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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 28 May 2021

"Great Northern?" by Arthur Ransome

The Swallows, Amazons and Ds are cruising in the Hebrides on the Sea Bear with Captain Flint. On an island in a loch, Dick discovers what he thinks are Great Northern divers nesting ... but the bird books say they don't nest in the UK. Innocently checking his facts with a bird expert, he discovers that the man is an egg-collector who wants to shoot the birds and 'blow' the eggs for his collection. The race is on. Can Dick photograph the birds on their nest without letting the egg-collector know where they are? Add mysterious Gaels complete with comic bagpipers and ghillies and you have an adventure to the last page.

Some great moments:

  • "Nancy's plans always did work, even if sometimes they meant that a lot of other people had to work too." (Ch 18)
  • "It was as if he were an astronomer looking  for the first time at a new planet." (Ch 23) The first chapter of all the S&A adventures is entitled 'The Peak in Darien' from On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer by John Keats and this phrase pays homage to that poem also: "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken;/ Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/ He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men/ Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—/ Silent, upon a peak in Darien." The poem, written in 1816, is often thought to refer to the 1781 discovery of Uranus by William Herschel using a telescope from his back garden in Bath, the first discovery of a planet since the naked eye astronomy of the ancients.
  • "Keeping still is very dull work unless you are asleep, when it does not seem to matter." (Ch 25)
  • "The piper had been skirling and droning on in a wild, elaborate, endless tune. The tune had been cut off short in an unhappy wail. A minute later it had gone on again from where it had left off. At least ... you couldn't be sure of that, but it went on making the same kind of noise as before." (Ch 26)
  • "There is one noise that can make itself heard over any other noise whatsoever, and that is the noise of the bagpipes played by a determined and indignant piper." (Ch 26)

The brilliant thing about Ransome is that he can enthrall even when taking a holiday from the plot. The scene in which the Sea Bear enters a bay in a thick mist is enormously exciting and could be cut without making any difference to the overall story. But it's great writing.

May 2021; 361 pages

This review was written by

the author of Motherdarling 

and The Kids of God

The Swallows and Amazon series contained twelve books:

  • Swallows and Amazons: Children camping on an island in a lake have sailing based adventures
  • Swallowdale: More sailing adventures are threatened when the Swallow sinks
  • Peter Duck: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint sail on a big yacht into the Caribbean in search of pirate treasure; pirates pursue
  • Winter Holiday: the lake freezes allowing a sledge-based expedition to the 'north pole'; the 'D's are introduced
  • Coot Club: The Ds join the Death and Glory kids in the Norfolk Broads but the excitement is just as great when birds have to be protected from rowdies.
  • We Didn't Mean to go to Sea: The Swallows accidentally find themselves at sea in a yacht they scarcely know: for my money this is the most dramatic and exciting book of the series.
  • Secret Water: The Swallows are joined by the Amazons in an expedition to map some tidal mud-flats
  • The Big Six: The Death and Glory kids have to be cleared of accusations of crime; the Ds help.
  • Missee Lee: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint are shipwrecked near China and captured by a lady Chinese pirate with a taste for Latin.
  • Pigeon Post: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds search for gold in the hills above the Lake; one of my favourites
  • The Picts and the Martyrs: The Ds have to hide in the hills when the Great Aunt comes to stay with the Amazons
  • Great Northern: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds and Captain Flint are protecting birds in the far north of Scotland
The Swallows and Amazons adventure series in a logical chronological order:
  • Summer holiday: Swallows and Amazons
  • Next summer holiday: Swallowdale
  • Following winter holiday: Winter Holiday
  • Next Easter: Coot Club
  • Following summer holiday: Pigeon Post
  • Following Easter holiday: We Didn't Mean to go to Sea followed by Secret Water at the same time as The Big Six
  • Following summer holiday: The Picts and the Martyrs
  • Final summer holiday: Great Northern?
  • Peter Duck is a fantasy yarn supposedly spun by the Swallows and Amazons in between Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale.
  • Missee Lee is out of time but presumably comes after Peter Duck
A very personal (and difficult) rank ordering of the adventures from my favourite to my least favourite.
  1. We Didn't Mean to go to Sea
  2. Pigeon Post
  3. The Picts and the Martyrs
  4. Secret Water
  5. The Big Six
  6. Winter Holiday
  7. Swallowdale
  8. Coot Club
  9. Great Northern?
  10. Swallows and Amazons
  11. Peter Duck
  12. Missee Lee

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