Sunday, 3 January 2016

Bless you, Enid Blyton!

The first story I ever wrote was my own version of a fairy tale, loosely based on The Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood. It was written in my best handwriting on two sheets of my father’s pale blue Basildon Bond paper, folded in half to make a book. I was seven years old and this was a farewell gift to the head teacher of my infant school. She was sad to lose me and I was sad to go, but my parents were taking on another pub in another town so we were moving.

In our new home, a box of old children’s books had been left ‘for the little girl’. What treasure that box held for me! There was a book about ballet, a girl’s annual that introduced me to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, some junior encyclopaedias and a stack of hard-back books by someone called Enid Blyton. When I looked at the beginning of a ‘Secret Seven’ book, I discovered that not only could I read and understand it, I loved it. The story was about children playing and having fun making up their own games. They were children like me and the friends I had in my new school. It was tons better than ‘Janet and John’ or ‘The Green Reader’. I still have those special books.

Throughout my childhood and early teens I read and re-read Enid Blyton. I would reach the end of ‘The Ring O’ Bells Mystery’ and go straight back to Chapter One and start again. I loved the characters so much, I had to keep them with me. I couldn’t get enough of The Famous Five and all ‘The Mystery of…’ stories. When I read the school stories of Malory Towers or St Clare’s, I longed to be at boarding school with those girls.

All this reading did something else. It developed my desire to create characters of my own and I have continued to write stories and poetry for most of my adult life.

Despite her success as a wonderful storyteller, Enid Blyton’s books were not considered suitable for the school library and, I quote from an article in The Telegraph from 2009, “Enid Blyton, the best-selling children’s author, was banned from the BBC for nearly 30 years because executives thought her a ‘second-rater’.” Also, in the same article, Jean Sutcliffe, named as head of the BBC Schools department in 1938, wrote: “My impression of her stories is that they might do for Children’s Hour but certainly not for Schools Dept, they haven’t much literary value.”

To me, this is an opinion that shouts out academic snobbery loud and clear. I like to read a good, well-told story. The aim of my fiction and poetry writing is to offer enjoyment. My carefully written gift to my head teacher was received with delight and many years later, long after her retirement, I was thrilled to learn she still had it amongst her teaching souvenirs. And, I’m sure, not for any literary merit.

Thank you for reading.

Pamela Winning.