Well, what do Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jay Haughton have in common?
They got off their backsides, wrote books for children, had them published and therefore, earned the title of author.
Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl both sold millions of books that were loved by children the world over, whilst being heavily criticised by adults.
Both Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl are dead now but each has left a huge body of work that children still love to read. The work of both is still heavily criticised by the literati snobs and intelligentsia who seem to believe they know better than the billions of children who have enjoyed their books.
And Jay Haughton, author of children’s book Happy As Larry, has done what so many wannabe authors fail to do, he has followed through with his ideas and made them a reality. And really, good for him - he is head and shoulders above the rest of us who just talk about doing it.Jay Haughton, author of children’s book Happy As Larry, has done what so many wannabe authors fail to do. Click To Tweet
Of course, there will be an army of people out there, ready to do to Jay, what was done to Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and many other controversial authors before and since.
There will be ‘experts’ who have something to say about how the issue of depression in children ’should’ be written about. There will be the grammar Gestapo out there looking for absent commas, extraneous exclamation marks, ! (there’s one, does it annoy you?) and infinitives that are split (oh no - not that!).
I mean, is it right 'to boldly split' an infinitive or 'to split boldly'? Who cares. Really - who cares?
The point is, it is much easier to sit around criticising the work of others than it is to get off your backside and do some yourself.It is much easier to sit around criticising the work of others than it is to get off your backside and do some yourself. Click To Tweet
To put yourself 'out there' like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jay Haughton did is not easy.
It takes a huge amount of mental energy for most people to write and more to the point, to keep on writing to the end of a book.
How many people do you know who ponce about whining, “I want to write a book, but I don’t have enough time/money/talent/sense/motivation/brain cells”?
I bet you know at least one person who ‘wants to write a book’ but for some reason only ever talks about it.
So when someone like Jay Haughton comes along with a book he has not only written but has published and is marketing, we need to applaud him for putting his money where his mouth is.
That is why, when I came to the end of Jay’s book, which is for the 11 - 14 age group, I was deeply ashamed of the critical voice I initially had in my head.To put yourself 'out there' like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jay Haughton did is not easy. Click To Tweet
But fear not Jay, even I, along with the literati snobs, criticised Enid Blyton at one point in my adult life.
I really did. I jumped on the 'let's bash Blyton' bandwagon for several years until I came to my senses.
All of us ‘perfect’ writers do it. We start reading someone else's work and that critical devil comes out to play. Most writers have one. They pour scorn on those who put it’s when it should be its or there when it should be their.I jumped on the 'let's bash Blyton' bandwagon for several years until I came to my senses. Click To Tweet
Oh come on, you know you do. I do it all the time when I see some stupid error in a blog post. My first thought is always, my goodness, how come he/she didn’t notice that one!
However, my second thought, which comes directly from my conscience is, ok Ms. Maddison, let’s go back through all your writing and pull out the many many errors you have made.
Believe me, I have made some horrendous howlers in my career as a writer, some of which were missed by editors and printed in magazines and newspapers.
And, I will continue to do so because I am a human being - just like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jay Haughton.
And incidentally, when I wrote 'pour scorn on', I first spelt it as 'poor' scorn instead of pour. How ironic when I was talking about misspelling words. I know full well what the two meanings are and yet in my haste to write, I put 'poor' - it is easily done.
So why is it, despite knowing we all make mistakes, our minds, even if only for a fraction of a second, still leap on the mistakes made by others as if we ourselves are perfect?
That devilish part of the writer brain always seems poised for a spot of sneering literary criticism and it really isn’t attractive.
The devilish part of my writer brain really came unstuck this month when Jay Haughton’s book came onto my radar.That devilish part of the writer brain always seems poised for a spot of sneering literary criticism and it really isn’t attractive. Click To Tweet
The growing crowd of grandchildren and step-grandchildren we have all love books and so I am always looking at new ones.
And having worked extensively with children labelled as having social/emotional/behavioural difficulties in primary schools, books that deal with bullying or have any kind of mental health connection always interest me.
So when I heard about Happy As Larry, I bought a copy from Amazon. The book deals, in story form, with the difficult subject of depression from a child’s point of view.
The story takes place over a period of one week.
The book is 182 pages long and I read it in one sitting.
And of course, straight away, out came that devil, to sit on my shoulder and carp about commas as it searched fiendishly for split infinitives. How very sad. Like I never get anything wrong? Of course I do.
However, it sat there all the way through the book bleating in my ear about this and that not being ‘right’, whatever ‘right is’.
It did exactly what it eventually did to all the Enid Blyton books I had read and loved as a child.
After I became a writer and then had children to read Enid Blyton books to, that devil sat on my shoulder and ripped every one of her books to shreds because they were 'so awful’, despite my boys loving them the way I had.
Were they? Were they really awful? They must have been, the BBC banned Enid Blyton books from radio for 30 years.
Well tell that to my seven year old self who devoured practically every book ever written by Enid Blyton.
Tell that to the millions of children who grew up on the stories dubbed by the BBC as having too much “pinky-winky-doodle-doodle dum-dumm” and “lots of pixies” in the original stories.
However ‘dreadful’ her books were deemed to be in later years, in literati circles, I lived her books.
I went on every Famous Five adventure with Anne, Dick, Julian, Georgina and Timmy without ever seeing racism, sexism or any other ism.
Some part of me believes that I actually went to Malory Towers and was friends with Alicia.I went on every Famous Five adventure without ever seeing racism, sexism or any other ism. Click To Tweet
My eight year old self was very good friends with all of the Secret Seven and I was in their society. I was the eighth one that Enid Blyton never mentioned.
And as for the Magic Faraway Tree - oh my goodness, how many times did I climb that tree with Bessie Jo and Fanny? (And by the way literary meddlers, it is Bessie, Jo and Fanny, not Joe, Beth and Frannie - WTF is wrong with you people? Enid Blyton invented these characters, not you.)
And how many times did I nearly fall off the ladder that led up to the lands that came to the top of the tree (because I was crap on ladders even back then).
And yet, by the time I had developed my own writing style, I came to despise Enid Blyton’s work and write it off as being twee, amateurish and badly written.
Shame on me after Enid Blyton gave me so many rich memories.
Literary criticism is a shameful sport; a seriously shameful sport if it isn't constructive.
Anyone who has the guts to put pen to paper and put it ‘out there’ deserves respect whether they are Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens or Jeffrey Archer (yes, even him).
When I sat down to read Happy As Larry, I should have locked my writer alter-ego and the egotistical devil that comes with it, in the office.
I should have read this book as me, the mother who has read hundreds of books to her children and grandchildren and knows very well that it is what children think that counts - not us jaded, hypercritical, hypocritical adults who have lost our sense of wonder.Literary criticism is a shameful sport if it isn't constructive. Click To Tweet
Jay Haughton brought me up sharp at the end of his book. He brought tears to my eyes and shame to my face.
His final words completely humbled me and spoke directly to that devil who had been sitting there, as I read the book, carping on like a bitter and twisted fool getting hung up by the trees and failing to see the woods.
You see, Jay knew the ‘faults’ in his book better than anyone. And I put faults in inverted commas because they are not faults at all.
This book is perfect in that it is written with passion and draws, I suspect, on first hand experience of being a misunderstood child.
I don’t know that for certain but that is how it feels.Jay Haughton brought me up sharp at the end of his book. Click To Tweet
And it needs to be read exactly the way it was written - with an enthusiastic, open, kind, accepting heart.
It is a brilliant story told from a young boy’s point of view.
And the covers are brilliantly illustrated by the young Sophia Haughton, whose style perfectly captures the essence of the book.
I know there will be many young people who can relate to the difficult emotions Larry experiences in the space of a week as a stressful situation unfolds.
I am not going to tell you what it was Jay Haughton said that brought me up sharp - you will only know that if you buy the book and read it to the very end.
If you do that, you will know exactly why I felt so ashamed of the critical, egotistical, know-it-all devil who read the book with me.
Happy As Larry was the last book that devil read. After reading the last three pages, it died of shame, right there on the sofa in my living room.
There is room in this world for every writer.
To everyone who has ever started writing a book - well done. To everyone who has finished writing a book - total respect.
To everyone who has published a book and stood back to wait for the reaction - you deserve a solid gold medal for daring to bare your soul. It takes guts.
And to all the petty literary critics who hammer everyone from Enid Blyton to whoever it happens to be this month, please just go away and find something useful to do.
Maybe ordinary people think you are a bunch of jumped up snobs for telling us Enid Blyton ‘couldn’t write’ because guess what? She did. And we loved her.
So to Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Jay Haughton and all the other authors who have ever got off their backsides to entertain and inform us - thank you for your efforts.