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

Noam Chomsky – on Terrorism

Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT – political activist, writer. I am in the process of reading 2 of his books relating to the 9/11 attacks. One is called simply “September 11″… and the other is called “Power and Terror” – post 9/11 talks and interviews.

I will do a review of the books in a few days time. Meantime, here are a few quotes from Professor Chomsky concerning Terrorism…..and the role the USA plays in it.

Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”

It’s only terrorism if they do it to us. When we do much worse to them, it’s not terrorism.”

The number of people killed by the sanctions in Iraq is greater than the total number of people killed by all weapons of mass destruction in all of history.”

Violence can succeed, as Americans know well from the conquest of the national territory. But at terrible cost. It can also provoke violence in response, and often does.”

San Francisco beckons

I’ll soon be heading off to San Francisco to catch up with my eldest son and his wife….and aim to visit as many of the amazing independent bookstores there as I can. Immediately Green Apple Books, City Lights, Alley Cat Books and Dog Eared Books spring to mind, but there are dozens more scattered around this awesome city. Since my blog is primarily about books, writers, and bookstores, this will form the “bones” of my trip, but I’ll also flesh it out with lots of other bits and pieces and pursue my other passions of photography and travel…..not to mention the cafes and boutique breweries, bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, there will be visits to photography galleries and art galleries plus there is a lot of art in public spaces outdoors such as the hundreds of murals in the Mission district. Then again, San Francisco also has some wonderful parks and open spaces to explore too, so after exhausting ourselves in the parks on this side of the bridge, we’ll probably head over the Golden Gate Bridge and see the mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods and since we’re almost there already… there are the vineyards of Sonora to check out.

We’ll also be spending a few days on the Monterey peninsula and a long weekend in Portland, Oregon – where I’ll spend some of my time in Powell’s bookstore – the biggest independent bookstore in the USA.

If anyone has any other tips on “must see” things in San Francisco, OR if you have any requests for things you’d like me to check out and blog about while in SF, please let me know in the comments below. I won’t be going to visit Alcatraz as I have already been there twice – once a few years ago and once back in 1986….but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Art for art’s sake….a slight detour.

I apologize in advance for some of the puns and some of the pictures. But please bear (or is it bare?) with me…..please continue in good humour (or humor if you’re in the USA) – I don’t mean to offend anyone.

Have you ever started off writing a blog post and then been reminded of something else along the way, so have taken a detour instead? It happens to me all the time. I just started writing a post about Nice in the south of France where, among other things, we visited the Marc Chagall gallery – or to give it its correct name the Musee National Marc Chagall….and it sent me on a tangent or a detour to blog about art, or my own attempts at art, instead.

Some museums don’t allow photography at all and others allow it as long as you don’t use the flash. The Marc Chagall museum fell in the latter category which was a good thing as my wife loves his paintings – they are very colourful, bright and child-like – and she wanted me to photograph a couple of them with a view to getting large prints made when we went home, to display on our lounge wall. Here – below – are a couple of Chagall paintings to give you, who haven’t seen his work before, an idea of how he paints.

Long story short – since we’d decided that they would look better printed on canvas than on paper – it was going to cost us around $300 to $400NZ for a print. So I rather foolishly suggested, as an alternative, that perhaps I could buy a blank canvas and produce my own “Chagall look-a-like painting”. My wife surprisingly agreed. So that’s what I did and here it is below…..it’s colourful anyhow.

The problem with that is that I’m not much of an artist. I loved to draw and paint as a kid (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), but since then have only dabbled now and then when I liked a painting by a famous artist but didn’t have the money to buy a print of it….never mind the millions of dollars for the original. So I’d have a go at painting my own in a similar style…..or as similar as I could manage.

I started off with one that even I couldn’t fail at (or so I thought) – a Jackson Pollock style abstract splatter painting. I used some old acrylic house paint and felt it was coming along quite well with blue and green splatters of paint, but when I needed another colour, to contrast the blue and green, all I could find was a creamy-white…..so on it went one “whoosh” of a splatter at a time. It didn’t quite have the effect I was looking for and looked more like……er….well, it looked a little like….how can I put this tactfully? Actually I don’t think I can think of a polite description – I titled the piece “love comes in spurts.” Enough said.

What a load of “pollocks!” – my attempt at a Jackson Pollock splatter painting.

Needless to say, it didn’t stay on our wall for too long before it was consigned first to the garage and later to the rubbish dump.

Another attempt slightly more successful was my version of Pablo Picasso’s picture of an artist, his model and for some reason a yellow bull and a pink horse….trampling on a light blue horse which was laying on the bed of the artist and model. I know…I know…..I thought the same thing. Why do I do bother?

Pick Ass Oh! – my attempt at Picasso’s “artist and model” series.

My friends are no help either, in fact they push me toward my artistic endeavours….or should that be artistic follies? This is almost 20 years ago, but one of my co-workers, with whom I usually discussed books we were both currently reading, told me that she had recently started going to “life drawing” classes and that I should go along. Initially I thought she meant “still life” classes – you know bowls of fruit, flowers and the like. I was quite taken aback when she explained that what it actually entailed was to sit in a circle around a model and draw or paint that person who would be sitting, standing or laying there completely naked.

After checking if the “model” is usually male or female and getting the reply that nine times out of ten it was a female, and she’s usually someone from the art teachers yoga class, I said “yeah, okay….I’ll come along and give it a go” trying my best not to sound too keen.

I wasn’t actually sure if I could, for want of a better term, handle it. I mean sitting there in front of a completely naked woman and to be expected to draw her without allowing my nervous, trembling hand holding the pencil to tear big holes across the paper as I quivered, stared and drooled! I know…I know…right now you’re probably thinking “for F##ks sake how old are you FIVE?” I’m pleased to report that once I was there, in the class, I was perfectly well behaved, totally in the moment and fully concentrated on my attempts at capturing the model on paper…..as opposed to kidnapping her in the carpark afterwards! ( I write this very much tongue in cheek….my cheek that is).

I really enjoyed the lessons. I know, you’re thinking – “Who wouldn’t?” But once you’re there you don’t actually see “a naked woman….or on one occasion….naked man” – you’re too busy trying to get the angles, curves and shading right. Our tutor got us to try different media and styles of drawing/painting. Sometimes we’d use a pencil, sometimes charcoal or chalk or pastels or poster paint or water colour. Other times we’d try to paint by using something as simple as a piece of cardboard dipped into ink. It was all very interesting.

By now, having seen my Chagall, Pollock and Picasso attempts you know not to expect too much of my “art” – a few of my attempts from the life drawing class follow…..you have been warned! Some of these we had to produce in a few minutes, others we had a longer pose to get onto paper…..he said, trying to come up with excuses.

So there you have it…the bare facts about life drawing. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge it. They have been automatically cropped by the computer to fit nicely side by side in the gallery above. As I said, various media and various styles. And yes, one of the drawings is of a pregnant lady. She was wonderful to draw….very curvy and very patient with the class….and it was extremely brave of her in that late stage of her pregnancy, when many women would have body image issues, to bare all. All in the name of art. Art for art’s sake.

The Lost Pages – a novel by Marija Pericic

This novel is about the relationship between Max Brod and Franz Kafka. I hate to be cruel to any writer, but in this book’s case…in my opinion the pages should have remained lost.

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Although the premise of the book was a bold one, I believe that writers are always going to be on very thin ice when it comes to writing a fictitious story about 2 people who existed in real life, knew one another and were friends. Mixing fact with fiction is a dangerous thing to do. To then, as Pericic attempts to do in her novel, write a story which insinuates that Max Brod was mentally unhinged and may have actually killed Kafka by putting a pillow over his face, because he was jealous of the man both physically and intellectually – which is, if history is to be believed, a complete about face of facts – makes the book as President Trump likes to say “Fake News!”

No, I haven’t missed the point that it is a novel and therefore a work of fiction, but I found nothing redeeming at all in this story. The characters were more like caricatures, the writer insinuated conflict where there was none, the plot was frustrating to say the least and the dialogue was not believable. Brod’s character was so insecure, self pitying, jealous and full of doubt about every aspect of his life – including his relationships with other people and the quality of his own work – that I wanted to either strangle him or, alternatively strangle, Pericic.

In “the Lost Pages” novel, Brod does everything he can to keep Kafka’s work from being published, and yet we all know that it was Brod, during Kafka’s lifetime, who did everything in his power to get Kafka’s work into print and, after Kafka’s death, it was Brod, who compiled/edited Kafka’s work and in some cases even completed unfinished work in order to get it published and out into the public arena.

About the only thing that Pericic didn’t try to twist was that Kafka worked for a time in an insurance office and Brod for the Post Office. Otherwise the rest of the story was quite tortuous to read.

Pericic insinuates that Brod, although an accomplished writer before he met Kafka was, after meeting Kafka, so insecure about his own abilities that he could never write anything notable thereafter. That Brod went on to publish 83 titles seems to have escaped her. Again, YES I know it’s a work of fiction, but I like fiction to entertain me….not to frustrate and annoy me.

However, the book won The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and others on “Goodreads” (where it rates 3.5 starts out of 5) have reacted positively to the story – for example “From the very beginning, I was drawn to the vulnerability and fragility of her protagonist, the anguish of an artist who never feels good enough, who is eaten up by his own insecurities, and whose low self opinion is sorrowful enough that we forgive him the gravest of errors against others.” AND “A clever weaving of fact and fiction, I was left wishing for an Author’s Note to disentangle the threads. Powerful and compelling, this is easy to read and hard to forget.” – Sadly for me, I wish I could forget it….and quickly. Had she written it about 2 fictitious people instead of real people it may have been marginally more readable.

Not a book that I would recommend to a friend – I would even balk at recommending it to an enemy.

Just passing through…..a life’s journey.

New Zealand writer Peter Wells (died 18 Feb 2019) signed off with a book about his own death titled “Hello Darkness”. It follows the last year and 4 months of his life, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. The book broke new ground in that much of it was written on his own Facebook page and the writing was accompanied by his own photographs.

But that is typical Wells. He has always been a breaker of new ground, of being a leader and not a follower. He was one of New Zealand’s first openly gay writers and was writing about gay topics as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he was co-founder of the “Auckland Writers Festival” and also co-founded in 2016 “Samesame But Different” – New Zealand’s first LGBTQI Writers Festival. His goal was for the festival to be “an exciting event that makes people think about sexuality, difference and community, stretches their understanding, gives them a few laughs and creates a slightly magic space for two days in February.” This years festival finished on February 10th. It was Well’s 4th and last.

He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but from the 1980’s onward also made films and documentaries predominantly about historical and/or gay themes.

His own blog site says this on his profile page…. “Peter Wells writes books and makes films. His films include idiosyncratic documentaries about conserving at-risk architecture like a flamboyant 1929 picture palace, or a shoe-obsessed gay man who tells his life story through women’s shoes (made with friend and fellow film-maker Garth Maxwell). He co-wrote and co-directed ‘Desperate Remedies’, a feature film described as ‘Jane Austen on acid’. His books include award winning short stories and novels. ‘Iridescence’, for example, about an Englishman with a secret hiding in Victorian Napier. His memoir Long Loop Home looked back at his New Zealand childhood with the wry glance of loss and affection.”

All of which brings me around to my reason for writing about him. Whilst he was without doubt a talented writer and film maker – my reason for writing about Wells is his connection to Hawke’s Bay – where I live. He lived for some time in a house on Napier Hill where he wrote what became known as his “Napier Trilogy” – comprising of his highly rated book “The Hungry Heart” – about William Colenso, the very knowledgeable clergyman/missionary who was also a printer, botanist, explorer and politician – but who was also a recluse, “Journey to a Hanging” which was a racially charged book about the horrific death of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1865…killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a Maori leader, who was found guilty of killing, beheading, eating the eyes and drinking the blood of Völkner and was subsequently hanged for the crime, and finally “Dear Oliver” – subtitled “Uncovering a Pakeha History” – which was a book written about his own family history, followed back in time in snippets of historical memories. It was hailed as a masterclass in writing history.

He was also partly responsible for the birth of the appreciation of Art Deco architecture in Napier and the start of what has become a phenomenally popular annual event “Napier Art Deco Festival” with his 1985 documentary film “Newest City on the Globe” which he wrote and directed and in doing so brought the architectural splendour of Art Deco Napier to the world. Shortly after this film was released, film crews from the USA visited Napier to record in this Art Deco jewel of the south pacific. After that Napier was no longer a secret tourist backwater.

The first Napier Art Deco Weekend Festival was in 1989 and with each passing year the event grows bigger and bigger and is celebrated by locals and tourists/art deco aficionado’s from all over the world.

For all this and more – Peter Wells – we salute you.

If you want to find out more about the man and his work, Links to Peter Wells blog, his Wikipedia page, the Auckland Writers Festival, the Samesame but Different site and the Napier Art Deco Trust web page are below.

http://www.peterwellsblog.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wells_(writer)

http://www.writersfestival.co.nz/

http://www.samesamebutdifferent.co.nz/

https://www.artdeconapier.com/