'Four Girls and a Test' - a 'remarkable' early Rosalie Warren, circa 1966 (by Rosalie Warren)

 I hope you realise that I am opening myself up to severe embarrassment by posting this blog. And all for the sake of a few laughs (I hope). But there we go. Would the eleven-year-old Rosalie (or Sheila, as she called herself in those days and still does, among friends) have apppreciated this somewhat belated publicity? Who knows - maybe she would. She was clearly something of an entrepreneur, even back then...

Four Girls and a Test made it to Chapter 4 and then fizzled out, as Sheila's books were inclined to do. But not before she had invested serious effort and lashings of Winsor & Newton watercolours in a cover depicting the said four girls, be-ribboned, ankle-socked, and with the tiniest of tiny feet that would have appealed to a Chinese emperor. The eldest girl looks somewhat haggard (as well she might) and boasts a superb Cathy McGowan fringe (shame on you if you're too young to remember Cathy). 

The writing style (a sample is given below, if you're feeling brave enough to look) is clearly inspired by Enid Blyton and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, with touches of Ruby Ferguson and Christine Pullein-Thompson (ponies, if you've never encountered the latter two). The characters speak in an endearing mix of Sheila's hometown Yorkshire dialect, the ringing 'jolly good ideas' of Blyton and the rest, and an almost biblical 'Father is gone now...'

But the story is not bad. It opens with an anguished (actually, an 'anquished') cry from one of the sisters. Father is gone, the manor is sold and the four girls are on their own. There's immediate characterisation. 'What, [ask] that stuck-up thing? I asked her last night and she burst into tears.' Within a few sentences we're immersed in a family crisis... the absent Daddy (where's Mummy, I'd like to know) has just one living relative, Aunt Charlotte, who lives a hundred miles away in the oddly hyphenated Crest-thorpe, and that's where the four girls must go, without further ado (this was 1966 and social workers had not yet been invented, or not in children's fiction, anyway).

After a heady opening chapter, the second is more contemplative. Sylvia wakes early, surveys her sleeping sisters and is inspired by the Dawn Chorus. Jeanette joins her and together they rename themselves and their sisters, giving each other cute abbreviations (oh, how the eleven-year-old Sheila longed for a name that could be abbreviated!) and making plans for their forthcoming expotition (sorry, expedition) to Crest-thorpe in deepest North Yorkshire.

I really shouldn't mock (but perhaps I may, seeing as the author was me). I think Sheila showed promise as a writer (what happened to it, I'd like to know). There's a rather fetching illustration of Sylvia, as yet unabbreviated, gazing at an inspirational tree in the early morning light... her plaits resplendent with a brave attempt at shading in pen and ink. Her tiny feet are in a ballet pose. I should have mentioned Lorna Hill and her 'dancing' books as another influence.

I hope you like the 'About the Author' on the back flyleaf, reproduced below. I loved that red dress (and the matching hairband). I have the fringe to this day.

I don't really remember writing the book, to be honest, but I do remember my mother commenting that to use the words 'this remarkable book' was, er... just a little boastful. I pointed out that 'remarkable' does not have to mean good, so it wasn't really boasting at all. (What happened to that robust reaction to criticism? I could do to rediscover it now.) Sheila, we are told, 'Began writing stories at a very early age' (long before eleven, in other words), 'but she used to write about one page of a story and then get fed up of it and start another!'

Surely not. Young Sheila, I'm ashamed of you. You should look to your 50-something-year-old future self for help and guidance. Or maybe not...

Happy Boxing Day, everyone. And lashings of luck to all those youngsters (and oldsters) currently writing one page of a book and then getting fed up with it and starting another. We're all in this together and we never really, thank heaven, grow up.
'Four Girls and a Test' by Sheila Warren. First (and only) Edition, incomplete, c. 1966, illustrated by the author. Discovered while clearing out my parents' loft in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, September 2012. My mother may have disapproved of that 'remarkable', but she kept it, anyway...

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CallyPhillips said…
I think that 'remarkable' is exactly the word to use to describe this! I think it's remarkable that you could draw so well (I still can't draw for toffee, I peaked in crayon on sugarpaper moses in the bullrushes aged 5 - now sadly lost) and that you had access to a typewriter aged 11! And the confidence to think of yourself as a writer even at that young age. I was a voracious reader but never thought writing a possibility other than in school jotters. Though I was a 'award' winning writer in 1977 aged 14, winning the 'Burnett Project Prize' (for creative writing) - the first and only time I won a writing award. My work was heavily SF influenced in those days.
How great that you have found this in 'the clearing' and I hope it gives you much latter day confidence - it's great!! I wonder whether AE should get together an anthology of juvenilia from its membership? That might be a fun read.
Anwyay, thanks for sharing that Sheila, and happy new year when it comes. Let the 11 year old Sheila be your promotional manager and you're on your way in 2013! (Have you read the Young Visiters by Daisy Ashworth? If not, you should! It's juvenilia at its finest. )
madwippitt said…
Wionderful post, thank you! And I think those illustrations show real promise too!
Lynne Garner said…
A lovely post and thanks for sharing. I'm very impressed you typed your story and illustrated it. I have several stories I carefully crafted when I was about 11 -13. However mine are scrawled in old notes books. I have them tucked away in the loft somewhere and I'm not brave enough to share them.
Enid Richemont said…
I've got typescripts like those too... whole novels which defy scanning.What a delightful post for Boxing Day - loved it.
Dennis Hamley said…
Great post, Rosalie. I couldn't contribute any juvenilia because it's all disappeared long years ago. But I do remember the last sentence of the first and only draft of my first novel, an exciting wartime mystery. 'Dad looked up from his newspaper and said, "I see that Herr Schultz, the mysterious German spy, is in the area again.'" It was at that point that I realised I didn't quite understand the rules of the mystery genre.
Lydia Bennet said…
Love this post Rosalie/Sheila, very tempted to follow suit! Interesting that so many of us started very early. But there must be many more who gave up writing once it became tainted by exam essays and masses of boring homework. Dennis, I think your sentence is superb. It's a whole novel in itself, setting the scene and including the denouement in one go!
Rosalie Warren said…
Thanks everyone - glad you liked my early offerings. I would love to see juvenilia from the rest of you! Cally's idea is a good one.
What a brilliant post - I think it's wonderful that you have kept that work. Thanks for sharing!
Rosalie Warren said…
Thanks, Helen. It's thanks to my mother (and first critic!) that the work survived...

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