Posted in Writing

My Favourite School Story: The Adventures of Jennings – with Alison Morton

array of Jennings books
Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings stories – an addictive series

In this last of my series about favourite school stories, which I launched to celebrate the publication of my own school series for grown-ups, Staffroom at St Bride’s, I’m delighted to welcome thriller writer Alison Morton to talk about her choice: the Jennings series by Antony Buckeridge. These hilarious books were my personal favourite when I was growing up, although they seemed dated even then.

Alison Morton with Jennings books
Alison Morton shares her love of Anthony Buckeridge’s school stories

Set in a traditional English boys’ boarding school, and written by a former prep school teacher, the series revolves around the spirited, well-intentioned Jennings and his cautious best friend Darbishire. What I liked most about it was the humour, and it came as no surprise to me to learn recently that one of Buckeridge’s writing heroes was P G Wodehouse. (One of mine, too!)

I especially adored the language, peppered with posh schoolboy slang that I’d never come across in real life – a “wizard wheeze” for a good idea, and so on. (More on that in a moment from Alison.) But I could never use those terms in conversation, as only fellow Jennings fans might understand them. Which is why I was especially pleased to hear that Alison Morton was on the same wavelength.

Over to Alison now to tell us more…

Please give title, author and a brief description of the book.

Jennings Goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge.

It’s (John Christopher Timothy) Jennings’s first term at Linbury Court prep school. He befriends clever, but socially inept vicar’s son Darbishire, foxes into town in disguise, accidentally kicks the Archbeako (headmaster) on the kneecap while practising his football-skills, displays too much (or not enough) initiative during fire practice, and has a hair-raising incident with a poisonous spider. The expression ‘getting into scrapes’ must have been invented for Jennings, but he has such a genuine sense of honour it’s hard to be cross with him!

How old were you when you first read it, and how often and at what age have you reread it?

photo of Alison in school uniform aged 11
Alison first “met” Jennings when she started secondary school

Ha! I think I was eleven, as I remember borrowing it from the library in my new school when I was in the Lower Thirds (equivalent of Year 7 today). I re-read it recently, and let’s say it’s several decades on from when I was first enthralled by Jennings and Darbishire.

How has your perception of the book changed with later readings?

I was surprised to find myself still chuckling. Either author Anthony Buckeridge was a very clever man or I still have an infantile sense of humour. Actually, I probably laugh at different places today. And although Jennings is impetuous and sees the world in a very specific way, I still find him endearing and, in his own way, logical. I probably don’t find him as exciting as eleven-year-old me did as I have done more exciting things during my own life!

What did you particularly like about this book/series and about the author? Anything you disliked?

The humour (and there is plenty of it) rests on misunderstandings resulting from Jennings’s literal-mindedness and impetuosity. In the earliest novels in the series there are some Latin puns; these were often omitted from later reprints which is a pity, but times changed from the 1950s and few children now learn Latin. Comradeship, behaving fairly and a desire to ‘do the right thing’, even though the school staff might not agree with the boys’ view of what that right thing was, runs through the books.

The earlier novels including Jennings Goes to School present an idealised version of small town, middle-class English life in the 1950s and mid-1960s which is the period I went to school in Tunbridge Wells, so a lot of the environment was what I considered ‘normal’.

But for me, who loved playing with words, spoke passable French and was learning Latin, the coolest thing (although we didn’t say cool then) was the invented language.

Post-war slang ‘wizard’ generally meant ‘good’ or ‘very good’. ‘Ozard’ that the boys use derives from ‘Wizard of Oz’ and was used to describe anything the boys disliked or dreaded.

It was also used to describe the anger of Mr Wilkins, Jennings’ form master, which could be ‘ozard’. ‘Ozard squared’ and occasionally ‘ozard cubed’ implied the direst of occurrences!

I have to confess that we still use ‘bish’ in our family to describe a mistake and will often ‘square’ or ‘cube’ something that’s very unfortunate.

Which character did you identify with?

It has to be Jennings, but I do sympathise with Darbishire on occasion. As an adult, I can sympathise with ‘Old Wilkie’ being completely unsuitable in temperament to deal with a class of bright, lively little demons.

How did it affect you as a child and influence you as an adult?

Even though it was written about boys, this and the other Jennings stories were set in a children’s world where exciting things happened. I was extremely fortunate to be brought up by a mother who was determined to treat her son and daughter equally and my father agreed. I couldn’t see why girls and boys shouldn’t have the same adventures.

Jennings’ world was one I could escape to when my school had been particularly insistent on me behaving like a young lady rather than just a child.

How did it affect your writing?

Hm, interesting question. Perhaps it gave me a wish to read books only with snappy dialogue and a succinct style and plenty of action. And as we write what we would like to read, I hope I have passed this partiality onto the readers of my Roma Nova series.

In that equally imaginary world, my first heroine Aurelia’s child is home-schooled in the 1960s with a tutor although she did attend a private girls’ school in London when Aurelia was posted there. In her early days, Carina, my second heroine, and still Karen went to the local state school in rural America. Her children in Roma Nova went to school in the 2010s after initial nursery education at home.

What type of school(s) did you go to yourself?

A Church of England primary school which actually had an unofficial admissions policy. My mother, a teacher herself, had sussed this out and revealed this to me years later. It had an 80% pass rate of the 11 Plus (the national school exam that determined what kind of senior school you went to) and highest entry into grammar school in the area. Talk about hothouse! We didn’t know anything about that – it was just school.

I went on to one of the local grammar schools – Tunbridge Wells County Grammar School for Girls (as it was called then.) Famous alumnae include comedian Jo Brand and tennis player Virginia Wade. It was at TWCGS that thanks to Latin classes I discovered the rude poetry of Catullus, a book of which I actually gave to Carina, the heroine of Inceptio, my first Roma Nova novel!

Were your friends also fans or did you feel that this was your own private world to escape into?

Oh no, Jennings was definitely my private world!

Would it still resonate with young readers today?

I think so. Anthony Buckeridge was still writing the stories in 1994, although he changed some of the content with the times while keeping the basic concept intact. The themes of interacting with others in your group, acting equitably, trying to make your way through the bewildering business of school and growing-up are universal even though expressed differently today. My son went to a local prep school for a while in the 1990s before transferring to grammar school, and there were definitely some resemblances to Jennings’ Linbury Court!

It was a (surprising) pleasure to re-read Jennings and thank you, Debbie, for nudging me to rediscover that world.

Thank you, Alison, for sharing your passion for the Jennings school stories. I hope our shared enthusiasm will encourage more 21st century readers to discover his joyous world. 


About Alison Morton

cover of Double Identity by Alison Morton
Available to pre-order before its 7 January launch

After tearing round Europe clambering over Roman ruins, serving six years in uniform and collecting an MA in History on the way, Alison settled down to write the award-winning Roma Nova alternative history thriller series of nine books. Her first psychological thriller, Double Identity, will be published on 7th January 2021 and is now available to pre-order here.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com

Introduction to Alison’s Roma Nova series,  via the first series, Inceptio:

cover of Inceptio by Alison Morton
The first in Alison Morton’s alternative history thriller series set in Roma Nova

“It’s about blood, survival and money. Mostly yours.”

New Yorker Karen Brown is running for her life. She makes a snap decision to flee to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland, and last remnant of the Roman Empire in the 21st century. But can Karen tough it out in such an alien culture? And with a crazy killer determined to terminate her?

Store links for Inceptio:
Order paperback here
Order ebook here


That’s all from my Favourite School Stories series for 2020. Next year, I’ll be introducing a new monthly guest post series to my blog: Travels with my Books, exploring books set in other countries and times. 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

My Interview on Alison Morton’s Blog

Selfie of Debbie Young with Alison Morton
Selfie with Alison Morton at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference in July 2014

This post gives you the link to my interview by thriller writer Alison Morton and fills in a bit of background. 

I’m very pleased to be interviewed on Alison Morton’s action-packed author blog, under the deeply flattering headline “Debbie Young – Marketing Superstar”. (She knows how to charm, does Alison!)

In it, her interesting questions include a query as to whether I’ll ever write a novel and, if so, what would it be about. Hop over to her blog to find out the answers, and also to read more about her terrific Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers (or alternate history, as the Americans call it, to the irritation of purists everywhere).

Here’s the link: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog

More about Alison Morton

Cover of Inceptio by Alison MortonI’ve known Alison for a couple of years, during which our writing careers have been running in parallel.Not long after SilverWood Books published my authors’ marketing guide Sell Your Books!, Alison launched her first novel, Inceptio, assisted by SilverWood’s excellent author services.

Although Alison is energetic, computer-savvy and tremendously clever – in short, capable of doing all the self-publishing work herself – she preferred to delegate it to SilverWood, freeing up her own time to devote her time to writing and marketing her books.

At the SilverWood Open Day last September
At the SilverWood Open Day last September

Her strategy paid off, because she’s now published three books in the series – Inceptio, Perfiditas and Successio – and is writing the fourth. Her books have had fabulous reviews (including some from me here), they’ve won all sorts of awards, and she’s just been snapped up by A for Authors agency for her subsidiary and foreign rights.

Ironically, although Alison now lives and works in France, and I live in England, I’ve seen her more often than any other SilverWood author lately, our paths crossing at the London Book Fair, SilverWood’s Open Day, at the RNA Conference earlier this month, and other authors’ launches.

Cover of Successio
Alison’s latest book in the Roma Nova series

Or maybe it just feels that way because she has such a high profile on line. She’s also guested on my Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog, her latest appearance being to share her top tips for book promotion here.

Either way, she’s a great role model for any aspiring self-publishing author, and, as you can see from our selfie above, a lot of fun.

And if you’ve read this far without visiting my interview on her blog, do it now! Here’s that link again: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Romancing the Romantic Novelists

Selfie of Debbie Young and Katie Fforde
Selfie with RNA President Katie Fforde

A post about my recent talk at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference.

A couple of weekends ago, I had what you might call a novel experience: I went to give a talk to the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

How It Came About

The invitation arose from a chance meeting last autumn with the lovely Katie Fforde, the bestselling romantic novelist who happens to live not far from me. As local authors, we were both invited to join a discussion panel, broadcast last autumn from the Green Room of the Cheltenham Literature Festival by BBC Radio Gloucestershire. (You can listen to the broadcast here, if you like.)

BBC Radio Gloucestershire panel guests with DJ
Cheltenham Festival broadcast with Katie

With oodles of hugely popular titles to her credit, Katie is the current President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The panel’s wide-ranging conversation touched on the subject of self-publishing, for which I’m an enthusiastic advocate. Afterwards Katie suggested I speak at the RNA’s annual conference to give them the low-down on what self-publishing has to offer romantic novelists and to explain how the Alliance of Independent Authors, of which I’m a member, could offer them.

Fast forward to 13th July, and there I was, addressing the RNA’s members in a lecture theatre that took me back to my university days.

Great Setting

Debbie Young speaking at the front of the lecture theatre
Caught in mid-flow by my friend the alternative history thriller writer Alison Morton

The setting was no ordinary university (not that I’d call my alma mater, the University of York, ordinary), but Harper Adams University.

Harper Adams is an agricultural college in rural Shropshire, complete with its own farm, in a pretty mock-Tudor complex not far from Newtown, a beguiling small market town with at least two bookshops. (Note to self: must take a trip there in our camper van one day.)

So far, so romantic, you might think – until I checked out the lunch menu and discovered that we were eating the animals raised by the farm. I dare not confess to my vegetarian daughter that the catering, by the way, was excellent.

Fun Talk

Selfie of Debbie Young with Alison Morton
I enjoyed Alison Morton’s talk about writing alternative history

My brief was to speak to the title “You Need Never Walk Alone”, identifying the misnomer that is the world of self-publishing: a more caring, sharing community than I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with before. My speech explained to them that the “self” in self-publishing was misplaced, because these days, any indie author worth reading employs professional-level tactics to ensure their books are the best they can be, from having their covers designed by a specialist to engaging editors and proofreaders on a par with those used by traditional publishing houses (very often the same people, in fact, operating as freelances).

I was unsure what to expect when I agreed to speak. Would the room be filled with women of a certain age in floral frocks? Would they lob rotten tomatoes at me for daring to speak of authors acting as their own publishers?

Selfie with Talli Roland and Joanne Phillips
With bestselling romantic novelists Talli Roland and Joanne Phillips

I’m pleased to report I was warmly welcomed and quickly made to feel at home, and that my talk was well received by all who attended. Self-publishing certainly offers many opportunities even for those who are comfortably ensconced with trade publishers, such as the chance to revive their out-of-print backlist and earn a much greater royalty than previously. (I was all wrong about the floral frocks too, by the way – not least because there were quite a few male writers in attendance.)

Welcoming Atmosphere

I also discovered a very sharing bunch of writers, enjoying the stimulus of each other’s company and of an impressively varied programme, covering everything from writing craft to yoga for writers (boy, I could do with some of that!)

RNA conference goody bag
Oh goody, a conference!

Summing up for me the generous spirit of the group was the nature of the goody bag. Well, don’t we all love conference goody bags? I’d been told in advance by author friends who are members of the RNA that the conference goody bag was not to be missed, and they were right. Not only did the bag itself look very pretty, sporting the RNA’s attractive log and smart strapline “Love Writing”, it was filled with all sorts of, er, goodies:

  • a fine collection of brand new paperbacks
  • practical items such as a manilla folder and an A4 notepad
  • sustaining treats in biscuit form
  • some super correspondence cards on the theme of romantic novels
  • some slick promotional freebies for specific novels: a smartly packaged teabag promising “the perfect cup of tea” to promote the novel Not Quite Perfect by Annie Lyons, a gorgeous metal bookmark attached to a bookmark for Victoria Howard’s Ring of Lies; a foil-wrapped chocolate coin promoting another book and a bag of chocolate buttons stapled to a business card (sorry, my daughter’s eaten the evidence for both of those)

Great Souvenirs

Bookmark shaped like a fan
Fabulous bookmark is enough to make me a fan of Christina Courtenay

My favourites were, by chance, two items promoting books by the RNA’s current chairman, Christina Courtenay: a tiny bookmark in the shape of a fan (book title: The Gilded Fan), which was actively useful on that very hot weekend, and an ingenious dolls’-house sized crystal ball (in fact a glass marble stuck to a silver ring), as featured on the cover of The Secret Kiss of Darkness.The latter now has pride of place in my daughter’s dolls’ house.

Conclusions

Promotional card showing cover of novel with tiny crystal ball attached
So simple, yet so clever – Christina Courtenay’s crystal ball made from a marble (top left)

I may only have been at the conference for the last day (it ran Friday to Sunday), but I enjoyed it so much that I’m rather hoping I’ll be invited back next year. It was almost enough to make me want to write a romantic novel – something that hadn’t as yet been on my to-do list. But, as my author friend Orna Ross said to me the other day, “Never say never.” And if I ever do, it won’t just be because of the goody bag, honest.

For more information about the RNA, which welcomes aspiring writers as well as already-published authors, visit their website: 

www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org 

Or follow them on Twitter at @RNATweets.

NB The RNA doesn’t yet admit self-published authors other than as associate members, but they’re actively reviewing that situation, which is greatly to their credit.