Thursday, 28 April 2011

In Which I Rant about Streatfeild, and the Love of Books

Now that I've finished the final volume of Noel Streatfeild's autobiography, I though I'd take the opportunity to review both the second and third volumes, Away from the Vicarage, and Beyond the Vicarage, at the same time. The thing that stuck with me most about all of the volumes is that none of them end in the way that reading any of her children's books would lead you to expect. Because of this, I found myself more interested in them than I probably would otherwise have been. While all three volumes still have a very distinct Streatfeild style about them, the second and third volumes move out of childhood, and as well as the usual difficulties associated with growing up, she not only lived through, but was actively involved in, two world wars.

Since I started this project, it has been constantly surprising me. As a child, I absolutely devoured her books, and for some reason this led me to believe that I knew all about her. It's very odd, now I think about it, how, as a child, I was convinced that all authors must be exactly like the voices of their books...
The first thing to surprise me was the sheer volume of her output, and also that initially, she was not a children's author (totally weird, given that up to starting this project, I didn't realise she had written anything but children's books!) In fact, she only wrote Ballet Shoes in the first place under duress, and pretty much hid from its' success. It wasn't until the '60s, thirty years or so after the publication of Ballet Shoes, that she decided to write solely for children.

The thing that most amazes me about her, though, is that (at least the way she tells it) she pretty much just decided she wanted to be a writer, wrote a book, and somebody published it, from where she went on to write book after book. Having 'wanted to be a writer' my whole life, I had all the creativity knocked out of me by my university creative writing course, and pretty much had no inspiration to write anything at all until suddenly the blog idea came along, back in January. For a while, I proofread, and if I'm honest this is still something I aim to do in the future - there's something very satisfying about feeling like you're having a hand in making something better. Still, to 'just decide' to write a novel, and sit down then and there and write it, is amazing to me.

Also, at the same time all this writing was being done, Streatfeild was a member of the WVS, runing a mobile canteen, basically feeding people in the air raid shelters, and, between the wars, taking long trips to America, and travelling around with circuses, for research. Away from the Vicarage deals with her time as an actress, and a particularly terrible tour in South Africa, which seemed to have been cursed, as there was illness, accidents, and even several deaths. Just as she had made a plan to retire from acting and become a writer, the books ends with the sudden death of her father.

The final volume, Beyond the Vicarage, basically charts the rest of her life, through the Second World War, and on to middle, and then old, age. My favourite quote from the book is the last sentence:
"Don't be afraid, I'm sure you'll find there's a world of interest still to come." (p214)
All three of the books were well written and very informative. They explain a lot about Streatfeild's books, and why they are the way that they are, and for me personally, it's nice to have some background to the things that I'm reading. The more of Noel Streatfeild's work I read, the more I realise that the kind of writer I'd like to be is one like her. A writer whose work seems effortless, who doesn't seem to struggle for inspiration (though I'm sure there were times when she did!), but above all, a writer whose work comforts people and makes them feel better. That, more than everything else, is why I will never stop loving her books.

This project has given me renewed enthusiasm to read as much as I can, to fully immerse myself, not just in Streatfeild, but in everything I read: to get the absolute most out of books, and to apply the things I read to my life. I was on the website of one of my new favourite authors, Sarah Addison Allen, the other day (I know, I'll stop going on about how good she is someday soon, I promise, but in the meantime, go, read!), and I was reading a short essay she wrote, entitled Just So You Know. Anybody who loves books, go and read this now, I guarantee it will make you smile. For now, I'll stop my rambling, and leave you with this:
You fall in love with every book you touch. You never break the spine or tear the pages. That would be cruel. You have secret favourites, but, when asked you say that you could never choose. But did you know that books fall in love with you, too?
Happy reading, all.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Bex!

    I came across your blog a few days ago, thanks to Blogger Directory, and I LOVE it! I have become a follower, too.

    This particular post inspired me to write one of my own, on the theme of the love for books. I was also inspired by Sarah Addison Allen's beautiful essay, "Just So You Know". By the way, I've also ordered "Garden Spells" from Amazon, and have listed Allen's blog on my own blog.

    Here's the link to my post:

    I'm looking forward to more of your very interesting posts!! : )