The Darkness Out There

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Context

Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1933 and brought up there until the age of 12 when she came to England. She went to secondary school in Sussex, and eventually read Modern History at St Ann's College, Oxford. She is a novelist and children's writer.

Here are two statements that she has made about her writing: "I write within the English tradition of saying serious things in a relatively light-hearted way."

"What I am always trying to do is to find ways of translating ideas and observations into character and narrative. The short story can act as a concentrated beam of light; the novel is a more expansive and dispersed reflection. They do different things, I think, but both depend upon selection and metamorphosis - taking from life the situations that seem to offer insights, and then giving them the form and discipline of fiction."

This shows that she is an author who writes both to entertain and to make a serious point about the ways that people behave and relate to each other.

Plot

The story begins with Sandra walking through a field towards Mrs Rutter's cottage. Pat organises a group called The Good Neighbours Club which arranges for local teenagers to help people in need. Sandra is visiting Mrs Rutter.

Sandra keeps out in the sunshine and away from the dark woods called Packer's End. As a child she heard all sorts of frightening stories about the woods (or spinney as it is called in the story), including one about the ghosts of Germans killed in the Second World War.

Walking along in the open sunshine, Susan thinks first about these scary stories then she begins to daydream about her future which she imagines in an ideal way. She describes how she would go on holiday, fall in love, buy a sewing machine, and make herself a silk coat.

She is hoping to meet one of her friends at Mrs Rutter's but suddenly, from behind a wall, up jumps the rather unattractive, spotty Kerry Stevens.

They walk to Mrs Rutter's house where Sandra helps by doing some dusting while Kerry does some hard manual work in the garden. The kindly Mrs Rutter makes them a cup of tea and chatters in a friendly way with Sandra about flowers and dressmaking, and about her sad life widowed as a young woman in the war.

Mrs Rutter gives Sandra some chocolates and suggests that she takes them to Kerry who is out in the garden. Kerry talks about his apprenticeship at a local garage but Sandra dislikes grease and dirt and his ambition just confirms her view that he is one of those people that aren’t up to anything good.

Sandra goes back indoors and Kerry soon joins her. He asks about the German plane crash in the war and Mrs Rutter tells the full story of it. It happened after the death of her husband; she and her sister were living in the cottage…

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