Reading Guide for The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away is a collection of 30 of Jan Mark’s stories, drawn from her collections Nothing to Be Afraid Of, Eyes Wide Open and In Black and White. The two stories from Hairs in the Palm of the Hand (which have proven to be the most enjoyed tales of the collection) are also included, as well as four previously uncollected stories. To celebrate publication, teacher and writer Ben Harris – @one_to_read, who blogs here – hosted a second month-long celebration on Twitter using the hashtag #janMARKuary. He led an online discussion of a different story each day, offering the following prompts – resulting in some fascinating discussion of Jan Mark’s preoccupations and techniques. Ben has given permission for me to reproduce the questions below. Hopefully, they will encourage you to (re)visit Jan’s other books and stories.

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Birthday GirlWhat did/do you enjoy/appreciate most in your first JM reading?
Charming!What puzzled you or got you thinking in the JM story/book you’ve most recently read?
The Choice Is YoursHave you read anything before like your current choice of JM’s writing?
ChutzpahWhat are some of the lines that strike you reading JM? (Not necessarily for their precision but for their ‘stand-out-ness’.)
The Coronation MobWhich character did you/do you like most in what you’re reading and why?
Dan, Dan, the Scenery ManIf you were to illustrate what you’ve just read, which part would you draw and why?
Divine Melodious TruthWhat particular JM characteristics do you notice in her storytelling?
EfflorescenceFrom what you have read of JM, what was the author’s main focus in your opinion? Character? Plot? Description?
Eye-OpenerWhat message(s) do you get from the JM story/book you’ve just read?
The Go-Betweenif you could ask JM a question about what you’re reading/have read what would it be?
Grow Your OwnJM was a fan of the #PenguinCafeOrchestra. What one piece of music/song best sums up the ‘soundtrack’ to the JM story/book you’ve enjoyed?
How Anthony Made Aa FriendMany readers have noticed the special-ness of JM’s endings but what about the beginnings? What do you think about the start of a JM book/story?
In Black and WhiteWould the JM story or book you are reading make a good film? Would it benefit from the filming or lose something vital?
Kieselguhr’s SyndromeIf you were to recommend JM’s books, what is so particularly special, unique about them?
Left Foot Forward‘Inspiration is very nice when you get it. It’s like being given a present you weren’t expecting. You don’t hand the present back and say, ‘My birthday’s not till November.’ You take it and run.’ [JM]   In what way(s) do you think Jan’s inspiration is revealed in her writing?
Marrow HillJM says that she wrote about children but didn’t mind who read the books.   What would appeal particularly to children in her stories?
Mystery TourWhat would adults find that speaks especially to them in JM’s writing?
No Good ClausWhat would adults and children both find of interest in JM’s stories?
Nothing to Be Afraid OfWhat do you make of JM’s titles (books or short stories)?
NuleHow are JM’s portrayals of parent/child relationships typical of/different to those in other children’s books you’ve read?
Old MoneyJM suggested to a student writer to write a story backwards from the last line.   Do you think any of the stories were written with that kind of thinking (or even practice!) or feel that way? Tell us why you think that.
The One That Got AwayGenerally, what makes JM’s writing so precise, so lean?
Send Three and Fourpence, We Are Going To a DanceAre school stories still important/valued/read? Which are your favourite JM school episodes/stories?
TeethAre JM’s characters believable to you?
They Wait‘[…]you can be funny and serious at the same time, and you can have much more effect with the serious bits if you’ve made people laugh just before.’ [JM]   When is JM at her most funny? When is JM at her most serious?
Time and the Hour‘Time and the Hour’ is the first novella-length story of the diptych in Hairs in the Palm of the Hand, a fitting time to consider this from the author herself:   ‘What I really don’t want to do is write the same kind of thing two times running.’ [JM]   Does JM ever repeat herself?
Uncle MatthewPhilip Pullman notes this story contains ‘a typically Jan viewpoint, where we don’t see the events so much as what two clever & observant people say to each other about [them].’ Not true of ‘Uncle Matthew’? What’s struck you about the viewpoint in your JM reading?
Welcome YuleNicholas Tucker wrote, ‘To get a renewed sense of Jan, any of her fifty of so novels [or stories] will soon reveal what a true original we have now lost.’   What has been ‘revealed’ to you about JM during your reading?
Who’s a Pretty Boy, ThenRachel is calmly witnessing, helpless, her dad’s loss of control. Have you encountered Jan Mark at her bleakest, almost nihilistic?
William’s VersionWhich scenes/characters/moments etc. most stick in your mind from your JM reading?