I want to be the next Enid Blyton
Somewhere in this house I’m living in now is a battered composition book from grade two in which I proudly penned an essay stating my ambition to be the next Enid Blyton. My mother stowed it away for posterity and I remember seeing it a few years ago when we had a major household clean-up.
I have a theory that most/all writers are slightly obsessive. I know I am – and from an early age, I’ve obsessed about writers I love. The first writer who possessed my imagination to the exclusion of almost all else was Enid Blyton. I must have started to read her not long after I learned to read (I couldn’t read before I went to school – I’ve certainly made up for that since!). I can remember ruining my eyes by reading EB with only the light from the kitchen shining up the hallway to light the words. I just couldn’t put those stories down!
The first Enid Blyton I read was The Rockingdown Mystery which struck me as majorly creepy at the time. The four intrepid children who solve the mystery break into an abandoned manor house (the Rockingdown of the title) where the aristocratic family’s oldest son had fallen to his death as a baby from the nursery. The house, understandably, is reputed to be haunted but guess what? Bad guys are using the cellars to ship some sort of contraband (I can’t remember what – this is MANY years ago). I adored the English setting and the gothic atmosphere and even more, I adored the camaraderie among the children. Someone has commented elsewhere that Enid Blyton created a world without adults and that creates magic for a young reader. The characters included a couple of middle class children from the Linton family and this extremely cool slightly gypsy-ish boy called Barney who had a monkey called Miranda. Miranda was the bee’s knees and used to torment the black spaniel Loony (called that for reasons that quickly become obvious in the story).
Enid Blyton was also way ahead of the publishing game in that she’d twigged that people love series where they can catch up on beloved characters. The Rockingdown Mystery was one of a series all with ‘R’ in the title and all featuring the Lintons and Barney and the animals. In the last one, Barney is reunited with his parents – a sigh-worthy moment if ever I read one.
These books invaded my mind to the extent that in grade three, I actually started a pastiche novel called the Rochedale Mystery, all about horsenapping (horses were my other obsession at the time). So I can directly trace the start of my writing career to The Rockingdown Mystery.
Other series by EB that I loved included The Famous Five, Mallory Towers and St. Claire’s. I read but wasn’t so keen on The Secret Seven. Not sure why. Maybe seven was too many to cope with. But my other two favorite series, right up there with the Rs, were the Adventure series and the Secret series, neither of which seem to receive a lot of attention.
The Secret Island starts the Secret series (all the books have secret in the title) and I must have read it 100 times. I had a very loving family and a very comfortable life, but for some reason this story of four children who run away and live undiscovered on an island for a year absolutely fascinated me. In the next book, the glamour quotient is raised when the same children rescue a captive prince, Paul, who joins in later adventures.
Not long after reading The Rockingdown Mystery, I read The Valley of Adventure. Another series, another common word in every title, in this case ‘adventure’. It was similarly creepy. Four children survive a plane wreck in the Austrian Alps and are soon discovering art treasures stolen by the Nazis. The art treasures are hidden deep in a really eerie cave – I can still remember being pleasurably terrified by the scenes where they first enter the cave. Needless to say, I then read every single one of these – my favorite character was Kiki the parrot who liked to shriek and rhyme. Pretty much a good description of me in my mid-primary school years!
Do children still read Enid Blyton? Perhaps that world of lashings of ginger beer and class-ridden England is too far distant now for modern kids to be bothered. Speaking for myself, those stories taught me so much about the insatiable hunger to reach the end and find out what happened. Enid Blyton really did spin a marvellous yarn and I thank her for turning me into such a voracious reader. I’ve spent my reading life in the pursuit of the same heady pleasure I found in those dramatic, adventurous stories I read as a child. Thankfully, I always find it in a great romance novel!