“When we enter the world of Lorna Hill we do not find ourselves in a fairytale land where cherubic infants spend idyllic lives in perpetual sunshine. What we find are real people in the real world, and so it is with ballet, which despite being shown as undeniably romantic, is never romanticized. The dancing schools we visit are populated by those who see dancing as the only way to escape poverty and a life selling cauliflowers at the co-op, the precocious brats who delight their mothers with displays of tap and ballroom, the tough cookies who lack artistic integrity but have the ambition and technique to succeed, and the truly talented who may spend their career in the corps without that lucky break. In short, all human life is here; the ballet class is a vibrant microcosm.” Frederick Lewis, ‘Dancing Across the Border: An Adult Reading of Lorna Hill’.
A little culture today. Ballet in fact, and the popular Sadler’s Wells Ballet School series by Lorna Hill.
Children’s author Hill was born in 1902 in Durham, North East England. After marrying a clergyman in 1928, they moved to a remote parish in Northumberland – northernmost county in England and the wild and unspoilt home to many of her main characters.
Lorna Hill had written and illustrated her own short stories when she was a schoolgirl. Her daughter Vicki (Shirley Victorine) discovered some of these books and encouraged her mother to begin writing again. Short of money, Hill wrote ‘Marjorie and Co.’ as a Christmas present for Vicki, a tradition that continued until a family friend suggested she send her books to an agent. Her first novel was published in 1948.
After seeing Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, Vicki decided she wanted to be a ballerina. Markova and Dolin were the principal dancers in the Vic-Wells ballet, a company formed by Ninette de Valois. The former dancer also ran the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London, where Vicki became a dance student.
Missing her daughter desperately, Hill began writing ‘A Dream of Sadler’s Wells’, introducing Veronica Watson, an orphan living with relatives in Northumberland and the charismatic heroine who longs to be a dancer at ‘The Wells’. We also meet Sebastian, the handsome cousin that Veronica will fall in love with.
Thirteen more Sadler’s Wells books followed, charting Veronica’s journey through the school to her eventual starring roles at Covent Garden. Other aspiring ballerinas are introduced, mostly hailing from Northumberland, that never ending source of Fonteynesque dancing talent.
“In order that you enjoy my books to the full”, Lorna Hill urges in her charming dust jacket message, “please read them in the right order. My characters develop and grow up with the books, so if you read the last one first you will naturally miss half the fun and get into a muddle besides! You will come across characters you have never met before and wonder who on earth they are. You see, I have now written so many ‘Wells’ books that it is quite impossible to introduce all the characters afresh in each book.”
Of course, you will have to track them down first. Collectors will find a number of second hand paperbacks and a smattering of hardbacks but those pretty illustrated dust jackets are in short supply. I am therefore extremely happy to have found a copy of Back-Stage, the 12th of the series, complete with jacket and illustrations by Hill’s daughter Vicki, under the pen name Esme Verity. Please click on the pics below and take a look. SORRY, NOW SOLD