Tag Archives: early years chapter book

George’s marvellous medicine

For over a year I’ve struggled to get my eldest to read independently. To be honest that’s not entirely true as he’d happily jump into reading Star Wars encyclopaedias at the drop of a hat. However, with the encyclopaedia, he’d put them back down after a page or two. It was pretty clear that we needed to track down a book that really spoke to him.

With p4 and the step-up in reading it brings on the horizon I realised that he’d need to get more accustomed to longer stretches of reading than he had before. I hunted for books that would pique his interest but every time we simply find another story for me to read to him and his brother (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

We hunted and hunted, I trailed him through a serious number of bookshops over the past few months. Then, about a month ago we took a trip to Glasgow, walked into Waterstones, and with the promise of a comfy seat and a hot chocolate he finally reached a decision; George’s Marvellous Medicine.

Picking the book in person had its own charm to it and I think the setting definitely helped. However, the general idea of a boy messing with a grouchy granny seemed to catch him straight away.

It was a favourite of mine when I was his age but I’d forgotten how good it was. George is precocious and empathetic, and also a bit of a chancer. To be honest I think it was a good match for my son’s personality. On top of this the granny (the recipient of the medicine) is a whole new character once you look at her from an adult’s perspective.

My son read the first few chapters aloud but he’s starting to just grab his book, curl up, and read. Last night he skipped bedtime story and just brought the book into bed with him to read by torchlight. The book geek in me couldn’t be happier, but on top of this, I know that what he’s doing will make the change in reading level this year all the easier to keep up with.

It’s a simple book that has been expertly crafted by one of the greatest storytellers I’ve read. Our new challenge will be to find the right book to follow it, but I’ve a feeling that the Roald Dahl back catalogue will keep him occupied for a while.

What were your favourite books when you first started reading? Can you remember any of them still? Let us know in the comments below.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

The woods in the cabin

stair-type-diagonal-concrete-and-glass-house-18-thumb-970xauto-28307I’ve been asked a few times about Mick’s cabin. It’s described it as having the wood growing out of it and I imagined a really natural feel to the whole place. In my mind I wanted to give the impression that Mick had camped in the woods and then just decided to just extend his stay indefinitely.

I didn’t really imagine Mick’s cabin being so modern but this one is still really cool. You can click through on the link (just click the image) to see more pictures of this amazing home.

Ordinarily a writer would research these sorts of pictures before writing but I already had a pretty clear image in my mind when I started. All the same it’s nice (and a bit weird) to be able to find pictures that feel like they’ve somehow poured out of the books. I hadn’t really expected something like Mick’s cabin to be real.

595643074d2041dd79504696786e89b8The open fire is one of my favourite mental pictures; thinking of Sparky napping on a thick cosy rug beside the fire while the others discuss their plans. I found this image and instantly thought it captured the feel of that part of Mick’s cabin, even though I pictured a chimney hanging above it it’s still amazingly close to what I had in my head.

Other than that there was the tricky issue of how to deal with trees inside a home. These images are pretty close to what I was thinking.

living-the-highlife-adults-treehouse-5-photo-080601010521oWhen I thought of trees growing everywhere one of the more unusual things was how a kitchen would work with branches in the way. This picture is very similar to the idea I had for Mick’s kitchen and it’s nice and neat (no banging your head while you make a coffee) whilst feeling really natural. This is a good match for the site of Fynn’s growing coffee addiction and Tam’s (slightly aggressive) introduction. By the way the link I’ve attached to the image file takes you to a really cool page about ‘grown-up’ tree houses (it’s well worth a look).

Here are some more ‘forest in the cabin’ pictures from the moonworkshome site. Just to close off this wee post. Let me know if this is similar to what you pictured when reading the books. All the best, John

castle-in-the-trees-photo-5-photo-080601002142o 47ab3092929974b6b992420bd40cecf2

Some summer holiday reading

Kindle_UnlimitedIf you have a kindle (or something that can run the kindle reader app) then you can get hold of both of the Jack Reusen books (and a whole heap of books by other authors too) by signing up to a month’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited over at Amazon, here’s the link.

Once you’ve signed up you’ll see that both of the Jack Reusen books come up as free, so you can read the whole adventure so far, for nothing.

Jack Reusen and The Fey Flame‘ introduces you to the land of Fey, as creatures (and other things) make their way through to the ‘matter-world’ (basically our world). Jack and his family have to discover a way of closing a collection of ‘breaches’ between the two worlds to make their world safe again.

‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is a slightly different kind of cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmedadventure. People are losing their ability to dream. Every night more and more people lose the certain something that makes human beings so good at solving problems and creating things; the spark of dreams. Jack discovers that he could be the key to understanding what’s causing this change, and he may even be the only person who can solve it and bring back the dreams and imaginations of hundreds of people.

I hope that both of the Jack Reusen books give you and/or your kids something to enjoy over the summer holidays. Let me know what you think, all the best, John

And…they’re off!

cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmed

Another wee sample of Karen’s artwork

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is ready! The artwork is done, the text has been edited, all files have been sent off to the printers, and now comes the waiting. (Though the wait won’t be too long for the kindle edition, which I’ll have ready sometime tonight.)

The process for print editions is fairly simple; first they send me a digital proof (which I expect to receive sometime early next week). After this comes approval of the proof, which is kind of an odd thing to do actually; basically I send them an e-mail saying ‘yes I like my own book, send me lots’. Once I’ve told them I like my book it can take seven to ten working days for them to to print up a bundle and send them to me.

I’ll probably end up posting a lot of updates on Facebook and Twitter once I’ve got a tracking number, so if you follow either account expect to see lots of posts about UPS on the day the books head my way.

To be sure that you get hold of one of the first copies you can pre-order one by leaving a comment below (they’re £6.99) and you can either pick them up at Fun Junction, get me to deliver them to you personally, or if you’re further away I can post one out to you.

Writing this book has been a totally different experience than the last one. Knowing that people have read the first, that some readers might be emotionally invested in certain characters (no I haven’t killed anyone, nor do I plan to), and knowing that there are many more books planned, has meant that I’ve had to be very careful with this one.

There are some scenes that had to be big and dramatic and they change characters in ways that might take them a couple of books to recover from. That’s what all these big delays have been about (I originally planned on having the book out in April). The trickiest part has been the fact that two key story lines run from just one early scene involving Fynn and Thea.

They come out of the event changed, but getting the balance between developing a character in that way, and just all-out changing them is difficult. Every change I made to that one scene (you’ll see what it is soon) had a heavy ripple-effect throughout the book, at times it was like playing Jenga with a sledgehammer. After a lot of work I think I’ve got it right and I hope you guys enjoy the journey that both of these characters go on.

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is darker than the Fey Flame (though not by a lot), my proofreader/editor left me a note about three quarters of the way through the book that simply read ‘this is freakin’ scary!’. Don’t let this put you off though. I’ve left a lot of the scarier scenes open in a way that lets the reader fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This way, readers at my eldest son’s age (seven in a few weeks) will likely find these parts a lot less frightening than their parents.

Overall the story is based around what the world would be like if people didn’t dream, imagine, or come up with new ideas. Some of this is a little scary but mostly I wanted to deal with how important imagination is for everyone. Jack has to navigate a city that doesn’t dream and it doesn’t look like a nice place to live.

I’ve said before that there are ‘zombies’ in this book, but they aren’t undead, flesh-eating monsters; they’re innocent people who are sleep-walking through life and have lost something important because of it. Jack goes through a crisis of confidence but we all know that in the end he’ll have what it takes to help them.

Thea hasn’t been left out either; she gets to be an action hero in this book. Her fight scenes were some of the most enjoyable things I have ever written (though you’ll have to get a fair bit through the book to see them) and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of girl she develops into in future books.

Sorry for the long post, as you can probably tell, I’m a little excited about launching the latest Jack Reusen book. I really hope you like it (when the books finally get here). I’ll keep you updated here and on the Facebook and Twitter accounts about when to expect them. In the mean time I’ve got a school book talk to prepare for. I’m off to Comrie Primary on Monday (my school between the ages of five and seven) and I’m really hoping the children there enjoy their introduction to Jack and his friends.

All the best, thanks as always for reading, cheers, John

A word explosion for your enjoyment

Not a real post here (too busy editing), just sharing this word-jumble (from wordle) that features all the most popular words in ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ (size=frequency). It might give you an idea about some of the content.

spark of dreams word jumble4

Running tally of progress: final edit=p132 of 275 (don’t worry this bit doesn’t take that long), cover is done (thanks to Karen) but I’ve got a couple of minor tweeks to do once I have finalised page numbers (matching spine to book width). Once these are done the book will be good to go. I’ll pop a wee update after tonight’s editing session to keep you posted. Off to edit now, wish me luck, John

Spinning a web

wpid-imag1532_burst001_1.jpgAs you all know the book is progressing; it’s on final draft, lined up for printers, and just being amended for corrections from proofreaders. I’ve been freaking out recently at the realisation that I’m creating a book series rather than just an individual story.

When I first started out writing the Jack Reusen books I had the most basic plan, intended to turn in to just one book, but as ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ come together I realised that I’d gathered together a lot of information in the background that translated into other stories.

Having an entire world to create is obviously a lot of fun, however it’s also huge challenge. I hadn’t realised when I started how much I was going to have to know about my own world. Even at this stage I’m having to think ahead by quite a bit, to make sure I don’t make a mistake that closes off a good story later on. It’s hard leaving room for something to happen in future books without feeling vague or, worse still, leaving readers with too many unanswered questions.

Book one came with a few big questions but by the end of it most of them seem to have been answered. Book two is definitely a different animal as Jack’s world expands and we start to learn more about how the various kinds of magic he encounters work, a lot of questions arise that might not be answered for another two or three books.

When I think about it I realise just how many of the plots for later books rest on what happens in this book; not only am I leaving seeds for ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’, I’m coming to realise that ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ has become something of a launching platform for an entire book series.

The formatting is done, some key issues are being debated over with my proofreaders, and the book is already in the kind of shape it needs to be to be send off to the Printers. It’s almost time and I’m sorry that you’ve all had to wait for so long, please bare with me, there really isn’t much left to do.

If you have any questions about the books, or about the writing process in general feel free to leave a wee message in the comments below. All the best, John

Almost time…

wpid-imag1530_1.jpgThere are two big reveals to share tonight: a sneak-peak of the cover for ‘Jack Reusen and The Spark of Dreams’, and on top of that I’m sharing the title of the very last chapter, it’s that close to completion!

I’m so sorry for the long wait, editing has been a tough run this time round. I did something with one of the main characters that I wasn’t 100% happy with, unfortunately it was quite early on in the book so changing it has had a ripple effect. ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’  is looking to be ready around a month later than the April release promised at the back of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’. To everyone who has been asking about it, I am so sorry for the delay, and thank you for all the support you have all shown so far.

As for the book cover I hope you like the wee snippets shared in this post. I put out a call for an illustrator a few weeks ago and an illustrator called Karen MacAllister came forward (pop over to her illustrator website and her blog to find out more about her work). She showed me some great wee preliminary sketches and we took it from there and, thanks to Karen we now have a really dynamic and intriguing cover.

wpid-imag1532_burst001_1.jpgTo be slightly annoying (building anticipation a bit), I’ve decided to only show small portions of Karen’s finished work. I thought it’d be more fun to share the finished article once the book is out.

I need to point out that Karen’s advice and knowledge were almost as valuable as her artistic skills in creating this cover. She really knows her stuff and de-cluttered my original plans to produce something that catches the eye and draws you in and I absolutely love the colour and tone she’s put into it.

I’m going to edit like a lunatic over the next couple of days, the book is all but done but I want to really do this justice (it isn’t easy getting the balance right in zombie scenes for kids). So many readers have been so supportive of this next leg of Jack’s adventure that I don’t want to let them down. Hopefully the story within will have the same draw as Karen’s fantastic cover.

As always thanks for reading, I’ll try and visit here more frequently over the next few days with updates so you should hopefully hear more soon. All the best, John

Drip (a wee glimpse into Fey)

It’s my birthday today so in a reverse of the norm I thought I’d do a wee ‘birthday present’ for my readers.

This is a story set in Fey, the castle in it will feature in the early chapters of ‘The Spark of Dreams’ but the characters probably won’t make an appearance until ‘The Children of Fate’. It’s aimed at an age group that’s a little younger than a normal Jack Reusen story but hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Happy ‘my birthday!’ Allow me to introduce you to Drip:

Part one: Drip’s sitting stone

drip the bogey ogre2

Drip was an ogre, he hadn’t had much choice in that. The people of the town of Dundrove didn’t care whether Drip wanted to be an ogre or not. It wasn’t always easy to understand what they were saying about him but Drip knew it wasn’t good.

Drip was always a little sad. His eyes always had had a sort of shiny look and his nose seemed to run all the time. The local children (being children) called him ‘Drip’. They had been doing it for so long he couldn’t even remember his old name any more.

One day the nastiness got worse. A group of boys chased him, throwing rocks whilst shouting: “Drip the bogey ogre, Drip the bogey ogre!”

Drip ran. He ran till his throat stung. He stopped high in the mountains, where he found a cave. Drip hid in that cave for a days. In fact he didn’t venture back to the road for a very long time. As months went by and the boys were nowhere to be found Drip got lonely enough to venture back down to the road more often.

Eventually it became a daily routine. Drip would shuffle his greenish-white body down the hill from his cave every morning at dawn to sit at his ‘sitting rock’; a little place nestled in the woods where the trees gave him enough shelter for him to peak through the branches and watch the people that passed by.

Drip still liked to be near people. The sound of their voices helped stop him from feeling so lonely. Months and years went by with Drip hiding in the forest, sitting on his rock, listening to the people laughing and talking as they walked or rode along the little forest road.

On one particular morning though, Drip was not woken by the sound of birds but instead by a loud clinking and clunking noise from the woods below. Drip hauled himself up as fast as he could and shuffled his fastest shuffle down the well-worn path, only to find his sitting stone smashed to pieces. Standing beside it was a very shocked, very sweaty, old man holding a pickaxe.

As soon as he saw the rage in the ogre’s eyes he lept for the road, untethered his horse from his big heavy cart, leapt on it’s back, and rode off at top speed. Drip was more angry than he had ever been in his life and before he knew what he was doing he picked up the old man’s cart and threw it up into a tree. It broke the top branches and crashed to the ground. Pieces of cart cascaded from the trees like giant wooden snowflakes.

Some of the guards from the castle were out on patrol and hurried towards the noise. When they saw Drip standing in the middle of the ruins they got an idea about what had happened. The head of the group walked carefully over to Drip:

“What happened here Drip? Did you do this?”

Drip’s nose was dripping and his eyes were filled with big, wet ogre tears:

“He smasheded up my sitting rock! He just smashed it all up! I didn’t mean to smash his cart.”

The guardsman put his hand on Drip’s huge, soft shoulder:

“OK Drip I think it’d be best if you come with us to the castle.”

Drip was shocked at this, he wondered if they were going to put him in the dungeon or something. Drip didn’t want to fight the guardsmen, he had never hurt anyone in his life, so he nodded his big lumpy head and followed behind their horses.

When they got to the castle the head guardsman got off his horse and ran inside to explain why they had an ogre with them. Drip took a second look at the other guards and he didn’t like what he saw. He recognised them all instantly: the rock-throwing boys. All grown up. One of them leaned down from his horse and whispered: “Drip the bogey ogre!”

Drip ran. he had to get away from the horrible boys. Big men now. Big men with swords. Drip was sure they would lock him in the dungeons for ever. He could hear the men jumping off their horses to run after him and he tried to move even faster. Finally he reached a door that looked big enough even for him and leapt inside.

The room behind was huge and smelled like sweet, juicy berries and of the bread and pastries that families sometimes ate at picnics out in the forest. Drip had really enjoyed hearing families playing and having fun from the comfort of his sitting rock, he started snuffling again at the thought of it lying in pieces.

He was still nervous of being found but when he heard the guardsmen’s heavy footsteps running past the door he knew he was safe. Well he thought he was anyway. Out of nowhere a big, loud, high pitched voice echoed around the room:

“And who said you could come into my kitchen?!”

Part 2: A bowl of Soup

drip the bogey ogre3

Drip’s tears became big and splodgy as a huge lady with arms almost as big as his, and legs like tree trunks, marched towards him. He hung his head:

“I’m so sorry, I was just hiding, I didn’t know what was behind the door.”

Mrs Bunt (the castle cook) calmed down a little and went to give Drip a handkerchief, though when she looked at his huge, bulbous ogre nose she changed her mind and handed him a towel instead. Once he’d blown his nose Mrs Bunt grabbed a big mixing bowl from a shelf and filled it up with soup from a big cauldron bubbling by the fire:

“There you are. Have a seat and get that in your belly. You’ll feel better on a full stomach.”

Drip had never been treated so nicely and nearly started crying again. Stopping himself, he pulled out a bench near the big table and sat down. The bench creaked loudly under Drip’s bulk and as he wiggled his bottom to get comfortable the bench gave up completely, collapsing into a heap of broken twigs.

Mrs Bunt didn’t even blink, she simply beaconed Drip to sit on the floor beside the fire and handed him his bowl of soup. He didn’t use a spoon and just slurped up big mouthfuls. The fire beside him and the soup in his belly made him feel better than he ever had. Drip stopped his constant sniffling and even noticed his skin changing to a much healthier deep green. Mrs Bunt took his empty bowl from him:

“Well that should sort you out a bit. Now, if you don’t have anywhere to be, I could do with a hand. We’ve got a big feast to prepare for Lord Borrin this evening.”

Drip had never cooked before, all of his meals had been things he found in the forest, and the closest he’s been to anything like Mrs Bunt’s big cooking fire was when he lit a small campfire outside his cave to keep him warm in the winter. He tried to explain that he didn’t know how to help but Mrs Bunt just marched him around the kitchen in the quickest tour of the place she had ever given.

She wasn’t sure if Drip had followed any of it but she didn’t have much time before she needed to start work on the feast.

Drip had taken it all in. The heat of the kitchen was doing something to his brain. He was surprised at how quickly he understood what all of the different tools and utensils did and after he had cleared away the broken bench Drip popped on an apron, washed his hands thoroughly, and got to work.

Drip was stirring a big pot of stew when the guards arrived at the kitchen door looking for him. Mrs Bunt was having none of their nonsense, Drip had told her what had happened so she told the guards to leave him alone. She explained that Drip would work in the kitchen to help pay for a replacement cart for the man in the forest. That was that.

The guards were silent with shock. The idea of Drip ‘the bogey ogre’ cooking their meals made them sick. They thought that perhaps Mrs Bunt was joking but when they looked into the kitchen and saw Drip stirring the stew all they could think of was blubbering old Drip’s runny nose dripping into their dinner. Drip’s nose was clean and dry now but that didn’t stop the guards from making up their own minds.

No one argued with Mrs Bunt though, she was strong enough to fight off any two guardsmen in the castle at once and, more importantly, she was in charge of what everyone ate. Nonetheless, the guards knew that they’d be giving the food at the feast a miss.

Part 3: Lord Borrin’s feast

That evening, after lots of entertainment from jugglers, dancers, and musicians, the people of the castle sat down to their feast. Lord Borrin and everyone else nodded with appreciation at the incredible food before them. People stopped talking as they dug into one of the best meals they had ever tasted but the small group of guardsmen didn’t notice any of that, pushing every plateful away.

The guards were so certain that the food would be disgusting that they spent all their time laughing and joking with each other about the fact that everyone else was eating bogeys. They were so loud that they they didn’t even notice all of the ‘yumm’s and ‘mmm’s all around them until the end of the feast. Just before the plates were cleared Lord Borrin asked to have Mrs Bunt come out and take a bow for the delicious meal they had all just enjoyed but she shook her head:

“All the thanks should go to my new assistant Drip.”

Mrs Bunt went down into the kitchen and grabbed Drip by the arm, leading him up the stairs to the great hall where a round of applause broke out. It was so loud it made his ears ring. After just one day in the warmth of the castle kitchens, with a steady supply of food from Mrs Bunt, Drip looked like a completely different ogre. His clammy greenish-white skin was darker and greener, and he stood up straighter with not one tear or runny nose in sight. He was still Drip but he wasn’t so ‘drippy’ any more.

drip the bogey ogre4

The guardsmen suddenly realised what they’d missed out on and went to grab at their plates only to have them taken away by one of the maids. There wasn’t even a bread roll left for them to eat. They went back to their barracks that night with rumbling stomachs and the next morning some very, very sorry (and very hungry) guards went down into the kitchens to apologise to Drip for all the nasty things they had done when they were younger. They talked for a long time, and while they all found out about each other Drip cooked them the best omelettes ever.

From that day on the guards always had breakfast with Drip, getting up before anyone else in the castle. They even got into the habit of sitting down at the fire with Drip while they all ate (Mrs Bunt still couldn’t find a bench strong enough to hold him).


Don’t forget to pop over to the books page on this site to find out more about this little story’s big brother(s). You can find your way by clicking this link. Hope you enjoyed the story, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Magical Realism

Vasnetsov_samoletFiction is changing but what it’s changing into isn’t something new. For a long time a sub-genre of contemporary fiction known as ‘magical realism’ provided a mind-bending literary experience to those who came across it, but sadly it sat at the fringes while traditional fantasy, science-fiction, and even thrillers enjoyed mass-market backing from readers who would no doubt have enjoyed magical realism if they knew it was available.

I was introduced to it by a teacher of mine (Mr Johnstone) at High School. Famous fantasy writers have been known to denounce it as a fancy way of saying you write fantasy fiction but I think there’s one very clear distinction: just as you probably wouldn’t explain the way that electricity is created and sent down power lines to power your toaster, when describing a scene in which you cook some toast, a magical realist writer feels no demand for an explanation for anything that the reader might regard as ‘magical’.

Terry Pratchett said that saying that you write magical realism is “…a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people…”. In some regards he could be correct, fantasy fiction is certainly seen as more populist (and less literary) than magical realism. What’s more, magical realism sports a host of connections to post-modernist art and philosophy that makes it positively intellectual-sounding. However, fantasy fiction can itself be, though isn’t always, a tremendous vehicle for highlighting philosophical concepts as well. Pratchett was one of the best at doing just that.

But now, within children’s literature, we’re finding works that bridge the divide somehow. Explanations of how the magic works are left to one side as authors launch their characters straight into the adventure. Magical Realist sympathies can be especially evident in works like Pratchett’s Discworld (despite his protestations to the contrary), Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kindom’ series (‘Mister Monday’ etc.), Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’, and many many more. In these books we are witness to a change in the way that magic is introduced, it is left as part of the fabric of the story with minimal exposition.

However, the exposition is still there, as it probably has to be for children. Perhaps we need to delineate fantastical elements in fiction for children. They are still getting a grasp of the reality and physics of their own world so it seems prudent to provide some explanation as to how things work in an alternate one. What’s more the explanation of the magic can itself often serve as a component of the plot.

I’m in this boat. Jack starts in our world (or something very much like it) and is exposed to things he doesn’t understand, therefore a necessary part of the plot (and his character development) involves him gaining a basic idea about how the magic works.

There are things that I’ve left to one side for now and things that may never be explained but I’m happy to admit that there’s simply too much explanation of the magic in my books for anyone to call it ‘magical realism’. While I still enjoy and respect the genre and can see how it really can work in children’s literature I can’t help slipping into fantasy

For me part of the fun of our world is to be found in finding out things. I couldn’t limit my characters by not allowing them to discover the ‘secrets’ behind the magic any more than I could answer my children with the ever-unsatisfying ‘just because’. For a child I expect that a truly magical realist work of fiction could prove equally intellectually unsatisfying, perhaps its one of these odd cases where a literary genre simply doesn’t scale well into a children’s version.

The books I’ve described above have no doubt been enjoyed by more adults and teens than children of twelve and under, they certainly rank extremely highly within my list of favourite books. However, for children reading what’s known as ‘middle grade fiction’ (more about it here) and those younger than them, I can’t help but feel that authors need to be ready for the ‘why’s and ‘how’s from their readers.

What genre of books do you think would/does translate well into ‘children’s’ versions? Which genre’s simple don’t translate at all? Am I wrong about the books listed above, do you think that children between eight and twelve enjoy them as much as teenagers? As always thanks for reading and don’t forget you can buy a copy (paperback or kindle edition) of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ over on this page.

Was Enid Blyton a bad writer?

wpid-imag1413_burst008.jpgEnid Blyton is responsible for a huge portion of missed sleep from my childhood. The Famous Five books and the ‘Mystery’ series were staple components of my evenings (and long into the night) from the age of about eight or nine till I started high school at twelve (we don’t do middle school in Scotland). She opened a world of adventure to me but I have to admit she also wedged me thoroughly into a literary rut.

With Blyton’s books I developed a love of reading that became a core part of my identity, ever since then I’ve regarded myself as a passionate reader. However, her writing style left me cocooned from other works of fiction; she wrote in a relaxed, easily accessible, manner that demanded little of the reader and simply allowed the story to flow.

In many ways reading Blyton was like watching TV; I simply allowed the story to unfold before me, often going for chapters without feeling as though I needed to put much of my own thought in at all. This is the blessing and the curse of Blyton’s writing. Her books were published at a time when children were just beginning to migrate towards television as the entertainment medium of choice, Blyton appeared with an alternative.

I grew up in the eighties and by then we had access to so much more child-orientated TV than the generations that preceded us. The challenge was even greater for authors then than it had been back in Blyton’s day. Eighties children’s authors had to go foor the popular vote by whatever means necessary. They grasped for the ghoulish in the form of the Goosebumps series or pandered to a growing culture of pre-teen girls who aspired to a fantasised version of teenaged life in books like the Babysitters club. Meanwhile, in a dusty antique book shop on a holiday trip to Lincoln cathedral I came upon the famous five. I was hooked.

Blyton enjoyed (and still enjoys) the backlash from librarians, teachers, and other people who wish to promote ‘proper literature’ to children the world over for her work. Rhiannon Lassiter’s mother (Mary Hoffman) banned Blyton, you can see what Lassiter thought to that by following this link.

For many Blyton was low brow, pandering and, at best, akin to the type of bargain-bin paperback frivolity that adults buy at the train station or airport to help pass the time. In essence it was (is?) seen as just one step up from a magazine.

I can’t help but wonder if this is just a case of the anti-popularism which is often sported by the self-designated cultural elite, who seem to feel the need to put down anything popular as bourgeois and watered-down alternatives to ‘real’ literature/art in general.

I’ve never gone for this kind of thinking, I liken it to the idea that fine dining is always superior to fast food. Of course there’s something to be said for an excellently prepared meal but sometimes you really just want a greasy cheeseburger and fries from a burger van. (Neither fine dining nor fast food have the best credibility as sources of nutrition, in both instances it’s all about the taste, the aesthetic)

I think the same thing is true of literature, sometimes we’ll want to enjoy the complexities and nuances of an exquisite work of fiction but sometimes, and I think this goes ten-fold for those who are just beginning their literary journey, sometimes you just want to be swept up in an adventure.

So was Enid Blyton a bad writer? In my mind the answer is a resounding NO; she provided me a literary foothold in an era in which electronics and TV were taking over every aspect of the life of a child. She let me escape that world (a little) and allowed me access to the world of my imagination in a way that the alternatives simply couldn’t. Was she a literary marvel? Probably not, but the service she did perform well was to allow children to marvel at what a book could do.

I am the first to admit that moving on from Blyton’s style of writing was quite hard but as I noted in a previous post I found a way, as I’m sure many many more people did as well. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the modern book industry would be an shell of its current state if it wasn’t for her prolific contribution to children’s literature, if for nothing else but that her works stood as an alternative to the proliferation of TV into the lives of children. In this sense, at least in my opinion, she stands up as a literary hero in her own right.

DON’T FORGET: Book one of the Jack Reusen series: ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ is available in both paperback and in digital format. You’ll make me as happy as four kids and a dog with a picnic blanket and lashings of ginger beer if you click on this link to pop over to the ‘books’ page where you can find out more about the book and get details on how to get hold of your copy. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it 🙂