Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category


Everyday Island was published by the Museum Press in 1950, there is a colour frontispiece with the same illustration as the front cover, but the artist is not credited. The endpapers have a map of the island. In More About Being an Author, MEA writes, “Museum Press did well for the first three books, then produced a ghastly jacket and frontispiece for Everyday Island, with some of the characters looking years too old.”



Frances MacDonald lives with her father in Alvanaig House, the big house on the Isle of Alvanaig in the Hebrides, which has been in the family for four hundred years, but at the beginning of the book we find that they are very short of money, and her father intends to let the big house, live in a smaller house on the island, and send Frances to school on the mainland. She is horrified by this idea, although her friend Donald has gone away the previous term. Her friend Ailie tries to comfort her, and wishes that she could go away to school.


The next day Frankie, Ailie and her brother Keith go across to the neighbouring small island, Eilean nan Roin (the Island of Seals) where they are making the old croft house habitable so they can camp on the island. They go in Frankie’s boat, the Frances MacDonald, and later visit another island, Milvanaig, which is owned by an Englishman who refuses to allow people to land without permission – Frankie goes ashore but is seen by Mr Parks, and is convinced that the new tenant of Alvanaig House will be similar. This seems all too likely when the only answer to Mr MacDonald’s advertisement is from a Mr Sims of Lancashire, who is looking for a Scottish island to turn into a holiday resort, and thinks that his daughter, Mavis Elsie, a ‘real, romantic kid’, will enjoy living there. Thankfully another tenant is found, a Mr Mansfield from London, who wants to live there with his family. Mr Sims is furious, and offers more money, but Mr MacDonald refuses.

Donald returns home, making the ‘clan’ complete, and the children manage to get permission to camp on the Island of Seals, but before this the MacDonalds move down to their new house, Alltbeg, with two of their servants, an elderly pair of sisters.

The next day the children are on the quay to meet the steamer bringing the Mansfields, and find that they have three children, Kay, Lewis and Rosemary, who are dressed in clothes which remind the island children of a fashion book, so they become known as ‘the fashion book children’. Kay slips and falls into the water, and proves unable to swim, much to their disgust. Frances is horrified by the arrival of the children, Ailie cannot believe that the strangers would want to be friends with them, and Keith wants to make friends.

The Mansfields are surprised by the island, which is much more exciting than the ‘Everyday Island’ they were expecting.

Next morning Frances and Donald go to swim, and find that the Mansfields are using Frankie’s boat. She is angry, and shows it, and when the next day she finds that her boat has been damaged with rocks, she immediately blames the Mansfields and accuses them when they appear. They deny everything, and the two parties are at loggerheads from that point. All except the youngest two, that is, as Keith finds Remmie stranded in the old castle, and helps her down. They make friends.

The clan go to the island to camp, but several times their belongs are interfered with, or their boat set adrift. They cannot think who could be behind this if it isn’t the Mansfields, despite the fact that the Mansfields rescue Frankie’s boat, and the two parties are no nearer to making friends, apart from the youngest two.

Mr MacDonald is still intending to send Frankie to school, and she rushes away to cry to herself, but Kay finds her, and tries to make friends again, but another attack on their camp puts paid to any thoughts Frances may have of burying the hatchet.

In the meantime Ailie has come up with a plan to go to the mainland to visit her aunt in Glasgow, and ask her if she can live with her and her cousin and go to school there. She tells Frances, who can’t understand why anyone would want to leave the island, but agrees to keep her secret.

That night the clan keep watch on the island, and manage to catch a glimpse of their tormenter escaping in a motor boat, which tells them for sure that it isn’t the Mansfields, as they only have a rowing boat. Keith and Remmie also see the motor boat on the island a few days later, and manage to see it going back to Milvanaig, the island owned by the unfriendly Englishman. They also see Mr Sims on Milvanaig, and tell the others, who realise that it is Mavis Elsie Sims who has been playing the tricks on them.

The next night Ailie leaves to hide on the steamer to get to Glasgow, but just in time Frankie’s father tells her that Ailie’s aunt is on her way to Alvanaig to see her parents about her living with her there and going to school. Frances rushes off to the steamer, but doesn’t find Ailie until the boat has sailed, and they have a day in Fort William, during which Frances realises that life on the mainland might not be as bad as she has feared.

Frances then goes to her old home to apologise to the Mansfields, makes friends, and invites them to camp on the island. They have been there a few nights when the weather turns, and they decide to leave the next day, but during the storm that night they find Mavis Elsie on the island, she has been out in the storm and is soaking wet. They give her shelter, but next day she is feverish, and Frances and Keith decide to row to the mainland for the doctor, despite the storm. They just about make it, and the doctor takes Mavis Elsie off the island in a motor boat. Mr Sims is very grateful, and gives Keith a boat, and Frances a lot of new books.

Mr MacDonald tells Frances that for the next year she is to live at Alvanaig House with the Mansfield girls, and share their governess, before they all go to school the next year. Frances agrees to this plan, and it is also agreed that Mavis Elsie will spend her holidays on the island with them, making the clan up to eight.


Frances MacDonald (aka Frankie), aged nearly 12

Alison MacMartin (aka Ailie), aged just 11

Keith MacMartin, Ailie’s brother, aged 9

Donald MacCrain, aged

Katherina Mansfield, (k/a Kay), aged about 11

Lewis Mansfield, aged about 10

Rosemary Mansfield (aka Rem), aged 8 or 9

Mavis Elsie Sims


The majority of the book takes place on the island of ‘Alvanaig’. In The Background Came First, MEA writes that she first went to the island of Eriskay in 1938, in a red-sailed fishing boat, and that, “I think Eriskay is there is most of my smaller islands.” The map on the endpapers of the book is certainly similar to Eriskay, and it is similar in dimensions, too – Alvanaig is described as being about two miles wide (the big house is said to be just under two miles from the steamer pier).

Frances and Ailie catch the ferry to Mallaig, and thence take the train to Fort William for the day.


This is really quite a slight book, despite its length – the story meanders along pleasantly, but doesn’t really go anywhere, the ‘mystery’ is easily guessed, and there isn’t even much of a sense of place about it. In this I find myself agreeing with MEA herself, who wrote in The Background Came First, “Everyday Island, the first book I actually had published about the Isles, is not a good one. Too cosy and conventional, and to my mind unlike any other I wrote with an island setting.”

In More About Being an Author, MEA talks of her liking for Katherine Oldmeadow’s books, and says that “…the discerning may find echoes of her style in one or two of my own early books, especially in Everyday Island.” I’ve only read one Katherine Oldmeadow book, and that was a while ago, so I can’t comment.

There are echoes of Philomel Follows After, one of MEA’s very early unpublished books, in Everyday Island – both books have characters called Kay and Ailie, with the Ailie characters being quite similar, and in both books a group of children refer to themselves as ‘the clan’.

MEA’s love of all things folk comes through as the children sing Scottish folk songs – “they sang the songs of the Hebrides, those lovely haunting songs that are being forgotten by the Islefolk themselves.”

There are several characters who speak Gaelic in the book, including an old woman who doesn’t speak any English. The clan all speak it fluently. In The Background Came First MEA says that, “I have never been able to speak Gaelic….but I used to know a lot of words and phrases and how to pronounce them.

Connections with other books

Frances reappears in Two in the Western Isles, where we learn that the school to which she has been sent is Dundonay House on Skye.


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Glen Castle Mystery

This was MEA’s first published book, although she did write several before it which didn’t see the light of day. It was written in 1939 and accepted for publication by Black, but was then sent back in 1940 due to ‘the changed circumstances of war’ (MEA – To Be An Author). In 1945 she sent it to Warne, who offered to buy it for £30 outright, which as she says was dreadful even for the time, but she was beside herself with joy at finally having a book accepted, and it was finally published in 1948. The publishers changed the title without MEA’s consent – her title was Grim Glen Castle.

MEA didn’t approve of the illustrations, either, in More About Being An Author she says –

…shock number two was the jacket design, with the castle on a hill, not deep in the glen, and Bride MacRanald looking much too old and more like a stylised gipsy (a stage one) than a Highland child. What is it that makes illustrators visualise Highland or Hebridean young people in this stagey way? Furthermore the spine had a horrid picture on it, and the frontispiece was awful.


The story opens with Annabelle, Walter and Pie meeting family friend Parrot from the station, much to their disgust, as she is seen as wet and unadventurous. She is an orphan who spends part of each holidays with them, her father was a friend of Mr Denton. On their arrival home they hear that a distant relation of Mrs Denton’s, Uncle Donald MacRanald, has died and left his castle, Glenn Dorcha, to Walter, as his estranged son has died abroad. Mrs Denton visited the castle in her younger days, and rechristened it Grim Glen Castle, being unable to pronounce the Gaelic.

Soon after they arrive at the castle, Parrot and Pie go missing, and are found in a room with lots of shrouded furniture, apart from one chair which is arranged to look directly at one of the oil paintings. When they return later the chair is under covers once more. Later they play with some of the broadswords, but when they return they have been put back in their rightful places.

The only other dwelling nearby is ‘More Farm’, which is inhabited by Mrs Glennie, five children – Bride, Maire, Morag, Colin and Calum – and a ‘lady writer’ who is staying with them, to help out with household expenses. The Denton children would like to be friendly, especially with Bride, but she will not speak to them. Later Parrot falls off her bike and Bride sends one of the younger girls with a damp handkerchief to bandage her injured knee, and this is the beginning of a secret friendship between the two.

Bride is kinder to Parrot than the Dentons are, and Parrot gains confidence, this is further boosted when Bride shows her a secret passage from the glen to the drawing room of the castle – no one else knows about this apart from the old housekeeper, who has gone to stay with her sister on Skye.

The next adventure is Walter and Annabelle’s attempt to climb Beinn Fraoch, the nearest mountain, because they have heard that the Glennies have climbed it. They reach the top, but as they descend the mists come down, and eventually Bride rescues them, but she is still not friendly, and disappears as soon as they are safely down.

A few days later the inhabitants of the castle are disturbed late at night by Mrs Glennie, as Bride is missing. Search parties are sent round the glen, but there is no trace of her. Then the Glennie’s guest arrives, and tells them that she is Bride’s mother, and that she was the wife of Donald MacRanald’s son, Revie. Eventually Parrot remembers the secret passage and finds Bride there with a badly twisted ankle.


On hearing that Bride is Revie’s daughter, Walter immediately declares that the castle should belong to her, and that he is going to give it to her. His family do not demur, and the rest of the holiday is spent making friends. Bride returns south with the Dentons and Parrot, for a fortnight’s holiday, and they plan to spend summer holidays at the castle.

Main Characters

Annabelle Denton (age 12)

Walter Denton (age 13)

Simon (k/a Pie) Denton (age 6)

Pamela Alice Rachel Olga Tomlinson (k/a Parrot) (age 12)

Mr and Mrs Denton

Mrs Meddle (Meadows) – the cook/housekeeper

Polly Sue (age 15) – the maid

Bride MacRanald

Maire, Morag, Colin and Calum Glennie

Mrs Glennie

Mrs MacRanald


The book opens at the Dentons’ house (Orchard Gate) in Silverthorpe. The exact location isn’t given, but the family catch the train from King’s Cross to go north, so presumably it is in the south of England.

The castle is three miles from ‘Ardglen’, which MEA states in ‘The Background Came First’ is Glenelg, on the Sound of Sleat, opposite Skye, a favourite place of hers. Buntawe is also mentioned as a local town, from which clothes can be purchased, and where there is a good girls’ school, which Bride will attend.

The journey from London to Ardglen is made first by train, then by boat – the interchange point is not named.


The family have two servants, 15 year old Polly Sue, and cook/housekeeper Mrs Meadows, known as Mrs Meddle, which would seem to show the pre-war origins of the book. The staff and the local postman refer to the children as ‘Master Walter’ and ‘Miss Annabelle.’

MEA was influenced by the writing of Elsie J Oxenham, and this book has overtones of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Make Friends, with the ‘rightful heir’ being unfriendly to the new (youthful) owner. It’s a much more simplistic story though, and the easy way in which the ownership of the castle is given to Bride is at odds with EJO’s insistence that Robin has to be of age before she can give even part of her property away.

This feels very much like an early book, there are plenty of odd paragraphs which don’t add much to the story, or promise later revelations which don’t come to anything, but it’s a competent story for all that.

Connections to other books

Parrot reappears as a pupil at Bryngarth School in New Schools for Old. Bride is mentioned as living in the castle, the Dentons are referred to as her adopted cousins.

Walter and Annabelle reappear in The Secret Valley, they mention Parrot a couple of times, although they do not refer to her by name.

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