When the real author disappoints

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

In the last couple weeks I have watched two movie biopics about famous children’s authors – one was the terribly miscast Miss Potter (about Beatrix Potter) and the other, entitled Enid, was about one of my favorite children’s author, Enid Blyton. The latter was a bit of a shock as Enid herself was not in the least what I expected – and this goes to the heart of my blog post today – how readers’ expectations of what an author is like in real life are rarely borne out.
I had expected Enid Blyton to be an adventurous, maternal, ‘jolly hockey sticks’ sort who loved to play games with her own children and who was just as fun and charming as her books. Boy, was I wrong. She was (assuming the movie depiction is correct) an ambitious, selfish and vindictive woman who couldn’t stand being with her own children except for the one hour a day she allocated to them (nanny had them the rest of the day) before she then packed them off to boarding school. She reminded me of so many brittle, stiff upper lip Englishwomen who secretly despise their own offspring – but (I wailed!) she wrote such lovely children’s books. How could it be?!!!

I was of course mistaking the author for her stories…and who amongst us hasn’t fallen into that trap?
The movie Enid presents a side of the author that I hope my own children (huge Enid Blyton fans) never see. In many ways I think as a reader I prefer not knowing anything about my favorite authors, lest finding out ruins reading their books forever. Since Enid Blyton wrote 750 books over her lifetime (amazing in and of itself!) many a child would have been deprived of her wonderful stories had their parents known the kind of woman she really was (and in some way what does it matter, her books should stand on their own, shouldn’t they?)

So have you met an author only to find your perception of him/her totally dashed because he or she were nothing like what you anticipated- nothing, in fact, like their books at all?

Have any of my fellow Kill Zoners been confronted by a fan who has expressed their own surprise/shock/dismay that the author persona was nothing like what they expected?

To date, I have only encountered fans who tell me I am exactly like they thought I’d be… (I’m not sure what that says about me or my writing!) Nonetheless I found myself lulled into the trap of hoping my childhood literary heroine was just like the girls she wrote about in her books. Sigh. It will be a few weeks before I can pick up one of her books again to read to my sons without feeling disappointment that fiction was so far removed from reality.

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Santa List

Ah, the holiday season…time of looniness and mayhem… Today, being my last blog post for 2009, I’m going to channel the holiday spirit and write about conspicuous consumption (of books of course!) and my family’s current wish list for Santa.

Now first up (appropriately enough) are my parents. Notoriously hard to buy for as they devour their favorite authors’ latest books as soon as they come out, they have few books still on their list so I’m going for the audio book approach: I figure I can’t go wrong with Good Omens by Neil Gaimon and Terry Pratchett (my father is a huge fan of both) or The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis…only problem, not sure Santa’s up on the whole ‘bureaucracy of hell’ or ‘the end is nigh’ stuff – might dampen the ho, ho, ho…but, bah humbug, that’s what they’re getting.
My twin boys are so much easier – I’ve already indoctrinated them into loving mystery books (the old fashioned, English kind, of course). Once again, Enid Blyton rules and my boys are already obsessed by the Secret Seven mystery series (seven kids, a dog named Scamper and lots of English village mysteries to solve) and are about to discover the Adventure series (four kids, a talking parrot and mysteries in exotic locations). Santa is fully up to speed on their book requirements though (sigh), Lego is still number one on their Santa list.

My husband is always a trickier proposition, book-wise. He barely has enough time to start a book let alone finish it, but I recently introduced him to a terrific Australian thriller writer, Michael Rowbotham, so I know he’ll be trying to read him over the holidays. As for his list, well I’m going for non-fiction instead with Michael Chabon’s latest, Manhood for Amateurs. I wasn’t quite ready to put his wife’s book, Bad Mother, on my Santa list (my fragile ego couldn’t cope with unwrapping it on Christmas Day…) but I’d love to read it all the same.

I have a veritable library of titles on my list for Santa…and certainly not enough time to read them all…but my top three are: AS Byatt’s Edwardian saga, The Children’s Book; Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic, The Road, and Juliet Nicholson’s non-fiction account of collective mourning in the aftermath of WW1, The Great Silence.

So what books are on your Santa list??
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Why I Never Read Nancy Drew or The Power of Enid

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

Perhaps Michelle’s blog post last week has put me in a confessional mood but I feel I ought to admit that I have never read a Nancy Drew book or a Hardy Boys’ mystery. Not one. Not ever. And you know what – I’m not going to either. Sure when I’m on a panel discussion I sometimes I feel a wee bit embarrassed by this perceived lack of education but to be honest, I don’t really care. I’m Australian. My parents are British. We read Enid Blyton. Deal with it.

But then of course I get the blank stares – who the hell is Enid Blyton? So I think it’s about time to celebrate the power of Enid.

Even when I started reading her books in the late 1970’s she was old fashioned – full of bizarre references to Tongue sandwiches, anchovy paste, macaroons and orangeade. I had little idea what these were and I certainly never had midnight feasts at boarding school or discovered German spies on an offshore island – but still I was hooked.

The Famous five were early favorites: Julian, Dick, George (the tomboy), Anne and Timothy the Dog – constantly finding themselves in trouble with gypsies, circus folk, mad scientists and smugglers. I was never very keen on the Secret Seven – they were ‘dags’ (Australian for nerds). My other favorites, however, included the ‘Secret Series’ (such as The Secret of Spiggy Holes and The Secret of Killmooin) and The ‘Mystery series’ (such as The Ring O’Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery). But my all time favorite was the ‘Adventure’ series – The Island of Adventure, the Castle of Adventure, The River of Adventure – you get the picture. Enid was never what you’d call innovative with her titles.

What was the enduring power of these books? I think the Harry Potter phenomenon captures something very similar – the ‘derring-do’ of the British child. I’d even go as far to call it an archetype – and I fell for it hard. How I wanted to go for holidays in a horse drawn caravan and encounter circus folk, or have famous aviator parents who flew you to mythical lands. Why couldn’t I get mumps and recuperate in an English village full of mysteries? Why wasn’t I allowed to sail to my own secret island?!

Believe it or not I think kids are still reading Enid Blyton – despite the fact that they are a product of a bygone era in which racial stereotypes and British imperialism is rampant. Despite all this, however, I’m happy to stand proud by Enid – and I bet that George (really gender confused Georgina) and Timmy the dog would whip Nancy Drew’s butt any day of the week.

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