If you like Blyton: The Wreck of the Argyll by John K Fulton

I happened to see this on the returns trolley in the children’s library where I work, and I picked it up because of the lighthouse on the cover. I like lighthouses and tend to associate them with Blyton, despite only having read one book (you can all guess which one) with a lighthouse setting. I suppose they are mentioned a few other times, normally in conjunction with some sort of night-time signalling.

Anyway, I noticed that it was set in and around Dundee which piqued my curiosity. I borrowed it there and then, and now, some months later I have actually read it! I actually read the whole thing while sitting on the beach at Carnoustie, (in between paddling and rock-pooling) which is about as close as you can get to the lighthouse on land. If I had thought about it I would have taken a nice photo of the book on the beach with the sea in the background – the lighthouse not being visible due to the curvature of the Earth – but you’ll have to make do with a stock photo of the cover instead.


The lighthouse and the wreck

The basic story of the wrecking of HMS Argyll is a true one. In 1915 the Bell Rock Lighthouse was in darkness, to prevent enemy submarines using the light to navigate to their advantage. The HMS Argyll, having travelled from Devon, up the West Coast of Scotland and then down the East – attempting to avoid the more dangerous waters off the south and east of England – got caught in a storm off the coast of Angus. They requested that the Bell Rock Lighthouse was turned on to aid their passage past the treacherous shelf of rock upon which the lighthouse sits.

However, the lighthouse at that time had no radio and could only be contacted by boat or by signalling from the mainland. Due to the storm neither or these methods could be used and so the light was not lit. Nor was a message passed back to the Argyll to warn them of this, and so, expecting the light to be lit they didn’t know they were passing the lighthouse and ran aground.

The lighthouse itself is a pretty fascinating one. It is the oldest working sea-washed lighthouse in the world, having been built between 1807 and 1810. Despite being over 200 years old (and the lowest 15 metres being underwater) the masonry base hasn’t been upgraded or replaced since it was built.

Shamefully, despite it being within 25 miles of my home, and only about 10 or 11 miles off the Angus coast – where I frequently visit the beaches – I didn’t know anything about the lighthouse until I read up on it after reading the book. While reading I was picturing a lighthouse at sea, but sitting on at least some visible rock. But as you will see in pictures it’s very much just a lighthouse sticking out of the water!


Mr King or Mr Roland?

The story begins with Nancy sneaking out of her house to follow her teacher, believing he is a spy. Her evidence is fairly flimsy, but he does go walking each evening, late at night, in the direction of the docks or the railway station.

Her first night of following him is a bust, but on the second she meets a boy known locally as Jamie the Howff – so named because he lives in the ancient (and very much still there today) graveyard behind the high street of Dundee, the Howff. He saves her from a couple of other boys who are hassling her and accompanies her on her endeavours.

The question is, will her teacher turn out to be a Mr King (sneaking around on the side of good) or a Mr Roland (sneaking around evilly as charged).

In their search by the docks Nancy and Jamie stumble upon a (fabricated for this novel) plot to signal a German U-Boat with the HMS Argyll’s route (unbeknownst to them the aim is to relieve the HMS Argyll of some critical war intelligence). The policeman at the docks won’t listen to them, so it’s off to Arbroath on an ambulance train to try to warn the shore signal station there – and then back the same way to try to catch one of the culprits


The other side of the story

Meanwhile, the alternate chapters tell the story of 15 year old Midshipman Harry Melville as he is on watch for the Bell Rock Lighthouse and is issued with orders to protect the intelligence documents at all costs.

Then of course the ship runs aground and they must try to evacuate in the middle of a storm. Spoiler alert (as much as it can be a spoiler when it’s based on a true story) due to the daring actions of a couple of two destroyers all men were saved.

The ship was destroyed soon after it was emptied and it’s still down there, and apparently still diveable if you’re capable of that sort of thing!


Is it Blytonian?

This isn’t the most Blytonian novel I’ve read, I’d admit that. Firstly it’s set a fair bit earlier than any of her works – though I do recommend books from a wide range of eras so that isn’t exactly an issue.

Secondly it’s set very specifically in war-time, (WWI, naturally) while Blyton generally skirted around WWII in her books. Even the ones that did mention the war were a bit oblique about it.

Thirdly, it’s based on a true story which, as far as I’m aware, Blyton never wrote any fiction based on real events.

None of these are reasons not to read it, of course. It has a fast pace (which is very Blytonian) and a girl teaming up with a homeless boy to solve a mystery unaided by the police.

If I had one criticism it would be a slight lack of description. It’s a short and pacey book – we meet Nancy at 10pm one evening, Jamie not too much later. The next evening they set off again around 10pm and everything is done and dusted by the middle of the next morning. There’s not a whole lot of room for long descriptive passages, but it could have benefited from Blyton’s skilful way of describing people and places.

For example the poor state of Jamie’s clothes are described – this is important to show us why the police and others would not want anything to do with him. However nothing about Nancy is described leaving us with no idea what she looks like other than she had a coat on at one point. I knew fine well this was set in WWI, and I know more or less what the fashions were, and yet I ended up with a very 1940s or 50s image of Nancy. The same goes for the car that features. A 1915 car is a very different beast from the 1940s or 50s kind I was picturing.


Over all, though, it was an exciting read. You could feel the frustration of Nancy and Jamie as they travelled the Dundee and Angus coast trying to contribute in their own way to the war effort. The few helpful characters they met along the way were (if rarely physically described) were well-written and clearly the whole thing was very well researched.

I enjoyed the setting in particular, as of course I am familiar with all the places mentioned (with the exception of the lighthouse, of course. But I am putting Arbroath’s Signal Tower Museum on my list of places to visit). Your mileage may vary on that, depending on how much you know of this area.

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Monday #487

Well, I managed to write twice last week. Let’s see if I can manage to do it two weeks in a row! It’s the last week of the school holidays here, today we are going bowling and crazy golfing to celebrate Brodie turning 5.

Talking of birthdays, this week marks 125 years since Enid Blyton was born!

If you like Blyton: The Wreck of the Argyll by John K Fulton

and

Five on Finniston Farm

‘Old junk!’ shouted Great-Grandad again, banging with his glass now. ‘Do you call that great old cart-wheel you bought old junk? Why, that’s more than two hundred years old! My Great-Grandad made it—he told me so, when I was a mite of a boy. You won’t find another wheel like it in England. Hoo—that wheel was made before the first American was born! I tell you . . .’

Great-Grandad is great character and I always wish we could have had more of him in Five on Finniston Farm.

 

 

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The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure by Jacqueline Wilson

I finished the book earlier in the week, so finally I have finished the review!


The style and setting

I think the first thing I will say is that Jacqueline Wilson does not attempt to mimic Blyton’s writing style. This can be done well – but the best examples I have seen have been from fan-fiction writers. No professional author I’ve read has managed to do it very successfully.

Secondly, the book is set firmly in the present-day. The language is modern but fairly neutral – it isn’t full of slang or pop-culture references which would quickly date it. There’s also none of that strange dichotomy whereby some books have children exclaiming golly gosh how frightfully awful one minute and then spending their decimalised money the next.

There are a few brief references video games and Satnav (which stops working once they are near the Enchanted Wood – something magical going on, perhaps?) in the first chapter, but Wilson has kept the charming old holiday cottage a technology-free place to allow for a more timeless setting. It is not completely timeless, as the odd reference to modern activities are made, but they are rare.


What’s the same?

Wilson has not taken the entirely of the Faraway Tree cannon and added to it, but she has preserved the majority of it, making changes here and there to suit her narrative. Of course this book takes place some 70 years later, and so you’d imagine some things would change over that time period.

Anyway, what has remained the same are the inhabitants of the tree. Moon-Face is there, in his house with the slippery-slip and the red squirrel who collects the cushions. Silky is there, still baking magical treats. The Angry Pixie stills shouts out his window and throws water at unsuspecting climbersby. Dame Washalot is still washing away and also tipping water over unsuspecting climbers. The Saucepan Man and Mr Whatzisname are still friends.

Various lands still come to the top of the tree at random intervals, and there’s still the danger of being swept away if you stay too long in one of them.

The woods are still a mysterious place, over the ditch and full of wisha-wisha-wishas and friendly animals.


What’s different?

Aside from it being in the present day with different children, of course.

Silky shows herself to Birdie, the youngest, their first evening at the cottage, and then every time they go into the woods an animal meets them and leads them there, whereas in the original stories the children find out about the tree from some gnomes and have to persuade them to to show them the way. After that they are able to find it whenever they want.

I wondered if the tree, and its inhabitants got lonely after Jo, Fanny and Bessie stopped visiting, though perhaps their children and their children’s children would have? So perhaps its more of a sign of the times – the tree only allows trusted visitors and sends an escort, nobody else will ever find it.

The passage of time is different, too. In the originals the children would take off for a few hours and return after a few hours. Here they are only gone minutes, no matter how long they spend in the tree. Again, the tree is magic so this could be its way of maintaining a way for it to have visitors. In the present day children don’t get to go running off all day on adventures in the woods without someone at least wondering what they are up to.

Despite not having wings in the original books Silky was illustrated with wings by Rene Cloke, and then by most other illustrators after that, too. Interestingly she also has wings in Wilson’s book. I can imagine Wilson thinking how Silky doesn’t have wings, but she really ought to, and putting them in, rather than it being a mistake. There are so many other details from the original book in there that it’s obvious research has been done, but I’d be interested in seeing her actual thought process on it.

The lands that come are new for this story and are obviously designed to appeal to modern children. There is the Land of Unicorns (with unicorns being hugely popular for girls in particular), the Land of Bouncy Castles, The Land of Princesses and The Land of Dragons.

There was one new element that I wasn’t quite so keen on, and that was the hint of romance between Silky and Moon Face. I have only read the first two books, and only once each, so there may in fact be a subtle closeness between them in the original books, but I don’t think so. There’s nothing overtly romantic but there is definitely a special friendship there, with Moon Face rushing in to defend Silky and getting quite upset when he thinks she is going to go off with a prince. There is also a couple of references to kissing, for example the children looking for Silky and wondering if she’s off kissing the prince, which I’d prefer not to have had in this book.


Is it ‘woke’?

To answer in brief, it’s really not.

I mean, not unless you think that boys and girls both being allowed to do adventurous things is woke, or not having boys say things like ‘you girls can stay here and clean the house while I go exploring’. I don’t agree with rewriting the original books to ‘fix’ these things but it would be pretty weird and pointless to go inserting 1940s social attitudes into a 2022 novel, unless it was set in the 1940s.

There are perhaps three times where the children say anything deliberate about equality (but without using such a word). There’s nothing outlandish, nothing more than the kind of thing George would say about being as good as a boy, and why should she have to do the washing up just because she’s a girl. If I was to make any criticisms of the book it would be that one or two of these comments from the children seem a fraction contrived, or at least a little too obvious.

It’s interesting, though, that I feel the book is aimed a little more at girls than at boys. Almost all of Blyton’s books were aimed at both genders – Malory Towers and St Clare’s being the only strongly girl-orientated series – including the Faraway Tree books. This one isn’t strongly aimed at girls, but with the Land of Unicorns, a cute baby bear, The Land of Princesses, an emphasis on how pretty Silky and her ever-changing outfits are, and so on, I feel that the content is a little more stereotypically girly than ‘gender neutral’ as the Daily Mail called it. (Incidentally, the children are not at all gender-neutral. Milo likes comics and gaming, Birdie wants to be a princess and Mia loves unicorns.)


Over all?

Over all this was an enjoyable read. It was different enough from the original to stand apart as a modern continuation, but it also retained enough of the original books to be familiar.

The new foods Silky made were wonderfully imaginative and would have been perfectly at home in Blyton’s tales. The lands that visited the tree were interesting, with the last one being the sort of dangerous one that would have gotten the original trio into just as much trouble.

The one thing I really didn’t like were the illustrations. They managed to make even the sweetest of characters look positively terrifying! They’re not so bad in colour, on the jacket, but in shaded black and white… shudder. I don’t have my scanner set up right now but I will get some of the illustrations scanned and added as soon as I can so you can experience them for yourselves!


Have you, or will you read this?

 

 

 

 

 

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July 2022 round up

There was not an awful lot of blogging done last week – as I mentioned in the last Monday post I ended up being ill again – what a summer!


What I have read

Another not very good month – I didn’t read anything for about a week while I was ill. What I did read has been bolstered by Brodie discovering Roald Dahl and demanding I read his books to him while he’s in the shower, putting his pyjamas on, brushing his teeth and finally in bed.

What I did read is:

  • Wedding Bells for Land Girls (Land Girls #2) – Jenny Holmes
  • The Masked City (Invisible Library #2) – Genevieve Cogman
  • Just One Damned Thing After Another (St Mary’s#1) – Jodi Taylor
  • The Last Chance Hotel (Seth Seppi Mystery #1) – Nicki Thornton
  • The Twits – Roald Dahl
  • The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me – Roald Dahl
  • The Magic Finger – Roald Dahl

And I’m still working on:

  • A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
  • George’s Marvellous Medicine – Roald Dahl
  • Are We Having Fun Yet? – Lucy Mangan
  • The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure – Jacqueline Wilson
  • Scotland’s Lost Branch Lines: Where Beeching Got it Wrong – David Spaven

Anyone who’s read more than a few of these round ups will recognise Jodi Taylor’s name and probably be thinking She’s reading those books AGAIN? This is my fourth time reading the first in the series as it was all I could face when I wasn’t well – listening to the audiobook.


What I have watched

  • We’ve continued House of Games, Mythbusters and the new season of Only Murders in the Building, and started Ms Marvel.
  •  I finished Desperate Housewives – I binged quite a bit while I wasn’t well, and The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge
  • I continued Murder She Wrote series 10 & started 11, but it’s on DVD and I can only watch it in the living room, and when I can be bothered swapping discs so I have also watched various other things including Cabins in the Wild with Dick Strawbridge, the new series of Dream House Makeover and The Parent Trap (both the original and the remake).
  • Our weekend films were Renaissance Man, The Princess, and Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – I thought this was better than the first Dr Strange film.
  • On Tuesday nights we watched Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Honey I Blew Up the Kid
  • Brodie and I watched Ghostbusters 2 to console him after I encouraged him to bin a broken toy and he was sick from all the crying… He had watched the first one while I wasn’t well and now it’s his favourite thing ever.
  • We took Brodie to the cinema for the first time to see Minions: The Rise of Gru. Probably the weakest instalment in the series, but it still had its funny moments and Brodie was enthralled.
  • And lastly my sister and I went through to Edinburgh to see Footloose the Musical (we were supposed to see Bring it On earlier in the year but it was cancelled.)

What I have done

  • Managed away for a brief holiday to Tomintoul and took a ride on a steam train before I felt too ill to do anything else.
  • Went school uniform shopping for the first time, though I still have more to get.
  • Did several walks, and have been to the beach a few times – collecting pottery and glass every time of course.
  • Spent the height of the hot weather in the garden as I was just coming out of being unwell. Sadly the paddling pool had managed to develop multiple holes at some time over the winter so we had to resort to putting our feet in a big plastic box filled with water to cool off. That and eating ice poles.
  • Went to Cupar for their model railway exhibition, we all enjoyed looking at the set-ups and spotting the little details.

What I’ve bought

I filled another gap in my magazine collection with Volume 3 issue 26. I now have all of volume 3, (and all of volume 1) and only 12 more to collect from across the rest of the volumes. (If anyone’s has any spares or any to sell I am missing 2.14, 2.15, 4.22, 4.23, 4.24, 5.17, 5.19, 6.6, 6.13, 6.14 and 7.12.)


How was your July?

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Monday #486

I was going to begin today’s post by lamenting about promising a review of the Jacqueline Wilson Faraway Tree book last week, and then not delivering. (I was only halfway through the book by the time Friday came around and I didn’t feel like it would work if I reviewed the book in two halves. It may end up being two posts still, but I’d rather divide them by themes/topics).

Anyway, what actually happened was that I also failed to schedule last Monday’s post, so I never made the promise in the first place…

It’s August now so hopefully this will be a better month. I ended up losing a whole week in July as I had another bout of illness (I felt significantly worse than I had when I had Covid in June) – hence at least some of the blogging gaps last month.

July round up

and

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure by Jacqueline Wilson

“Hello, little bunny!” Birdy whispered too, though it almost came up to her knees.

“See how its ears are twitching,” Milo whispered. “It’s listening to us!”

“I am listening,” said the rabbit. “But it’s hard to hear exactly what you’re saying because you’re whispering.”

The older children meet their first magical creature in Jacqueline Wilson’s modern version of The Magic Faraway Tree. Birdy – the one who already believes in magic has already met a fairy, though no-one believes her.

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My favourite Blyton covers part three

I have already written two posts about my favourite covers, but as there are so many good ones I am back with a third. This time I’m going to look exclusively at the wrap-around kind of dustjacket. I have shown a few already – from the Adventure Series and the Caravan Family series amongst others – but here are some of the others I have found that didn’t fit into the categories I already used.

It’s hard to put into words why I like wraparound dustjacket illustrations so much. I mean, first, I suppose, it more than doubles the amount of space that was available for the artist to fill with their work. But there is also the clever way they use the spine and the back panel – all part of the same scene but so often beautifully framing individual elements so that they each create a picture in their own right.

Some jackets look nice from the front but when you open them out to get the full effect it just elevates them.


The Barney Mysteries

I have already featured one cover from the first book – the Rockingdown Mystery – but it wasn’t a wrap-around one. That book didn’t get one, despite having at least three early hardback editions.

Anyway, all the rest of the series did. I think my favourite two are from The Ring O Bells Mystery and The Rilloby Fair Mystery, though they are all good.

ring o bells mystery

The front of Ring O Bells is attractive, and this looks good on the shelf with just Loony visible on the spine, but opening it out reveals Diana holding on to the other end of the rope, with Naomi Barlow’s cottage hidden amongst the trees.

rilloby fair mystery

Again, this is a nice cover just from the front. However, opening it up to reveal a wider view of the fair is even better. I particularly like the framed post on the spine with the hanging sign that reads Enid Blyton, and Collins being written on the box supporting that ornament.

rubadub mystery

The front of The Rubadub Mystery is almost claustrophobic with the narrow passage filled with the enormous shadows of the children, and then opens up to reveal more of the village, and the mysterious light shining from the window.

the rat a tat mystery

The Rat-a-Tat cover doesn’t have a lot on the back but the snowed in house is still attractive, with the tower framed on the spine.

the ragamuffin mystery
And lastly the Ragamuffin cover, at first glance, looks rather bare on the back. But then you may notice some shadowy figures emerging from a cave. Plus Miranda and the man with the heavy sack are nicely framed on the spine.


Malory Towers

All the Malory Towers books had two different wrap around covers so I’ll just show a few of the best here.

Second Form at Malory Towers dust jacket 1957 reprint by Lilian Buchanan

The original jacket for Second Form is attractive but does not stand out terribly. This second reprint cover, however, has possibly the most exciting episode of the series front, side and back. From the front view we see Mary-Lou hanging from Daphne’s belt rope, and only when the cover is opened up do we see the rescue party about to leap into action.

The wraparound here on the (reprint) Upper Fourth is able to give us a much better view of a classroom than the front cover alone could. 

The same goes for the reprint of In the Fifth, which opens out from the stage of the pantomime to show the ‘orchestra’ and some of the audience.


Some other titles

The Magic Faraway Tree 

The front of this cover is very inviting as you almost wait to see is Silky is going to open her little yellow door. And then it opens up to show us the Angry Pixie, Moon-Face and some other inhabitants of the tree.

The Adventure of the Secret Necklace 

I absolutely love how Isabel Veevers has created an almost 3D scene with the spine forming the dividing wall between the corridor on the back and the room on the front cover. When the book is closed they are two separate scenes, but open, as above, the 3D effect is very clear.

Mr Pink Whistle’s Party

This is another beautiful front cover, packing in a ton of detail like the writing on the cake and the pleats in the skirts. Then opening it up there’s a whole host more detailed characters enjoying the party.


Do you have a fondness for the full jackets in particular? If so, what’s your favourite one?

 

 

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Malory Towers on TV series two – episodes nine and ten

I had almost forgotten about this, as it’s been quite a while since I last watched any of it. And with five episodes still to watch, I discovered five minutes before I sat down to episode nine that series 3 has arrived on iPlayer today.


Episode nine – the sneezing trick

This episode doesn’t really resemble anything from the Second Form book. Firstly we have the sneezing trick – as played by Alicia and Darrell in the Third Form.

The notion that the school might be closing is not really considered by the girls, this isn’t a trick played to keep the spirits up or anything like that, it’s just because Alicia has been sent it and can’t resist.

And so they do play it – despite Sally’s protests (much like in the book). They play it on Mam’zelle Rougier (Mr Parker being inexplicably absent this episode and there being no Mam’zelle Dupont at all) who, of course sneezes madly, causing all the girls to laugh from the moment it starts. In the books they always try desperately not to laugh as to not give the game away but on-screen they don’t seem to be able to do that – except Sally, of course.

Mam’zelle Rougier leaves class because of the sneezing, giving Sally another chance to remonstrate with the girls. Later, when Mam’zelle Rougier returns to her desk with Matron, and they both start sneezing they realise that it was a trick. This is funny, but not as funny as the sequence of Mam’zell Dupont, Miss Potts and Matron all getting the sneezes.

While both book Mam’zelles had a temper, Mam’zelle Rougier’s was colder and sharper, while Mam’zelle Dupont could rage but generally saw the funny side of things later. TV Mam’zelle takes a different direction here and gets upset – questioning why the girls play tricks on her (as if she has been singled out somehow) and why they do not like her.

Mam’zelle had already asked Sally if a trick had been played and she had – shock horror – outright lied about it. No ‘good’ Blyton character ever lies outright. They may hedge a little with statements like I don’t know who put the sneezing pellet there as they didn’t actually see which of the two girls it was, but they would never say It wasn’t a trick when they knew fine well it was.

She gets an unfortunately comeuppance, of course, as they identify the sneezing powder. Sally won’t snitch on Darrell and Alicia, though, and is punished by not being allowed to go away on the half-term trip.

Darrell is horrified that Sally is being punished over her trick and urges Alicia to come with her to take the blame. Alicia refuses as she sees that Sally is being punished for lying and her admitting to playing the trick won’t change that – she also points out that she took the blame for the caricatures so she’s not doing it again. It turns into a huge fight – a physical one – between the two girls with Darrell declaring she will never be Alicia’s friend ever again.

This is quite dramatic of them as they still have at least one more series to go, so either Alicia is going to have to do something heroic or generous to get back into Darrell’s good books or they may have to avoid each other for the rest of their school years. (In the book Alicia does come clean and every girl except Sally – the only one to oppose the trick – is punished with missing a half-term holiday.)

They get caught fighting and Darrell admits her part in the trick, earning her the punishment of missing the trip too.

Interestingly there’s no outward suggestion that Miss Grayling and Matron connect the dots between Sally’s lie, the fight and Darrell’s admittance of guilt. I think it should be fairly obvious to them that Alicia was involved in the trick but doesn’t want to own up. Still, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they do have an idea but also have a reason for not saying anything. I also noticed Gwen being her usual cruel self – having witnessed Darrell and Alicia rolling around on the floor she declares to Matron that Darrell started it, though she had no way of knowing that.

Talking of Gwen, the very minor secondary plot in this episode is the continuation of her being a thief. We’d already seen her taking Georgina’s compact, a shilling and her mother’s brooch, but now Irene’s hair-pin is missing…

Gwen then takes the brooch to Ron, telling him it’s an unwanted gift and asking him to take it to the village to sell it to the antique store. I have been baffled by her motivations for stealing, so this almost makes sense. She isn’t getting her allowance, so stealing things to sell for money has some logic at least.


Episode ten – The school trip

In addition to the items listed above, Alicia’s pen has gone missing and Mary-Lou’s lucky coin. This is the point where the girls come to the conclusion that this is not a coincidence and there is a thief about.

Gwen seems particularly anxious about her stash and keeps getting it out to examine it and then hide it in a new place. She’s also planning to buy the ice on the school trip – I’m not exactly sure why, it doesn’t seem like a very Gwen thing to do but I may have missed some earlier detail that would explain it.

Gwen – duplicitous to the end – spends time helping Mary-Lou look for her lucky coin and then they both miss the trip as they are late to the drive and the bus goes off without them. I suspect that it was deliberate on Gwen’s part, avoiding the trip to avoid buying the ices (the money for the brooch not having reached her yet.)

While searching for Mary-Lou’s coin again, Gwen locks her in the classroom cupboard, giving her time to go and hide her stolen stash again.

She spends a ridiculous amount of time taking it out her trunk to look at it, considering she shares a dorm with several other girls, girls who are the rightful owners of some of it! I literally kept shouting at the screen telling her to put the stuff away before she got caught. When she locks Mary-Lou in the cupboard it has been left under a hanky in the middle of her bed.

She is further delayed by Darrell throwing her the key and it going down a grate, but this serves a dual-purpose. First it gives her time to listen to Mary-Lou’s story of why the coin is special to her (purely sentimental) and Darrell and Sally find a ring in the grate which buys them some more conversation time with Miss Grayling.

The ring is unfortunately not part of the treasure as according to Lady Jane’s diary it was given to a housemaid (it doesn’t say why, though) some time before the rest was hidden. Miss Grayling impresses on them how one ring can’t rule them all save the school, but finding all the treasure could. Darrell and Sally then have a look at the diary and spot a possible clue about the treasure, leading them to a spot on the cliffs where they have unfortunately already collapsed. (My prediction is that when Mary-Lou falls off the cliff and Gwen – as she’s the thief – rescues her they see something sticking out the fallen cliff.)

Before this Darrell had already managed to warn her about Mr Thomas and the mines, a fact Miss Grayling took more seriously than Mam’zelle did, thankfully. Then she and Sally are caught sliding around in the mop bucket, causing Miss Grayling to laugh about how she and her siblings used to do the same.

They then draw her attention to some markings on a stone arch in the hallway – height marks of Miss Grayling and her siblings as they grew up in Malory Towers. Either I’ve missed something previously or this is a newly revealed secret designed to give Miss Grayling further impetus to save the school. It’s a nice little backstory, a little spoiled unfortunately by a) the girls never noticing the marks before and b) Miss Grayling having ‘forgotten’ all about them despite them being standing out clearly against the stone and being located in a well-used corridor right outside her office. Miss Grayling even says how she often thinks of Min, her six-year-old sister who died of measles. (I haven’t had a chance yet but I’d like to go back and try to see if the marks are even there in earlier episodes, particularly series one, as you can see below they’re pretty visible even on a screen shot!)

Back to Gwen, and in an attack of conscience she returns the coin to Mary-Lou and appears to want to return Irene’s hair pin too. The fact that Mary-Lou’s coin is sentimental (and badly damaged) makes it an interesting choice to steal. It would be recognised if she pulled it out her purse as it stands out, so she’s unlikely to spend it, so why take it?

It looks like things may be unravelling for her anyway, as the girls report seeing Mrs Lacey’s brooch in shop window. As it was Ron who sold it, however, I can see him getting the blame for at least a while.

Posted in Blyton on TV | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Monday #483

Only one post this week as I’m away for a few days, but one is better than none, especially when it’s very overdue!

Malory Towers on TV series two: episodes nine and ten

A cold hand seemed to creep round Gwendoline’s heart and almost stop her breathing. Suppose—suppose that the wind had blown little Mary-Lou over the cliff? Suppose that even now she was lying on the rocks, dead or badly hurt! The thought was so terrible that Gwendoline couldn’t swallow her morsel of bun and half-choked.

Funny that the book should contain a line that still fits perfectly despite them changing the roles of the characters. I am hoping this will play out much as it does in the book, of course swapping Gwen for Daphne as the rescuer. What will be interesting is the reveal of the thief and how on earth they will be able to justify keeping Gwen at the school, and how the girls will be able to forgive her.

 

 

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June 2022 round up

I might not have been on the blog as much as usual last month but I still did enough things to write about.


What I have read

Not a great month for reading as I barely read a thing for a week while I had Covid, I just couldn’t focus.

What I did read is:

  • Stepping Up – Sarah Turner
  • Puzzle Pirates – Susannah Leigh
  • The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1) – Genevieve Cogman
  • The No-Show – Beth O’Leary
  • The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl – Jean Willis, reviewed here
  • 101 Pieces of Me – Veronica Bennett

And I’m still working on:

  • Wedding Bells for Land Girls (Land Girls #2) – Jenny Holmes
  • The Masked City (Invisible Library #2) – Genevieve Cogman
  • A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

What I have watched

  • House of Games
  • The last episodes of the latest series of Taskmaster, and their second Champions of Champions special.
  • I’ve carried on with Desperate Housewives and am now onto season seven which I’ve never watched before.
  • On the Tuesday  we managed to get together my sister and I watched Father of the Bride
  • We continued Stranger Things and finished Obi-Wan Kenobi.

What I have done

  • We had our family holiday in Glencoe, and were lucky to have a lot of warm days and sunshine. We drove up to Oban to visit Dunstaffnage Castle and Mccaig’s Tower (a huge folly), and of course treated ourselves to ice creams to cool off.
  • We took a boat trip on Loch Shiel, and afterwards went up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint in time to see the steam train cross it.
  • We also drove up to Fort William to visit Treasures of the Earth – a favourite from my childhood – and had a quick look at Neptune’s Staircase and then crossed the road to see the steam train again as it headed north.
  • We had a couple of days where we didn’t go far, and visited the former slate quarry at Ballachulish (now home to a lot of tadpoles, fish and birds) and built a dam in the river behind the house, and took a couple of walks around a lochan (full of very hungry ducks).
  • Also local to us was a lovely little folk museum and a group of deer which we saw in the fields behind our house and even the garden too.
  • After that we came home, had time to visit the wildlife centre and then caught COVID which cost us a whole week.
  • Post COVID we managed to have our delayed BBQ for father’s day, and Brodie finished nursery forever (sob) so we got to go along for a celebration and join in some activities with him.
  • We also went to a play session in the park which was filmed for the local news and Brodie ended up on TV!

For context: the photo of Brodie in his waterproofs was taken at nursery. The hole he is pointing to normally holds a bowl for the mud kitchen. It is this hole he chose to climb into and get stuck in during his second-last week at nursery…


What did your June look like?

 

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My top five St Clare’s villainesses by Chris

I suppose the St Clare’s books were mainly aimed at girls, and I probably wouldn’t have read them as a child had I not had five sisters, four of them older than me, and so I inherited their copies. For some reason they either did not like or did not have Malory Towers books. Anyway, I read them and one of the things which appealed to me about them was that, like many of Enid Blyton’s books, there are clearly signalled heroes and villains, or, in the case of St Clare’s, heroines and villainesses.

In St Clare’s, heroines range from plain decent Hilary Wentworth and Lucy Oriell, to decent – but flawed – Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan, to decent – but a bit cheeky – tricksters Bobby Ellis and Janet Robins, to cheeky – but fundamentally decent – French minxes Claudine and Antoinette.

But, actually, Blyton was more subtle than that, and in St Clare’s there are several characters who initially appear to be villainesses (like Mirabel Unwin and Margery Fenworthy) who turn out to be heroines. I can’t, though, think of any who travel in the opposite direction, from heroine to villainess.

Anyway, I must confess that reading them as a child my main enjoyment was in seeing the villainesses ‘taken down a peg or two’, as Blyton might have put it. So, here, in ascending order of badness, are my top five St Clare’s villainesses along with any mitigations there may be for their faults.

Alma Pudden (Fifth Formers at St Clare’s)

Alma, demoted from the Sixth Form, steals food from the midnight feast cupboard and when Alison realises that someone is pilfering, leading to the cupboard being locked, she plays nasty tricks on her. Then, after Antoinette realises that Alma is the pilferer and humiliates her for her greed, Alma sneaks to the Mirabel, the Games Captain, about the planned feast.

Mitigation: In my memory, Alma was most dislikeable, but thinking about it now, I feel she was unfairly depicted. She was certainly wrong to sneak, but it does seem as if she had an eating disorder and, really, her main ‘sin’ is being fat. Blyton eggs us on to dislike her for that reason alone by naming her ‘Pudden’, which of course leads to her being nicknamed ‘Pudding’ by the other girls (there was actually a recipe in Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook of 1861 for ‘Alma Pudding’).

Elsie Fanshawe (The Second Form at St Clare’s)

Like Alma Pudden, ‘Catty’ Elsie should be in the form above, although in her case she was not put up rather than being dropped down, but is made co-head of the second form. She abuses that position to indulge her spiteful nature, leading a campaign of nasty tricks against Mirabel Unwin which she tries to blame on her fellow head girl. However, the form turns against her and decide not to accept her as co-head, leading to Elsie’s humiliation. Despite attempts to reach out to her, Elsie tries to ruin Carlotta’s birthday party but fails, in the process exposing herself to a dressing down from Miss Jenks. However, with the form’s support, Miss Theobald allows Elsie to move to the third form.

Mitigation: It’s hard to forgive Elsie’s spite against Mirabel, especially, but, to her credit, she seems to understand her shortcomings when Miss Theobald proposes to move her up to the third form, despite her behaviour. She’s also quite nice to Gladys at the end, so we should probably accept Miss Theobald’s judgement.

Erica (The O’Sullivan Twins)

Having found out about it by bullying Gladys, a maid, Erica sneaks on Tessie’s midnight feast by waking up Mam’zelle. Then, when sent to Coventry by the form for having done this, she takes her revenge on Pat (who had most keenly encouraged the punishment) by ruining her knitting and stamping on her nature work. Erica allows Margery Fenworthy to take the blame for this, until Margery rescues her from a fire, at which point she confesses. Miss Theobald then expels Erica from St Clare’s.

Mitigation: Erica (unless I’ve missed it, we are not told her surname) does confess in the end, so at least she has a conscience. In the end, though, the decision to expel her weighs against her, because we know that ‘wise’ Miss Theobald rarely makes mistakes.

Miss Quentin (The Second Form at St Clare’s)

Miss Quentin is the only mistress in this list. A flamboyant Drama teacher, she actively encourages ‘featherhead’ Alison, the O’Sullivan twins’ cousin, to idolize her. Alison is then devastated to overhear her idol speaking contemptuously of her behind her back, including comparing her to a ‘pet dog’. Whilst it’s true that Alison is far too given to heroine-worship, Miss Quentin, as an adult, should not have led her on, and her remarks about Alison to other teachers were spiteful and unprofessional. And although she was within her rights to give the best part in the play to the best actress, rather than to Alison, she could have handled the situation much better.

Mitigation: Miss Quentin leaves at the end of term, having received an invitation to pursue a career on the stage, so it seems that her heart was never in teaching and she was just at St Clare’s as a stopgap. And she did not know that Alison would overhear her conversation. Even so, as a teacher and an adult, Miss Quentin has to be judged against a higher bar than the others in this list.

Prudence Arnold (Summer Term at St Clare’s)

Prudence ‘Sour Milk’ Arnold sneaks on the tricks that Bobby and Janet play, spies on Carlotta the ‘circus girl’ hoping (though failing) to turn the other girls against her for her ‘common’ background, and sucks up to rich American heiress, Sadie Greene. Worst of all, she enters into an abusive ‘friendship’ with Pam Boardman, making the girl ill. When her wrongdoings are exposed, she shows herself to be a coward, sobbing to Miss Theobald to ‘let her go home’. Miss Theobald confirms that Prudence will be expelled.

Mitigation: Very little can be said in Prudence’s favour. We know she is a Vicar’s daughter, and perhaps her overly ‘pious’ ways can be attributed to that, but there’s really no excuse for her behaviour.

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Monday #482

I’m so glad to finally have gotten that Naughtiest Girl Diary done and dusted last week. Now I can move on to other ideas, though it feels like I just did a monthly round up, and yet here I am doing another.

Chris’s Top 5 St Clare’s villainesses

and

June round up

On Wednesday I arrived at a branch library to cover a shift and there was a copy of the new Faraway Tree book by Jacqueline Wilson prominently on display. This improved my day quite a bit as it turned out that after me rushing up there from my regular branch the shift had already been covered by someone else due to poor communication.

I had actually forgotten that the book coming out at the end of April and although there are 14 library copies (one per branch) in my city this was the first time I’d seen one. Naturally I borrowed it straight away, and this is me making myself accountable. Hopefully now that I’ve admitted to having it I’ll get around to actually reading it – I mean, miracles can happen, right?

You can read my thoughts on Jacqueline Wilson writing a new, modern story based on the Faraway Tree series here.

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The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl

I celebrated a little presumptuously a few months ago when I finished the Naughtiest Girl continuations by Anne Digby. I then remembered I also had The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl. By remembered I mean found the book behind the sofa. I borrowed it at some point before the lockdown in 2020, so it’s high time I read it so I can return it.


Several degrees of separation

A diary belonging to Elizabeth Allen could be quite interesting. Difficult to write, perhaps, making sure all her entries matched the events of the books whilst still adding something new and interesting for readers.

But that’s not what Jeanne Willis has done. Elizabeth Allen has been brought smack into the 2010s, and enough changes have been made that no painstaking timelines and detail-checking are required. The girls’ names are different, and I wonder who this book is aimed at. If it’s for fans of the OG* naughtiest girl then there’s a lot of work in trying to figure out who’s supposed to be who. If it’s for children who have never read the original books then… why bother?

So, in short, this Naughtiest Girl is not at all like the original one.

*original gangster, but means someone who’s old-school. I threw it in to reflect all the slang in the diary, but I’m not sure that I can pull it off.


A guide to the characters

Anyone who’s read the original series will be familiar with the characters, but I feel like a guide is needed here as it’s not always obvious who is who.

Elizabeth is still Elizabeth, and her mummy and daddy are the same (but they’re off to Africa to study baboons, and instead of buying Elizabeth a laptop they bought her a diary, leading to a big rant at the beginning of the book).

Instead of Miss Scott, Elizabeth has Kesi, who has lived with them since Elizabeth was born in Kenya.

On the train, then at the school Elizabeth meets:

  • Hannah James aka Hamster – Ruth
  • Ellie Marden (referred to once as Ellie Marsden) aka Smellie Marsden – Helen?
  • Joanna Townsend aka Mousie – obviously Joan Townsend
  • Mei Ling – Eileen
  • Melinda Cartwright aka Carthorse – Belinda?
  • Shauna O’Sullivan – Nora O’Sullivan, one tiny improvement is that she speaks in an Irish-sounding pattern, whereas Blyton mentioned she was Irish once then seemed to forget about it.
  • Rebekah Shah – Rita the head girl
  • Harry Dunn – Harry Dunn
  • William Murricane – William the head boy. Murricane is actually a real (if uncommon) name but has clearly been chosen purely so Elizabeth can nickname him Windy Hurricane.
  • Rowan McDonald
  • Kenji Nakahara
  • John Terry – John Terry but nicknamed JT (and now Scottish)
  • Humphrey Pickleton aka Grumphrey (accuses Harry Dunn of cheating)
  • Ricardo Marconi – Richard

The fact that names have been changed and events and dialogues are reported via Elizabeth’s diary entry means it’s really hard to know who a lot of the pupils are meant to be. It’s not until Elizabeth quotes a bit of dialogue from the original book, or makes a particular observation that some of them become clear.


The events

While the story plays out in more or less the same way various details are change throughout.

As above it begins with Elizabeth not getting a laptop, and she tries to burn the diary (might have been good if she had succeeded). She tries behaving really well, and also really badly to get out of going to Whyteleafe. There’s a strop over having to wear tights (not stockings) and Elizabeth does pin a pair to Kesi’s skirt, like she does to Miss Scott (though there’s no seccotine in the shoes). I actually liked the added detail that Kesi went to Tesco with the tights pinned to her, and they got caught in someone else’s trolley in the cheese aisle. That’s a good way of modernising the book while staying true to the original.

The uniform has changed to a kilt and beret, for some reason, and they are in year 7 rather than first form.

Shauna/Nora still has her run ins with Elizabeth and removed the belongings from the top of the dresser. The items are different, though, as they are now photos, hair straighteners, lucky hippo, catapult, musical torch, lip salve, scrunchy, bubble-gun stash and nodding dog.

Things then escalate. Elizabeth runs Shauna’s bra up the flagpole (Elizabeth frequently mentions that Shauna has boobs like melons etc) with Shauna retaliating by hanging Elizabeth’s pants on a hockey stick stuck out a window, getting them soaking. She uses a hairdryer to dry the pants as the rads (radiators) are off. Somehow this takes her an hour and she blows up the (borrowed) hairdryer.

Despite it being banned Elizabeth has snuck her old phone (but apparently not a charger) along. She also hides her money in a book so that she doesn’t have to hand it over, she is planning to use it to run away to stay with her uncle. She’s silly enough to put it back in her purse and take it to the meeting, though, so it gets taken in the same way as the original book.

She gets sent out of class (though her misbehaviours are a little different) she gets laughed at for wearing socks instead of stockings (though it happens at a different point in the story). She goes to the village alone and is caught by Rebekah. She pours blackcurrant juice on her rug (rather than ink).

She takes music lessons with Ricardo, who puts on an over-done Italian accent. She has her fight with Harry, though instead of tipping water over him she puts porridge in his pockets. He gets his own back by pinning a sign to her back. But it’s not the sign we know about the Bold Bad Girl. Instead it says I love John Terry.

She spends all her money (£50) on presents for Joanna’s birthday and gets caught out, Joanna goes for a walk and gets soaked and falls ill. Elizabeth writes to Mrs Townsend and it ends up resolved in a broadly similar fashion.

She still intends to go home at half-term and is talked out of it by the head boy and girl.


The writing

I really didn’t like the writing, but I could tell that from reading one page. As it’s a diary it isn’t written in full sentences. Bridget Jones’ Diary is a bit like that, quite abbreviated to reflect it being handwritten and often at speed. But the Naughtiest Girl’s writing is just all over the place, and although possibly accurate for an 11 year old it’s awful to read.

The worst offenders are

  • this + that + something else
  • it was v v annoying
  • I did it cos
  • I’m in big trubs

I can understand wanting to be brief but given how long Elizabeth yammers on about nonsense, saving a few syllables here and there is largely irrelevant.

It’s clear that Jeanne Willis wanted to write in a ‘young’ style, as Elizabeth, but as so often the case a grown-up trying to imitate the slang and speech style of older children and teens it is often very cringe-worthy, and has dated very quickly.

I mean were 11 year olds (even in 2016) talking about strutting their funky stuff, or throwing crazy shapes?

There’s also a huge reliance on immature humour. It’s probably an accurate representation of at least some girls – I have an 8 year old niece who finds bodily functions and body parts hilarious. But you can barely go a page without Elizabeth talking about Shauna’s boobs, or her bra, or which teacher is adjusting her bra strap. Or kicking someone in the goolies, girls being sweaty or farting or peeing in the pool. Or Joanna’s boobies, or girls in the nuddy getting changed, or poop hitting the fan and it goes on and on. Even Mr Lewis talks about how his pupils don’t give a ferret’s fart.

It is also very definitely set in 2016, which is not a particularly bad thing. This is made clear by references to WH Smiths (though she has the notion that the shopkeeper would put aside a CD for her, as if it’s some quaint independent store), Pizza Hut, DVDs, decimalised (and reasonable amounts of) money, Coke, Britain’s Next Top Model and so on. Though there are a few darlings and shan’ts thrown in.

What is not so great is it has fully embraced the depressing modern trend of girls as young as 11 being obsessed with their looks. Blyton could be rather mean about girls who were fat, pasty or spotty but it was mostly (I believe) her way of encouraging good eating and exercise in an over simplistic belief that it would fix these ‘problems’.

There’s a lot of nail filing, eyebrow plucking and even ladyshaves. Elizabeth mentally praises Shauna for getting rid of her moustache, as if that somehow makes her a better person (this is in addition to a lot of nasty comments about the size of her chest). There are even references to getting a plastic surgeon, along with a makeover for Joanna where they accidentally shave off half an eyebrow and repair it by gluing some fake fur on with a Pritt Stick.

There is also the pointless addition of Elizabeth having a big crush on John Terry, which adds nothing to the story and just pushes the idea that girls and boys can’t be friends without it becoming romantic.

There are also a few lines, casually thrown in that seemed a bit too mature for the audience, based on the rest of the writing especially. It’s not to say that these are inappropriate themes for older children, but the accessibility of the rest of the book and the immature humour means that it will probably be read by girls like my 8 year old niece and I’m not sure I’d be happy with her reading the following:

  • I hope they haven’t built gallows in the playground or I’m gonna swing
  • this hell hole
  • what do I have to do to get out of here, commit homicide?
  • Beans [her pet] is suicidal

Handled sensitively none of these themes should be excluded from children’s books but the casual, blithe way they are thrown in as jokes seems very distasteful and inappropriate to me.


A few positives

There were a few clever jokes, I’ll admit that. As above I enjoyed the modernising of the stockings prank.

Elizabeth changing the school name to Frightleafe, Blightleafe Tighteleafe, Spiteleafe and so on (though she runs out eventually and has to reuse some of them) is quite funny, especially at the end when she decides to say and changes it to Righteafe.

Her joke about someone looking like a lizard as they were a monitor raised a smile, as did her observing that Joanna had more than six used tissues on her drawers and it was  a wonder that Shauna didn’t have anything to say about it.

Lastly, when Richard says Sir, do I have to play with her? She’s a girl. Elizabeth writes how Mr Lewis ignored that sexist remark. (Of course it would have been even nicer if she’d challenged it out loud.)


A few things that don’t make sense

The French mistress is normally just referred to as M’selle (rather than Blyton’s usual Mam’zelle) but on one occasion she is M’selle Dupont. This is Whyteleafe, not Malory Towers. It’s possible that it’s a little in-joke, an Easter-egg, but it looks more like an accident.

At one point Elizabeth gets Shauna in a headlock, but this is never mentioned again. Attacking a monitor would surely lead to some sort of punishment?

Elizabeth defending her parents is similarly outlandish, she doesn’t  just stamp her foot and insist that her parents have beautiful manners, instead she does that and also calls William you son of a baboon at the top of her voice. Again, this isn’t treated as a separate ‘crime’ and the story just carries on without it being mentioned.

Lastly, a back-story for Shauna is crammed in near the end of the book as she tells Elizabeth that she was so mouthy when she first came to the school that she had no pocket-money for a month, but with the school’s help she settled down and became a monitor.


So what did I think?

I thought it was pretty awful. The odd amusing part can not make up for the rest of it. All the heavier parts of the book – Joan’s backstory and her reconnecting with her mother, Elizabeth’s soul-searching over whether to stay or go and the lesson she learns about it being a brave thing to change her mind are completely ruined by the irreverent and always-trying-to-be-funny writing style.

Other enjoyable parts like the details of what Elizabeth does in the school gardens are abandoned in favour of her gushing about John Terry. It has the same number of pages as the 2012 edition of the original book, but somehow most of the details are missing and many minor things are skipped altogether. The font is larger and a fair bit of space is ‘wasted’ with scribblings, bubble fonts, bullet pointed lists and so on.

The majority of the changes – particularly the new names for the cast are pointless. I can understand wanting to modernise the odd name, and/or suggest a little more diversity but half the changes are plain silly, and Elizabeth’s nicknames on top are utterly ridiculous. Joanna is Mousie throughout, and she then starts calling Elizabeth Monkey. Elizabeth uses Carthorse, Hamster and Smellie Marden right though, which does not give her the same redemption arc as she realises she doesn’t hate the school or the pupils. Instead she just comes off as mean and nasty to the end.

One star, I do not recommend!

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The Blyton covers that give away the endings

I have done a lot of posts looking at the cover art for the books. How the styles have changed over time, my favourite covers and the ones I think are terrible. Now for some that give away the ending, or other important plot points. Some will have artistic merit, others will probably be bad, but they will contain spoilers.


The Famous Fives

Five Go Adventuring Again

More than one of these covers reveal the location of one end of the Secret Way. The Five spend a lot of time puzzling over the clues on the bit of linen, and tapping away at wooden panels at Kirrin Farmhouse. Many of the covers – including the first edition, though not terribly obviously – show the Five in the secret passage. It’s the Five, though, so finding a secret passage is almost inevitable. However, showing that the secret entrance they are hunting so hard for is in the floor, beside a fireplace and in a room full of books, that’s a real spoiler.

Five Go Off in a Caravan

Likewise this book has a few covers showing the children underground, but it’s hard to do a cover without giving something away. What is easy not to give away, though, is the ending. Yet two of the covers show them finding the jewellery, giving away the whole mystery of why Lou and Dan are so determined to keep the caravans away from their underground hiding spot.

 

Five Have a Mystery to Solve

Two things are given away between some of the covers. One being that there is some importance to the well on the island, and that the Five find treasure. I had thought about listing some of the Five On Finniston Farm covers, for showing treasure, but in that book the Five know -or at least believe the rumours – that treasure is to be found in the remains of the castle dungeons. Showing them finding it makes the book a story about how they did it. Whereas showing them finding a treasure that the blurb doesn’t even hint about, that’s something else.


 

The Adventure Series

Some of these are slightly more grey areas in terms of how much they are spoilers.

The Valley of Adventure

Depending on what blurb you read you may well know that the pilots of the plane are looking for some sort of treasure in the valley. And that sort of excuses the treasure on the front cover. (The early covers with the statues and stalagmites/tites are less evocative of ‘treasure’ in its more obvious forms).

The Circus of Adventure

Showing the children in the circus – even Philip with the bears – seems reasonable.

Showing the daring tightrope rescue, however, seems like a spoiler. Part of the story is a) finding out where the children are being held, then working out a way to rescue them. Showing that on the cover gives rather a lot away. (If it wasn’t for the change of shirt these two could be the same scene a minute or two apart in fact.) Saying that, though, the tightrope scene graces the frontispiece of the early Macmillan editions, thus giving it away before you read chapter one.

The Mountain of Adventure

This probably has the most clear-cut spoiler for the series. While most covers show the outside of the mountain, one shows inside complete with a mad scientist (The King of the Mountain, possibly, given his bald dome) and weird machines.


The Treasure Hunters

One more treasure one for now. Three of the four covers for The Treasure Hunters (including the first edition) show the children finding the treasure. As adults, we know that any Enid Blyton book about treasure hunting will definitely lead to treasure being found. For children, though, I can’t help but feel that this takes away rather a lot of the anticipation and the mystery! Perhaps children don’t see it that way, though. Perhaps they are simply excited by seeing treasure on the cover, but don’t then think about what that means for the plot?


How many of these do you see as spoilers, and how much do you think it matters?

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Monday #481

I went AWOL again last week. Unfortunately nothing as fun as a holiday, rather I came down with my first dose of Covid. I haven’t read a book or opened my laptop for a whole week, but I am more or less back to normal now so it’s back to business.

I know I’ve said I will review The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl for about two months straight, but I’ve almost finished it and written the first 800 words of the review so who knows, this week might be the week.

Blyton covers that give away the ending

and

The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl by Jean Willis

‘Well, we’re all going down to Cherry-Tree Farm to stay with Auntie Bess for at least six months!’ shouted Penelope, and she danced round the table in joy.

‘Penny! Are you sure?’ cried Rory.

‘Oh, Penny! It can’t be true!’ shrieked Sheila.

‘But what about school?’ asked Benjy in surprise.

‘Mummy said that the doctor advised a good long holiday for all of us,’ said Penny, still skipping about happily. ‘She said . . .’

‘Penny, do stop still and tell us everything properly,’ begged Rory. So Penny sat down on a stool and told her brothers and sister what she had heard.

‘Well, we’ve all had measles, and then we had the flu, and then Benjy and I got that awful cough, and Mummy said we were all so thin and pale, and we didn’t eat enough, and the doctor said the only thing to do was to let us run wild down in the country, and Mummy said, “What about Cherry-Tree Farm?” and the doctor said, “Splendid,” and Daddy said, “Just the thing,” and I listened and didn’t say a word, and . . .’

This is probably the most generous holiday due to illness in any of Blyton’s books. Usually the children get a few weeks somewhere, though even that’s not to be sniffed at. I could sure do with a holiday!

the children of cherry tree farm enid blyton

 

 

 

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May 2022 round up

I’m a little bit later doing this than usual, because I was away on holiday. The holiday was in June, though, so I won’t be rounding that up until next month!


What I have read

What I have read is:

  • Love Your Life – Sophie Kinsella
  • The Naughtiest Girl Marches On (Naughtiest Girl #10) – reviewed here
  • Dilly’s Hope (Dilly’s Story #3) – Rosie Goodwin
  • The Secret of Haven Point  – Lisette Auton, reviewed here
  • The Sea of Adventure TV Novelisation – Nigel Robinson, reviewed here
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  • The Last Library – Freya Samson
  • A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife (Cornish Midwife #2) – Jo Bartlett
  • Read Between the Lines (Ms Right #1) – Rachel Lacey
  • Amongst Our Weapons (Rivers of London #9) – Ben Aaronovitch

And I’m still working on:

  • The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl – Jean Willis
  • Wedding Bells for Land Girls (Land Girls #2) – Jenny Holmes
  • The Clanlands Almanac – Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

What I have watched

  • I attempted to make inroads into the many episodes of Hollyoaks I have recorded but I think I have more or less given up on it now. I have too many to watch to catch up, and so after more than ten years of never missing an episode I think I’m done with it.
  • I have stuck with House of Games, though. Also Taskmaster.
  • I’ve also carried on with Desperate Housewives and am on series five.
  • We slogged through Zero Chill on Tuesday nights, and it remained awful so I don’t know why we bothered.
  • We started the new series of Stranger Things and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

What I have done

  • We went ten-pin bowling, first time I’ve gone in at least twenty years. Safe to say I was not good, even with the bumpers on. We also did crazy golf that day which I was marginally better at, but it was probably good that we didn’t actually record our scores.
  • I did a few toy repairs with a 3d pen which is much harder than it looks, I can barely draw in 2d let alone with a third dimension. One held up quite well (the tow bar on a car) the other did not (the skids on a helicopter).
  • We took yet another trip to the beach but also visited the castle beside it, something I’ve only done a couple of times before.
  • Made my first cheesecake which although very runny tasted OK.
  • I continued my sewing classes and learned how to do machine embroidery – basically setting it up and it does it for you with a preprogramed pattern!
  • Visited the sea life centre for the first time since before the lockdowns, and also spent a bit of time at the beach
  • Saw the Loads o’ Lorries event at the transport museum
  • Visited the botanic gardens on their open day and went pond dipping
  • Was a (fully-dressed) life model for the teenage art class in the library (I was asked to fill in at the last minute).
  • Took Brodie’s Paddington to work and let him get up to all sorts of mischief

What I’ve bought

I often go months without buying anything Blyton-related and then buy two things another month.

In May I bought another issue of Enid Blyton’s magazine to fill a gap in my collection, volume 2 issues 14 and 15 still elude me, though.

I also bought this magazine as I hadn’t seen it before. It’s one from a series where you got a magazine and a classic children’s book every fortnight so it was nice to see Blyton be included as a classic.

What did your May look like?

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Monday #479

I know that at least one person noticed that I have been AWOL the last few weeks. I was away on holiday and the week before that was just so busy. But I am back now, so it’s business as usual.

May round up

and

The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl by Jeanne Willis

Newly published this week is Zöe Billings’ new book – The Secret of Flittermouse Cliffs. I reviewed her first The Secret of Tull Hall after it came out last year, and this one features the same children. This time they are off to an outdoor activity centre where something just isn’t quite right…

I have already read this as I proof-read it, but I will review it once I’ve read it properly.

 

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My favourite Blyton covers part two

There were far too many lovely covers to put into one post, so here are some more of my favourites.


Grace Lodge

Grace Lodge is another big name in terms of Blyton’s illustrators, having done at least 45 first editions plus potentially hundreds of short stories.

I particularly like the covers for A Story Party with Enid Blyton, and A Picnic Party with Enid Blyton. One of the special things about these covers is that Grace Lodge got to draw Enid Blyton on them, along with the children at the parties.

In a departure from her usual realistic style I also really like this striking later reprint of Three Boys and a Circus by Grace Lodge. It has that red-blue-yellow colour scheme that I seem to be attracted to but I also like the silhouetted animals and people.


Water

Another theme that revealed itself in the earlier post was covers with water on them. Here are a couple more, from the Caravan Family series.

The Saucy Jane Family looks nice enough with just the front cover (which seems to be how we’ve always shown it on the blog) but the full dust jacket is even better.

Again this has a lot of red, blue and yellow, as well as the water. I love the reflections in the rippling water.

The Seaside Family also looks even better fully opened out. It’s also full of red, blue, yellow and water so obviously a winner for me. I love beaches as well.


Armadas

These are attractive covers but can’t quite compare to the detail on the larger canvass of a hardback. Some, which I had as children, are most likely nostalgia picks, and even some of the others there’s a certain sense of nostalgia in the style.

The above were all ones I had and looking at them just makes me want to read the book.

Below are two school ones that I didn’t have. I like line drawn green background on the Naughtiest Girl, especially with the green uniforms of the two girls (I don’t recall the Whyteleafe uniforms ever being described as green but for aesthetic purposes they work!)

The pillow fight on The Twins at St Clare’s just looks really fun and the girls sensible uniforms really contrast with the sunny yellow background.


Real Nostalgia

As much as I like some covers I can also appreciate their lack of artistic merit, and the way they contradict the text.

One in particular that I really like is a bit garish. As a child I had this in my head as a group of American girls on a night out – I have no idea why, but somehow this image didn’t say 1940s school girls having a midnight feast. I think the pyjamas look a little like fashionable jumpsuits, and the dressing gowns like coats but where American came from I don’t know.

Anyway, I can appreciate that this is not a great cover but I still like it!


Ruth Palmer

An honourable mention has to go to Ruth Palmer whose modern covers are the only ones I would consider buying. She’s the cover artist for the Famous Five for Grown-Ups books, but has also done covers for both the original and continuation books for Malory Towers and St Clare’s.

Here are a few of her best, at least in my opinion. It’s unusual for me to have a continuation book anywhere near the word favourite but I like the way that the rear window of the car frames Malory Towers on Goodbye Malory Towers.


Did any of your favourites make the cut this time? I have at least one more post planned, for wraparound dustjackets.

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Monday #477

A mix of positives and negatives this week. I’ve briefly flicked through The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl and from that I can tell that it’s going to be atrocious, but I can’t bring myself to return it without reading it. I’m just a glutton for punishment.

More of my favourite covers

and

The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl by Jeanne Willis

Once a sea-lion ate more than his fair share of fish, and this is how it happened. The keeper had a truckful of fish, which was the supply for the whole of the Zoo, not just for the sea-lions only. He wheeled it into the sea-lions’ enclosure and then went to shut the gate.

Albert, a sea-lion, happened to see the fish on the truck, and thought it a glorious idea to eat fish without having to catch it first! So he galloped clumsily up, and when the keeper came back after a few moments he found his truck empty! How Albert could have swallowed all the number of fish on it is a mystery, but he did. The keeper said he looked just like a blown-up balloon!

Of course, the other fish-eating members of the Zoo could not go without their meal simply because Albert had been so greedy. So in a great hurry messengers had to be sent to buy more fish from all the fishmongers round—and, would you believe it, when the keeper took his place to feed the seals and other sea-lions, Albert barked for his share just as if he had never touched a fish in his life! But I don’t expect many fish were thrown in his direction that day!

Just one of the many funny anecdotes in The Zoo Book.

 

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If you like Blyton: The Secret of Haven Point by Lisette Auton

I first heard of this book when the cover artist (Gillian Gamble) posted about it on Facebook. I saw the lighthouse and was immediately interested, as somehow, despite only featuring prominently in one book that I can think of, I associate lighthouses with Enid Blyton.


Haven Point

Haven Point is not a typical peninsula with a lighthouse. Normal peninsulas are generally accessible to people – and if they aren’t there are fences or walls to claim ownership and keep people out. Haven Point has barriers – magical ones. They are invisible and keep the peninsula out of sight and out of mind. They only let in the sort of people who will fit in.

Old Benevolent – Old Ben for short – is the lighthouse, where some of the inhabitants of Haven Point live, though there are so many now that cottages have sprung up to accommodate all the rest.

Once upon a time Cap’n lived alone in Old Ben (well, alone unless you count the kitten living in his beard). And then the first of his Wrecklings arrived. Alpha Lux (so named as Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and she was found in a Lux soap box) is the first, and our narrator.

The Wrecklings are so called as, well, they literally go wrecking. However, they are not like One-Ear, Nosey and Bart. Or at least, they are not very like them.

Firstly, they only wreck ships from companies with a dodgy reputation, Cap’n himself calling them seafaring Robin Hoods. It’s all handled carefully – the boats are not truly wrecked, just helped to unload their cargo by the mermaids that live off the shore of Haven Point. The mermaids then cause the ships’ crews to forget all about it with their magical songs, and the boats carry on. Lastly, they only wreck as it’s the only way to get certain supplies – things beyond what they can grow and make at Haven Point. Although the barriers are there to keep the outsiders out, the Wrecklings don’t venture out into the outside either.


The mystery of Haven Point

The mystery, to begin with, is who or what is watching Alpha? Alpha notices a glint of light up on the cliffs a few times, in a place they’ve been banned from playing in as it’s dangerous. If this was the Famous Five they’d be shouting FIELD GLASSES straight away, but, Alpha’s not immediately sure. That’s partly because although she has a bad feeling, like someone’s watching, and there’s danger afoot, her the barriers aren’t meant to let anyone like that in.

She does investigate, though, along with her best friend, and finds an intruder.

Then the mystery becomes who exactly is the intruder, and is anything he’s said actually the truth?

This one is harder for Alpha to work out as the adults – how very dare they – take over rather a lot. From what Alpha’s seen and heard, the intruder isn’t actually as evil as they think, but that’s not automatically believed by everyone.

A note on what I said there – about the adults. Not all the wrecklings that arrive are babies. Some are older children or even teenagers. They all turn up one way or another, guided by some sort of magic that leads them to this safe haven – or what had been a safe haven. It doesn’t feel so safe with an intruder amongst them, especially when they start to think that someone on the inside has been helping him.

With the truth revealed, the people of Haven’s Point come to a crossroads. Their enemies were definitely bad people, but they force the wrecklings to have to reconsider their safe space. Is it so safe, keeping themselves isolated and insular?


Blytonian?

This one is perhaps more of a stretch than my usual if you like Blytons, as it’s a rather different blend of fantasy and adventure than Blyton wrote.

It does have a lighthouse, caves, at least one secret passage, a bunch of children too smart for their own good who ignore the adults and go investigating (that could be describing the Scooby Doo gang, now I think about it) and apart from the wrecking, a fairly strong sense of morals. Lessons are learned about judging people, treating them badly, telling lies and so on.

Besides all that it is a very good read and even had me shedding a few tears near the end.


One final thing

I haven’t mentioned one part of the story. I am swithering between calling it integral and irrelevant, which are pretty much opposites.

On one hand, the story could have been written without it and it still would have worked. But then it would have just been a book like any other children’s fantasy novel you could pick up on any bookshelf in any bookshop or library.

On the other hand, this element is important to the author and her identity, and is something that makes the book stand out as an important piece of representation.

If you’ve read the blurb, you’ll know what I’m talking about as it’s not kept a secret – the fact that all the residents of Haven’s Point are disabled is not the secret of Haven Point.

I didn’t lead with this fact – or mention it until this point, as it’s woven so naturally into the story that it feels like making a big deal about nothing as it’s certainly not done to be edgy. I also know that there are a lot of people who would immediately label it virtue signalling, woke (or indeed the wokey cokey, whatever that is) or some other nonsense. I hope (probably in vain) that promoting the plot of the book by itself first may encourage more people to give it a chance.

Of course, while I’ve used words like irrelevant and (not a) big deal, I know that it is actually important especially for disabled children. Disabilities are not commonly featured in any novels, including children’s books, so I can appreciate how important this book will be for disabled readers, allowing them to see themselves in the cast. Not only seeing themselves in the cast, actually, but in a large cast who are having adventures and not just being side-line characters.


 

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My Top 10 Malory Towers moments

Malory Towers is one of my favourite series so here are my ten favourite moments from the books.


10

Irene loses her health certificate
Second Form at Malory Towers

Irene loses her health certificate almost every term, but this is probably the funniest time.

Having approached Matron, Irene panics and starts emptying her case onto the floor looking for it. Only then does she feel a safety-pin pricking her chest and remember she has pinned her certificate to the front of her tunic, so that she wouldn’t lose it.


Felicity and Nora’s magnet trick
Last Term at Malory Towers

The magnet trick – stealing a Mistress’ hair pins with a strong magnet – is played a few times by the second formers but the last version is the best.

Felicity visits the sixth form classroom and steals Mam’zelle Dupont’s pins, which is funny, but it’s funnier when a hissing pellet leads the baffled sixth formers to a set of pins in a pun cushion up the chimney.

Nora then comes and steals the pins from Mam’zelle’s thoroughly re-pinned bun, and they find another pin-cushion behind the blackboard.


8

Mary-Lou is brave
First Term at Malory Towers

Mary-Lou and brave aren’t often seen in the same sentence, but she definitely has her moments. Technically this is two moments, but who’s counting.

First, when the other girls have secretly manufactured a confidence-boosting scenario for her, she goes over and above. They mean for her to just throw the life-ring to Darrell as she pretends to have cramp, but as the ring is off for repairs she jumps in, fully dressed, to come to the rescue.

With that having worked to boost her confidence, she then goes creeping about in the night – when she’s afraid of the dark – to find evidence that Gwen was responsible for the nasty tricks and not Darrell.


7

Mam’zelle Dupont’s treek teeth
In the Fifth at Malory Towers

The girls play a lot of tricks in their time at school, but this is the only time a teacher plays a trick, or indeed, a treek, instead.

It’s funny enough that Mam’zelle Dupont orders as set of terrible-looking fake teeth and goes around flashing them at the girls, but it’s hilarious when she gets cornered by Miss Grayling and a couple of parents of prospective girls, and has to try to hide them.

In the end she almost gets away with it but, in relief, flashes them a terrifying smile then has to hurry off to burst into laughter, dropping the teeth on the ground in the process.

The icing on the cake is Mam’zelle Rougier’s disapproval.

“I see no joke,” she said. “It is not funny, teeth on the grass. It is time to see the dentist when that happens.”


6

Irene brandishes her hairbrush and almost takes out Belinda’s eye
In the Fifth at Malory Towers

This is just a little moment but it always makes me laugh. With twins Ruth and Connie having been separated at the end of the previous year, and Connie seemingly unable to let Ruth ‘go’, she comes to her twins’ dorm to check on her. The fifth formers are annoyed as they have seen Connie overshadow and control her twin for too long already. The girls all respond with a resounding clear out, but Irene sees fit to fiercely brandish her hair-brush and almost takes out Belinda’s eye in the process.


5

Belinda accidentally ends the Mam’zelles’ feud
Second Form at Malory Towers

The two Mam’zelles, Rougier and Dupont are not alike and do not appear to be particularly good friends normally. Things get out of hand in the second form, as they are both trying to produce the French play and keep casting different girls – Mam’zelle Dupont casts her pretty favourites and Mam’zelle Rougier goes for girls who can actually speak French!

Belinda makes a few sketches of the Mam’zelles in unflattering ways – Mam’zelle Rougier stalking Mam’zelle Dupont with a dagger, aiming a gun at her from behind a bush, pouring poison into her tea.

Unfortunately Mam’zelle Rougier sees these unflattering caricatures of herself and marches the girls to Miss Grayling. It looks like they are all set to he punished harshly, but Mam’zelle Dupont finds out about it and has her say. She finds it all very funny and the truth about their falling out is revealed to Miss Grayling. In the end the two French women become friends in a move of solidarity amongst all the English girls.


4

Miss Peters saves Thunder (and Mavis)
Third Year at Malory Towers

Miss Peters and Bill didn’t see eye-to-eye at first, Bill’s day dreaming drove Miss Peters demented, in fact, and she banned Bill from seeing Thunder. Bill thinks the woman is heartless but Miss Peters proves just the opposite. When Thunder develops colic she is out of bed like a shot, and rides off into the night to fetch the vet. She then stays up the rest of the night to take care of the horse. She also rescues Mavis whom she finds, soaking, by the side of the road that night – all round being a hero!


3

Miss Grayling’s speech
Last Term at Malory Towers

Miss Grayling gives her speech every year, but we only see it in the first and last books. The speech is the same each time, but I particularly like the one in the last book as it so nicely bookends the series. It is Darrell who takes the new girls to see Miss Grayling at the start of that term, and Miss Grayling acknowledges her.

Six years ago I said those words to Darrell. She is one who has got a great deal out of her time here – and there is no one who has given more back than Darrell has.


2

June rescues Amanda from the sea
Last Term at Malory Towers

Amanda, over-confident in her abilities and under-estimating the power of the sea, goes for a swim off the coast and gets into difficulties.

Luckily for her, June wakens early that day and decides to go for a swim herself – in the safe pool, of course. But she sees a swimmer  in trouble and manages to drag the boat from the boat-house to go to the rescue.


1

Daphne rescues Mary-Lou from the cliff
Second Form at Malory Towers

Daphne goes out to look for Mary-Lou who has tried to take a parcel to the post office for her, only to find Mary-Lou has been blown off the cliff. Thinking quickly Daphne ties her mackintosh and tunic belts together and, holding on to a gorse bush with her feet, lowers the makeshift rope to Mary-Lou who is clinging to the cliff. As she isn’t strong enough to pull her friend back up, all Daphne can do is hold on until help arrives.


Are any of these your favourites? If not, let me know what yours were!

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