This is from the chapter entitled ‘Letters from a Traitor’ which explores Robin’s evocative use of language.

Because Robin’s characters are often prickly and diffident, the language – apposite and precise – is often bleak. The vocabulary in ‘Bike Girl’ is predominantly leaden, earthbound and enervating: ‘unwillingly’, ‘alarming’, ‘embarrassing’, ‘ambush’, ‘terrifying’, ‘scornful’, ‘disappointment’, ‘nervous’, ‘dismal’, ‘dour’, ‘cumbersome’, ‘gloomily’, ‘pugnaciously, ‘plummeted’, ‘smouldering’, ‘belligerent’, ‘resentment simmered’, ‘treacherously’, ‘crossly’, ‘offended’, ‘smug’, ‘forlornly’, ‘inhospitable’, ‘grim determination’, ‘bitterly’, ‘labouring’, ‘lurked’, ‘slumped’, ‘dully’.

Characters are described in strident, aggressive terms as being ‘rattled’, ‘nettled’, ‘indignant’, ‘aloof’, ‘contemptuous’. ‘Nettled’ might have been a personal favourite since it featured so often. She loved ‘vanquished’, too, as in Patricia’s doctrine ‘Refuse to be mentally vanquished’ in Games … and Erica Yurken’s triumphant observation: ‘Alison Ashley didn’t say anything for a long time. Vanquished.’ It even occurs in Brock and the Dragon, alongside ‘threateningly’, ‘half-hearted’, ‘smirking’, ‘meek’, ‘resignedly’, ‘grumpily’, which you might not expect to find in a picture book text.

The word that troubled me most was ‘depressed’, a whispered, somewhat shameful word back in the 1980s, spoken by adults but never children, but often used in these stories. Andre is saddened to see a child’s crayoned graffiti on the wall of the derelict cottage she and Julia occupy: ‘This world and everything and everyone in it = TOTAL DEPRESSION!’ She is aware that such feelings are generally suppressed ‘(which you usually keep hidden in the most secret and loneliest part of your mind)’.

After all, then, it wasn’t the words themselves that arrested me, it was finding them in the stories I read. They were new and exotic and dangerous.

The best word of all was ‘traitor’. At the very end of her introduction to Dear Robin, she signed off – to placate us once and for all, ‘love from Robin Klein – TRAITOR!

‘Traitor’ is a brilliantly emotive word, redolent of the historical times Robin was drawn to and referred to often in her books. Think of Penny Pollard’s recreation of Robin’s own trip round Britain. There are the plays published in The School Magazine, such as ‘Arco’s Contribution to Hadrian’s Wall’, stories set in past times like Birk the Berserker, and Seeing Things, in which she furnished Miranda’s visions of the past with intricate detail.

Traitors make us think of heinous betrayals of the covenants of loyalty and honour, incurring the ultimate punishment. Perhaps it was Robin’s loathing of stultifying, sly, curtain-twitching middle-class suburbia that inspired her to write of the long-ago past in Britain, of knights and castles where there was no veneer of superiority, rather a strict, non-negotiable hierarchy.[1]

I can’t imagine Robin being a dour queen caked in heavy make-up, trapped on a throne, although I can imagine her cheerfully dishing out orders to her ladies-in-waiting and bumbling courtiers. If she had been born a princess, Robin would have been like Althea in The Princess Who Hated It, who changed the lilies and roses in the hated tapestry she worked on to camels and spiders, and who envied the freedom of the farm children, the Plums, who ‘had lovely jobs to do, like feeding the pigs, and they went to market on a cart heaped high with pumpkins’.

[1] ‘Keep up your courage, that gauntlet will soon be run! (That sounds like an elderly, arthriticky knight giving advice to a squire, proper literary, that is.)’ So Robin offered encouragement as I faced my HSC in 1992. It seemed natural for her to allude to medieval times when seeking evidence of moral fibre.