...other more honest writers, such as Joyce Lancaster Brisley, Eve Garnett, Phillip Bollard and, especially, Arthur Ransome were greatly loved and read again and again. Although all four were pioneer critics of the English class system, the family was not consciously aware of this -- they just recognised that these books had a special quality. Gwen bought almost all Arthur Ransome's stories. Somehow, in spite of the bombs and U-boats these precious books -- all except Swallowdale -- reached Wellington.
The Randalls loved many authors, but if one had to be selected as first favourite, that one was Arthur Ransome. Swallows and Amazons and its sequels were discovered in the Karori Library, borrowed, re-borrowed, and finally bought. Ransome had the skill of making his characters and their doings, and above all their backgrounds, absolutely credible. Even the famous joking telegram "Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won't drown", was believable (although few parents, in real life, find themselves able to shed responsibility for their offspring with such heartless logic!).
Ransome's central characters were independent and adventurous -- far more capable than most children -- but (except for the ebullient Nancy) they were not over-confident. The reader could get inside their minds. Ransome's children could be identified with because they were not super-efficient without effort, but had understandable anxieties. Susan was sometimes tense with worry, John was always aware of his responsiblities, Titty had her moments of being bothered, Dick turned green when he had to gut a rabbit. Ransome knew that small anxieties are part of the fabric of living. He had other strengths: his plots were well constructed, with good touches of humour, he had the skill to write clearly about technical matters (which could be skipped if you were not in the mood to learn how to raise a sail) and he had the ability to describe a landscape and people in it with convincing adults. The farming families of the Lake District, the charcoal burners and Slater Bob are real, not cardboard, figures. Despite the fact that Ransome wrote 'holiday stories' in which children act independently, the supervising adults are not dismissed on page one, and they do more than provide food. They stay within reach and are friends with their children. Mary Walker in Swallows and Amazons entertains Titty with tales of childhood in Australia, while in Winter Holiday Molly Blackett tells them all about the hot-pot that sank through the ice when she was young. Ted Walker comes to life in We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, and Jim Turner (who had more than a little in common with Arthur Ransome himself) is a key figure in several stories, making the children's independence possible.
The Ransome books gave Beverly a startling insight: many (most?) authors wrote about real places. When she was twelve she saw by chance a large scale map of Hamford Water in Essex. Secret Water existed! It was not mere fiction!