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July 2019



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school stories

Elinor Lyon: Green Grow the Rushes & other books

I’m not buying many ‘real’ books at the moment, due to lack of space but when Green Grow the Rushes was on offer, I couldn’t resist. I’m so glad I didn’t! Elinor Lyon is an author I discovered for myself, before Girlsown and Folly provided so many excellent recommendations. She’s best known for the Ian and Sovra series, set in Scotland but she also wrote several excellent standalones. At the market one day I was rummaging through a box of comparatively recent children’s books when I spotted one which took my fancy. I think it was The Floodmakers and after reading a few pages, I bought it. I discovered much later that it’s a second generation Ian and Sovra book, that is, one about the adventures of their children.

Green Grow the Rushes (1964) is one of the standalones and it’s the best book I’ve read this month. The story is about a group of children in Wales searching for and uncovering an old Roman road but of course there’s much more to it than that. The three Meredith children live in Castle Cottage (Castra, geddit?) and are allowed to run pretty wild. They’re annoyed by The Tyrant, as they’ve named the owner of a house nearer the sea, because of warning notices stopping them reaching a nice sandy beach. The people who work for her are called The Assassins.

The Tyrant is of course nothing of the sort but a highly intelligent woman in poor health. She invites Jenny, the daughter of her favourite former music pupil to stay, with great niece Viola for company. Jenny lives in London with her mother, where they struggle to get by on what Mother earns from giving piano lessons. Viola, a gushing Little Miss Sunshine, is the spoiled daughter of rich parents. Jenny becomes friendly with the Merediths but nobody likes Viola. When she discovers the secrets they have been keeping from her, events get out of hand and nearly become fatal.

It’s a good story but it’s the writing which makes it special. The dustwrapper blurb calls Elinor Lyon ‘this fine writer’ and the publishers were right. At times I was reminded of William Mayne’s style; high praise from me.

The group photo shows the other books I have by Elinor Lyon. Sea Treasure is quite a scarce book although I see there’s a very expensive copy on ebay at the moment. The Ian and Sovra ones are: The House in Hiding, We Daren’t Go A’Hunting and Run Away Home, all in the Fidra editions. There are more, which I don’t have. The Dream Hunters and Strangers at the Door are more second generation books. Dragon Castle is a standalone set in Wales. I’ve mentioned it briefly here.

What did I think you wouldn’t believe? The books I once had. Here’s Hilary’s Island, Elinor Lyon’s first book and very scarce with its Eileen Soper dw.

Thinking I was unlikely to read it again, I put it on ebay, where it sold for rather a lot of money. The buyer asked to collect the book and having paid for that one, wanted to see the rest of my collection. Who wouldn’t? He (there are many male admirers of these books) then persuaded me to sell him two more: the late, second generation The King of Grey Corrie and The Floodmakers. I was glad of the money at the time. Then, when Fidra started reprinting the Ian and Sovra series, I actually sold these lovely hardbacks.

Yes, I do regret it but that’s just due to the mad collecting bug. There’s a paperback Kelpie edition of The House in Hiding which is quite easy to find and would be a good starting point for finding out if Elinor Lyon is for you.


Oh, that Kelpie cover takes me back - I don't think I ever read that, but so many others - Mollie Hunter mostly!
Mollie Hunter is new to me! A lot of good books were reprinted as Kelpies.