Showing posts with label Enid Blyton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Enid Blyton. Show all posts

Sunday, 23 September 2012

School Ties - a new novella set in a school

Downthorpe Hall is a posh boarding school in the wilds of the Oxfordshire countryside.

Fresh from working in an inner-city comprehensive, Will Hughes has just been appointed as the new head. He knows there will be a host of challenges ahead. Tricky parents, rebellious teenagers and teachers who will fight his attempts to reform the school.

He doesn't expect a battle for his heart.

But when he meets two women - the fiercely ambitious deputy head and a brilliantly smart science teacher - Will realises that the ties at Downthorpe are not just the kind you wear around your neck.

What follows is a tangle of competing ambitions and desires that leave Will bemused - and could force him to choose between the job he has always wanted and the woman of his dreams.

That’s the blurb for my new novella School Ties, a romantic e-book set in a school.

From Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers to Jilly Cooper’s Wicked!, I’ve always thought boarding schools provide brilliant settings for novels. So when Endeavour Press asked me to write one, I jumped at the chance. It’s out this month and I’d love to know what you think…

School Ties by Emma Lee-Potter (Endeavour Press, £1.99)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Famous Five's Sapphire Jubilee

The Queen isn’t the only one celebrating a major anniversary this year. The Famous Five are too. Did you know that Enid Blyton’s classic stories of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and George’s mongrel Timmy have been entrancing generations of children for a magnificent 70 years?

I was one of them. I loved Enid Blyton books so much that every Saturday morning I’d spend the whole of my two shillings and sixpence a week pocket money on a new story. Some weeks I’d go for a Malory Towers or St Clare’s tale, but more often than not it would be the Famous Five.

The first story to be published was Five on a Treasure Island, which came out in 1942. It was one of my absolute favourites - so much so that I recently downloaded it as an audiobook to listen to in the car. And guess what? I was as captivated as ever. The story sounds ridiculously old-fashioned, with children who spend their days swimming at a Dorset cove, taking Timmy for long walks and solving the mystery of an ancient shipwreck, but it’s still completely gripping.

These days some critics knock Enid Blyton for her simplistic language, while others accuse her of being elitist, racist and sexist. I know prissy Anne and her fondness for party frocks and dolls are a bit hard to take but the best thing about Blyton was that she could spin a great yarn. The fact that her stories have sold a mega 600 million copies is proof of that.

What struck me as I listened to Five on a Treasure Island was the freedom children used to have. Julian, Dick, Anne and George are all aged between 11 and 13 but they leave the house after breakfast and don’t come back till tea-time. They’re allowed to row out to Kirrin Island by themselves and camp there alone for two whole days.    

To mark the 70th anniversary, Hodder Children's Books have reissued five Famous Five stories, complete with drawings by some of the best children’s illustrators around, like Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark. Not only that, from this month (June) you can download the Famous Five Adventure Trail, which takes you to some of the Dorset locations that feature in the Famous Five books. I’m half tempted to try it myself…

PS. Did you know that a 70th anniversary is a sapphire jubilee? No, me neither.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friday book review - Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

The first Joanna Trollope book I ever read was The Rector’s Wife. I was so captivated by her 90s tale of a vicar’s wife who shocks everyone by taking a job at a supermarket to make ends meet that I was desperate to read her earlier books. The instant I’d finished that one I rushed out to buy another, feverishly working my way through her backlist in the way I used to gobble up Enid Blyton stories as a child.

But in recent years I haven’t found her books quite so gripping. She’s as prolific as ever – Daughters-in-Law, her 16th Trollope novel, came out in paperback last month while her 17th, The Soldier’s Wife, is published in hardback this week. I’ve clearly got a bit of catching up to do because I’ve only just read Daughters-in-Law and while I found it enjoyable enough I wasn’t bowled over by it.

In theory Daughters-in-Law sounds exactly my cup of tea. It’s the story of Rachel, the mother of three grown-up sons. She’s devoted her life to bringing them up in an idyllic-sounding house near the Suffolk coast. But now the trio have their own lives to lead. The three sons, Edward, Ralph and Luke, have all married and two of them have children of their own. Suddenly Rachel isn’t at the heart of everything, as she once was, and she clearly doesn’t like it. As she tells her endlessly patient husband Anthony: “…nobody wants me to do something I’m good at any more.”

The trouble is that I didn’t care enough about any of these characters. Rachel isn’t exactly the mother-in-law from hell, but she’s blooming annoying, with a tendency to feel sorry for herself when things don’t go her way. Ralph, her middle son, doesn’t know whether he wants to be a city slicker or to drop out and live by the sea, and as for his hippyish wife Petra, well I didn't find her believable at all. I also had a problem with Trollope’s dialogue. It’s full of wise observations, articulately expressed, but everyone sounds exactly the same. If I closed my eyes and listened to it, I’d be hard-pressed to work out who was speaking.

But despite my reservations I’m still keen to read The Soldier’s Wife. It focuses on the lives of army families and sounds a far more substantial read. An army wife interviewed on Woman’s Hour this week glowingly said that Trollope had got every single detail right. Praise indeed.

Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope (Black Swan, £7.99)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Children's books, Jack Wills and a spelling mistake

I’m busy reviewing a batch of children’s books and can’t get over the fantastic array of titles. So far I’ve whizzed through a novel for teenagers about a missing girl, a gorgeous story by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie called Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes and I’m now on to Jacqueline Wilson’s Sapphire Battersea.

When I was little I loved books like Richmal Crompton’s Just William and Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. But Enid Blyton was my absolute favourite. I used to get two shillings and sixpence pocket money a week and every Saturday morning I’d wander down to the local book shop and buy a new Malory Towers or Famous Five story. Then I’d go home, curl up on my bed and read it from cover to cover.

Enid Blyton doesn’t get a good press these days. Some critics reckon her vocabulary is hopelessly limited while others accuse her of being elitist, racist and sexist.

Characters like the Famous Five’s prissy Anne and her liking for party frocks and dolls are a bit hard to take but there’s no doubt that Blyton could spin a great yarn. Her stories captured my imagination so much that I longed to be part of the Famous Five gang, to spend days swimming at a Dorset cove, taking a brown mongrel called Timmy for long walks and solving mysteries.

When I had a quick look at a Famous Five book recently what struck me most was the freedom children had in Blyton’s day. Julian, Dick, Anne and their tomboy cousin George are all aged between 11 and 13 but they dash out of the house after breakfast, land themselves in loads of scrapes and don’t come back till tea-time. They’re allowed to row out to Kirrin Island by themselves and camp there alone for two days. Two days! It sends me into a cold sweat just thinking about it.

PS. Thank you so much to everyone who commented on yesterday’s blog about the art of the apostrophe and students’ dodgy grasp of grammar. I didn’t even mention spelling, so I was shocked to get the new Jack Wills Christmas handbook in the post this morning and find two pages of greeting cards, diaries, notebooks and pens marked “stationary.” Ahem, Jack Wills, do you mean “stationery?”

PPS. Still on the subject of the Jack Wills catalogue, I did another double take when I spotted a gorgeous long black dress that would look divine on my daughter. She says Jack Wills, which markets itself as creating "fabulously British goods for the university crowd," is too preppy for her. But even if she liked it, there's no way she'd be tempted. Why? Because the Belford sequin dress costs a staggering £798. That's the cost of two or three months' rent for most students I know.
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