Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Forgotten children's authors: Gillian Avery

The more that I blog, the more I want to try to make my blog coherent - I know my reading is a bit of a mishmash, and the baking adds a bit of a diverse element - so I am planning to blog more about forgotten authors, as they seem to comprise a large part of my reading at the moment; both those who have been republished and those who are still languishing in obscurity. (I am also wondering whether maybe I should set up a separate blog for my baking - what do you think?).

Many of the books that I loved as a child do not seem to be in print anymore, particularly those which my Mum loved as a child. One of these authors who doesn't seem to be in vogue is Gillian Avery, which is a pity as I very much enjoyed her books. She came back into my consciousness when I stumbled upon an adult book by her last week (The onlookers) in my local second hand bookshop, which I bought as I was unaware that she had written for adults too. I've yet to read that, but the purchase prompted me to look her up on the library catalogue.

The books that I remember reading as a child were The warden's niece, The greater Gresham, and A likely lad, and I had beautiful Bodley head editions from the public library (unfortunately I can't find pictures on either Amazon or librarything.com). One of the best things about her novels was the way in which characters from one book would reappear in other books. And this rings true right across her work; I found that Oxfordshire libraries owned several of her books which I had not read, and so I borrowed Trespassers at Charlcote which is the story of some children who take-over an abandoned house near where they live/are staying, and featured three of the boys who I remembered from The warden's niece.

If you're going to seek her out, I'd recommend The warden's niece as perhaps her best piece of writing for children. This is the story of Maria who runs away from school to live with her great-uncle in Oxford. She has lessons with three boys who live next door, of whom she is absolutely terrified at first. The most interesting thread in the book is when she decides to undertake some sort of project to prove to her academic uncle that she is a serious scholar (which she hopes will save her from being sent back to school); so she undertakes research into the provenance of a drawing, which leads her into all sorts of adventures.


  1. The Warden's Niece sounds like a book that could perhaps come in a lovely grey cover one day! Hmmm...

    I like the baking popping up amongst the book reviews!

  2. I loved Gillian Avery's books when I was a child- and I still do! I have all her children's books, except "Huck 7 her time-machine" the elusive "Peacock House." I love the way that her children are often worried and puzzled by the responses of adults in their lives. When I was a child, I loved the way she evokes a vanished Victorian past, which recalled the Cambridge of my childhood. I would also recommend her non-fiction books - "Nineteenth-century children" & "Childhood's pattern."

  3. I love her books too! I finally found a copy of the Peacock House and it turns out that it contains many of the characters from The Greatest Gresham as well as To Tame a Sister. It even has Mr Copplestone!! I love the John Verney illustrations that are in most of her Oxford books - including Peacock House.


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