Tuesday, August 09, 2016

William Mayne's Choir School Series and C Walter Hodges

I have been reading and collecting the first editions of a twentieth century children's author called William Mayne. Among over a hundred books he wrote a quartet of stories about a Choir School. The school is fictional but Mayne was a pupil at Canterbury Choir School himself and the books are clearly based in a similar building and ethos. Mayne's great gift was for observation, his ability to recreate the mannerisms, intellect, emotional resonances and social life of children on the page is quite uncanny. Within the ambiance of a choir school we have all the schoolboy traditions and neologisms that such a place creates. He tells a great story too, but his stories are of the gentler, slightly more oblique type, that you could still publish for children in those days. The four books are A Swarm in May (1955), Choristers' Cake (1956), Cathedral Wednesday (1960) and Words and Music (1963). The first three are published by Oxford and illustrated by C. Walter Lodge. The last is published by Hamish Hamilton and illustrated by Lynton Lamb.

All the books are quite scarce in their first editions, particularly if, like me, you don't like to have ex library copies in a collection. With the Mayne collection in general I am being as picky as I can about condition and so the condition of these copies illustrated will give you an idea of how difficult it is to find nice minty copies (I will trade up as and when I can). The only copy of the last book I have seen for sale at all is online at a ridiculous price and is an ex library copy: another thing about making a commitment to a large collection like this is that sometimes you just have to accept that you are going to have to wait for a copy to show up that you want to make your own. It's a shame though, because I have so enjoyed these first three books, I would like very much to read the last.

For those who would like to simply read the stories (and I can highly recommend them) all the first three books are available as paperbacks, reasonably cheaply, on the second hand market.

C Walter Hodges is, of course, an extremely respected name in the world of illustration from the last century and all the illustrations below are from the first book.

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