Monday, 25 July 2016

Books, adventures and Enid Blyton

Books tend to be a bit of a passion with me. I love reading them. I even love writing them. I love sharing them. Books fill my house. We are supposed to be clearing out because we are "supposed" to be moving (you can tell this isn't a positive as far as I'm concerned)so thinning them out would be a good idea. I say this because last time we moved they had to get two vans because we had so much junk. I clearly remember (as do the Mr Shifters) that they were about to set off and I said, "Oh have you cleared the small bedroom then?". They looked puzzled. I pointed to the door on the landing, opening the door. There were thirty boxes of books standing neatly to attention.
"What's in 'em love?"
"Books," I said, smiling nervously.
"But we've already put loads of books in the van!"
I shuffled a bit-feeling rather embarrassed.
They said no more and began carting the heavy boxes down the stairs. When they finished they looked relieved.
"I've never seen anyone with as many books! Have you actually read 'em all?"
I admitted there might be on or two not yet read, but most had been... if not cover to cover, then dipping in and out for research. I don't think they believed me.

Obviously, having been a teacher, Patron of Reading, mother and Grandma I have always believed in reading... and books. I replicated my birthdays and Christmas for my children by loading up the books. I love giving books, but love receiving them more. Relatives groan when they ask what I want as a gift-they can't understand the joy of unwrapping a book. The feel, the look and the smell! My heart misses a beat. Yes, I've dabbled with Kindle but its not the same!

I first began book collecting at about 7 years old. I used to get 2/6d pocket money and every Saturday we went to town. Every Saturday I would mount the stairs to the top floor of my favourite shop-Heaths. I'm glad to say its still a thriving book shop today-in fact they are promoting my new book. In front of me were shelves full of every sort of book, but my favourites were "Armada Paperbacks" and in particular Enid Blyton. Ideally the books were 2/6d. I amassed quite a collection-many of which... you guessed it... I still have!

Now I know old Enid gets a bit of a dissing theses days. They've even had the audacity to rewrite some! Look I can live with jolly japes, lashing of ginger beer and macaroons and I really don't mind the Dicks, Nobbys and Fannys at all! I mean-would you rewrite Roald Dahl or Mark Twain? I know she was a middle class snob but frankly I don't care! It never prevented me from enjoying the adventures and stories where children were clever and in charge. I never felt disadvantaged when reading about Darrel Rivers (or Waters as she mystifyingly became in later imprints)at Malory Towers. It never occurred to me that these children were privileged and rich; in fact I felt sorry that their mothers and fathers sent them away.

 I never batted an eye-lid at the comic working class characters, gardeners, maids and char ladies- after all I was still watching Sunday afternoon films with Kathleen Harrison talking in faux cockney "thank you very much, I'm sure!" I never recognised the oblique racism of the "gypsy" characters or circus performers, I took each character for their own worth-very two dimensional, either goodies or baddies! Even in 1965 the language was a little twee, but the stories overcame all that.

Whether it was "The Faraway Tree" or Famous Five I lapped them up. My favourite series was "The Five Find-Outers and Dog"-always a scary and exciting adventure, with disguises, tough criminals and a really stupid policeman Mr Goon who the hero "Fatty" (Algernon Trotteville to his parents)never failed to humiliate. After all-what other author would get away with a protagonist called Fatty?

I admit-my own books occasionally have a passing nod to Enid-the influence is embedded and I am still, at 59 waiting for a really big adventure. I still hold the hope that I will discover a long lost treasure-you will have seen me lurking at Furness Abbey! Surely, even in these sophisticated times, children still want the same? I certainly see them looking for clues at the abbey when they have read my Out of Time books-and why not? What's wrong with a ripping yarn?

Surely, the whole point about books is escapism and creating pictures in your head? If I am reading fiction I want to be transported away from mundane and pedestrian things, into a new or alien world. If I read any book at all it must feed my imagination first, whether it is fact or fiction. It's great to have "real life" or gritty books with a social message, but not always! Sometimes just let me escape to the 1950s. Let me explore the dungeons of the medieval castle on the island off the coast of Cornwall (all adventures happen in Cornwall! Or the Lake District if you're reading Ransome). Let me disturb smugglers, track down the petty thief, find secret messages and most definitely, let me sup on steaming hot chocolate with plenty of home baked scones and jam. Most of all leave the old favourites alone! They are what they are and it is an act of anachronistic vandalism to update them. And don't even get me started on Beatrix Potter and Emma Thompson! Oh and did I tell you? My mother chose my first name "Gillian" after Enid's daughter!

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