I received a “vaguebook” meme recently asking folks to “Name fifteen authors who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you”.
This is surprisingly hard to do.
Yes there are many writer who I admire greatly and who possibly, even probably, had some input on my own humble efforts as a writer in my turn. But how many books were able to influence me as a person?
One candidate is Arthur Ransome.
Why? Because he created Captain Nancy – aka Ruth Blackett.
Now I have heard it said that readers back in the day either loved Blyton or Ransome but seldom both. I was one of the few who devoured books from each with equal passion.
I read Blyton’s ‘Five’, ‘Seven’, Adventure and ‘School’ books avidly, and of course I had a soft spot for ‘George’ – owner of Timmy the dog and all round star of the twenty-one Famous Five books.
By contrast the Swallows and Amazons series lasted for just twelve, yet it was Captain Nancy who stuck with me.
At first glance George and Nancy seem to be very similar characters. Both were rather spiky personalities, angry at the world. Both were described by that patronising term ‘Tomboys’.
Given the era in which she was written I suspect Blyton intended George’s anger and frustration to stem from the social strictures placed on all females of the time. (Blyton was quoted as saying that she saw her younger self in that character.) George ultimately trotted off to boarding school with prissy cousin Anne.
Nancy was every bit as angry but looked the world square in the eye and never wanted to be anything but herself. She was brought up in a single parent family, which made her more self-sufficient. Her mother was no push over but even she was hard pressed to control her strong-willed elder child. Nancy grabbed life by the scruff and gave it a damned good shake.
Captain Nancy cared for others yet never allowed herself to be sidelined by the (gender) expectations prevalent in that era. She met the world on her own terms and assumed a parity with Captain John without any need to be anything other than herself. She was a role model for a troubled child to a far greater degree than was realised at the time. Captain Nancy was, and remains, my abiding hero.