The best children’s author ever?

Enid Blyton (11.8.1897 to 28.11.1968) must surely be in the running for the title best children’s author ever. A prolific writer who produced a daily average of 6,000 to 10,000 words and wrote over 750 books in her life time. During the early 1950’s she achieved her peak output, writing 50 books a year. Think about that – 50 books in one year. Even though they were books for children, that is a phenomenal amount of writing.

Enid Blyton's most famous quotes


It came at a cost though. Even though children loved her books and the characters she created, and that most of her stories were centred around happy and stable family situations, AND that she loved to entertain and teach children….she had little time for her own daughters. Prior to finding success as a writer, she was employed as a nanny and a teacher and developed a fondness for children…other peoples children. Once she became a well known author, her obsession with writing and self promotion took priority over her own children, and her husband, who were pushed into the background. Her writing occupied most of her waking hours and the children were left in the care of nannies, or when old enough, shipped off to boarding school. Photos of her with her children were posed for the press photo-ops, such as this one below. See how the older girl manages to smile for the camera but the younger daughter appears sullen….unwilling to play her mothers game of ‘happy family’.

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Blyton is probably most famous for her stories about Noddy and Big Ears, The Secret Seven, and The Famous Five, but these were only a small selection from her vast number of story books. She also wrote poetry books, volumes of books for the teaching community, series of books based on ancient myths and legends such as the Knights of the Round Table and the adventures of Robin Hood as well as magazine articles. Such was her output that many in the literary business accused her of using ghost writers to produce such a large and constant out flowing of books. Many believed it impossible for such a volume of work to be produced by a single writer. This was strenuously denied by Blyton and in 1955 she successfully sued a librarian for spreading such rumours.

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Blyton with ‘Noddy’ entertaining someone else’s adoring children.

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Her stories and writing style were criticised by librarians and teachers because of the limited use of language and the recycling of story lines or themes in many of her books. Schools refused to allow her books into their teaching syllabus. She was also accused of being racist and sexist in her choice of language and the actions and diction of her characters, as well as being out of touch and too middle class. Her response was that she was only interested in what people under the age of 12 thought……and those people, those children, loved everything that she wrote. Books were flying off the shelves making her and her publishers a small fortune.
Many of the stories she wrote were of strong morals and the victory (eventually) of right over wrong, good over evil. But, rumours not only in her professional life as a writer, but also in her personal life were rife.

She was a very self centred person, selfish even, who put her life as a writer above everything and everyone else, even her family. This was probably brought about by the separation of her mother and father when she was a child of 13. She worshipped her father, refused to accept that he had many flaws…including chasing anything in a skirt….and blamed her mother 100% for the breakdown of the marriage. She more or less escaped into her own mind – into an idealistic world of perfect parents and ideal family situations. This came through in her books, but not in her personal life.


She severed ties with her two younger brothers, didn’t attend the funerals of either her mother or her father, shipped her own daughters off to boarding school at the earliest chance, cheated on her husband with other men…..and it’s rumoured with at least one of her children’s nannies. Yes, rumour has it that Enid batted for both sides.

Her first husband Hugh worked for the publishing company which produced her first books. Driven to drink, presumably by being shut out of his wife’s life, although he may also have been suffering from post traumatic stress as a result of memories of his experiences in world war one being revived while working on a book with Churchill. He went away from the family home during world war 2 to serve in the British Home Guard and it was during this time that Blyton had an affair with the man who would eventually become her 2nd husband – and Hugh began an affair with a much younger female author.

After Hugh had agreed to a divorce, as long as he could have full access to his children, Blyton then contacted his publishing company and told them that under no circumstances would she continue to do business with them if they continued to employ Hugh. She would take her vast back catalogue of books and any new ones to another publisher. As a result, Hugh was fired, and indeed ruined as far as the publishing business was concerned. He sank lower into alcoholism and eventually declared bankruptcy. Blyton also went back on her word and refused to let Hugh have access to his daughters. In effect, she ruined the man she once loved.

After marrying her 2nd husband she was surprised to find herself, in late middle age, pregnant but fell (accidentally or possibly deliberately if a recent drama based on her life is to be believed) from a ladder in the garden early in the pregnancy and lost the baby. It would have been a boy. Her first son and her second husbands first ever child.
Her second husband died in 1967 by which time Blyton was deep in the grips of dementia and no longer writing. Her death in 1968 came soon after his.

She wasn’t totally selfish though. She did support several children’s charities and set up her own foundation to help children in need. Her granddaughter Sophie Smallwood has revived the Noddy character and penned a new story Noddy’s Birthday Surprise.


Even though she died in 1968, Enid Blyton was still voted “best British children’s author” in 2008 – even beating J K Rowling – the creator of Harry Potter. She is also the 4th most translated author ever….behind Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare. Her books have been turned into TV series and movies and are still popular with children in many countries.

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I was a huge Enid Blyton fan when I was a child, and still am. Finding out about her failings as a mother, wife and of her general selfishness has soured my memories of her somewhat, but has not detracted from the escapism and adventure I found in her books.

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Writers on writing – a few quotes to inspire.

Many famous writers know what the secret is to successful writing…..for others, how they became so well known remains a mystery even to themselves. Here are a few quotes from the famous of yesterday and today…..to inspire tomorrows famous writers.

Childrens author and prolific writer of over 700 books – Enid Blyton revealed her writing methods as – I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind’s eye … The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it – I don’t have to think of anything.

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.
– Edgar Rice Burroughs

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.
– Stephen King

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.
– Sidney Sheldon

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
– Ray Bradbury

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
– Harlan Ellison

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
– Terry Pratchett

and a final one…from a writer just starting out….

Write from the heart…..but let your brain do the final edit. – aLiteraryBent

Hurricane Katrina from one families perspective. “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers.

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This was one of many books that I bought during my trip to San Francisco back in April/May this year. I finally got around to reading it a couple of days ago and once I had started I couldn’t put it down. What a great read! Eggers spent 3 years researching the book and interviewing the Zeitoun family (and countless others) about their harrowing experiences during and after Katrina hit New Orleans – not only related to the storm its self, but also in the way that the main character in the story Abdulrahman Zeitoun was treat by the authorities.

Obviously I don’t want to give away too much of the story as I would rather you read it for yourselves, but just to set the scene…. The Zeitoun family consist of Abdulrahman, who is a Muslim of Syrian origin, who is married to Kathy, a white American woman who had already converted to Islam prior to meeting her husband to be. She had one child from a previous relationship and 3 more with Abdulrahman, They work as a team running a painting and decorating business…also doing building repairs….they are well known and well respected in the area. As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy makes the decision to evacuate, with the kids, to her sisters home which is outside of the predicted disaster zone. Her husband decided to stay put and keep an eye on the multiple properties that they own in New Orleans and to help other people install plywood boards to protect their homes.

The day after the storm, with streets flooded, Abdulrahman sets out in his old canoe to assess damage and along the route to check his various premises, makes a number of rescues of people trapped in their homes. After this, he goes out every day seeking out people who need help, or deserted pets that need feeding. He feels that Allah has given him a purpose, justifying his decision to stay in storm ravaged New Orleans. He keeps in touch by phone, every day, with family members in Syria and in Spain, and of course with his wife who is safely out of the way being sheltered by friends and family. Until one day….when there are no phone calls from him. What has happened? Is he safe? has the phone system failed or has some ill wind blown the way of Zeitoun?

It’s most certainly worth reading the book to find out. Eggers writes extremely well. The story moves along smoothly and it really is a page turner. I personally rate the book very highly – it would easily be in my top ten of all time reads…..and I have been reading for over 50 years.

Katrina hit in 2005, the book came out in 2009, but more recently a cloud has been cast over the Zeitoun family. There are a lot of accusations of wrong doing in the last few years and the family has broken up, but this should not detract from the book or the story of how this family were treated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After reading the book you will never look at “Officialdom”, in the USA, the same again.

Good read’s gives it 4.1 out of 5. I’d rate it much closer to 5 – it’s not prefect, but it’s damn close.

Looking at reviews of the book, of which there are many I’ll share this one with you as the reader who wrote the review shared my reaction to the book.

“I’ve got to give it to Dave Eggers in that there was no Dave Eggers in here. The reason this book succeeded was that he was able to step aside and let Zeitoun and Kathy tell their stories, using the plainest style possible to convey the most heartbreaking, sickening, and devastating episodes.

I don’t know how much of the story I should reveal… it’s better that you just read the book. But I’ll just say that it’s based on true accounts of a family who survived hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and then survived many other more unpredictable trials. The book as a whole–its before, during, and after of events described–perfectly encapsulates my love/hate relationship with this country.

I urge you to read this (and especially if you would never normally read Dave Eggers). If you give it 40 pages of your attention, I guarantee you will finish the whole thing in a day or 2.”

He was right. 2 days and I had finished this book. A good story, well written, highlighting the ridiculous priorities of government agencies in emergency situations and a demonstration on how they treat American citizens (badly!).

Book Review – When the Lights Go Out – Mary Kubica

On the back cover of this paperback, in block capitals, it says “A WOMAN IS PLUNGED INTO A BIZARRE CASE OF STOLEN IDENTITY IN THIS AMBITIOUS AND RIVETING THRILLER BY THE BLOCKBUSTER BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE GOOD GIRL, MARY KUBICA”.

When The Lights Go Out

The word AMBITIOUS should have been a clue, but I opened the book anyhow and started to read. It follows the lives of two women Jessie and Eden told in two stories – Jessie’s story is told in the odd numbered chapters and Eden’s in the even numbered. Jessie’s story is unfolding as we read it, where as most of Eden’s story is from 20 years earlier.

After the death of her mother, Jessie begins to rebuild her life and starts out anew by renting an apartment of her own and applying to college in order to continue her education – which was put on hold while she looked after her dying mother. The forms for the college application require a social security number…..to cut a long story short, her name, Jessie Sloan and the social security number it brings up, refers to a girl who died 17 years earlier. Jessie goes through her mothers papers but fails to find anything that can prove who she is….or who her father was. This obviously troubles her enough to add to the insomnia she is already suffering as a result of her mothers death. Very quickly lack of sleep makes it difficult for Jessie (and the reader) to know what is real and what is imagination as her world implodes.

It seems that the answer to her identity could be revealed in the story of the second woman, Eden and decisions that she made 20 years earlier.

I really do hate to give bad reviews to books I have read. I know how attached writers get to their work and how it hurts to have anyone criticise their ‘baby’ – but what I’d hate more would be for me to give it a good review and you, dear reader, to waste time reading the book and then sending ME hate mail. And you must remember this is only my opinion….who the hell am I anyway and what do I know? Although the story began with promise, once it started to focus on the lead characters insomnia – not knowing what was really happening and what was going on inside Jessie’s head – it quickly deteriorated, and my will to live, never mind my will to continue to read this drivel novel, was sorely tested. I struggled through to page 106 of the 301 pages before the urge to toss the book into the darkest corner I could find, took over. It lays there still….gathering dust.

I looked at some on-line reviews and found some by people who obviously loved the book. They said things like “One of the best thrillers I have read – EVER!” and “Omg! This is one of the best books that I have ever read! Great thriller, love it!” And not a hint of sarcasm, so they must have genuinely thought that this is the best thriller ever written. I am stunned by the thought. I can only assume that either they were paid a huge amount of money for their review by the author’s agent, or have extremely different tastes to me, or they are very easily pleased, or perhaps they have never read any book of substance. I’ve read a few other negative reviews of this book (such as someone called Janine who gave it one star out of 5 on Goodread’s – “Well, that was some bullshit. I should have known better.“) so I’m not on my own in not liking it.

In a bid to add balance to my panning of her book let me say that Mary Kubica is a best selling author who lives in New York (who is probably laughing all the way to the bank and won’t give a damn what I think). Her first novel was The Good Girl released in 2014 and she’s written several others since then. Hopefully with better plot lines than this one. The main character Jessie may have had insomnia, but this book cured mine.

No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg

This is not the post I had been planning on writing this morning. However, my wife Lizzie came home last night with a copy of Greta Thunberg’s book “No one is too small to make a difference”. It only costs NZ$7.00 and the money raised goes toward the Climate Crisis movement….so please buy a copy and help Greta to stand up for her generation….for all of us in fact.

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference cover art

Greta Thunberg was born in 2003. In August 2018 she decided not to go to school one day, starting a strike for climate outside the Swedish Parliament. Her actions ended up sparking a global movement for action against the climate crisis, inspiring millions of pupils, world wide, to go on strike for our planet. This action has earned Greta the prestigious Prix Liberte (Freedom Award) – Thunberg, 16, is the first recipient of this new award, which was designed to honor a young person ‘engaged in a fight for peace and freedom’.- as well as a Nobel Peace prize nomination. Greta has Asperger’s, and considers it a gift which has enabled her to see the climate crisis ‘in black and white’.

No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference is Greta’s first book in English, collecting her speeches from climate rallies across Europe to audiences at the UN, the World Economic Forum, and the British Parliament. She is not afraid to hold the older generation responsible for the mess our planet is in. She is not afraid to call out governments and corporations to act responsibly and to help to clean up the mess that they have created, or have allowed to be created, all in the name of the mighty dollar…for profit in financial terms, and to hell with the environment on which we all depend for life itself.

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She is an amazing, caring, passionate, intelligent and very responsible little girl with a huge heart who deserves our respect and our support, so please buy the book….or at least read it….or view/listen to her speeches on Youtube – link below – and join in the fight for the survival of the earth and all life, (including your own), on it. The corporate world hate her and fear her – every time she speaks to an audience, more and more people get on board to help the climate crisis cause – so they try to discredit her, belittle her for her ‘simplistic ideals’ and accuse her parents of manipulating her. There have also been personal attacks linked to her autism and her physique. It is pathetic to attack a child who’s only interest is to save the earth which we all – even the corporate executives – depend on for life.

I can’t wait for her to become of voting age…to see politically where it will take her. This young lady will go far. Click on the link below to hear her speak.

I would be delighted if any other bloggers would like to share this blog post to help to get the word out about Greta and her quest. She, we, and our planet, need all the help we can muster. Many thanks.

So many books, so little time. (Howards End is on the Landing)

I’ve just finished reading Susan Hill’s – “Howards End is on the Landing”. Any readers who have come across the writings of Susan Hill probably best know her for her novels – of which there are many. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading her fiction, but if she writes her stories in the same enthralling manner in which she wrote this book, I am guessing that she will be a delight to read. I will certainly take a book or two of hers out from the local library to see for myself.

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Howards End is on the Landing is a wonderful book that takes us on a search for E.M. Forster’s book, Howards End, among Susan Hills vast and haphazard collection of books – in many rooms, on many bookshelves and in many piles, in corners or on windowsills, or even in stacks on the stairs. The search leads her to discover many books that she has bought or otherwise acquired over the years and never read. As she continues her search for Howards End, she puts a number of these freshly re-discovered books into a “to read” pile….to be joined by other previously read books that she has a burning desire to read again. She decides to compile a list of 40 books from her own shelves to be set aside to read over the next twelve months. As she shares her collection with us we are given the benefit of Susan’s experience – educated as to which books are worth reading, have stood the test of time, are regarded as either “true” classics….or simply also-rans. And as she educates us she also entertains us – regaling us with personal stories about the books, their stories and about authors she admires, has met and/or worked with along the way. And in some instances how her opinion of some writers, she met, changed over the years. Roald Dahl being a prime example. (Read the book to find out what changed her mind about the great Mr Dahl).

Howards End is on the Landing has set me thinking about a number of book related issues such as, compared with Susan Hill, how little I have read of books that are considered to be “the classics”, how many books there are in existence, and how impossible it is to read them all. It also makes me realise that perhaps I shouldn’t waste what time I have left on this earth by reading what she regards as “pulp fiction” …. and also how many books I have collected or amassed over the years, bought on a whim and gathering dust on a shelf unread and, for now, unloved. BUT how does each person know if a book is worth reading or not, simply by reading the notes on the books cover? Even by looking on line and checking the likes of Goodread’s reviews….they are, after all, just other peoples opinions…their tastes may not be mine….the only way to find out for sure is to read each book.

As Susan Hill writes of her journey through her book collection – “What follows is a description of that journey, which has also and inevitably led to my thinking, remembering, ordering, assessing, my entire book-reading life.” And what a full and interesting book reading life that has been. She also mentions the benefits of “Slow Reading” – saying that some books you can rip through as fast as possible, enjoy the thrill of the ride, absorb a simple story-line and then put the book down never to have the urge to read it ever again….comparable to grabbing a quick burger for a snack (fast food – satisfying the immediate urge, but not a long lasting satisfaction), where as other books should be Slow Reading stories – enjoyed in well chewed mouthfuls….savoured over a long period and digested gradually over time. She will read two or three chapters of, for example, Little Dorrit, or To the Lighthouse, or Midnight’s Children – and then go back and slowly chew over each sentence….see how each paragraph has been put together….mull over how each character is developed….what they say, how they say it….she enjoys examining the complexity of language and style. Slow reading, just like slow food is to be enjoyed and absorbed gradually – not gulped down.

In the final chapter of the book she mentions that we owe it to books to bring them to life by reading them rather than letting them sit like decorations on our shelves, simply looking pretty. “…for a book which is closed and unread is not alive, it is only packed, like a foetus, with potential.”

With this in mind I am going to take a good look at the books I have amassed/collected over the years, which are currently languishing on bookshelves in the dining room, bookshelves in the spare bedroom – which doubles as my office – piled in dark corners, in boxes under beds, in long forgotten cupboards, in boxes and trunks in storage in the garage. Some no doubt never have been read, others will be old favourites which have been taken down from the shelves and read several times….others have merely been dipped into…nibbled at in snack sized bites when time allows. I owe them all another chance, so I’ll do what Susan did and take a journey across the shelves, back in time, to re-discover and reclaim the books I once held dear…and come up with a “to read” list of my own.

I’ll let you know in a future post how I get along and what I find of interest. Meantime enjoy your reading and give life to a forgotten book if you can.

I saved the best to last. Cinque Terre. Part 3 – Vernazza. A photographic journey.

Vernazza village – Cinque Terre’s crown
Pastel houses cling to cliff tops
Steep streets take us down
Into the winding narrows
, of Vernazza’s heart
And from this place of beauty
You will never want to part.

Vernazza is a sight to behold. It’s a photographer’s dream and also a photographer’s nightmare. It’s such a lovely place, scenic, colourful – that it’s almost a sin if, as a photographer, you take a bad picture of it. Not even a bad picture….just a picture that doesn’t reflect the full beauty of the place. It’s so difficult to capture…my photos don’t do it justice (in reality the colours are so bright they “ping”)…you must go and visit yourself.

Sure it’s a little shabby in places. Some of the buildings have paint peeling from their facades but it’s a kind of shabby beauty….beauty with age maybe. I loved it here. I spent so long wandering the streets, in and out of alleys and buildings, that I missed out on the final 2 of the Cinque Terre’s villages. But it was worth it.

From the train station you can either wander straight down to the little harbour – the heart and soul of Vernazza – from which everything else radiates, OR do as we did and climb upwards instead. Up the steep stone stairways and narrow paths that bring you out on the hilltop above the village, with spectacular views over the church steeple and down to the harbour of this gorgeous little fishing village. It was exhausting but well worth the climb to the top. Only after drinking in the beauty of the place from this vantage point did we venture down into Vernazza proper.

When in a catholic country like Italy you can’t help but notice the churches and religious icons – especially in these small villages – dotted here and there in quiet corners. A chance to pass on your thanks to the powers that be…..if that’s what your beliefs are….or just enjoy the moments solitude away from the tourist throngs.

Of all 5 villages of Cinque Terre, Vernazza is the only one with a natural port. It has no car traffic either which, if you can get there early and beat the other eager tourists, adds a special tranquility to the place.