With its sunshine days which bring an early glimpse of summer, and the long Bank Holiday weekends that allow us to truly unwind, May is one of our favourite months.
This year we are celebrating our bestselling author, Monica Dickens, who was born on the 10th of May 99 years ago. Her niece, Mary Danby, said once that being around her aunt was ‘like wearing X-ray specs, because she helped you to see further into everything that was going on.’ The ability to look deeply into everyday things and create a great story from ordinary experiences is a true power of Monica Dickens’ prose – as Rebecca West once observed ‘It is life itself that is caught up in the pages of her books.’ Just like her great grandfather, Charles Dickens, Monica had tenderness for those in trouble, lost and looking for their way in life. Her heart-warming fiction for adults is perfect for a relaxing read on a weekend, and her prose for children – filled with carefree adventures and humour – make a charming family storytime with the young ones.
The Happy Prisoner
Recovering from his war injuries, bed-ridden Oliver has nothing better to do but observe the busy lives of the people around him. Treated as a hero and a confidant by all the women in his family, Oliver begins to enjoy his new role as a self-proclaimed counsellor. Due to his advice, Violet, an independent spinster, unexpectedly accepts the marriage proposal from a local farmer. Her wedding is a success and Violet finds a new happiness in her marriage, but soon Oliver’s meddling in his family affairs goes too far. Will his risky instructions save or ruin Heather’s marriage, which is at the brink of crisis, when her husband comes back from Australia after a few years of separation? Will Oliver learn to accept his new circumstances? Will he finally face to the reality and start to rebuild his own life?
In this compendium plot, Monica Dickens, with her typical attention to detail, humor and talent for creating vivid characters, explores complicated life stories of the close-knit family and their friends at the end of the war. The Happy Prisoner was first published in 1946.
When he turned out the light, the scents of the country night outside the window seemed to grow stronger. Funny how you always got this extra wave of tree and flower smells with the first breath taken in in the dark. It even happened in London. He could remember when he was a boy, in that house they had had when they first came back from America, how when he turned out the light and stood at the window of his little room that was like a passage, he could suddenly smell the sooty plane-tree bark and the bitter leaves, turning and glistening under the gas lamp.
What drives you to be a Samaritan? Is it the need to help others, or are you responding to a damaged part of yourself? The Listeners follows the stories of those in need, and those that answer their calls. Billie, drinking away her loneliness, dials the Samaritan number expecting little from a bunch of ‘do-gooders’. Tim, lost and desperate, calls in a frantic plea for help. Jackie, a young-man with learning difficulties, phones just to hear a friendly voice. For all of the callers, the most vital thing is to hear that they are cared for, and that they are not alone. The importance of this resonates with each of them in different ways. But can you really save someone from themselves? This is something that Victoria, Paul, and Sarah – all Samaritans with very different reasons for wanting to help – will have to find out the hard way.
In The Listeners, first published in 1970, Monica Dickens draws from her own experience as a Samaritan, creating a heart-warming look at the realities of hardship, and salvation.
About an hour later, moving as heavily as a sleepwalker, although she could not sleep, the woman propped herself up again and groped for the telephone.
She had torn the advertisement out of the evening paper. Torn it carelessly, leaving the top words behind on the floor of the bus. ‘… desperate. If you are at the end of your tether.’ The words were crumpled from her pocket. ‘Samaritans.’ And the number to ring.
Who would answer? Nobody. Do yourself in between nine and six, dear, if you expect anyone to give a damn. She dialled the number, to prove it.
It isn’t easy being born during The Great War. A young mother, desperate and alone, leaves her newborn on a church doorstep, whilst another dies in childbirth surrounded by wealth and family. Both baby girls are brought to the children’s home, one to be adopted, and one to be looked after until her rich grandparents are in a position to take her on. After a tragic mix-up at the home, all is cast into darkness and uncertainty.
Years later, Jo – a young woman seeking answers – attempts to discover which identity is rightfully hers. Did a poor young girl abandon her in a churchyard, or is she in fact a long-lost member of the aristocracy? Is she Joy, or is she Josephine?
Originally published in 1948, witty, engaging, and heartfelt, Joy and Josephine is Monica Dickens at her best.
On an autumn evening in 1918, a young Irish girl in a long blowing skirt and a man’s jacket fled up the hill from the village. It was that hour when the long twilight suddenly tarries no more, and from one minute to the next, it is night. Darkness settled on the stubble fields and gathered thickly in the trough of the lane. The girl stumbled and hurt her toes on the baked wagon ruts. The sea wind blew her lank red hair about her face, and whipped it back each time she glanced behind her with the fear of being followed. She kept looking up at the hedges as if they held an ambush, as she hurried on, half walking, half running.
Rose Wood is almost thirteen and and lives in the Wood Briar Hotel, a cosy country guest house near the sea, which she helps run with her parents. But Rose, although favourite with all the guests and loved by her parents, feels very ordinary: she is clumsy and no matter how hard she tries, she can never improve her horse-riding skills, despite her great love for horses. And she always fails to impress Ben, a fifteen year old prodigy athlete, who comes every year with his family for summer holidays.
But strange things begin to happen on the day Rose turns thirteen. Her birthday party is disturbed by the arrival of the mysterious Mr Vingo, a pianist and composer whose unusual music has a peculiar effect on Rose – it makes her travel in time where she is summoned as the emissary for the magical Great Gray Horse, whose mission is to protect innocent people from evil and misery and to absolve them from the haunting happenings of the past.
But the messenger’s mission is full of challenges and dangers; will Rose be brave enough to carry it out?
Will she find a way to break the spell of tragedy which haunts the house next door to the Wood Briar Hotel? As the horse’s messenger she must not fail …
The Messenger, first published in 1985, is the first book in the four-part fantasy adventure about Rose and the magical Great Grey Horse. This charming and entertaining series is written with Monica Dickens’ typical sensitivity and insight into the hearts of young readers.
‘What’s wrong with you, Rose?’
‘I don’t know …’
‘Just adolescence,’ her father said drily, and Rose yelled, ‘Oh – you don’t understand!’ and flung out of the room, stamped through the kitchen and out of the back door, running through the grass and out of the gate into the dark wood. On the damp path, where the tree trunks were smooth and calmly rooted, and the leaves carried on their business with the sky far above, she slowed and cooled down. She walked to the edge of the wood and out on to the sunlit moor, wandering about in an unfamiliar way.
Carrie, Tom, Em and Michael Fielding encounter unexpected adventures when they are sent to live with their uncle and aunt after their house burns down.
While their father is away and their mother is in hospital, they are left in the care of Uncle Rudolph who is unused to children and decides to let them live at World’s End, a ramshackle house which was once an inn. Free at last from interference from their relatives, they begin to add to their already sizeable collection of animals – Carrie rescues John the horse, finds a wounded dog in the hayloft and even tries to save a monkey from a terrible fate…
The House at World’s End, first published in 1970, is the first book in the series about an extraordinary family and the adventures they have at World’s End.
‘There’s a cat in your bed!’
‘No, no – how could there be? No, Aunt Val, please!’ Carrie tried to hold the kitten quiet with her toes, but when Aunt Valentina thumped her fat hand on the covers, the kitten pounced. A tiny curved claw stuck up through the blanket, and Aunt Val pulled back her hand with a shriek like a train whistle.
‘It’s disgusting. A cat in a bed. I never heard of such a thing.’
‘Then you never heard of cats.’