Archive for December, 2010

The perils of Enid Blyton

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

I suspect this may be the last time I get to post before Christmas. This is not through lack of inclination, but more to do with the fact that on Thursday I am going home to my mother’s house and therefore my computer use will be severely limited. Rationed, if you like, because she dislikes them with such a passion. Allegedly. Although an awful lot of online shopping goes on through her laptop for someone who professes to hate them so much.  However, to make my life easier this time round I have something she doesn’t know about – my BLACKBERRY!!!! (Pink). And even when she does know about it she won’t understand what it is or what it does. Ha! Therefore my internet use will remain pretty constant and she will be none the wiser. Genius. It will make for a much smoother Christmas all round. I have bought all the presents now and they are mostly wrapped. They will all be wrapped by Christmas day, just to clarify. And I know this because we are now in the final furlong before the great day itself so my activity will rise proportionately.

Not much actual writing has been done over the last few days. It’s a bit hard to fit it in at the moment. So I mostly content myself with just thinking about the book; which I admit sounds like a wholly useless activity, but it really isn’t. It helps me create the story more fully, iron out any creases, think in a little more depth about my characters and generally bring it more to life. I do aim to work on it over the Christmas/New Year period so hopefully the next time I post I will have more impressive news. Like another 50,000 words written or something. That would be impressive actually because I only have 60,000 left to write in the entire book.

Now, there’s one thing that has stood out as particularly irritating to me recently, and it’s none of the usual things. It crops up every once in a while and has the same, incensing, effect upon me every time. It’s the Enid Blyton ‘debate’, for want of a better word and the subject of India Knight’s column in the Sunday Times this week (this week? Or last week? The most recent one anyway). For the first time in a good few years Enid Blyton has dropped out of the top ten children’s bestselling authors and this is being blamed on the fact that her language is too archaic and today’s children cannot relate to it. Therefore her books have been updated, words have been changed to more modern ones, e.g. ‘Mum’ instead of ‘Mother’, to make them more accessible to children today, or at least this is the theory, hideous though it is. Now India Knight’s point was – is it too much to ask our children to understand that bathing might mean swimming and sweater might mean jumper? Are we not insulting them by assuming that we must provide them with only the words that they are familiar with? Yes, is the answer. By changing the language we are removing from the children any need to extend their thoughts towards words that perhaps are not in everyday use any more. And if you take this concept to its end point one day we won’t ask them to use their imaginations at all, we will simply tell them what it is we’d like them to imagine, which is a dreadful idea. But, this aside, the other thing which I think is of vital importance regardless of impact – should we be changing the language? As far as I’m concerned Enid Blyton wrote her books in a certain era and this is reflected throughout them, in part by her language. And let’s be clear about this, we are not talking about Chaucerian language barriers, we are talking about the odd word being less in use these days. Why should the books be dragged into the twenty-first century from their rightful place? Are we not thus destroying them? Where will it end? Will the language receive another overhaul in twenty years time to give it estuary vowels? Will Anne be given lesbian tendencies and George’s skin colour changed to black to reflect modern societies? The idea is absurd and sad. But it is possible, once you open the flood gates who knows where it will end?

It is acknowledged that Enid Blyton was not a skilled writer; she was a skilled story-teller. The charm of her books lies in the tales themselves and the world in which they are set. They have timeless appeal for children, regardless of relevance to modern life by virtue of the fact that her characters go out and have adventures, they find things to do, things happen to them. School becomes a world of midnight feasts, jokes, tricks and fun. The secret clubs that are created give children power and decision-making abilities that are largely removed for today’s children in our endless march towards all-encompassing risk-aversion. The perils that they are allowed to encounter are unheard of now.  The characters cycle endlessly around the countryside alone and unsupervised, they row boats across rough seas to a derelict castle. They encounter villains. They build camps and stay overnight in them. I think in the Malory Towers books or the St. Clare’s ones there is a swimming pool formed by rocks and filled with seawater that the pupils use; our children wouldn’t even dream of most of this stuff, let alone be able to do it!  The danger is that by updating the language the books will cease to become escapism to the extent that they are now, and by doing so we lessen their appeal. They are stories from another time, another era, and they need to stay there. I was pleased to see that the most recent front covers of the Famous Five have been drawn in the vintage style to reflect this. I could carry on forever, but to sum up: I think it’s appalling, they may as well give Julian a mobile phone, Anne an iPad, stick a DVD player in Kirrin Castle and be done with it. Neither of my girls will be reading the updated versions.

And now with my rant for today over I need to get on with wrapping and packing, etc. to give other things a reasonable chance to annoy me. It’s only fair. So if I don’t get a chance to post again before Christmas Day, I hope everyone has a lovely, lovely time with plenty of  music and carols and decorations and crackers and presents and fun and laughter – and wine.

Merry Christmas!


After a brief hiatus…..

Friday, December 17th, 2010

It has suddenly come to my attention that I haven’t written anything for two weeks! Well on here at any rate, I’ve been writing like mad behind the scenes, which is probably part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that I’ve been spending far too much time worshipping the God of Calpol. Winter bugs have hit anew and hard in our house and my youngest daughter has spent much of the last week lying prone on the sofa, interested only in yoghurts and cBeebies. Which is very peaceful – but for the incessant coughing. However Calpol is a miracle fluid and both she and I feel a lot better for it. There are two things to be thankful for however (life’s eternal optimist and see-er of silver linings in clouds that I am – ha bloody ha) and these are that it’s better that everyone is ill this week than next, and also I’d rather they coughed non-stop than vomited once. And so does my husband I imagine because otherwise he would be manning the fort of illness all by himself. As it is he’s just doing the nightshifts because he has to work during the day.

Also, the ill daughter did manage to participate in the Nursery Nativity play this week as an innkeeper (but of course, she is my daughter) which was very sweet – and hysterically funny. Obviously they didn’t really have ‘lines’ as such, which was good because my innkeeper didn’t much like the idea of Mary and Joseph staying in her stable. They asked to stay in the inn and they were refused (correctly), then they asked to stay in the stable – and they were refused (incorrectly). Repeated and heavy hints were dropped by the nursery teacher (playing God one presumes?):

“Oh please could they stay just one night?” Greeted by a firm shake of the head from the innkeeper.

“Just one night? Please?”

“No way,” was the response (incorrectly).

“Just for a little bit?”


I blame the fact that individual bedrooms are guarded like sacred territories in this house, a practice introduced by my eldest daughter and unfortunately picked up the youngest who has clearly hung grimly onto the tenets of this doctrine in every area of her life. The DVD of the play is likely to be the best comedy I will see this Christmas. Apart from the Benidorm special episode on Boxing Day which may well be a highlight of the whole week.

The new manuscript is progressing apace;  I have completed the purge of the bad writing, I deleted approximately five thousand words in one go which made me take a sharp breath, but if it’s rubbish then it’s rubbish and it has to go. Ruthless I must be. And besides, now the path is clear for me to replace it with far better. I have someone waiting to read it in the New Year so I must crack on over Christmas and try and get some of it done. That will be fun…..for anyone who doesn’t know me, our typical family Christmas is totally hectic involving three different families and four different locations to be visited in the space of a week, accompanied by several vats of wine. My laptop and I will enjoy that. Well, we might if we ever get organised. I have a confession to make – until yesterday I had not written one single Christmas card. Not ONE. This despite the cards that were coming through my front door every day, almost cheerful in their guilt-inducing arrival. I felt so guilty upon opening them that I haven’t even put them up yet. I cringed as I read the kind wishes for a happy Christmas and New Year, and my panic shot up a level or two. However  I have come up with a new policy which makes things slightly easier, and that is that close friends and family apart, I will only give Christmas cards to those that I receive them from – which is polite and time-efficient. Although it does leave me open to that hideous scenario of someone fumbling in their bag for something for you and then that split-second realisation of ‘Oh God, it’s a card and I haven’t written one for them,’ which has, unfortunately, happened twice this year already. And despite the usual availability of my plethora of words they deserted me on both occasions, leaving me vulnerable to the “Er – oh right – thanks – um – I haven’t….” situation. I typed that verbatim by the way.

And in other terrifically exciting news I have finally accepted that my long, sparkly nails and my old touchscreen phone do not mix happily and I have replaced the said old touchscreen phone with a BlackBerry. Not only that, it is a PINK BlackBerry. I have no idea of its capabilities, battery life, camera, whether it works, etc., etc. but that is not the important bit. It is PINK. I did actually go into the shop and choose the model of BlackBerry based on the colour, which I realise makes me look like I have only two brain cells, one of which isn’t currently functioning, but I don’t care. On this occasion it was even worse because I happened (‘happened’! Ha!) to be wearing a pink jumper, pink socks and I have a pink handbag and very pink nails. Even to me I looked ridiculous. But I cared not one whit, they may think what they like – though I did make the effort to drop in the fact that I have a Law degree to try and re-balance the pink scales. I love it anyway, it’s fantastic and doesn’t leave my side. I can’t believe I didn’t get one earlier. My husband hates it of course, “I knew I would,” he grumbled. “You spend far too much time on it already.” I think he’s jealous.

Now I must get on and write some Christmas cards. And post some Christmas cards. And wrap some presents. And come to that, buy some presents. And start packing. And administer Calpol..….where in all this will I find the time to admire my new PINK BlackBerry??

Sarah Haynes LLB Hons (don’t know why I thought it necessary to repeat that….)

Snow? Let it go, let it go, let it go

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Because I wear a lot of Jack Wills and queue superbly I’m going to start this blog in a very British way. By talking about the weather  – in particular the SNOW. I’m surrounded by the stuff. There’s a foot of it outside and then I’m having photos emailed to me, every status on facebook is either about how wonderful it is to make snowmen or photos of said snowmen and I know I must be the most miserable person on the planet but I don’t like it; it’s a nuisance and very cold. Plus I can’t see why the country has to grind to a halt the minute the flakes begin falling. You can count one finger the number of people who went to work this morning from our road; and this is despite the fact that I know the snowploughs and gritters were on the roads around us at 5am this morning. By all accounts the motorway is mostly clear and running well – probably due to the fact that not many people have bothered to venture onto it.  Already I have read one irate facebook status relating to snow and school closure and severe risk aversion and just having to get on with it. Or words to that effect. Clearly I understand that snow can make travel difficult, clearly I understand that roads and pavements are icy and care must be taken. But when it gets to the point that everyone shuts their doors and stays at home the minute the snow clouds begin to gather I think it’s time that we question what we are doing. A few adjustments – hats, scarves, winter tyres, that sort of thing – I think we’d find the country can probably operate pretty much as normal.

With that rant over, I’m pleased that the snow held off for long enough to allow me to do what I needed to this week or my blog would have been more of a diatribe. As you will all know I braved the tube strike ( successfully! Ha!) and went to London on Monday to Ali McNamara’s launch of her book, “From Notting Hill with Love…..Actually”. I confess that I haven’t read it yet because I’m still buried deep in Jojo Moyes’ “Night Music” which is brilliant, but I am so looking forward to it. I have a signed copy sitting right next to me on my desk, the reviews are fantastic and I’ve read so many positive comments. It was great to meet Ali, she’s absolutely lovely, as are her children and husband. The launch party was a lot of fun, it was held in the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill which I understand features in the film of the same name? It’s a long time since I watched it. I didn’t know many people there but everyone I spoke to was very friendly and didn’t mind at all that I looked like a complete idiot for failing to guess at even one question in the movie quiz that Ali had organised. Clearly I am not up to speed with my films; it was quite embarrassing how obvious it was when you thought about it. But no matter, I had a lovely time and drank 1 ½ glasses of wine. Sedate, by my standards. Or even positively stationary now that I think about it. Ali gave a lovely, heartfelt speech, read an extract from her book and generally hosted the whole thing very well. In fact, the only bad thing I have to say about the party is that it was dangerously close to the Jack Wills shop on the Portobello Road. Which I stupidly ventured into. And then I even more stupidly tried a dress on. The Ellenthorpe dress. It is GORGEOUS. I love it. And from that you will guess that I stupidly bought it. I couldn’t not, I loved it so much. It’s a size 8 though and a pretty small 8 at that so if I put on even 1lb in weight I won’t be able to wear it, which is alarming. Now I just have to find all the right occasions to wear it to, as its exorbitant price demands that I should.

And last, but by absolutely no means least, the other very exciting thing to happen in my week was my husband being made a magistrate. And because he is only just twenty-seven, that makes him the youngest magistrate in Hampshire, which I have already mentioned several thousand times. It is very impressive though and means that he is already a bit of a star among the new magistrate intake, in fact he was interviewed by the producer for a Radio 4 programme, due to be broadcast in March. He sounded very knowledgeable and coherent – then she moved on to me and I was definitely less so. Sadly. My husband obviously heard this tremendously exciting news a while back, but his actual swearing-in ceremony was on Wednesday in Winchester and happily the 1cm of snow that had fallen then did not prevent us going.

And on the note of Winchester I shall be back there tomorrow signing copies of Things He Never Knew. The signing is being held in Waterstones in The Brooks from 11am-4pm and I am very much looking forward to it. Of course this is subject to me being able to get through the snow. But after all my complaints about lack of effort in the snow I suspect I shall have to walk there if necessary – but not in this dress……..

My dress 🙂