Emily of New Moon – a chaser of rainbows


I have never pretended, nor ever will pretend, that Emily was a proper child. Books are not written about proper children. They would be so dull nobody would read them. (L. M. Montgomery Emily Climbs)

Anne of Green Gables when it was published in 1908 was an instant success and established L M Montgomery’s career as Canada’s leading children’s author. Yet it’s Emily of New Moon, published in 1923, that L M Montgomery described in her journal as  ‘the best book I have ever written … I have had more intense pleasure in writing it than any of the others—not even excepting Green Gables. I have lived it…’

Both Anne and Emily are highly imaginative girls, intensely receptive to the beauty of the natural world, in love with writing poetry and stories; characteristics shared by their creator. But  Anne’s early literary ambitions – which include a comic episode when she wins a short story competition and wishes she hadn’t – are sidelined in the sequels which follow her life at college, working as a teacher and finally as a wife and mother.

Emily is altogether more driven, a fiercer, more complicated character – and possibly to a modern reader more interesting and satisfying. The three books in the series Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest tell Emily’s story from early childhood as she struggles to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. L. M. Montgomery knew about rejection; Anne of Green Gables was rejected many times before being accepted for publication. It’s not surprising that Emily’s courage and self-belief remain an inspiration for girls all over the world.

From early childhood Emily experiences what she calls ‘the flash’ – a moment of visionary awareness when she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

L.M. Montgomery was only 21 months old when her mother died. Lucy was packed off to live with her Presbyterian grandparents in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, and would later marry a minister. It was a childhood and adulthood she would mine for her novels and short stories.

Even as a small child, Emily has her own ideas about God. When her beloved father dies and as a penniless orphan she is wished onto unknown relatives, she scorns the advice of the housekeeper who has looked after her: ‘There’s one thing I’d advise you to do,’ said Ellen, determined to lose no chance of doing her duty, ‘and that is to kneel down and pray to God to make you a good and respectful and grateful child.’ Emily paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back. ‘Father said I wasn’t to have anything to do with your God,’ she said gravely… ‘I know what your God is like…I saw His picture in that Adam-and-Eve book of yours. He has whiskers and wears a nightgown. I don’t like him. But I like Father’s God.’ …‘Well, you’re bound to have the last word, but the Murrays will teach you what’s what,’ said Ellen, giving up the argument. ‘They’re strict Presbyterians, and won’t hold by any of your father’s awful notions.’

It’s Emily’s ability to withdraw into the world of her imagination that save her in her new life at New Moon – this, and the pride for which all Murrays are renowned. ‘You ought to be thankful to get a home anywhere. Remember you’re not of much importance.’ ‘I am important to myself,’ cried Emily proudly. L. M. Montgomery was writing at a time when children were much more powerless than they are today, and the way Emily gets the better of tyrannical grown-ups with her use of language makes up much of the comedy in Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs.

Perhaps many older readers like myself will remember a cruel teacher who used sarcasm to destroy our self-confidence and reduce us to misery. The scene in Emily of New Moon where the hateful Miss Brownell mocks Emily’s poetry in front of the class always takes me straight back to when I was caught during prep time at boarding school writing a story when I was meant to be doing maths, but thankfully escaped with only a detention and without the teacher reading it. The unbearable horror of an unsympathetic adult treading on those so sacred words!

But L. M. Montgomery gives us inspirational teachers too in her novels, and the unorthodox Mr Carpenter, though regarded by some as an alcoholic failure, is one of them. He makes Emily promise not to write to please anyone but herself, and his last words to her are ‘Beware of italics’ – today would he say exclamation marks or adverbs?

The delightful Irish Catholic priest Father Cassidy is another of the eccentrics L. M. Montgomery is so gifted at portraying and he too perceives Emily’s gift for words. To the end of her struggle for recognition Emily never forgot Father Cassidy’s ‘Keep On’ and the tone in which he said it. Significantly, when narrow-minded, domineering Aunt Elizabeth dismisses Emily’s ‘writing nonsense’ and even kind Aunt Laura doesn’t understand her compelling need to write, it is so-called simple-minded Cousin Jimmy, the composer of a thousand poems in his head, who is always on her side.

L.M. Montgomery went through periods of depression, made worse by a difficult marriage to a man suffering from some kind of mental illness. She never had the happy life that she gives to Anne in the Anne of Green Gables series. Something of this comes across in the sombre, almost tortured tone in part of Emily’s Quest, where Emily for a time loses her will to write and gives in to the controlling desires of a much older man. It’s hard for readers today to see Dean Priest as anything other than creepy or to forgive him for what he makes Emily do to her first book The Seller of Dreams.

It’s pride that keeps Emily from falling apart during the years of brutal rejection slips and the awfulness of faint praise; it’s also what keeps her estranged from the man she loves. But literary success comes by an unexpected route, and even Aunt Elizabeth (like Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables she mellows in her later years) can remark ‘Well, I never could have believed that a pack of lies could sound as much like the real truth as that book does.’

It’s a judgment any writer might be proud of…


Writing Competitions to Enter in August

High summer, and not one competition entered? Shame upon you. We are told that reading is good for depression and for our mental health – not to mention being hugely enjoyable when you pick up the right book. So isn’t it our duty to keep putting words on paper – and create a bit of drama to share…?

London Independent Story Prize for short stories, maximum 1,500-words; flash, 300-words; screenplays, maximum 30 pages. Prizes: £100 for stories and flash, Final Draft Software for screenplays. Entry fee: £7 for stories, £5 for flash, £10 for screenplays. Closing date 2 August. Details: http://www.londonindependentstoryprize.co.uk

Costa Short Story Award for stories up to 4,000-words. Prizes: £3,500, £1,000, £500. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 28 August. Details: costa.co.uk/behind-the-beans/costa-book-award/short-story-award

Cinnamon Pencil Mentoring Competition for 10 poems, two short stories or the first 10,000-words of a novel. Prizes: A place on the Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

Exeter Flash Competition for fiction up to 750 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Closing date 31 August. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

Exeter Story Prize for stories on any theme up to 10,000 words. Prizes: £500, £150, £100. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details: creativewritingmatters@virginmedia.com

Teens of Tomorrow. Future-focussed diverse teen fiction, 2,000-5,000-words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50, anthology publication by Odd Voice Out. Entry fee: £4. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.writers-online.co.uk

Hysteria Writing Competition for stories up to 600 words, poetry up to 12 lines, flash fiction 100 words. Prizes: £25 each category, anthology publication. Entry free. Closing date: 31 August. Details: healthyhappywoman.co.uk/hysteria-writing-competition

Not a vast number of competitions this month, but if you win one of them, that’s more than enough. Do, however, remember to check all the details before committing to enter any of them. Our current situation has made some competitions alter their deadlines, or even pull out altogether.

Enjoy your summer, and stay safe!

Name that book

There’s been a bit of a Twitter craze recently to come up with really boring descriptions of famous books. The ninevoices decided to have a go. How many can you guess? Do you have some gems to challenge us with?

(Well, come on, what else is there to do besides shop for a Darth Vader facemask?)

If you want it, it’s here: https://gopostore.com/product/darth-varder-face-mask-stqt1404018fma/

Name that book:

  1. Lawyer advocates protecting avian – and anyone resembling it.
  2. Old butler questions career choice but sticks with it.
  3. Man resents government, then changes mind. 
  4. Two friends take long walk to dispose of item of jewellery.
  5. 9-35 to Victoria delayed by adverse weather conditions and a police incident.
  6. After lifetime of misery woman marries disabled employer.
  7. Grain merchant reunited with wrong daughter
  8. Dyslexic child hangs siblings and self
  9. Young woman, poor judge of men, inherits farm.
  10. Island guests eliminated one by one.
  11. Fate of sisters in the hands of crotchety aunt.
  12. Draught under door leads, eventually, to capital punishment.
  13. House of seamtress’s employer collapses.
  14. Wild scenery, tame love story
  15. Professional mourner, accused of theft, gets more than he asked for.
  16. Professor with novelty timepiece solves riddles leading to the Louvre.
  17. Man makes long journey, has IT problems. 
  18. Sisters move to Devon, marry dull men.
  19. Woman who once swiped left and regretted it, gets second bite.

An abominable sight of monks


Why are collective nouns standby questions in a Zoom quiz? And why do they never stick in the memory even if the same question came up two weeks ago? And we’re not thinking of a gaggle of geese (or women) or a pride of lions. No, we’re talking of the esoteric. Does anyone in everyday speech talk of a busyness of ferrets or a tabernacle of bakers?
I thought they might have been something to torment children in an age when they had no electronic devices to entertain them.

However, having Backrubbed – that’s the old name for Google (quiz question) – collective nouns, I learnt that the ones we use today date from the late Middle Ages. Monks were looked on as abominable because they had an easier life than the peasants, who would have preferred their old religions.

Nor were “terms of venery” – that’s the old name for collective nouns (putting that in the next time I am quizmaster) – something for children to learn by rote. They were hunting terms “intended as a mark of erudition of the gentleman able to use them correctly”. Hence a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens and a richesse of martens – the pine marten having the most highly-prized pelt. The Book of Saint Albans (1486) was a collection of advice and information on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of an abbey near St Albans was a contributor. She allocated “nouns of assembly” according to the rank of the owner. Hence a cast of hawks denoted nobility, but a flight of goshawks indicated that they were owned by a yeoman.

A superfluity of nuns? The nunneries were overcrowded with unsupported females, widows and unmarriageable daughters.

Later came modern expressions, light-hearted and humorous, for occupations. A misbelief of painters, a shuffle of bureaucrats, a shush of librarians.

There are several choices for a group of writers. Perhaps we would favour an excellence of authors but more accurate is likely to be a procrastination of authors.

An ingratitude of children was probably coined by Adam.

My Apologies…

My apologies for straining people’s eyesight. Here is that wonderful GoodReads review for my historical novel, The Servant, by Maggie Richell-Davies:

This book is a very powerful read. It vividly depicts the Georgian era in all its visceral rawness, the harshness of life for a young servant girl who has very little security in either her life or her work. It doesn’t in any way sugar coat the horrific experience of poverty and exploitation and at times is a difficult read because it is so unflinchingly honest and deals with some emotive subjects. It is also beautifully written with such elegant language. Hannah is an admirable heroine, brave, strong and entirely credible, whilst the love story is an uplifting thread running through the book. I found this a compelling read that I continued to think about long after I had finished the book.

Nicola Cornick

This kind of review is every writer’s dream. I neither know the lady nor have bribed her, but she has made my day, my week, my year with those generous words.




Why You Should Write Reviews


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Reviews are hard to write. You need to convey the sense of a book without spoiling the author’s hard-crafted surprises. To whet appetites, without sating them. And you don’t want to sound too much like a pretentious prat.

Some of ninevoices are gifted at this – writing reviews, not sounding like pretentious prats – and hopefully will compose many more in the days to come. As authors, we are conscious of their importance to writers and how they help boost book recognition and those all-important Amazon-ratings. However, and perhaps more importantly, they remind us that we write to connect with our readers.

You will, I hope, forgive me for sharing my delight at one which appeared on GoodReads yesterday. It still has me purring twenty-four hours later.

Let’s tidy the toy cupboard


The words used to fill this mother with dread. The intention was good but when everything was pulled out, long-forgotten treasures would be found and played with. Later the good housekeeping would be forgotten and I would be left with a messy pile on the floor.
I’ve just had my own “toy cupboard” experience, but in this instance it was four shelves in a glass-fronted bookcase.

All my books, poetry and classics, and so himself would have no say in the operation. Then he decided that he was going to read Pathfinder by Fenimore Cooper. He won’t – he’s already declared that it’s old-fashioned. He has also picked out My Lady of the Chimney Corner, solely because it is dedicated to “Lady Gregory and the Players of the Abbey Theatre Dublin.”(He has since declared that it’s awful with stage Irish dialogue.)
“There’s a gey good smell from yer pot, Anna, what haave ye in it th’day?
Oh, jist a few sheep’s trotters and a when of nettles.
Who gathered th’nettles?
Did th’ sting bad, me baughal?
Dis no, not aany. I put m’ Dah’s socks on m’ hans.”

However, the toy cupboard revealed its treasures, some long forgotten.

In Sheridan’s plays I learn that The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden Theatre in 1775 and the performance lasted five hours. Presumably there were no long queues for the loos in those days as there were no loos. I also see that I have the best binding, leather, round corners and gilt top, that the publishers of Everyman’s Library, J M Dent, offer.

My all-time favourite has to be The thousand best poems in the world. True there are contributions from Browning, Tennyson, Southey, etc, but the rest? Many angel babies and weeping mothers. Over the hill to the poor house tells of the old woman (she’s seventy) unwanted by the children she’d reared with such devotion. There is a sequel Over the hill from the poor house in which the black-sheep son, having made his fortune, rescues his mother. In There’s but one pair of stockings to mend tonight the stockings belong to the husband, but his wife remembers with sadness when the work basket was full with the children’s hosiery, all gone, some as angels. I see these poems were appreciated by a previous owner who has listed them in the back.

In the Classical Dictionary, my grandfather’s I see, I learn that Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, was slain my Achilles. I doubt she’ll come up in a Zoom quiz.

The volume of G K Chesterton’s poems falls open at Outline of History: “I have seen a statue in a London square/ One whose long-winded lies are long forgot.” No comment.

Then there are the slips of paper that fall out of the books: a postcard from Guernsey posted in 1979; a list of books on reincarnation; a card made for a sick mother from, as if she didn’t know, her son.

Inside. I hope you are better soon from your son, Liam

So, yes, I ended up with a messy pile on the floor. Again there was no one to help put my treasures back. The glass doors are closed. The good news: there’s not one pair of stockings to mend tonight for my lady of chimney corner.


The Historical Writers’ Association Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition is looking for entries – with a deadline of July 31st.

This is for original, unpublished historical fiction in any genre, up to 3,500-words. All stories must be set at least 35 years in the past.

The winner will receive £500 plus mentoring sessions from an author and agent. The winning story will also be published in Whispering Gallery and on Historia.com.

Winning and shortlisted writers will be published in an ebook by the HWA and Dorothy Dunnett Society, with each shortlisted author receiving £25 plus two copies.

Winners and those shortlisted will be invited to an awards ceremony in London in November – though, because of present circumstances, the organisers will be guided by what it sensible and practical nearer the time. Entry is £5 and details can be found on their website: https://historicalwriters.org/

The brief gives you free rein, from World War II espionage to armoured knights battling to the death. All it needs is a flight of the imagination. And, not wishing to labour the point, do bear in mind that this member of ninevoices managed to win a similar cheque, plus a publishing deal, from the lovely HWA people back in the spring. So – it can be done!

Good luck!


Thoughts on ‘Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise’

‘Children’s fiction has a long and noble history of being dismissed,’ writes Katherine Rundell in this short but inspirational hardback. She cites Martin Amis who once said, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book.’ 😲 Instead of going on the attack, though, Rundell, a prize-winning author and Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, has chosen to write a wonderful rebuttal.

She shows how the best children’s books help us ‘refind things we may not even know we have lost,’ taking us back to that time when ‘new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened …’

As the Financial Times says, ‘It’s a very short book but it packs a real punch.’ It also covers a lot of ground – zipping through the history of children’s books (which, in English, began as ‘instruction manuals for good behaviour’), the importance of fairy tales (with their ‘wild hungers and heroic optimism’), the need for greater diversity of authorship (‘there is so dazzlingly much to gain’) and how library budgets should be increased (not ‘slashed’), along with lighter issues, such as the ‘bookworm’s curse’ of knowing a word’s meaning but not how to pronounce it.

There are many thought-provoking ideas here but one, in particular, made me pause: ‘… there are some times in life when [a children’s book] might be the only thing that will do.’

A few months ago a friend of mine, struck down by a neurological illness that had left her bedridden and unable to speak, had reached the point where people were questioning whether she’d lost her mind. In the past she and I had often discussed books and one day, not long before she died, I decided to read her one of my all-time favourites – Richmal Crompton’s William (1929). The chapter I chose was one in which 11-year-old William tries to distract a gullible woman from her gold-digging suitor by interrupting him with preposterous stories. Halfway through one of these, my friend opened her eyes and laughed. I felt the bond between us; it was a precious moment.

Another friend, who lived to 105, found life in a care home unbearably restrictive (she always referred to herself as an inmate). Her father had worked for Henry Ford – she’d met him as a child – and she’d lived an incredibly full life. Now she was mostly confined to one room, and books were a lifeline, especially certain children’s books. Even though she was 44 when Dodie Smith’s The 101 Dalmatians was published, this one was a favourite. Her reaction when I turned up with it was just wonderful.

This is how Katherine Rundell finishes her 63-page essay: ‘Go to children’s fiction to see the world with double eyes: your own, and those of your childhood self. Refuse unflinchingly to be embarrassed: and in exchange you get the second star to the right, and straight on till morning.’

How can you refuse?

Writing Competitions to Enter in July

Summer is upon us and, with it, some new competitions to enter. If George Gissing could write 23 weighty novels and 111 publishable short stories in under thirteen years (see Valerie’s recent post about him on this blog) four weeks should be ample time to come up with a thousand words or so…

The Aurora Prize 2020 from Writing East Midlands is a national creative writing contest in two categories: poetry and short fiction. In each category there are first prizes of £500 and a session with Society of Authors staff. There are second prizes of £150 and third prizes of a one-day writing course of the winner’s choice from Writing East Midlands. Enter original, unpublished stories up to 2,000-words and poems up to 60 lines. The entry fee for the first entry is £9 and £7 for any further entries. Closing date is 8 July. Details from: https://writ.rs/auroraprize2020

Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition for stories up to 1,200-words on an open theme. Prizes: £200; £100; £50. Winning entries may be published in an anthology. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 15 July. Details: http://www.wrekinwriters.co.uk

Ilkley Literature Festival Short Story and Walter Swan Poetry Competitions for stories 1,000-2,000-words; poems up to 30 lines. Prizes: £200 for short stories, £200, £100, £75 for adult poems, £100, £75, £50 and 18-25 year olds’ poems. Entry fee: £5. Deadline: 31 July. Details: ilkeleyliteraturefestival.org./uk

HISSAC Annual Open Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000-words; flash fiction up to 500-words. No connection to Scotland needed, either by theme or entrant. Prizes: £200, £75 and £50 in both categories. Entry fee: £5; £12 for three; £18 for five. Deadline: 31 July. Details: http://www.hissac.co.uk

The Fiction Factory Flash Fiction Competition is looking for a maximum of 1,000-words on any subject, though they are not excepting children’s stories or YA. Prizes are: £150, £50 and £25. Entry is £5 for a single entry, £8 for two, £12 for three. Deadline is 31 July. Details from their website http://www.fiction-factory.biz


Norwich Writers Circle invite entries for the sixth Olga Sinclair Prize, its annual open fiction short story competition, inspired this year by the word ‘News‘ and celebrates the Norwich Post, which in 1705 became the first provincial newspaper to be published outside London. The first prize is £500, with two runners up prizes of £250 and £100. The top ten shortlisted stories will be later published in a 2020 Anthology and a gala prize-giving evening held in Norwich, circumstances permitting, on 3 November. The entry fee is £9 for the first story and £7 each for two or more stories. The deadline is 31st July. Details: https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com A member of ninevoices was shortlisted for this a few years back and although she didn’t win, did go on to revise the story and have it published in an anthology.

Do you live in Surrey? The free Surrey Life magazine and Guildford Book Festival invite original, unpublished short stories up to 1,000-words by unpublished Surrey residents. Shortlisted writers will be invited to the October festival launch, when the winner will be announced. Entry is free and the deadline 31 July. There is no mention of a monetary prize, but there is always La gloire and an opportunity to see your work in print. Details: https://writ/rs/surreylifecomp.

Because of our current situation, the British Czech & Slovac Association Competition for short stories and non-fiction, up to 2,000, exploring the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics at any time, has extended its deadline from the end of June to 31 July. Prizes: £400, £150, together with publication in the British Czech & Slovac Review and an invitation to a dinner – moreover, ENTRY IS FREE. The suggested, but optional, theme for 2020 is sporting. Surely some of you have humorous memories of sporting events that you have attended, or viewed on television. A batchelor party in Prague? Or maybe romantic lingerings on the wonderful Charles Bridge in your youth? Do get writing. Details: http://www.bcsa.co.uk

Finally, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition is looking for stories up to 3,000-words on an open theme. Prizes: 2,000 Euros, week-long retreat at Aman Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat; Euros 500, Euros 250×4. Entry fee: Euros 18. Closing date: 31 July. Details: http://www.munsterlit.ie

Please take special care at this unsettled time to check entry details, since some events may have been cancelled or had their entry dates altered.

Remember that reading is good for depression and uplifting for those in isolation. So it is up to writers like ourselves to grab those notebooks, cudgel our brains and keep providing fresh material.