The illustrated plot of All that Glisters by Anne Donovan


Like Hieroglyphics and Dear Santa, All That Glisters is told in first person narrative from the perspective of the main character, Clare. All That Glisters, like many of Donovan’s short stories, is an interior monologue. Clare’s thoughts are captured in her own accent:

  • this helps to root the story in Scotland (more specifically, Glasgow)
  • it gives authenticity to Clare’s thoughts and actions

The title is a reference to a quote from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare: All that glisters is not gold. This means that not everything shiny is valuable. The title captures the joy and sadness of the story.

Making the card

The story is set around Christmas time. Clare is a schoolgirl of around twelve years old, who is shown to be a warm and positive character in spite of the hardships she faces. Her father, with whom she is very close, has been unwell for a long time.

Clare repeatedly tries to find sumpn that cheers him up even a wee bit. When her school class are given coloured cardboard and felties to make Christmas cards, Clare makes a right neat wee card for ma daddy wi a Christmas tree and a robin and bit of holly on it. Clare finds that using glitter pens brings:

everthin to life, gleamin and glistern agin the flat cardboard

Her enthusiasm is captured in her statement that it wis pure brilliant. Clare’s colourful word choice and imagery often demonstrates the positive way she sees the world. She finds that adding glitter to her card wis like the difference between a Christmas tree skinklin wi fairy lights an wan lyin deid an daurk in a corner. Her dad is dead chuffed with her Christmas card, telling her that it fair brightens up this room hen.

Clare and her father

Clare reveals that her father is really sick because of his previous job. He worked with asbestos, a group of minerals that can damage a person’s lungs. He explains the word to Clare, which comes fae a Greek word that means indestructible [...] they cried it the funeral dress of kings. Clare remembers when her father used to come home with:

his hair and his claes clartit wi it

and pretend he was a ghost. He is described reading books about asbestos tae try and understaun it fur the compensation case.

Clare uses the pens again to make her father another card. She finds a different way a daein it almost by accident, which makes the glitter finer and lighter. The teacher says that the card is lovely, Clare. It’s more … subtle. Clare repeats this description to her father when she gives him the card. Just as her father explained the meaning of asbestos to her, Clare explains to her father what her teacher meant by the word subtle:

Ah showed him the middle finger of ma right haun, which wis thick wi it solid gold, then pressed doon on his palm. The imprint of ma finger left sparkly wee trails a light

Deterioration in health

Clare implies that her father’s illness is worsening. She describes the terrible colour of his skin and his hollow cheeks. Despite this, he manages a wavery wee smile at his daughter and agrees with her about teacher the card: Aye, hen. Subtle. Even though he is too ill to thank her properly, it is enough for Clare. She loves her father deeply and wants to make him happy in any way that she can.

Clare tries to buy her own glitter pen so that she can make more cards for her father. She does not have enough money to buy a pack of them. Clare reveals that her friend Donna often steals things from shops.

Donna’s big brother claims it wis OK tae steal ooty shops cos they made such big profits that they were really stealing affy us. Clare understands Jimmy’s perspective but respects her father’s opinion that stealin is stealin more.

Instead of stealing, Clare sells her dinner tickets at school to save up for the pack of glitter pens, meaning all week ah wis starvin for ah only hud an apple or a biscuit ma ma gied me fur a playpiece. Although a homemade Christmas card is only a small gesture, the lengths Clare goes to to do this demonstrates her kindness and the love she holds for her father.

Facing grief

When Clare returns home with the glitter pens, her mother tells her that her father has died. Although she felt she knew it wis comin, Clare describes the coldness that:

shot through me till ah felt ma bones shiverin

Clare is very upset by the news and her mother comforts her. In the days before the funeral, the body of Clare’s father is returned to the house and Clare sits with him, still feeling that she wants tae dae sumpn fur him.

On the day of the funeral, Clare dresses in:

a red skirt and a zip-up jacket wi red tights tae match

Her Auntie Pauline tells her that you cannae wear red tae a funeral, suggesting it is disrespectful.

Auntie Pauline warns Clare not to disturb her mother who, in her grief, has been increasingly distant from her daughter since the father’s death.

Clare is very upset but changes into her grey school skirt and sweatshirt and her navy-blue coat. She thinks they make her look a dull drab figure, which is not representative of how her father saw her. Remembering her glitter pens, she squeezes the gold, silver, red, and green glitter onto her fingers and rubs it into her hair and on her face.