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Books

Great read: These Wonderful Rumours!

The discovery of volumes of a war-time personal diary leads to the publication of one of the year's most surprising reads.

These Wonderful Rumours! by May Smith, Little Brown Book Group, $29.99.
It's hard to fathom that these are the actual war-time diaries of a young English schoolteacher and not some sort of 1940s Bridget Jones- style creation.
Not because they seem incredible or unbelievable, but because the writing is so very good.
May Smith's son discovered 13 handwritten volumes she had painstakingly churned out, charting the highs, lows and everything in between of her daily existence from 1939 to 1946.
Of course, he realised he was sitting on something aching to be published. When you read These Wonderful Rumours! you'll see why.
May has a gloriously light touch, her tone is jocular and whimsical, at times hilariously blunt.
The drama of a country at war features heavily — Hitler is a "nasty old man!" and the bombers flying overhead give May wearying nights with blackouts and discomfort.
What's more, the imminent possibility of invasion looms extremely large as the Hun gets ever closer.
Yet, as the war drags on, it is the everyday dramas that are the real fuel for this endearing, often intimate, tear-jerkingly poignant and frequently laugh-out-loud snapshot of May's life experiences.
From the trials of a hideous perm to the pains of unrequited love and the juggling of two ardent suitors, a teacher's vain attempts to control the zoo of children at school, weddings, funerals and perfecting the flawless forehand for tennis, it's all here.
For those who lived through the war on the home front, May's experiences — even though in Britain — will ring clanging bells of recognition.
For those who didn't, she paints a vivid picture of a moment in time that can't help but make you smile.
About the author: May Smith
May Smith was born in 1914 in Derbyshire, in the north of England. She trained to be a teacher in London and took up her first post back in her hometown, joining a new junior school in the area in 1937, where she taught during World War II and started writing the diaries that make up These Wonderful Rumours!.
May's son, Duncan, was born in 1946 and, with a baby, she had no more time for diarising or teaching.
She returned to teaching at the same school later in her life, before retiring in 1975. May died in 2004.

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