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Jane Shaw's SUSAN Books.
Page finalised 7th November, 2010.
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site based in Australia.
Main JANE SHAW Page with full book list.
The 'Susan' stories (Reviews)
The 'Susan' characters
Susan and Friends - The Jane Shaw Companion
A Query
<Susan is the dark-haired one in the middle. Tess is the longer haired one and Midge is the shorter-haired one.

The Susan Stories
An Unfinished Journey
Jim Mackenzie jmackenzie48@yahoo.com

Susan Pulls the Strings (1952)
When you have three interesting cousins like the Carmichaels to stay with it is no wonder that you don’t mind that your mother and father are off to Africa to build a bridge. Beautiful Charlotte, dreamy Midge and down-to-earth (but adventurous) Bill live in London, and Susan from Glasgow puts aside any feelings of homesickness when she gets rapidly drawn into their life in England’s capital city. Besides it’s Christmas and who could feel unhappy or get into trouble at Christmas ? We don’t know Susan very well yet or we wouldn’t ask such a silly question.
“You won’t rescue anyone, will you ?” asks Susan’s mother anxiously. The author comments that she was “fortunately unable to see into the future”. This means she doesn’t have to worry about Susan pushing her aunt Lucy into a pond to help Charlotte to become a nurse, or following her cat Chang into an empty house next door, or see how she attempts to raise money for Bill’s train set. The fact that it is Susan herself who needs rescuing in the end soon becomes no surprise to the reader. But why should she have problems with a plum and how do the stolen watches come into it ? Watch Jane Shaw weave her magic in this first in the series and you will come back for more.

Susan’s Helping Hand (1955)
“I’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m minding my own business.”
This is Susan’s new resolution and it lasts all of twenty seconds. Very soon she is trying to help Charlotte with her new craze – the collecting of fine china and porcelain. However, the dreaded chicken-pox strikes and this sends all of their plans off in a new direction. Some recuperation time spent at Apple-tree Farm provides Susan with a whole new set of calamities to add to her repertoire. However, Jane Shaw also cleverly introduces a new strand to the story with a preface about a girl with a dreadful secret. There is also the business of the Mad Collector and the Folding Letter. Susan and Bill turn detective and try at the same time to help poor Miss Frame in her failing antique shop. By now we all know that Charlotte is so pretty that she could stop the traffic, but little did we suspect that Susan could divert a whole main road. Solve the different mysteries before Susan if you can. Enjoy the surprising action sequences and relax with the idle Midge as she drinks in the wonderful countryside.

Susan Rushes In (1956)
Meet the Gascoignes – they have just moved in next door to the Carmichaels. There’s simpering Selina, the mother who tries to look like her daughter’s elder sister; there’s ghastly Gabrielle who peers down her nose at Midge and Susan; there’s Adrian who takes far too much interest in Charlotte and worst of all there’s the perfidious Peregrine who knows no rules of behaviour and who is allowed to be a law unto himself and a pest to everybody else. Yes – they are truly awful.

But it’s worse than that – all the Gascoignes are also extremely talented. They can sing, they can paint, they can write stories, they can play music and the artistic world world beats a path to their door. All the modest accomplishments of Susan, Bill and Midge are immediately put in the shade. They soon realise that they have got a lot to be modest about.

But it’s even worse than that ! With the typical unreasonableness of parents and the older generation everywhere Aunt Lucy and Uncle Charles find the Gascoignes attractive and excellent companions. And a dreadful fear about the future plunges both the maudlin Midge and the normally irrepressible Susan into deepest gloom. Perhaps it’s a good job there are rights to be wronged as knight-errant Susan (with an emphasis on the errors) takes on another impossible quest. Will Scots pluck see her through again ? The title tells you that you can’t stop her trying.

Susan Interferes (1957)
Midge has high hopes that a trip to Switzerland will keep Susan’s ability to stir up unwanted trouble under complete control. After all her cousin’s opportunities to cause havoc will be limited if she can’t speak the language. The first page of the book has our favourite heroine asking a porter to help with the luggage. The fact that “the porter” is a high-ranking official in the Swiss Army tells the reader that they can relax – she’s soon going to be up to her neck in it.

And yet, despite the arrival of the most awful family in children’s fiction, (those Gascoignes again) this book has an altogether more sombre tone between the comic episodes. Certainly you can find out why Midge and Susan find it necessary to go up and down the mountains five times in a railway carriage. You can also join in the teasing of Charlotte when she agrees to go dancing with the awful Adrian. However, Susan is nearly pushed under a car and the mystery to be solved is a deadly serious one. Then there’s the matter of Susan’s straight speaking and we see unexpected courage of a different quality. Jane Shaw has taken the series to another higher level and we don’t just mean to the snow-covered peaks of Switzerland !


Coloured frontispiece from 'Susan Pulls
the Strings'.
*

* Jim: "This shows Susan and her aunt Lucy. It is the only coloured frontispiece in the eight books I have got. They must have given up after this first book."

Susan at School (1958)
Yet another transfusion of new ideas makes this Susan story one of the most entertaining of the whole series. Jane Shaw has the opportunity to create delightful new characters and to show her readers again that wonderful barrier that descends between the world of adults and the world of adolescents when they enter a school environment.

Witness Midge’s catalogue of some of the teachers in Saint Ronan’s – “Miss Johnson, who was about ninety years old and as mad as a coot and took them for Latin – she was called Dotty for obvious reasons …… Miss Ferrier, who was known as the Ferret and who taught maths – everything about her was sharp, her voice and her tongue and her nose.”

Best of all there’s fellow new-girl Tessa whose brain “wasn’t of the lightning variety” who becomes the indomitable Susan’s next project. She still finds time to help Gail Martin:
“Gail Martin had specs which Susan took to cleaning every morning after breakfast – she sometimes wondered how Gail had managed before her arrival; she must have seen everything through a sort of fog.”

We won’t bother outlining a plot but there’s a mysterious map and a runaway car and an exciting gameof hockey. But it is the doom-laden Tessa whom we most look forward to meeting again.

Susan Muddles Through (1960)
It’s a treat to find Susan going back to Scotland with the Carmichael family in tow. On holiday, on her own turf, she must surely keep out of trouble for once. What’s that we see ? – the ghastly Gascoignes are going too and Pea-green, I mean Peregrine, is taking his air-pistol ! Charlotte acquires yet another admirer and Gabby takes obnoxiousness to an even higher level. Midge and Susan suffer as usual from the delusions that Aunt Lucy and Uncle Charles have that the Gascoignes are a family to be liked and admired. Selfishness and self-advertisement are seen to triumph but we like our heroines even more when we see what they have to put up with. The adventure turns out to be not quite what Susan had expected, and, though the wee Scots lass outwits a mean villain, those Gascoignes look like they are never going to get their come-uppance !

Susan’s Trying Term (1961)
Adrian Gascoigne is occupied writing a novel, Peregrine Gascoigne has his time taken up attending the same day-school as Bill and Selina is busy throwing pots and delighting in her new married name of Gascoigne-Pilkington. All is quiet in the world. However, good-looking Gabrielle is still available to give Charlotte, Midge and Susan more trouble than the rest of them put together. What makes it worse is that she has now succeeded in invading the one place they thought was safe – St. Ronan’s School. What hell for Susan, Midge and Tessa – what hilarity for the reader.

It’s no longer just swank and selfishness that typifies Gabby’s behaviour; she’s also become a liar and a deceiver and a traitor. Harsh words indeed but they will all appear to be understatements when you read what she does to Susan. And just when all her machinations are exposed to the full glare of the truth in front of the other girls in the form, Gabrielle invents an even better lie and “she had them all eating out of her hand again”. There’s no justice to be had but there’s a great deal of amusement, particularly with the dim-witted Tessa who is no good at games, hopeless at studies but possesses a very special hidden talent.

No Trouble for Susan (1962)
This means, of course, that there is plenty of trouble for Susan and for Midge and Charlotte too. Christmas is on its way again and Midge is dreaming of “blissful holidays – long lies in bed, teas in front of the fire…. messing about doing absolutely nothing…” Once again in the Susan saga illness intervenes and the three girls suddenly find themselves in charge of a bookshop during the Christmas rush. One project would be enough for most mere mortals but Susan doesn’t know when to stop and has soon accumulated a few more. These include saving an old lady from eviction, reforming a young hooligan and beating off attacks from a gang of vicious thieves. Amongst all this she still finds time to get involved with a disappearing brooch, a missing rare book, a wicked baronet and the activities of the latest theatrical group to visit the suburb of Wichwood Village. This is not to mention the latest line of Charlotte’s admirers and the unexpected and simultaneous arrival of three Father Christmases.

Susan’s Kind Heart
Due to Jim's lack of luck in finding this book, we offer the jacket blurb: She’s got a kind heart,” said Midge, “that’s the trouble…it’s sometimes a jolly lot worse being helped and rescued by Susan than being hounded by a cruel fate” Her words proved prophetic. Susan is barely five minutes on Breton soil when her kind heart leads her into a high-pitched altercation in the town square. Another high-spirited comedy is under way. The galloping ghost and the missing horde of historic silver are only two of the mysteries which Susan, “the universal good Samaritan,” feels she must investigate, and with a handful of suspects to choose from, she is in her element. You'll find the dust jacket on the main Jane Shaw page.

Where is Susan?
"Cancelled! Our hotel rooms! But that’s ridiculous!" Ridiculous or not, it was only too true. Bag and baggage Susan and her cousin Midge found themselves out on the street – or rather the quay – for this was Venice and the first day of their much loked forward to Italian holiday. But what now!Well this time at least Susan, who according to the Carmichael family was at the bottom of the most disasters, could not be blamed. Or could she?

Anyway, from that moment things began to happen to Susan and Midge. Who, for instance, was the girl in the large straw hat? And why was she following them? Nor was she the only one! In fact, as Susan kept moaning, they were being positively "prosecuted, I mean persecuted." (Thanks to Alison for this dj blurb.)

A Job For Susan
"Scrub the floor!" The cry was anguished. "Susie no!" But Susan, as usual, had taken control. If Bill needed money she would help him to find a job. These offers of "help" from Susan were what her entire family most dreaded but were powerless to suppress. So once again cousins Midge, Bill and Charlotte, not to mention Tessa, an unsuspecting school-friend, are dragged along in Susan’s enthusiastic wake.

Floor-scrubbing is only the first of several ideas which misfire. But Susan is rarely at a loss … A headline in an old newspaper catches her eye and in her imagination not only Bill’s but all their fortunes are made. The quest of the penny is on. Little does Susan know that it will in turn cause confusion at the local railway station, consternation in a London art gallery and near chaos at the bank. Between times, the cousins – and the timorous Tessa – brush again with their old enemy, the Bad Bart whose latest underhand scheme they manage to foil.

Susan fans will agree that the eleventh book in the series is as hilarious as the other ten and Jane Shaw will long be voted the author of the funniest stories for girls. (Thanks to Alison for this dj blurb.)

Over to You
And for most of us that is where the Susan story ends. The last three stories “Susan’s Kind Heart”, "Where is Susan?"and “A Job for Susan” are rarer to find than gold dust. Perhaps one of you reading this can give us all the flavour of the missing books. No spoilers, please – just a few hints. Does anyone ever crush those awful Gascoignes ?

 

Have you ever noticed the pile of books on the bottom right of this dustwrapper? They are enlarged above - the ultimate in self-advertising. HOWEVER - As Jim noticed, the title on the top is SUSAN'S TRYING TIME, which doesn't exist! A joke on the part of the artist? Or should it have been 'Susan's Trying TERM?

Characters in the Susan books
Jim Mackenzie jmackenzie48@yahoo.com
The Family
Susan Lyle
The nature of Susan’s character is the story of the series. Look at the titles of the different books and you will see her career outlined in all its glory. It wouldn’t do to comment in too much detail here. She is dark-haired and rosy-cheeked and without an ounce of vanity in her character. Her energy is so abundant that it almost tiring. Yet her temperament is even, positive and optimistic without being placid. Thus she scarcely turns a hair when she learns her parents are off to Africa because they are leaving her in the company of the cousins she so loves and admires. However, she has a temper, feels strongly the injustices of the world, and the moment when she finally loses control and turns on her main tormentor is one to be relished.

Her Scottishness is never far below the surface and she fascinates the reader with her hilarious use of dialect words in the most appropriate and inappropriate places. As the adventures will show you, she has both physical and moral courage. At the start of the series she is nearly fourteen years of age and there are some signs of increasing maturity as we meet the later books. The incident where she and Midge are left without partners at the dance in “Susan Muddles Through” and can’t pretend that it doesn’t matter, reflects the growing pains of adolescence all too vividly.

Margery (Midge) Carmichael
She is the same age as Susan and most marvellously different in character. She is described as “all big brown eyes in a little pointed face” and is often compared to a midge. Some people said that she would surprise them all one day and turn out to be the beauty of the family. At times Midge seems to hope this will come true and Jane Shaw brings out this teenage yearning in brief moments in the later books.

‘“Fallen for Charlotte of course.”
“Of course. It’s getting jolly monotonous the way people fall for Charlotte.”
Yes,” Midge agreed. “Why don’t they fall for us for a change ?”
Susan gave a cackle of laughter. “Look in the glass,” she said.’

But what we remember most about Midge is her laziness and her aversion to any kind of physical or mental exercise. She is quite capable of browsing sleepily over a book or tootling on her recorder for whole afternoons. And yet she has the talent to write both short stories and plays when she (or more often Susan) puts her mind to it. She is also a promising actress and dancer but refuses to make any sort of consistent effort. She is quick-witted and acid-tongued but so loyal to Susan that, despite her dread of effort, she never fails to respond to her appeals.

Charlotte Carmichael
By the time we get to “No Trouble for Susan” Charlotte has become eighteen and she has acquired a string of boyfriends. No wonder for she is now a “raving beauty” and men swoon as soon as they meet her. She is tall, fair, brown-eyed with ridiculously long eye-lashes and has such a nice personality that she is not criticised or resented despite her natural advantages. Her main problem is that she is subject to enthusiasms or fads that tend to have an unfortunate effect on the rest of the family. They may not last long but both Susan and Midge suffer (but not silently !) in the meantime. She is kind-hearted like Susan but not at all quick-witted like Midge. For a time it looks like she has gone over to the enemy when she goes out on dates with Adrian. He may be the least revolting of the Gascoignes but, after all he does have that brother, that sister and that mother ! Midge has no mercy in the way she teases her elder sibling,

“Adrian’s not so bad, is he Charlotte ? Just so long as we don’t have him in the family!”

As this threat recedes Charlotte’s boyfriends become more diverse and add their own moments of amusement to each of the stories.

Bill Carmichael
Without a doubt 11 year old Bill is the closest in temperament to his Scots cousin, Susan. In fact the author remarks that they have a “soft spot” for each other. Bill is fascinated by the idea of crime and detectives. He even has his own tame policeman whom he wants to help move up the ranks in the force and into C.I.D. The trouble is that his imagination is rather too vivid and his ideas lead Susan into all sorts of trouble and mischief. He likes cameras and train-sets and is deeply interested in sport at school. His only problem, apart from his constant shortage of funds when he needs to buy locomotives and carriages, is that he has go to school with the fiend in human form otherwise known as Peregrine Gascoigne.

Uncle Charles Carmichael
His life seems to be completely driven by his patients. When his own children (and Susan) are ill he is almost dismissive of them as an inconvenience. He is a widower with two sisters. One is Susan’s mother and the other is Aunt Lucy, a maiden lady of thirty-seven who keeps house for him and looks after the children. He suffers from the same personality defect as most of the other adults in the book and that is a blindness to the sheer awfulness of the family next door. In particular he seems to have developed a liking for Selina Gascoigne and joins in the general clamour in favour of her horrible
brats.

Aunt Lucy Carmichael
Aunt Lucy has given up her life for her nephew and nieces. However, whilst appreciating her kindness and concern, they are only too aware of her short-comings. Like Charlotte she is subject to rash enthusiasms which every one else in the household is forced to endure. Her fad for modern art and her determination to send Midge to a ballet school give particular cause for worry. Nothing, however, can come close to her preference for the Gascoignes. Her insistence that Susan and the Carmichaels must get to know this wonderful family is followed by her making a series of sacrifices in order to keep the Gascoignes happy without considering the feelings or opinions of Bill or the girls. It is as though she shot the albatross but it is Susan and Midge that forever have to bear the consequences. And she never learns. And she never listens. She’s the perfect frustrating adult, always so essential in this type of story.

The Ghastly Gascoignes
Let us spare them just a few lines each for the full horror can only be appreciated in the context of each story.

Selina Gascoigne
The mother who believes her children can do no wrong. The mother who likes to be mistaken for her daughter’s older sister.

Adrian (Addy) Gascoigne
He keeps his true nature well hidden for quite a long time. Less extraordinary than the rest of his family, he still reveals himself in his true clothing (This is literally true) in “Susan Muddles Through”. Is Charlotte going to make a big mistake ?

Gabrielle (Gabby) Gascoigne
After one meeting with her it is hard to believe that her awfulness can increase. But it does! If you have the talent, flaunt it. Never conceal your contempt for lesser mortals. These appear to be her mottoes.

Peregrine (Pea-Green) Gascoigne
Your fingers will itch for a good cane to give this young man a beating. Mummy’s little darling can do no wrong. You must never try to restrain the creative spirit. Just think of the damage you could do.

At St. Ronan’s School

Teresa Marshall (Tessa)
Tessa has grey eyes and long straight hair which falls about her ears and is cut in a fringe on top. She lives with a grandmother and a governess in a remote village in Cornwall. “Remote” is actually rather a good word to describe Tessa, though “vague” would probably do equally well. She is slow moving and slow speaking, but, above all, slow thinking. All her ideas about school have been gleaned from girls’ school stories of one hundred years before. She hasn’t a clue about sport, fails to take in any of the lessons and appears to be answering the question that was asked two minutes before and then forgotten about by everybody else. All in all she is an excellent project for Susan’s interference.

Diana “Hippo” Davis
Midge says that she goes about like a “roaring lion” and is always “scattering lines right left and centre”. But Hippo has a kind heart and she certainly needs it when she discovers that Susan and Tessa are to be her “fags”. A week of their attempts to be super-efficient would reduce any one to begging for mercy. She is vice-captain of the hockey team, a good sport and sticks up for Susan whom she recognises as both a talent and a trier. Midge is able to manipulate Diana quite easily by helping with her preparation because she’s another girl like Tessa who finds coping with English lessons quite difficult

Hermione Pennington Smith (H.P.Sauce)
She is one of the more disagreeable senior girls who often tries to undermine Charlotte’s authority as Head of the House. Midge believes that Hermione has only been made a prefect because her father is Clerk to the Governors. “She thinks she is heaven’s gift to acting – actually she’s isn’t bad, that’s the maddening bit.” She is also the Head of Hockey and often seems to put a spoke in the wheel of Susan’s attempts to progress into the second team. She is yet another example of how Jane Shaw shows that a good heart like Susan’s is more important than the ability to think up devastating comments on the spur of the moment. Poor Diana Davis often has trouble keeping the team selection process fair and the other girls in thehouse eventually realise that Hermione is not so much H.P.Sauce as rather bitter vinegar

Miss Ferrier (The Ferret)
The girls have two good reasons for giving this maths teacher such a nasty nickname. First of all she looks like a ferret because everything about her is sharp including her nose, her voice and tongue. Secondly, she is always trying to root out trouble and criticise the girls for the most trivial of reasons simply
because she can’t resist getting in a vicious attack.

Miss Johnson (Dotty)
Obviously she is not quite as old as the ninety years that Midge assigns to her as she describes this Latin mistress to Susan for the first time. Also she proves rather good control over her classes and no one ever says a word out of place. Her ownership of an ancient automobile and her general zest for life both contribute to the usual triumphs and disasters of Susan’s progress through the first term at school.

Miss Phillimore (the Headmistress of St. Ronan’s)
At first she appears very remote and frightening but inevitably Susan crosses her path fairly frequently and soon realises that she is fair-minded and prepared to listen to both sides of the story.


A QUERY

I came across rather a strange mistake in one of the Jane Shaw "Susan" books. On page 18 of my edition of "Susan Interferes" it says,
"Each room had a veranda, Aunt Lucy and Caroline had rooms that loved over to Mount Pilatus, Susan and Midge shared a room....".
Now the name of the character is not CAROLINE but CHARLOTTE ! A simple slip of the pen by Jane Shaw perhaps or something deeper ? After all Caroline is one of the two central characters in both "Breton Adventure" and "Bernese Adventure" by Jane Shaw. Caroline and Charlotte have some things in common, both being older and more mature than Sara and Susan from their respective books. Is the Sara character Jane Shaw's first stab at the creation of Susan ? On the other hand Charlotte seems to take herself much more seriously than the good-natured Caroline. Any devotees of Jane Shaw out there care to comment ? Has this error been noted by the eagle-eyed members of the Girls' Own group ? Is it just in my Children's Press edition ?
jmackenzie48@yahoo.com


A "MUST" for all Jane Shaw collectors
Alison Lindsay (editor) Susan and Friends - The Jane Shaw Companion, by Bettany Press - 352pp 14.99. Susan and Friends is the essential companion to your Jane Shaw collection - or an ideal introduction to the work of this increasingly popular author. The book gathers together her published short stories, hitherto lost to sight in hard-to-find annuals, as well as unpublished stories from Jane Shaw's personal archives. Accompanying Jane Shaw's own words are critical essays on the books and their settings, a fascinating account by Ian Evans of the family friends who appear as dedicatees of his mother's books, and a full bibliography. Susan and Friends is edited by Alison Lindsay, who has spent several years researching Jane Shaw's life and writings. Fully illustrated. Ordering information will be on the Bettany Press website at http://users.netmatters.co.uk/ju90/bettanyp.htm

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