coat collar turned up and wearing dark glasses, she posted an advertisement to the Exchange and Mart. To her surprise she was not only sent a copy of the book, by our esteemed editor, Sue Sims; she also had letters from other people who also enjoyed and collected books by Nancy Breary. That set her off on a search for all Nancys books, and eight years later she had finally collected them all except Too Many Girls - and as that was only published in Canada she didnt expect to get it.
She still got so much pleasure out of the books that she decided to try and trace Nancy Breary to thank her for writing them. A letter to Blackies gave an address in Hastings which was twelve years old, and "might not still be there" and a letter to the head postmaster at Hastings confirmed this. Dead end. A trip to the library and the Hastings area telephone directory showed just one Breary, a G.D.Breary in Winchelsea. Greatly daring, she rang the number and explained that she was trying contact a Nancy Breary; and the voice at the other end said, "I am Nancy Breary." "Oh, the one who writes books?" "Yes, came the answer.
That little girl was me, and that point, my legs gave way and I sank to the floor. We spoke for about fifteen minutes, and afterwards I wrote to her, telling her how much I enjoyed her books, and that I had now got them all except Too Many Girls, which I didnt expect to get. She wrote straight back and sent me her autograph, saying that she would love to be able to give me a copy of Too Many Girls, but only had her own copy which obviously she couldnt part with. She told me that she was working on a novel which she hoped to have finished in two years time; two years later I began asking in Smiths if it had been published, but it hadnt. However, as this was a novel for adults, I thought perhaps it might have been published under a different name, so wrote to Nancy to ask her.
A few days later (it was a Sunday morning, I remember) there was a phone call. It was from Gretchen, Nancys sister. She told that Nancy had had a stroke about twelve months earlier, and was now in hospital and unable to write; but, much to my amazement, she remembered my letter and asked me if I had ever been able to find a copy of Too Many Girls. I couldnt believe it when, a few days later, the postman brought a copy of it - Gretchens own copy; and Gretchen herself had done the illustrations, which made it even more precious.
After that I wrote regularly to Nancy and Gretchen, and Gretchen always wrote back, sending me some photographs and giving me little insights of their life together. She said at one book signing a child asked if Nancy Breary was her real name: to which the childs mother snapped, "Of course it is! No one would call themselves that from choice!" She also mentioned once that one of Nancys favourite books was Idle Women (about working on a canal barge) - so guess who went straight to the library to borrow a copy.
After Nancys death in 1988, I continued to write to Gretchen. Three years ago, we went to visit her, one Saturday afternoon in May. Gretchen gave us tea and I read some of the fan mail Nancy had received, and also saw the last book she wrote, which was never published, as Blackie wanted her to write another Mystery of the Motels type or a story about a comprehensive school, which Nancy didnt want to do. The unpublished book is called First Term Together, and Gretchen was going to try and get it published, but unfortunately her health gave up before she was able to do so. There were lots of lovely little snippets of information. Nancy had called Dimity Drews First Term "They Didnt Like Miss Larkin", and was annoyed when the publishers changed it. Her own favourite book was No Peace for the Prefects, and Gretchen said that whenever she re-read it herself, it was just as if Nancy were speaking.
There was a long article about her in a magazine (I do wish Id asked if I could have a photocopy) which said that all the "schools" were real houses, and Im now trying to work out where they all are. If anyone has any ideas Id love to hear them. I saw all Nancys books in dust-wrappers, except No Peace for the Prefects; Gretchen was very pleased Id noticed it was missing, as it reminded her that someone had borrowed it and not returned it. I also saw some books she had written under the name of Anne Beverly, which again I would have loved to have had time to read. I saw the desk she wrote at and Tiffany the dog (my husband took Tiffany for a walk while I was wallowing in all the reading). The walls were covered with Gretchens paintings, including one of the view through the window from Nancys desk. Gretchen herself had been the editor of the Childrens Page in the Church Times for a number of years, and until recently had held a weekly art class for adults in her home.
Unfortunately, Gretchen herself eventually had a stroke, and had to go into hospital, in the same ward as Nancy had been. I still wrote to her regularly, though she was unable to write back; Id ring a friend to find out how she was, and know she was really thrilled to think that Nancys books are so much in demand today.
Gretchen died on 6th September 1994; but the pleasure that her sisters books and her illustrations have given live on.
Thanks to Jo Robins for most of