writers

The facts

“So what’s your story about?” asked Ginger.
“Well, it’s jolly excitin’,” said William. “It’s about a gang of international diamond smugglers an’ they all pretend to be members of a golf club, but really this golf club’s a sort of blind. It’s the headquarters of this smugglin’ gang. They only pretend to play golf. Really they’re smugglin’ diamonds all the time.”
Ginger considered this in comparative silence. “Sounds like all your other stories to me,” he said at last.
“Well, it isn’t,” said William indignantly. “It’s abs’lutely diff’rent. It’s diff’rent from every other story I’ve ever written in all my life.”

  • Number: 35.2
  • Published: 1965
  • Book: William and the Pop Singers
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger try to save a visiting golfer from an evil gang of smugglers.

Verdict

Somewhat overawed by a visiting and erudite friend of Robert’s, William is converted to the ‘school of nature’ in which the most important characteristic of fiction is that its characters appear genuine and natural.

So, in his latest story about smugglers, William names the characters after residents of the village, and invents a detective, Meredith (“red hair an’ a bit of a limp”), to pursue them.

The doors burst open.
William charged through one, brandishing his fire extinguisher, and Ginger charged through the other, hurtling his trolley before him. But, unfortunately, no rehearsal had been possible and their sense of direction misfired. They charged across the room full tilt into each other. William directed his fire extinguisher into Ginger’s face and Ginger drove his trolley with all his might against William’s solid form. The two struggled on the floor amid the wreckage of the trolley.
“Fire!” shouted William.
“Murder!” shouted Ginger.

So, of course, when a young man with red hair an’ a bit of a limp arrives in the village, William naturally assumes that his work of fiction has, remarkably, turned out to be fact.

They do what they can to save poor Meredith from the evil clutches of Miss Golightly (headmistress of the girls’ school and archvillain of William’s story), but it turns out that the two of them are actually quite happy to meet…

The facts

“What sort of games will you have?” said William.
“Gameth like Pothtman’th Knock,” replied Violet Elizabeth.
“Gosh! What’s that?” said William.
“It’th a nithe game,” said Violet Elizabeth. “Thomeone goeth out into the hall and then knockth at the door and thayth ‘A letter for thomeone’ and the perthon who’th name they thay hath got to go out into the hall and kith them. And if theythay ‘two letterth’ they’ve got to give them two kitheth, and if they thay ‘three letterth’ they’ve got to give them three kitheth and if they thay ‘ten letterth’…”
“Shut up!” said William. His face had blanched with horror. “Gosh! It you think we’re going to a party withsickenin’ games like that, we’d… we’d…”
“We’d rather die a thousand deaths,” supplied Henry, who had a large range of dramatic expressions.

  • Number: 34.2
  • Published: 1964
  • Book: William and the Witch
  • Synopsis: William is determined to evade Violet Elizabeth’s birthday party.

Verdict

Martin Jarvis masterfully turned this story into a five-part audio book: Violet Elizabeth Takes Control, William the Dear Little Boysie, William’s Brilliant Plan, The Outlaws and Aunt Jo, and Violet Elizabeth’s Party. But it’s still excellent in single-story form.

The Outlaws can’t think of anything worse than attending a special old-fashioned birthday party (featuring games such as kiss-in-the-ring, shudder shudder) being held jointly for Violet Elizabeth and for her mother’s godmother, Aunt Jo. And strangely enough, Aunt Jo can’t think of anything worse either.

Still, Mrs Bott is determined to make a success of it – a reporter from the Hadley Times is going to be observing the whole affair (“a mention in the ‘Hadley Times’ represented the height of her ambition”) and is equally determined that William and his friends will attend.

“Oh, there you are, William, love,” said Mrs Bott. “I’ve just been telling your mother about a nice little treat I’ve got for you.”
“I’d rather die a thous…” began William.
“Say ‘how d’you do’, dear,” said Mrs Brown hastily.

“I wonder what they’ll do when they find we’re not comin’ to it,” said William.
“They’ll ring the p’lice,” said Henry.
“Gosh!” said Douglas, with mingled apprehension and pride. “Real p’licemen lookin’ for us!”
“We might pretend we’d lost our memories,” said Henry.
“I’ve tried that,” said William. “It didn’t work.”
“We could pretend we’d met a hypnotiser an’ got hypnotised,” said Ginger after a moment’s silence. “We could act as if we’d been hypnotised. We could keep shuttin’ our eyes an then openin’ them an’ sayin’ ‘Where am I?’”

The Outlaws are outraged and astonished when their mothers all insist that they go. “More like hyenas than yuman parents” is Ginger’s bitter observation. So they decide simply to run away on the afternoon of the party and thereby evade it.

While they’re loose in the woods, they happen to come across Aunt Jo – also a fugitive from the party! Despite her advanced age, she is a woman of great energy and ingenuity, and leads the group to safety from Mrs Bott’s search party (and they just happen to take advantage of the situation and drop some rotten apples on the heads of their pursuers).

Mrs Bott is in paroxysms of horror when she realises that the Hadley Times has been monitoring the entire farce… at least, until she hears what the reporter has actually written.

The facts

“A new girl’s only got to come to this place,” said William, “an’ Robert starts bein’ keen on her. He was nuts on Biddy Needham till they went on this caravan holiday, then they sort of got fed up with each other and he started on this new one. He might be someone on the films, the way he carries on. Bluebeard or Henry the Eighth or someone.”

Verdict

This is a seriously weird story.

Robert is enamoured by Celia Green, a newcomer to the village. And, unusually, William is a little enamoured by her younger sister Anthea.

Anthea, Celia, Robert and, as it happens, Henry have all been at a meeting of the Literary Society where they heard from a ‘detective journalist’ about here work:

“She pretended to be somebody she wasn’t jus’ to see how other people sort of acted an’ then she wrote an article about it an’ got money. Once she went out as a charwoman, jus’ one day each to diff’rent people an’ she told them all the same yams about her husband knockin’ her about (she hasn’t got a husband really an’ I bet he’d make off pretty quick if she had) an’ her little girl havin’ some terrible disease an’ her son stealin’ valu’bles an’ havin’ the p’lice after him.”
“She was tellin’ lies,” said Douglas sternly.
“No, it’s not lies if it’s detective joum ‘lism,” said Henry. “If it’s detective joum’lism, it’s… well, it’s jus’ detective journ’lism.”

Robert had noticed something cold and distant in Celia’s manner. “I haven’t done anything to offend you, have I, Celia?” he said humbly at last.
“You never do anything at all,” said Celia. ”That’s the trouble. You’re so hopelessly ineffectual.”
Robert thought of his triumphs on the tennis courts and rugger field but wisely forebore to mention them.

Celia and Anthea are both enthusiastic about the whole idea – not enthusiastic to follow it themselves, but they happily shanghai their men into having a go.

William had performed upon the back door of The Briars the loud and lengthy tattoo with which he was wont to announce his presence.
Miss Devon opened the door. William fixed his most ferocious scowl on her.
“I’m lost,” he said.
“Oh dear! Poor little boy!” said Miss Devon. Her face beamed with compassionate kindness.
“Lost out of a car,” said William.
“Oh dear!” said Miss Devon again. “I suppose your parents stopped for a little halt and you wandered off.”
“Yes,” said William, regretfully abandoning kidnappers and deciding to follow whatever lead she gave him. He’d probably be able to make something of it.
“Where were they going, dear?”
“I forget,” said William.
“Where is your home?”
“Outer Hebrides,” said William.

Although Robert also decides to play this rather aimless prank on Miss Devon, the story as a whole doesn’t really go anywhere. Which is a shame, because it’s bookended by a rather fun sub-plot about William turning his house’s water tank into an aquarium.