Friday, April 24, 2020

The Suddenly Gang

“Europe slipped back into savagery and paganism.”
Barbara Willard, Son of Charlemagne

It was World Book Night last night, and like everything else nowadays, it was very different. We made a few videos and posted them online, we chatted online about books but it wasn’t the same. It was enough, but it just wasn’t like going out to a bookshop, having an event, swapping books and having a good argument.


I was talking online, doing my usual Murder Of Rodger Ackroyd is the best crime novel the world has ever witnessed and , ‘would crime fiction be where it is now if that book had not been written’ routine. The answer is probably no and yes but it does provoke a good argument.

And then I got to thinking, no idea why, about a book I read when I was about seven.


We didn’t really have money for books of our own when I was growing up but we always went to the library once a fortnight and I got my fix there. It was always a Wednesday night we trotted off, walking (kids would not walk that for nowadays). Of course, I had already read the books by the end of the first weekend. …

My parents decided to buy a house, as opposed to rent one from the council and we moved out of Glasgow to the house my mum still lives in. There were many advantages to this, including having a bedroom of my own but there was another prize in the offing. The daughter of the ‘new house’ vendors was a librarian and there was ‘a stack of old library books’ up in the attic, and they would leave them there for me when they sold us the house!

Such excitement, I could hardly wait to move. All my Christmases were coming at once and I imagined some kind of chain gang forming as my dad was in the loft, on top of the ladder passing down box after box of books. These boxes would stack up in my bedroom, I’d up pack the, blow the dust and dead spiders off and   then I in heaven.

 This attic book depository was going to be my parent’s priority when we flitted in my opinion. 

Moving day came, I was all packed up, ready for a new school, new blazer, new uniform.

Of course, it was a  whole eternity ( a few days) before Dad had unpacked enough to know what was go in the loft … where, I knew the book treasury  would be.

                             Few things can be pleasanter than riding a reliable broomstick through a moony autumn night. It is best of all when home is at the end of the journey.”
Barbara Willard

There wasn’t a loft ladder, and our step ladders weren’t tall enough so dad was the only one who could make the leap through the hatch, and then lower himself back out onto the tiny platform of the ladder.

 He went up with something more important than a book (bits of a bike in his case probably). I asked him to get me some books, at least some out the boxes, just the one nearest.

My dad didn’t believe in sugar coating anything and just said, ‘There aren’t any books.’

I was crushed.

The parents went about their business and about a week later my dad announced that he had found one book, an ex-library book with its discard stamp on its thick polythene cover.

 It had fallen down between the rafters.

I really resented that book, it was supposed to be a real treasure trove and I got was this one measly book. It didn’t even look that exciting, I cannot recall the cover except it was light green and white, but I can remember the smell of it really clearly.

One day, I read it in one sitting and I didn’t want it to end. One of the books of my childhood, along with my Enid Blytons.

It was called The Suddenly Gang which I thought was a bloody stupid title.


It was about a boy whose name I can’t recall, but he had moved house or new neighbours had moved in. The neighbours had kids who were quads and they were called something like Una, Deux, Troy and Quad (or something) and then the lonely boy was no longer lonely. (Good title for an Andrew Gold song there).

Last night, I googled it for the first time and The Suddenly Gang came up! Written by Barbara Willard who has provided the quotes in this blog. The pictures were taken at 6 am  Friday 24th April, on the  one  session of allowed exercise!

I have not set eyes on a book by that name although it says it was published in 1963, it seems to be absent from her backlist, maybe published under another title.


“Fathers do as they wish with their children. They break their hearts if it suits them, as easily as they would wring a chicken's neck to make a meal!" 
Barbara Willard, The Lark and the Laurel

According to Wikipedia Barbara Mary Willard (12 March 1909 – 18 February 1994) was a British novelist best known for children's historical fiction. Her bestselling work was the “Mantlemass Chronicles” which is set in 15th to 17th-century England.

She was the recipient of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

She was in Brighton, Sussex, the daughter of the Shakespearean actor Edmund Willard and Mabel Theresa Tebbs. So she was pretty well connected and she started as an actress before turning to writing books for adults before she turned to writing for kids.


Not much else is known about her as she was intensely private but she ‘resurfaced’ when The Forest - Ashdown in East Sussex was published in 1989.

The intro is by one Christopher Robin Milne, a name that will be familiar to you. Barbara campaigned to keep the forest public and was involved in the fundraising campaign to allow the council to buy the area so it could remain as a place of tranquillity and beauty for common use.

I think I would have liked her. She sounds like she might have owned a few cats.

Caro Ramsay Lockdown Day 2048


  1. Caro, we have a few commonalities in our childhoods, not the least of which the fortnightly trip to the library with mom, which was my only source of books. I too ran through them way before they were due back. I was stuck with reading my older brother's choices, which often had to do with snakes, as I recall. Nightmare inducing descriptions of which snakes were the most deadly. This my explain why at least two of the characters in my books have perished in such a way. Be careful on those beautiful nature walks, won't you!!!

  2. They say "The Golden Years" were whenever you were 12 years old. I think the very BEST books are the ones you read during your Golden Years. Oh, yes, there are many, many GREAT books you read later on, but those ones you read during your Golden Years remain stuck in the mortar of your foundations forever after.

  3. You're one heck of a story teller Ms. Caro, and not bad at picking places to spend you hour of exercise. As for your opening Willard quote, for a moment I thought it from tonight's BBC broadcast. Stay safe!

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