- Slave to the Watch – Debbie Picture Story Library: #05 
- Cover Art: Ian Kennedy
June Laing lived with her strict guardian, Miss Sharpe, who didn’t allow her to have any close friends, as that could interfere with her swimming training. She was determined June would be a British champion and she trained her in secret in a pool at their house. Miss Sharpe had some secrets, and spent time in the attic, where June was not allowed go. One day June is alone in house and finds Miss Sharpe has not locked the attic door properly. There June finds magazine scrapbook about another June Laing and Olympic gold medalist, but all the photos are scratched out! Some of the ceiling of the old house falls,she is knocked unconscious, and Miss Sharpe finds her. She is not pleased to find Jane was in attic, but thinks she doesn’t remember what she saw. A few days later June collapses going home from school (Miss Sharpe has not let her recover from her injury enough). A man Colonel Blount helps June, and insist on bringing her home. He recognizes Miss Sharpe but she cuts him off before he can say too much.
This mystery has spurred June to stand up to Miss Sharpe more, she thinks the other June Laing was her mother but she wonders how Miss Sharpe is involved. June does well at her first swim competition and she finds out the older June, lost her gold medal because she took money for advertising swim wear and was no longer considered an amateur. She also finds out Colonel Blount’s daughter Jessica was June’s biggest rival, but Miss Sharpe hurries her away before she can talk to them. When June asks if someone could lose their medal for taking money for advertising, it brings on a headache for Miss Sharpe. Soon after a coach interested in June, sneaks in to the backyard to see June swim and offers to coach her. Normally Miss Sharpe wouldn’t consider it, but as her headaches are getting worse she relents. Mr Shefford is right that competition spurs on June and her timings improve. June becomes friendly with her rival Anne Clifton, while at her father’s store one day, June. After finds the advert that caused Laing to be disqualified. Mr Clifton tells her more of the story, that Laing claimed to have been tricked by her rival Jessica, but Mr Cllifton suspects that it was actually the work of her sister, Janice Sinclair. Miss Sharpe finds them in the shop and after some harsh words, the girls fall out, but they make up again, when they are both chosen for British team.
Between swimming training and competition, Jane does a bit more investigating into her namesake. She finds out more about Janice who apparently was jealous of June, despite being famous as a first class glider pilot herself. June begins to suspect Miss Sharpe is Janice, but then she sees she is afraid of flying. At the international competitions, Miss Sharpe continues to push June hard and doesn’t allow her to socialise with the other competitors. June barely qualifies for next stage of the competition,and Miss Sharpe blames Coach Shefford for being too soft on her. But he tells Miss Sharpe that she’s too hard on June and has never made her feel wanted or loved. Miss Sharpe seems surprised at this. That night someone sneaks into June’s room to wish her luck and it spurs her on to win her next race. While Miss Sharpe dismisses the visitor as superstitious nonsense, June’s mystery friend is what keeps June going.
June’s is becoming quite famous and offers start pouring in, but she won’t make the same mistake as the older June and she burns them all. While doing this she notices one letter is a personal one, she rescues it and although it is half burnt, she gathers that it is from her aunt Janice and she wants to meet at the international championships. When June turns up, it turns out Janice wanted to meet original June to ask her for forgiveness, as it was indeed her that was the cause of the medal loss. June tells Janice, her mother is dead, but then later that night Miss Sharpe arrives and tells her she is her mother! She confesses that she wanted to make Jane into a champion, to make up for her own disappointment. She was also her secret visitor, showing that she did care about June, and she forgives her. With the truth out in the open, Miss Sharpe’s headaches go away as they were caused by tension. Her mother now openly affectionate and encouraging June is motivated to do her best and she wins the International gold medal.
While the reader may hope that June will win her swimming competitions and go on to win gold, the real drive of the plot is the mystery. The mystery of Miss Sharpe and June’s mother is quite intriguing, with some good red herrings throughout. Good pacing, means we get more snippets of information inter-weaved with June trying to become a swimming champion. With the case of many of these shorter stories, the end with the explanations and quickly forgiving protagonist, doesn’t work as well. Miss Sharpe/June Laing told her daughter she was dead and didn’t want to show her affection for fear she would lose control of her and she wouldn’t become a swimming champion, and June is very quick to accept that! I think it might have worked better if Miss Sharpe turned out to be the aunt trying to make up for her mistake through misguided means! I do appreciate the story did show us some of Miss Sharpe’s thoughts throughout, showing that all the lies are causing her headaches and her genuine surprise when Shefford tells her June feels unloved. It makes her a bit more sympathetic and that she started visiting June unseen, showing more affection. Though I still think June is a bit too happy with the revelations of all the lies!
It’s funny that Laing chose the name Miss Sharpe, as she does embody the name with her sharp and harsh demeanor. The artist does a good job showing the change from her usual stern face to her softer affectionate face when she reveals the truth. June is a sympathetic character throughout, her isolation makes her all the more vulnerable. It is good to see when she gains a friend, she begins gaining confidence and is able to push back against Miss Sharpe’s methods more. Of course while Miss Sharpe has taught her a lot, in the end she wouldn’t have become a champion without encouragement, some affection and a life outside of swimming!