DGWGO S.R CROCKETT MONTHLY – To the Lighthouse… all the colours of the Rainbow.

It’s summer. No, really, it is. It may be over by the time you read this of course, but I thought I’d send you on a trip round the Solway Coast this fine weather.  The book I’m recommending you read this month might (or might not) be accurately described as a children’s book. At least when it was written it was for children. And it features children. The hero, one Toady Lion (that’s Sir Toady Lion to those who have read the prequel to this book) morphs into Toady Crusoe, which gives you something of an idea of where the story is coming from.  But to define (or dismiss) it as a children’s book is highly deceiving.  So let me tell you a story…


[picture 1… Toady Crusoe ]


At the height of his fame Crockett was a family man with four small children. Like many writers with small children, he turned part of his creative attentions to the ‘funny’ world inhabited by children writing from their perspective.  The first of his books for children was a runaway success in 1896 and was called ‘Sweetheart Travellers.’  It takes the form of the story of ‘adventures’  on a Humber Beeston Tricycle throughout Galloway and Wales with his four year old daughter Maisie who throughout her life was known as ‘Sweetheart.’ And before you condemn that as too sickly, remember that a) the times were different and b) people do get ‘inappropriate’ nicknames which stick.   Anyway, after ‘Sweetheart Travellers’ Crockett was much in demand to write MORE for and about his children. And in response he invented the Picton Smith family.

[picture 2 – Sweetheart Travellers]


I digress only to contextualise.  Crockett’s children’s stories were directly contemporary with E.Nesbit’s ‘Treasure Seekers’ the Bastable family.  What both have in common is that they (for the first time in fiction) show children warts and all.  The big difference is that Crockett’s children are in small town Scotland and Nesbit’s in Lewisham, but both are examples of Edwardian children and values – with tongue quite firmly in cheek.

The stand out Picton Smith child is without a doubt Toady.  He is the second son (a fictionalised version of Crockett’s own son George) and gets his name because he could not pronounce Richard Coeur de Lion properly, turning it to Toady Lion.  He is Oswald Bastable meets Artful Dodger meets Gavroche meets ‘Bad Harry.’  If these characters appeal to you you’ll love him.  He is a ‘real’ boy and he has boys adventures which you can share if you read the book.

[picture 3 – Toady Lion ]


In ‘Toady Crusoe’  our boy hero is sent, with his Australian cousins Saucey and Dinky Easdaile from Penicuik to Galloway to be ‘minded’ by his aunt because he is causing so much trouble while his father is away. His age is somewhat flexible between eight and twelve – that halcyon time of boyhood – and the time when adventure is just a part of everyday life.   I won’t spoil the story, but the adventure takes place along the Solway Coast, focussing on Meikle Ross and the Ross Lighthouse (loosely fictionalised).  So if you love the coast and you love adventure and you can remember being a child, I’d really recommend reading Toady Crusoe.  He is an unforgettable character.


[picture 4 – The Rainbow Crockett – complete with rain shelter]


Crockett’s children’s fiction has long been out of print (and fashion) but last year they were republished as a set ‘The Rainbow Crockett’ in paperback in a stunning design which gives a separate colour of the rainbow to each volume. A handsome collection to put on a bookshelf!

Within the ‘Rainbow’ Crockett also wrote two adaptations of Walter Scott novels, stories suitable for children, but he used the conceit of the Picton Smith children who, for me at least, steal the show every time.  Once you’ve read Toady Crusoe, (the entry novel) you may well want to read the other stories of the Picton Smiths – especially if you loved Nesbit’s Bastable children.  The ‘Rainbow’ is completed with another ‘Sweetheart’ book which is a fictive juvenilia and ‘Rogues Island’ (published posthumously) which is also a fictive juvenilia; this time a rites of passage story set on Rough Island and which tells the tale of Crockett’s own last summer before leaving Galloway for University in Edinburgh.  Jonathan Laurieston is clearly Crockett and tells the story in his own juvenile manner – deliberately – a point which was missed by potential publishers for generations.   Crockett’s children’s novels have largely been ignored perhaps because they are not ‘appropriate’ for modern children, but the new edition of Dr Islay Murray Donaldson’s literary biography of Crockett (due out in September) now features a new (or lost) chapter which looks  at Crockett’s children’s fiction in depth.  Look out for it come autumn!


And if you don’t do children in any form, you can go to the other end of the spectrum – somewhere beyond the rainbow and read ‘Strong Mac.’ This is a story of quite a different kind.  While it begins in the schoolroom – complete with drunken dominie and boys truanting to partake in the local ploughing match – it turns into a much darker story of ruthless landowners, rights of way and tenanting which may be of interest to those who care about rural land reform both past and present.

Whichever book you pick up this summer (and I hope you get engrossed in more than one) Crockett can take you to a different, yet often familiar, Galloway – so you can holiday without ever leaving home.

To buy the books from the Rainbow Crockett series you need to order direct online from www.unco.scot  Go to the S.R.Crockett shelves and you’ll find them there in all their colourful Glory. You can buy Strong Mac as paperback or ebook from unco, or from Amazon and other online retailers.

Written by Cally Phillips exclusively for DGWGO


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