Many years ago, I found a book by Elizabeth Leitch called The Saturday Club. I thought it was absolutely charming and started looking for more books by the same author. After quite a lot of research, I could find out nothing about the author and only three other books by her: Two Houses by the Shore, The Raiders’ Road and The Family at Kilmory. It didn’t help that the books were published by Blackie, notorious for not dating their earlier books. Very few people seem to have heard of the author, yet the books were popular enough to have been reprinted. I’ve had The Saturday Club with two different dustwrappers and The Family at Kilmory was reprinted in a cheap Peal Press edition with the familiar red and yellow titles on the cover (see pics later). I think I’ve also seen the Raiders’ Road with a later dw by Geoffrey Whittam. I suddenly remembered that I had these books, then had a happy time re-reading them.
The Two Houses by the Shore was obviously intended for young children and the story is told in a simple but effective fairy tale style. The two houses are both inns and when one of them is left to Mrs Curly, she moves in with her two little girls, hoping to make a success of it. At first, they have no luck and the neighbours are unfriendly. ‘Yah!’ says the rude child next door. Then strangers arrive, one at each inn. They are deadly enemies, each after a treasure which legitimately belongs to one. You can guess who finds it for a happy-ever-after.
The Raiders’ Road is about a nice family enjoying a holiday in the Highlands and finding themselves caught up in the kidnapping of a boy they think of as a ‘poor little rich boy’ (they like him), but who turns out to be a prince. The Ruritanian thread is unnecessary, really but does spice up the holiday for them.
Yet another nice group of people in The Family at Kilmory. They live on a remote Scottish island where contact with the mainland is by steamer and large supplies have to be sent from Glasgow. In summer the children happily run wild, spending their time swimming, sailing and beating up their enemies. There’s nothing that couldn’t happen in real life, yet there’s enough going on to maintain interest. What I like about these books is the Scottishness: the landscape and wildlife; the language (all those ‘Imhm’s and ‘Och’s and ‘Utt’s); the believable characters and the amount of eating that goes on. Apart from the Curlys, who are poor, each of the other families has a maid who looks after everybody and is like one of the family.
My favourite of the four and the one I would most recommend, is The Saturday Club. Sharley is nearly nine when she is moved to a bigger school, where she meets Anna. Sharley’s father is a painter and the household (with two brothers), an easy-going one. Anna is quieter, neater and has a mother who is nice but strict about things like wearing a hat out of doors. The two girls become inseparable friends and found The Saturday Club with a plan of doing something exciting every Saturday. When Anna’s family moves next door to Sharley’s, everything seems perfect. ‘they could hold a kind of conversation by banging on the wall with the heel of a shoe or the back of a hairbrush. Only after a while their mothers forbade this, because it ruined the wall-paper.’
Then Marigold joins their school. Sharley is impressed by Marigold’s skill at acrobatics and the hair-raising tricks she can manage on her bike. The two spend more time together and when poor Anna is confined to bed with a cold, she feels left out and angry with Marigold. Is this the end of the club? Of course not, because there has to be a happy ending. I find this book true to life and funny. The conversations are exactly right for girls of their age and I love the way their inevitable put-down or answer to a nosy question is ‘Ah-ha!' If you’ve ever known girls of junior school age, you can just hear it.
The alternative covers.