Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lorna Hill

After going to two ballets in the space of two weeks (Tales of Beatrix Potter/Les Patineurs and The Nutcracker), I had a real desire to re-read some ballet books. Ballet books were one of my favourite genres as a child, starting with Ballet Shoes, and other Noel Streatfeilds, but also covering other authors such as Lorna Hill and Rumer Godden and Dorothy Richardson. For some reason it was Lorna Hill that I wanted to turn to, and although I had the first two titles of her "Wells" series, I had read them quite recently. It was not therefore surprising, that in an idle moment I found myself investigating the books on Amazon marketplace, and not long before I had bought most of the collection (see below for the full list)

I found that the first four books in the series are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain, the next six relatively easy to obtain (although I did not manage to get them all in the blue Piccolo editions that I remember reading as a child) and the last four virtually impossible to obtain.
Girls Gone By Publishing have published the last four books, but unfortunately these are now out of print. I have managed to find copies of two of them (beautiful editions featuring the old dustwrappers), so I am only missing the last two titles of the series - Vicki in Venice and The secret, but these will be expensive, so they are definitely wish-list titles for the future.

I love the idea of these books, the concept that ordinary girls can pursue their dreams and become ballerinas. How many little girls don't want to dance? Every time that I see a ballet I am overcome by the beauty of dancing and wish that I had kept up my ballet lessons for longer than a term. The ballet is also hugely romantic, and I am very lucky that my partner also likes the ballet and that we can go together.

My shopping also led me to the discovery that she has written some other series, including another ballet series called The Dancing Peel books. I ordered a couple of these to sample as well. She also wrote some non ballet books which I would love to see and a handful of books for adults.

As we have three more trips to the ballet lined up between now and the end of March (Romeo and Juliet this Saturday, Cinderella and La Fille mal gardee (all ballets which I have not seen before), I am sure that I will enjoy indulging myself in these comfort reads.

Are there any ballet books that you loved as a child?

(The full list is:
  1. A Dream of Sadlers Wells (1950)
  2. Veronica at the Wells (1951)
  3. Masquerade at the Wells (1952)
  4. No Castanets at the Wells (1953)
  5. Jane Leaves the Wells (1953)
  6. Ella at the Wells (1954)
  7. Return to the Wells (1955)
  8. Rosanna Joins the Wells (1956)
  9. Principal RĂ´le (1957)
  10. Swan Feather (1958)
  11. Dress-Rehearsal (1959)
  12. Back-Stage (1960)
  13. Vicki in Venice (1962)
  14. The Secret (1964))


  1. Seriously Verity - are you me in disguise?! Viragos, Chalet School and now Sadlers Wells?! I loved these when I was younger, and just the other week I was thinking about how I'd want to read these again... I have loved the ballet since my mom and nannie took me to see The Nutcracker when I was 6, when I completely feel in love with the music and the beauty... Is like stepping into a different world. Are you going to the ROH for all your upcoming ballets??

  2. I have copies of all Lorna Hill's juvenile fiction, loved them as a child when I borrowed them from the library. Hope you'll enjoy the Dancing Peel books as much as the Wells series.

    Have you come across the "Drina" ballet series by Jean Estoril, a pen name of Mabel Esther Allen? I think she did another ballet series also under the Jean Estoril name.

  3. Escaping - hehe. What other books do you love? Two of the ballets are at the ROH, the other is at the Bristol Hippodrome for a touring production (the dates were more convenient than seeing it in London, and it's about the same amount of travelling). I can't wait.

    Geraldine - that doesnt' surprise me! Am very envious of your copies. And I'd forgotten about Drina - I have 3 of the books from the series somewhere.

  4. There are ballet lessons for pre-schoolers at the community centre where I work. The sight of little girls in their pink leotard always makes me smile. If I'm very lucky, one of them will perform a pirouette!

  5. I'm another fan of Lorna Hill and of Jean Estoril's Drina books. I think the first 8 or 9 of the Wells books are better than the later ones. The Dancing Peel series is good too. Her "Vicarage Children" books are also a lovely nostalgic read and worth getting from GGBP now while they are still in print (2 available now, 3rd being publishes later this year).

  6. Hi Ann - thanks for pointing that out. I have Vicarage Children on order, so I will probably have to get the other one too :)

  7. I was wondering what to re-read next, it might just be Lorna Hill after this prompting from you.

    Last juvenile fiction re-read for me, was the Eve Garnett's Family From One-End Street series.

  8. Ooh, Geraldine I love those books! My favourite was the third one - Holiday at Dew Drop Inn.

  9. Apart from Ballet shoes, which I loved, Drina were the only ones I read(and still have somewhere)

    I didn't realise that Jean Estoril was a pen name though, and having just looked her up, I now see that there are four more titles published after I stopped reading them. I think its time to get my daughter interested then I have a perfect excuse to look for them!

  10. Verity, we seem to love a lot of the same books. Great taste.
    I got Dancing Peel from the shelf yesterday and have finished it. Dancer's Luck will follow today, looking inside the copy of D L, I paid all of £2.50 for a hardback (children's book club edition) in d/w, that was probably 20 or more years ago.

  11. Geraldine - I'd love to chat to you some time about the other books you enjoy :) Great taste indeed. Drop me an email sometime maybe?! verityDOTormeATgmailDOTcom

  12. I love Rumer Godden's ballet books so much - they've always been my favorites of hers. I even wrote a longish (I thought at the time, but I was ten and it was probably maybe forty pages long) sequel to Listen to the Nightingale.

  13. Jenny - I loved them too, they are about the only adult ballet books that I've encountered. I also wrote a Lorna Hill type book when I was eleven.

  14. Other than Lorna Hill and Noel Streatfeild I don't think I read any other ballet books but I adored those ones and read them over and over; there was also a fabulous ballet series I used to watch or perhaps it was a one-off made-for-TV movie... I adore The Nutcracker, which was my first ballet, and Swan Lake. I also love to purchase books with ballet scenes on the cover and have a hand-painted miniature screen for my dollhouse with a scene from Swan Lake.

  15. Claire - I didn't know you had a dollshouse too - we will have to exchange pictures! I love the sound of your screen. I wonder what the ballet series was that you used to watch.

  16. You didn't read my Defined by Books post closely enough :p. I don't have it built here sadly but have everything in boxes. I have never been able to find the series that I loved as a child but I think it was a mini-series.

  17. I'd forgotten that Claire, sorry. My doll's house is a highlight of my sitting room.

  18. I miss mine but will build it when we have space; I have another one at home that my sister has commandeered.

  19. 11-14 are missing in my collection. My first Wells series book was a second hand one I found in either Galway or Singapore. ( It's all rather blurry now). Peels ...not as good. I have just the one book but it 's hardly as nice to read. Thanks for putting up the complete series. I'm now obsessed with completing it too. The best is her first " A dream at Sadler Wells" I can reread that many times and still enjoy it. Thanks for the post.

  20. I am a 63 year old woman in Canada, and have been collecting books by Lorna Hill since I read my first one at about 10 years old (Marjorie and Co. - I still have it). I reread them on a fairly regular basis even though my husband laughs at me when I do. I recently discovered that there are still two books that I don't have, after going for years thinking that my set was complete: The Little Dancer and Dancer on Holiday. My favourites are the first six of the Wells series. Many years ago, before the internet, I wrote a letter to Lorna Hill telling her how much I enjoyed her books, and she sent me a very charming letter in reply, and included a copy of one of the books in French! It was very handy, as I was trying to learn French at University at the time, and I had read the English book so many times that I hardly needed to use a dictionary!
    Did you know that Esme Verity is the pen name of Lorna Hill's daughter Vickie?

    Hazel Gorley hazel_gorley@yahoo.com
    Hazel Gorley

  21. Hazel - thank you for the lovely message! They are certainly books that merit rereading. I didn't know about Esme Verity - she illustrated the books didn't she! How wonderful to have a copy in French and to have been in touch with Lorna Hill herself.

  22. Just reading Anonymous's comments. I am 67 and re read the Lorna Hill books, as I only had a few of the ballet ones years ago. Not even as a child.

    I am short of Dancer on Holiday and Vicki in Venice, have The Secret, Backstage and Dress Rehearsal but my missing ones are so rare and expensive I wouldn't think it would be a good investment to pay so much for a whim.

    I enjoyed so much the David and Patience and Marjorie books, particularly the ones on Lindisfarne and the NE coast.

    Yes, I am a secret teenage book reader, I read Arthur Ransome too. Other literature I enjoy is travel writing, mostly by foot or bicycle, East Germany literature (in German) and spy novels. Joanne Harris is another of my favour writers, particularly the ones like Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes and Gentlemen and Players (quite weird).

    I shall follow this blog and would be interested to hear what others read too.

  23. I have just come across your blog whilst searching out a Lorna Hill book. I too adored her ballet books, both the Sadlers Wells series and the Dancing Peel books. It had an extra element for me as I figured out as a child that the dancing school referred to in Newcastle upon Tyne, was none other than the one I attended, a fact later confirmed in an article on LH. Can you imagine the thrill. My daughter is now studying ballet but still a little young for the books but in a little while......

  24. What a great blog and I loved reading all the comments. I'm 63 and my guilty pleasure is reading Lorna Hill books. I like her Marjorie and Patience books and love visiting Northumberland and visiting some of the places mentioned in the books. I am reading her adult book 'The Other Miss Perkin' to my mother who has alzheimers My first Lorna Hill ballet book was a gift from my nan and I still have it along with many other of her books picked up from ebay!


Do leave a comment - I love to hear from people who read my blog.