Did you go to Malory Towers? St Claire’s? The Chalet School? Perhaps you spent a spell at Hogwarts or visited Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches?
This week the Trebizon series by Anne Digby are being republished as paperbacks and e-books, freshly illustrated by Lucy Truman. Starting with the first three this week, all fourteen titles will be re-released by autumn 2017.
The books follow the events in the life of Rebecca Mason – starting the boarding school in the second year, when she is about 12 years old. In First Term at Trebizon, Rebecca suffers typical newbie’s anxiety over forging first friendships, but soon settles into a popular sporty crowd. However, her trouble begins with a piece written for the school magazine, and ends with accusations of plagiarism, and expulsion. The plot is slight, but winning, and there are some lovely touches about ambition, telling the truth, and loyalty.
Lucy’s illustrations are a joy – the depiction of the headmistress’s blouse, desk lamp and clock on the shelf behind her, in the illustration of her study give an immediate sensation of the period, as well as displaying extraordinary attention to detail. And the last illustration – of a joyful victory – seen from above – is one to relish.
The books are fairly short, and all follow a similar format – establishing a central problem which Rebecca and her friends must work through by the end of the novel, most of the character development spread over the series rather than being contained within one book. As with other school stories, there is a mass of detail on the rules and timetables of the days, as well as arrival by train, a division of girls into sporty and non-sporty, and the formation of close friendships.
It’s more contemporary than Malory Towers etc, being set in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and features a beautiful seaside setting, which of course is ripe for adventuring.
What’s interesting is that, despite the old-fashioned vernacular and setting of most of the girls’ boarding school books – the Chalet school of the 1920’s and 1930’s in particular, girls today still enjoy them, although no longer being able to relate to unpacking trunks in dormitories, midnight capers and classroom pranks. The Trebizon books are the most contemporary of these all girl settings, with the last being published as recently as 1994, although reading First Term at Trebizon, the reader will be grinning at the excitement over a typewriter! (Antonia Forest’s books about the Marlow family, including their time at Kingscote, the boarding school, were first published in the late 1940’s, eg. Autumn Term, but distinguish themselves from the other boarding school titles by their characterisation – they are slightly less formulaic.) At the end of the 1970’s though, it seemed the market turned, and from the 1980s sprung a raft of series set in American high schools rather than British boarding schools, such as Sweet Valley High, mirrored in the television of the time too – with programmes such as Saved by the Bell. The difference of course, was the introduction of a fair few boys, the beginnings of which started in Trebizon with the introduction of the boyfriend in Boy Trouble at Trebizon, first published in 1980.
In today’s market, schools are making something of a comeback in children’s publishing – although with a twist. Of course there’s Harry Potter, which is essentially based around the boarding school Hogwarts, but more starkly, Robin Steven’s wonderful Wells and Wong Mystery series, the first being Murder Most Unladylike, which subverts the genre by introducing murder into the school environment – a sort of Agatha Christie meets Malory Towers.
Of course schools feature in some way in much children’s contemporary ‘realism’ fiction, as that’s where children spend much of their days – and for this reason it’s a comforting environment to read about – the familiar yet extended – a more exciting version of their own reality. Children respond well to rules and structure, and boarding school books deliver this in droves – with attention to detail on timetables, grounds layout, teaching staff, uniform, regulations – each book in the series increases the readers’ familiarity with the school. Formulaic yes, but madly comforting.
But series in which the school dominates as the protagonist, whilst the pupils change or progress through the years, seem to have been relegated to something in the past. So the republishing of the fun Trebizon series is a welcome return. It’s not profound literature, but definitely has its place in a youngster’s reading – where would I be without having ploughed through a huge percentage of the 50+ Chalet School titles/Sweet Valley High/Trebizon/Blyton etc?
You can buy the first Trebizon book here.