The Susan Stories
An Unfinished Journey
© Jim Mackenzie firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Pulls the Strings
When you have three interesting cousins like the
Carmichaels to stay with it is no wonder that you dont 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 Englands capital city. Besides its
Christmas and who could feel unhappy or get into trouble at
Christmas ? We dont know Susan very well yet or we
wouldnt ask such a silly question.
You wont rescue anyone, will you ? asks
Susans mother anxiously. The author comments that she was
fortunately unable to see into the future. This means
she doesnt 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 Bills 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.
Susans Helping Hand (1955)
Ive turned over a new leaf. Im minding
my own business.
This is Susans 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
Susan Rushes In (1956)
Meet the Gascoignes they have just moved in next door to
the Carmichaels. Theres simpering Selina, the mother who
tries to look like her daughters elder sister; theres
ghastly Gabrielle who peers down her nose at Midge and Susan;
theres Adrian who takes far too much interest in Charlotte
and worst of all theres 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 its 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 its 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
its 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 cant stop her trying.
Susan Interferes (1957)
Midge has high hopes that a trip to Switzerland will keep
Susans ability to stir up unwanted trouble under complete
control. After all her cousins opportunities to cause havoc
will be limited if she cant 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 shes soon going to be up to her neck
And yet, despite the arrival of
the most awful family in childrens 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 theres the matter of
Susans straight speaking and we see unexpected courage of a
different quality. Jane Shaw has taken the series to another
higher level and we dont just mean to the snow-covered
peaks of Switzerland !
Coloured frontispiece from
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
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
Witness Midges catalogue of
some of the teachers in Saint Ronans 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
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 theres fellow
new-girl Tessa whose brain wasnt of the lightning
variety who becomes the indomitable Susans 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 wont bother outlining a
plot but theres 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
Its 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. Whats 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 !
Susans 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. Ronans School.
What hell for Susan, Midge and Tessa what hilarity for the
Its no longer just swank and
selfishness that typifies Gabbys behaviour; shes 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. Theres no justice
to be had but theres 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
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 doesnt 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
Charlottes admirers and the unexpected and simultaneous
arrival of three Father Christmases.
Susans Kind Heart
Due to Jim's lack
of luck in finding this book, we offer the jacket blurb: Shes
got a kind heart, said Midge, thats the
its 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 thats
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 Susans enthusiastic
Floor-scrubbing is only the first of several
ideas which misfire. But Susan is rarely at a loss
headline in an old newspaper catches her eye and in her
imagination not only Bills 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
Susans 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
Characters in the Susan books
© Jim Mackenzie email@example.com
The nature of Susans 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 wouldnt 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
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 cant pretend that it
doesnt 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. Its getting jolly monotonous the way
people fall for Charlotte.
Yes, Midge agreed. Why dont they fall for us
for a change ?
Susan gave a cackle of laughter. Look in the glass,
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.
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,
Adrians not so bad, is
he Charlotte ? Just so long as we dont have him in the
As this threat recedes
Charlottes boyfriends become more diverse and add their own
moments of amusement to each of the stories.
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 Susans 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
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. Shes 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.
The mother who believes her children can do no wrong.
The mother who likes to be mistaken for her daughters older
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 ?
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.
Your fingers will itch for a good cane to give this
young man a beating. Mummys 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. Ronans 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
hasnt 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 Susans
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 shes another girl like Tessa who finds coping with
English lessons quite difficult
Hermione Pennington Smith
She is one of the more disagreeable senior girls who
often tries to undermine Charlottes 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 heavens gift to acting actually
shes isnt bad, thats the maddening bit.
She is also the Head of Hockey and often seems to put a spoke in
the wheel of Susans attempts to progress into the second
team. She is yet another example of how Jane Shaw shows that a
good heart like Susans 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 cant 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
Susans progress through the first term at school.
Miss Phillimore (the
Headmistress of St. Ronans)
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.
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
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 ? firstname.lastname@example.org
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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