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New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from Rebecca Westcott

Posted By Jacob Hope, 28 June 2019

Having had the privilege of being her editor on her first three novels, I knew Rebecca Westcott would bring an outstanding emotional depth to a story about girls at boarding school. I also knew that her own background, as well as her work as a primary teacher and special needs co-ordinator, would help her bring a very different perspective to the situation.
Alex Antscherl

 

I was a late reader and nobody could understand why because I grew up surrounded by books and being read to is one of my earliest and happiest memories. And then my mum introduced me to her battered old copies of The Faraway Tree and everything changed. Suddenly I was hungry for more – so I learnt to read, informed my mum that her bedtime-story reading services were no longer required and lost myself in the wonderful world of Moonface, Silky and Saucepan Man.

 

The Enchanted Wood turned out to be my gateway drug and I was soon desperate to get my hands on all things Blyton. I raced through Amelia Jane and The Naughtiest Girl in the School – my first introduction to boarding school books. The Famous Five followed and then everything screeched to a halt because I discovered Malory Towers and I was completely hooked.

 

I fell instantly in love with Darrell Rivers and her friends. I borrowed the books from the library and looked for them at jumble sales and, over the course of the next few years, was given the occasional copy as a gift. I didn’t own the full set but the ones I did possess were read and reread and then read again. At one point my mum gently suggested that it might be a good idea for me to expand my reading choices and explore other genres – and by ‘gently suggested’ I mean that one Easter she gave me The Hobbit instead of an Easter egg. I dutifully plodded my way through the tale of dragons and dwarves and wizards but quickly returned to my beloved Malory Towers. I didn’t need a fantasy book because I already had it. As far as I was concerned, everything that Blyton wrote about in those books was one-hundred-percent fantasy and escapism. There was as much chance of a girl like me, living on benefits on a council estate, going to Mordor as there was of me going to Malory Towers…

 

Being asked to contribute a story for New Class At Malory Towers was the kind of experience that I heartily wished I could have somehow told my eight-year-old self about. Instead, I have written the story that she would have loved to read – a story that suggests that, just maybe, there is a place at Malory Towers for girls who know that midnight feasts and swimming pools hewn out of the cliff and ponies in the school stables are not the norm. A story that aims to promote inclusivity while building on the wonderful world that Enid Blyton created.

Tags:  Diversity  Enid Blyton  Inclusion  Reading  Reading for Pleasure 

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A New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from Narinder Dhami

Posted By Jacob Hope, 27 June 2019

Discovering that Narinder was a devoted fan of Enid Blyton was a thrill. Narinder has a fantastic knack of introducing humour into unlikely situations, which I knew would be perfect in a Malory Towers story. I wanted to see girls from diverse backgrounds created by authors from an ‘own voices’ perspective in our new book, and Narinder has incorporated this in a brilliant way.
Alex Antscherl

 

When I was asked to contribute a story to New Class at Malory Towers, I said yes straightaway. I didn’t even have to think about it. Enid Blyton was one of my childhood favourites, although being a precocious reader – like many authors – I’d raced through pretty much all of her books by age eight. I hadn’t re-read the books since then, but I’d lived through the Blyton controversy when her literary merits – or lack of them – and her attitudes to class, race and sex were endlessly debated. Whether she was in favour or not, I’d always had a sneaky admiration for just how very prolific she was, the way she handled different genres of fiction with ease.

Maybe I should have thought more about how to approach writing a new Blyton story. I didn’t. I simply re-read the original six Malory Towers books, then plunged straight in. I’d absolutely forgotten just how laugh-out-loud funny they are, and that was a feature I definitely wanted to keep. I had no particular qualms about recreating Blyton’s style. It’s spare and clear – OK, perhaps a little too spare at times as details are glossed over to keep up the pace – but my main concern was to maintain the integrity of iconic characters such as Darrell, Alicia and Mam’zelle Dupont. I think the characters are the backbone of these stories. All of them are flawed in some way – for example, Darrell and her hot temper – and although the portrayal of Mam’zelle sometimes threatens to tip over into caricature, it’s her warm, upbeat, kindly character that keeps her real.

The plots of the original stories are often very much of their time, and I wanted my story to be something that Blyton herself might have considered writing – an Indian princess in disguise becomes a pupil at Malory Towers! The postmodern, feminist twist on this scenario is my own. Whether Enid Blyton would approve, I don’t know, but it was a joy to breathe new life into these well-loved characters.

Tags:  diversity  Enid Blyton  libraries  Reading  Reading for pleasure 

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New Class at Malory Towers - an insight from editor Alex Antscherl

Posted By Jacob Hope, 26 June 2019

With a new collection of four stories from Enid Blyton's popular Malory Towers series, we are delighted that editorial director of Enid Blyton Entertainment has written a guest blog about the series.  Look out for upcoming features with authors Rebecca Westcott and Narinder Dhami about their stories in the book.

Boarding-school stories are an enduringly popular genre. The absence of parents and the close-knit communities created in dorms, classrooms and sports fields make it a perfect setting for children’s authors to explore. The Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer were a success from their first publication in 1925 and Angela Brazil’s books had been popular for two decades by then. Enid Blyton had already written The Naughtiest Girl in the School in the early years of the Second World War when her publisher at Methuen suggested she write other stories in the genre, set in a more conventional girls’ school. Enid Blyton’s First Term at Malory Towers was published in 1946 and she wrote five further books about the school, with the last one being published in 1951.  Enid drew on events related to her by her then teenaged daughters, who were boarders at Benenden School, as well as recollections of her own schooldays. Knowing her (second) husband was called Kenneth Darrell Waters and was a doctor, we can see the origins of Darrell Rivers’ name and her father’s profession.

 

Malory Towers books sold 350,000 copies in English alone in 2018, so we know they still have huge numbers of fans. With a theatre production and a major children’s TV adaptation on the way, Malory Towers is about to be introduced to an even wider audience. When these potential new readers turn to the books, I want them to be instantly drawn in by covers that will appeal to the savvy young girls of 2019. Our brief to the illustrator Pippa Curnick was to use her bright, distinctive style to illustrate girls from the 1940s and ’50s. There’s no pretence that these are contemporary books – no mobile phones or trendy rucksacks. But the new covers are as appealing and relatable now as the friendships and dramas in the plots.

 

And I felt that today’s readers deserved not just new covers but new stories too. It’s ten years since six extension titles were introduced to the series, following Darrell’s younger sister Felicity through her Malory Towers years. A new book would give journalists and bloggers a talking point, booksellers and librarians a reason to restock, and fans some irresistible new content. I wanted authors who would honour the atmosphere of the original books, introduce new characters from diverse backgrounds who would interact with the original characters, and give us something unique based on their own take on the world. In the next four blogs I look forward to introducing these authors to you as they tell you how they approached this unusual commission.

Tags:  Enid Blyton  Libraries  Reading  Reading for Pleasure  School Stories 

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