I can’t really explain my fascination with Jane Duncan. She’s a Scottish author who made publishing history in 1959 when Macmillan announced they’d be publishing seven of her books. Eventually this series - which is very autobiographical and features a character called Janet – ran to 19 books. I read most of them when I was in my teens (as I’m always saying, they didn’t have proper YA books then): a friend of my parents lent me a couple of them when I was laid up with a broken foot, and then I hunted the rest down in public libraries while never, I think owning any. I read them very much out of order.
A couple of years ago I got a sudden hankering to read her again, and to find out more about the author’s background. There is a helpful wiki entry here, and another article about her which appeared in The Scotsman a few years back. Is it just me or does this absolutely riveting piece seem to be shamefully unattributed to any writer?
I managed to get hold of most of the books in cheap(ish) secondhand paperbacks (hooray for the internet), but some of them are hard to find. So I was absolutely delighted to find that Bello Books – who are doing so much to bring back lost favourite authors in ebooks and paperbacks – are republishing Jane Duncan’s books. I do hope there will be a resurgence of interest in them.
I think there are a lot of bloggers – you know who you are, the fans of Persephone, of those mid-20th-century books, of those neglected women authors – who should most definitely be giving these a try. You may dislike them: I have a love-hate relationship with Janet, and some of the blog entries listed below contain my mean-minded criticisms. But they are a record of a lost world and a lost time: many of the books combine a description of living in the West Indies in the 1950s with memories of the Scottish Highlands in the 1920s. It’s hard to say which is the more intriguing background. And I'm always surprised by how little there is on blogs and on the rest of the internet about her, when so many authors have been rediscovered.
The pictures are all ones I chose to illustrate the various blog entries, and if none of them appeals to you, if not one of these pics makes you think ‘what on earth kind of book can this have been?’ (even if you still have no desire to read it) then you are stone dead inside….
The entries below, with links for most of them, are in order. Right now there are four of the books that haven't had a blogpost: I will update this list as I blog on any more of them.)
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Miss Boyds 1959
Duncan, Jane My Friend Muriel 1959
Duncan, Jane My Friend Monica 1960
Duncan, Jane My Friend Annie 1961
Duncan, Jane My Friend Sandy 1961
Duncan, Jane My Friend Martha's Aunt 1962
Duncan, Jane My Friend Flora 1962
Duncan, Jane My Friend Madame Zora Madame Zora 2 1963
Duncan, Jane My Friend Rose 1964
Duncan, Jane My Friend Cousin Emmie 1964
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Mrs Millers 1965
Duncan, Jane My Friends from Cairnton 1966
Duncan, Jane My Friend My Father 1966
Duncan, Jane My Friends the MacLeans 1967
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Hungry Generation 1968
Duncan, Jane My Friend the Swallow 1970
Duncan, Jane My Friend Sashie 1972
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Misses Kindness 1974
Duncan, Jane My Friends George and Tom 1976