‘Violet was a great shopper. She and Clarry especially liked looking at hats. Ruby loved the pet shop with its perpetual supply of kittens in the window, but it didn’t really matter what they did. They could be perfectly happy in Woolworths choosing hairslides for Ruby, or buying a cake at the bakers, or a bunch of blue cornflowers from a market stall…’
The Swallows’ Flight takes up the story of the characters from Hilary McKay’s The Skylark War, a book I very much loved in 2018 – see enthusiastic post here – and adds some new ones.
She is one of my favourite authors so, no surprises here, I loved this one too. The children from Skylark are now adults and some of them have their own children. There is a family tree for clarity, but I didn’t worry too much. Hilary introduced me to the wondrous blog favourite GB Stern, an author whose families were of such complexity you had to make a conscious decision not to worry about who was an aunt and who a cousin, and I decided that should be the case with these people, the Skylark families – partly because I very much hope there are going to be more books, taking the families through the 20th century.
There are also two German boys and their families – no connection yet with the English characters, but you know it will happen. We follow them all through the 1930s, knowing what is coming, and into the war and afterwards.
As with the first book, there is no pretending that bad things don’t happen, and you have your heart in your mouth some of the time. But you have to trust your author: she won’t make things sugary sweet, and it will not go well for everyone, but she will leave you satisfied… and waiting for another book.
I thought as I was reading it that the book is a mosaic of scenes and happenings, jumping gracefully from one place to another, alighting to tell a story, an anecdote, describe an event, then moving on, but all focused on telling a bigger story. So I was glad to see afterwards what Hilary said about the book:
‘This is very much a patchwork book. It’s full of phrases overheard, names I once knew, the fledgling swallows of my childhood. But most of all, the work of other people, who drew the maps and took the photographs and wrote the many books and accounts and articles I discovered on the way. It has been my privilege to gather them up and join them into a story.’
And yes it has an authentic feel, it’s a true history. But the characters and families are very distinctly hers – I always say that NO-ONE does family life, and particularly siblings, like Hilary McKay, she is just the best. See my ongoing love affair with her Casson family books, and my wish to be adopted into that family: this post here tells more and has links, and explains why Saffy’s Angel is the best book for a convalescent.
In case I haven’t been clear enough: I LOVED, LOVED this book.
And in case you need another push to read it, Hilary has said ‘It’s written for one purpose only, and that is to give you hope.’ It is just what we all need right now.
My book came with a recipe for Welsh rarebit, as enjoyed by some of the characters, and so – because I work so hard for you readers – I had to make some and eat it, and it was, yes, very delicious.
And then, here we go again – searching for the pink velvet beret. It played an important role in the first book - ‘the pink beret was a family wonder’ - but was very difficult to illustrate. It continues to feature in this book, and it still wasn’t easy to find the perfect beautiful velvet hat.
Last time I went for a nice pic of Vanessa Violet and Clarry with some excellent non-beret hats, right era:
This time I found women in berets that I liked, without regard to date - one is Louise Brooks, one is Kate Moss, the other is unknown.
Kate Moss is from the Adore Vintage website -she always gets a pass as blog icon.
Boy with pigeon, Sydney, 1935, by Sam Hood from State Library of NSW (a swallow would have been too much to expect).
The two groups of children are from the Tyne and Wear Museum Archives, from 1935.