What do Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Jay Haughton Have In Common?

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.

Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton

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.

26 comments

  1. This is a great post. Being blind my grandfather read many books to me including most of Blyton’s work and I loved them all. As with you, I never detected racism, sexism or any other ism in her writings as a child. As you say, it takes guts to put pen to paper and all to often literary criticism is negative in tone. Kevin

    1. Hello Kevin – many thanks for your visit here. What a lovely grandfather you had. Those of us who were lucky enough to have loving relatives read to us were given a massive gift. I think all the nasty isms we are bombarded with are things that children just dont see until they are ‘taught’ them. What a shame it is. Thank you again – I appreciate your visit here.

    1. Many thanks Thomas, I appreciate your comment. I am very sorry the link to your website is not showing but the site removes links in comments.But I will have a look at the site and share it. Many thanks for your visit.

  2. I have – and had – my favourite authors, but for me anyone who can write in such a way as to captivate the interest of a child and introduce them to books is to be applauded. Like you I grew up on and grew out of Enid Blyton, I never grew out of my love for books.
    Fran recently posted…Never Tempt FateMy Profile

    1. Hello there Fran – thanks for that – yes you are right about that – books are magic really. As long as you have a good book, you can escape from the rigors of life very cheaply! Hope you are mending well.

  3. The harder they bash something the more I think literary critics are pissed off unpublished authors. I noticed that I used to be more critical of simple mistakes in blogs until that first time I caught my own. How easily it can happen, even reviewing what I wrote two or three (or more) times. I’m familiar with Dahl but never heard of Blyton and her Pixies (which I would have loved as a child!) So not only do I have to read about Larry, now I need to find out what happens with the Pixies.

    1. You may well be right about the pissed of thing. And re mistakes – I used to be the same with other people’s – but I frequently make stupid bloopers myself so I am much more humble now 🙂 Thanks so much for coming here and taking the time to read and comment – much appreciated. And with Enid Blyton – if you don’t have the childhood memories of her stories, you may well find her books really awful. I think it’s a case of forming innocent memories before we have become critical and aware of things like class. Her stories were quite strange in many ways and written from a very middle/upper class point of view (set in houses that had domestic staff or children who went to boarding school). I wasn’t brought up with gardeners and housekeepers! But I took it all in my stride in the stories. I tried to read one of her stories to my 6 year old grandson last weekend and then I realised he was reading another book to himself! He told me he thought my story was boring! There was also quite a lot of references to spankings and naughty children which she was heavily criticized for but again, when I was a child, it didn’t bother me any more than talk of servants.

  4. Like you, I have great respect for anyone who puts a pen to paper- or typewriter. Putting your writing out into the world is an act of vulnerability. We all make mistakes and are bound to draw critics. It is part of the deal. The writers who are willing to put their stuff out there are brave and deserve respect for their efforts. Even if I don’t like something an author writers, or don’t like his or her body of work, I still respect them for doing the work.

    1. Thanks for that Michelle – your visit is appreciated. Oh my goodness yes – such vulnerability but thank heavens people still do it anyway. The blogging world had made it so easy to get glimpses inside the lives of so many people we would otherwise never have heard of. Thanks again for coming by.

  5. I think, there is nothing wrong with criticizing. It’s an opinion, and is only natural to have. There is everything wrong with trying to convince other people in this same opinion. So there is that. But I admire people who are able to say ‘this is shit, because…but don’t listen to me.’ I’m very much like that myself. Does this mean I’m admiring myself right now?
    Anyway, just came across your blog, and I think I’m going to stay. Didn’t find subscription thingy, and commenting is like the only way to subscribe? Still, I’m glad I found ya.

    1. Hello Mila and thanks for reading and commenting – yes, being critical is fine as long as we don’t force our opinion on others. As I have gotten older, whenever I give an opinion, I always feel I should make it clear I realise it IS just MY opinion in case people think I am trying to state I think as fact. I reality – people probably couldn’t give a flying Fxxx what I think! Thanks again for your comment – I appreciate your time.

  6. There are so many famous authors that were really crappy writers and yet there they are lining our bookcases with wonderful stories to tell and fortunately share with the rest of us. I catch a few things when reading someone’s book or posts but I’m more interested in the overall story. Did it take me away for a moment? Did it touch me, change me in some way? Did it make me laugh? Was it supposed to make me laugh? 🙂 I really couldn’t care less how a story comes together, that’s what proofreaders and editors are for. The story is what gets me, or doesn’t. – I really liked this post, Gilly.

    1. Thanks for that! It’s interesting to hear what qualities you look for in something you are reading – I think there may be one of those 5 Things I look for in…type blog posts there! You are right, I have read some very ‘basically’ written blogs that really entertain me or make me howl with laughter. I just think it’s great that so many people are writing now and we all need to be encouraging each other. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an insightful comment – it may just become my check list when I write in future:-)

  7. Thank you very much Gilly for the kind words about my novel.
    I feel really honoured to be mentioned in the same sentence as these literary legends as they are also two of my favourites too (along with Dickens).
    It also makes me so happy to see you took it for what it was, which is about the little boy that overthinks the world around him. Your blog has given me a lot to think about and i will never be able to read a Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton to my son again without remembering the issues you mention regarding criticism.
    Yours
    Jay

    1. Hello Jay, really lovely to have your comments – thank you. There is a very strong possibility that my brain resisted getting completely involved with Larry’s pain at first because I too have always ‘overthought’ the world (and still do because that is how I am made). It does make for a very painful childhood because no one gets it. So I think it was easier for me to detach from your words and be willingly distracted – until the last three pages made me cry and pay attention. The second reading was more honest. I know exactly where Larry was at – all of us who have been in his shoes do. Well done for writing the book.

  8. I’m not ashamed to admit I was a literary snob. I am ashamed to admit how I acted when I was a literary snob, but being unwilling to admit I was one would be dishonest.
    And even now it’s hard sometimes to sort out what’s constructive criticism and what isn’t. Even the most well-meaning constructive criticism can turn out to be wrong. I once gave a friend some well thought-out and solid advice on an essay she was writing. Fortunately she ignored it and her essay went on to win an award.
    The funny thing about criticism is it’s also an art. That’s something critics should keep in mind.
    Christopher recently posted…A Brief History Of Listening.My Profile

    1. Thanks Chris! What a co-incidence, I am working on the post that features your work, right now. Should be finished sometime tomorrow if I don’t get interrupted – so far, so good. Yes, you are right, criticism is an art and we can get it wrong. Even though no one knew what petty thoughts I had been thinking when I read the book, I was deeply embarrassed by MYSELF when I reached the end! That was a lesson I needed for sure. Thanks for stopping by – really appreciate your time and thoughts.

  9. Thanks for putting non constructive criticism in perspective, especially when it comes to writers. It is really a hard grind to produce a finished book. And it is easy to point the finger when grammatical and language rules are not followed, but sometimes it works. One book that comes to mind when it comes to breaking the literary rules is ‘The Lonely Londoners’ by Samuel Selvon. At the end of the day, if the author provides a good read that is enjoyed by the intended audience then that is all that matters.

    I had forgotten all about Enid Blyton and the “pixies”. When I read her books as a child it was a time of innocence. I was even in the “Pixie” group in the Brownies so I could relate. Her works were the precursors to the modern day ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ stories. Adults see these stories with different eyes and it is a gifted writer who can capture the attention and spin a good yarn for children of any age. So Kudos to all the past, current and soon to be writers who complete the works that people want to read.
    Thanks Gilly, this post was a good reminder about effort writers put into their works and the respect due to them for getting published.
    Judith recently posted…Empty Nest Day: Time to say GoodbyeMy Profile

    1. Hi Judith, thanks for reading and commenting. I will add that book you mentioned to my ever-growing Google to do list – sounds interesting. Yes, I was a Pixie too in the Brownies – can still remember the ritual of dancing round that silly toadstool! Thanks again for your thoughtful comment – hope all is well in Ontario.

    1. Yep – we have all been guilty of that! I am a lot more forgiving now though because I make really stupid mistakes myself . I am so sorry Melinda, I am doing this on my iPad and when I went to hit approve, my finger hit ‘remove comment luv’ and I can’t see how to get it back! If you want to comment again, I will be more careful. Sorry! And thanks for stopping by.

  10. Awesome! Very well written! You are making ME want to read “Happy as Larry” and I have no children or grandchildren to “blame it on” 😉

    PS… It also makes me feel better about all the error I know I have on MY blog, as English is not my native language, and I know I foul it up at times (not that writing in Norwegian really would have helped any 😉 )
    Anne Lene recently posted…21 day challenge – A follow up!My Profile

    1. Thanks Anne! We all get too hung up on errors I think – and those of us who have never bothered to master another language have no right to judge anyone who speaks/writes in English as a second (or more!) language. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting – really appreciate your time.

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