Thursday list: Jane Duncan

My Friend Marthas Aunt

I can’t really explain my fascination with Jane Duncan. She’s a Scottish author who made publishing history in 1959 when Macmillan announced they’d be publishing seven of her books. Eventually this series - which is very autobiographical and features a character called Janet – ran to 19 books. I read most of them when I was in my teens (as I’m always saying, they didn’t have proper YA books then): a friend of my parents lent me a couple of them when I was laid up with a broken foot, and then I hunted the rest down in public libraries while never, I think owning any. I read them very much out of order.

A couple of years ago I got a sudden hankering to read her again, and to find out more about the author’s background. There is a helpful wiki entry here, and another article about her which appeared in The Scotsman a few years back. Is it just me or does this absolutely riveting piece seem to be shamefully unattributed to any writer?

My Friend Monica

I managed to get hold of most of the books in cheap(ish) secondhand paperbacks (hooray for the internet), but some of them are hard to find. So I was absolutely delighted to find that Bello Books – who are doing so much to bring back lost favourite authors in ebooks and paperbacks – are republishing Jane Duncan’s books. I do hope there will be a resurgence of interest in them.

My Friends the Miss Boyds

I think there are a lot of bloggers – you know who you are, the fans of Persephone, of those mid-20th-century books, of those neglected women authors – who should most definitely be giving these a try. You may dislike them: I have a love-hate relationship with Janet, and some of the blog entries listed below contain my mean-minded criticisms. But they are a record of a lost world and a lost time: many of the books combine a description of living in the West Indies in the 1950s with memories of the Scottish Highlands in the 1920s. It’s hard to say which is the more intriguing background. And I'm always surprised by how little there is on blogs and on the rest of the internet about her, when so many authors have been rediscovered.

My Friend Annie

The pictures are all ones I chose to illustrate the various blog entries, and if none of them appeals to you, if not one of these pics makes you think ‘what on earth kind of book can this have been?’ (even if you still have no desire to read it) then you are stone dead inside….

The entries below, with links for most of them, are in order. Right now there are four of the books that haven't had a blogpost: I will update this list as I blog on any more of them.)

My Friend Sandy jester

Duncan, Jane My Friends the Miss Boyds 1959
Duncan, Jane My Friend Muriel 1959
Duncan, Jane  My Friend Monica 1960
Duncan, Jane My Friend Annie 1961
Duncan, Jane  My Friend Sandy 1961
Duncan, Jane  My Friend Martha's Aunt 1962
Duncan, Jane My Friend Flora 1962
Duncan, Jane My Friend Madame Zora  Madame Zora 2 1963
Duncan, Jane  My Friend Rose 1964
Duncan, Jane My Friend Cousin Emmie 1964
Duncan, Jane  My Friends the Mrs Millers 1965
Duncan, Jane My Friends from Cairnton 1966
Duncan, Jane My Friend My Father 1966
Duncan, Jane My Friends the MacLeans 1967
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Hungry Generation 1968
Duncan, Jane My Friend the Swallow 1970
Duncan, Jane My Friend Sashie 1972
Duncan, Jane My Friends the Misses Kindness 1974
Duncan, Jane My Friends George and Tom 1976


  1. It's always lovely, Moira, to hear about companies like Bello that are bringing back authors for a new audience. In this case, I think it's doubly nice because it also means (if I can put it this way) the preservation of an era and a way of looking at the world. You may not love that point of view and so on all the time. But it's still fascinating, and if you add some good storytelling to it, that's all the better.

    1. Yes, very well-put Margot. And we are so lucky to live in an era where we can easily find old favourites, either in ancient 2nd-hand copies or in ebooks.

  2. I remember seeing them on my mother's bookshelves as a child, but for some reason I never read them (which is odd, because I read _everything_). I acquired a copy of the Miss Boyds after reading your post and loved it. Beautiful writing, and fascinating social history.

    1. Oh I'm so glad! It's such a worry recommending things. But I did think Miss Boyds is an amazing book: As it happens I have recently read some other books where people describe their childhoods, and Duncan is head and shoulders above most of them....

  3. I think My Friend My Father would suit me best. I will look for a copy.

    1. They are always turning up in 2nd hand and thrift shops here, I hope you might find one where you are!

  4. I can hardly wait! Err, actually I can

    1. No, you'd absolutely love them!! No, that's a lie, you wouldn't ....

  5. loved these books in my teens, read them all avidly
    I thought her an excellent wirter and cadid and honest if bound by the coventions of her times

    1. Thanks for coming to comment - and I do agree with you. Although I have criticisms of the book, they are a real achievement, and still have much to offer a modern audience.

  6. In the early 1960’s, when I was about 8 years old, one of my aunts came to visit us often.
    She always lend my mother books that she had read and could recommend.
    Among them the My Friend(s) books by Jane Duncan.
    My aunt and my mother would talk about the books and left me out of the conversation.
    That’s probably the reason why I became and stayed intriged by these books.
    But I did not know how I could get the books in my possession.
    I don’t think they were very popular in the Netherlands and therefor hard to come by.

    Only recently I discovered that they were republished as e-books.
    All of them, except ‘Letter from Reachfar’, unfortunately.

    Like others, I don’t think these books are extremely good, but yet they are intriguing, and I continue reading them.
    Jane Duncan writes about unique subjects like crofters life in Scotland in the late 1910’s, which is unknown to most of us and her life in the West-Indies in the 1950’s.

    She combines the story of her life with the description and psychological analysis of people she met during her life.

    I think that the extensive view she gives of her personal life makes her books so attractive.
    One wants to know how her life develops and continues.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and I do empathize. A friend of my mother's lent me my first one, and I felt very grown up reading it. It is so hard to describe the books' appeal, so I like your analysis. Those two so very specific worlds she writes about, and then the complex time scheme as she slowly covers her whole life, and the quite weird psychological problems that are presented. And yet with all that, they are compulsively readable, and very entertaining.

  7. I have read and re-read the entire Friends series. I was happy to see the ebook versions but was sad to read My Friend Muriel in the Bello edition because it was severely abridged.

    1. Oh good, so nice to hear from another fan! That's shocking about the abridgement though: WHY?


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