The Enid Blyton Society
The Story of My Life
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Book Details...

First edition: 1952
Publisher: H.A. & W.L. Pitkin
Illustrator: Uncredited
Category: Non-series Non-fiction
Genre: Biography
Type: Non-Fiction Books

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Artwork
Review by Terry Gustafson



1st German edition published by Erika Klopp Verlag in 1969,
with the title Enid Blyton Tells of Her Life
The Story of my Life is of course the autobiography of Enid Blyton that she brought out round the 1952 mark and it should be of interest to anyone who requires a wider knowledge of the author.

It starts off with "A Letter to You All" where EB reports on the number of letters she gets containing question upon question to be answered. Here are a few samples:

Have you got children of your own? What are their names? What does your husband do? Where do you live? What is your garden like? How do you write your books?

"John" suggested the title when he was breathing down Miss Blyton's neck at an Autograph Afternoon. He had a whole pile of queries for her to answer because he thought he'd like to write a book about her with the title: "Enid Blyton The Story of Her Life." John's mama thought that as her son wrote so slowly it would be better for Miss Blyton to write it herself and that's exactly what eventuated.

There are nineteen chapters that reveal many facets of the Blytonian World and I think the reason it was welcomed is the fact that it was very difficult to find any information on the author back in the 1950's because there was no Internet to consult and no biographies about her. All we could rely upon was the very rare news clipping or the brief biographical titbits that the publishers might print inside the book-covers. We knew where EB lived of course because she wrote her address for us now and again so Old Thatch and later Green Hedges became familiar names but we wanted more - and at last our patience was rewarded.
On Page 4 there's a "Welcoming" picture showing a full-length shot of Enid Blyton smiling to us from the front door of her home. She's wearing a typical Forties/Fifties dress and has something pinned to her chest that looks like a flower decoration.

The first Chapter is the "Letter" and the second tells us about her home Green Hedges and there's mention of a large beam over the front door that contains carved letters PAX HUIC DOMUI. The translation is "Peace be to this house" and EB tells us that she left the words there because they are very appropriate.

"All homes should be happy, peaceful places especially where there are children," she writes.

Photos abound. There's one of EB off to the shops with Laddie walking out of the front gate where there's a sign that indicates "Green Hedges." Another picture shows Little Noddy sitting in the hall - a Noddy doll of course. There's Enid and Kenneth (her husband) together amongst the blossoms in the garden, and another photograph shows us the original Amelia Jane. The two things that visitors to the house usually want to see are the room that contains copies of all the Enid Blyton books ever written, and her daughters' old nursery. How many books has she written so far? She tells us it's getting on to three hundred.

The garden at Green Hedges is explored in Chapter 3 and we see the well-known statue of a child reading a book. Apparently EB's husband came across it after his wife had hunted everywhere for a suitable garden something-or-other and had not been successful. Kenneth sprung it upon her as a lovely surprise.

One couldn't imagine an Enid Blyton garden without a pond. Yes, there has to be a pond and at Green Hedges there are two. and there are plenty of hedges, fruit trees, ordinary trees, and flowers as we would expect so it would be a very interesting place for children (or anyone) to explore.

Old Thatch, Enid Blyton's earlier home is mentioned and there are some lovely photos of the house and surrounding grounds. It is revealed that the place used to be an inn and Dick Turpin the famous highwayman, so EB was told, used to stable his horse (Black Bess) downstairs in the area that was Enid Blyton's bedroom. Dick himself slept peacefully in the room where the children (Gillian and Imogen) played each day! Now here's an appropriate piece of legend for an author who has related countless instances of hidden wealth being searched out by adventuresome children. There's a legendary "treasure" at Old Thatch and it's described as the savings of two old women who had once kept the inn. They had put their money into a box and hidden it so safely that no one could find it when they died. So, it's yet to be discovered!

We are told all about the author's first garden - how she started it and what she planted and then we move on to the animals. In later life she made up for a childhood that was notably absent of pets, save a kitten that she possessed only briefly, so when she grew up a veritable menagerie of dogs, cats, goldfish, hedgehogs, hens, and even turkeys arrived to keep the her company. It was unfortunate though, that one of her cats had to be sent away after it got into the next-door garden and killed nineteen hens and chicks. A massacre! Laddie, one of the dogs, appeared in some of the Enid Blyton books as Loony because, according to his owner, he was a bit of a lunatic in everyday life. There are photographs of the various pets that included pigeons and mention is made of others such as Terence the toad and Thomas the tortoise.
Chapter eight gives us some information about the ponds and then we reach "The Books I Read." Some of the photos will be very familiar to EB fans such as the one of Enid Blyton standing by her collection "reading' a book" and you can bet your bottom dollar that it's an "Original." The picture that starts off Chapter Nine is another familiar one of the author sitting down with the typewriter and her two daughters leaning over perchance to read the latest and greatest before it's hot off the press. In The Books I Read. ("Read" would be in the past tense) we are told that "Alice in Wonderland" was a favourite as were "Black Beauty" and "Little Women." Arthur Mee's "Children's Encyclopaedia" was a set that she read from end to end and then read all over again! She found "Grimm's Fairy Tales" rather frightening and cruel, and "Hans Anderson" tales were fine but some were a little sad. Nature books of course and poetry were perused avidly and her favourite book was "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald. She liked it more for the strange "feel" of the tale and the "atmosphere."

Enid Blyton's happiest times were when she was reading and dreaming, playing games with other children, and being out in the country or by the sea. She appears to have done what most of us did in our earlier days played Red Indians or Policeman-and-Burglar, and games like Happy Families, Old Maid and Snakes and Ladders. She loved exploring the countryside when out walking with her father who was a "fine naturalist." He taught her all about flowers, birds and wild animals on days " ... that always seemed warm and sunny with the sky a deep blue blue as cornflowers, or as faintly blue as the harebells on the common." That's the best way to learn we are told - by being taken out into the countryside and educated first hand.

How did Enid Blyton begin her career? That was a recurring question and we are told that she had wanted to write from a very tender age. She had the "gift" and in the book she advises her readers that gifts should be developed and encouraged as far as possible in a child. She tells us how she developed her imagination and she even gives us a psychological insight into her mind processes ... thoughts flooded in but they weren't her "ordinary" thoughts, they came from somewhere else. Her inspirations usually arrived when she was in bed but although they were mixed up like dreams, each story she visualized had a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It seems that creating tales became quite a thrilling occupation and if she fell asleep during her imaginings, she would look forward to continuing the story next time she went to bed. Now, that's definitely an incentive to go to bed! She finishes the chapter by instructing would-be writers to "READ" ... books, papers, magazines, everything. "What goes into your mind may come out changed, re-arranged, polished, shining, almost unrecognizable but nevertheless it was you who put it there first of all."

Next she touches on her father's love for music and how she learnt by heart the various pieces he played Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and many others. She mentions how, when she was about fourteen, she entered a poetry competition being run by none other than Arthur Mee and she received a letter from the great man who told her that he'd be printing it in one of his magazines. It came to pass and the teenaged Enid Blyton "could have cried for joy." She immediately included Arthur Mee in her prayers at night and kept on writing despite having material returned (rejected) - "I never once thought of giving up." She took on board little snippets of advice she found words by famous people that encouraged her such as "He shoots higher that threatens the moon than he that aims at a tree." She preferred that gem to the more widely known - "Hitch Your Wagon to a Star."

A "Momentous Day" arrived when Enid Blyton decided to become a teacher so that she could be with children all day ... interpret that as "Learn about children, get into their minds so that I can write what they want to read." Her father surprisingly let her go her own way and that was partly because at the age of eight, Enid Blyton had her head read! We often suggest that course of action to someone whom we want to insult but in this case it was a trip to a phrenologist who produced a report. His findings didn't include a leaning towards music something that her father supported, but there was no mention either of writing propensities. However, there was a suggestion that teaching was the patient's forte and as those who follow the Blyton trail would know, she became a Froebel kindergarten teacher.

This is a really interesting book because in the next chapter we are told how the tales are created "I sit in my chair and shut my eyes and Hey Presto, the story appears all ready and complete!" She sees it in her mind's eye as if looking out a window or at a private cinema screen ... characters and all. She knows each person's name and whether they are dark or tall, fat or thin. Surnames? Surprisingly not, so they are obtained from a telephone directory. She continues on into the next chapter explaining more about the process that takes place and we are told that a whole book could be written in one sitting if she didn't have to eat or sleep! It's easy for her to write ten or twelve thousand words a day and she could increase that total if her arms didn't get so tired being poised over the typewriter. Lock her up for a few days with some food and a bed to sleep in and she'd emerge with a book of, say, sixty thousand words and she wouldn't be tired. "Brain work is tiring but using one's imagination is not," she tells us. Now there's a lucky author!

What a delight we are now shown photographs of Enid Blyton at the printers where they are producing one of her series namely The Fourth Holiday Book. Yes, we're taken on a tour through the technical side and it's accompanied by twelve informative photographs.

Why does she write so many books? Well, one reason of course is that she produces material for such varied readers right from the early ages up to the teens and, whether she foresaw it or not - piles and piles of Grown-ups! The subject matter is wide ranging as well so that adds to the list Religious Works, Folk Tales, Mystery, Adventure, Educational the whole gamut, and there she is sitting by her fireplace at Green Hedges reading letters from children who are demanding

"Another Farm Book please." "A new Secret Seven no, two new Secret Sevens." "I want Brer Rabbit." "I want a book all about Robin Hood." The demands are endless.

Would any of the younger children know what "Grist to a Writer's Mill" means? Maybe one or two, but anyway, that's the next chapter. Putting it simply, EB explains the different experiences that helped her to write the books. Such things as buying a shawl in the "House of a Thousand Shawls" in Seville, sipping mint tea in Marakeesh, observing picturesque bazaars in Casablanca, watching flying fish, and travelling in a bullock-sleigh over cobbled streets. She has also cradled a tiny monkey in her arms - "... remember Micky the hurt monkey in The Ship of Adventure,"she asks us? That was the monkey.

Here's a chapter that will raise lots of eyebrows "Which of my Characters are Real?" We find out that Mam'zelle of the St. Clare's books was modeled on Enid Blyton's own French mistress and she suffered the same fate as the fictional Mam'zelle because EB and the rest of the class plagued her with many of the tricks that feature in the "St. Clare's" series of books! Amelia Jane? She's already mentioned and her photograph is on Page 9. "Claudine?" Who's she? Some fans might not know because not all of them have read the St. Clare's books - strange as it may seem. She was a French girl at St Clare's, and a Belgian girl at Enid Blyton's school. On Page 111 there's a picture of a roly-poly, friendly-looking fellow in a policeman's uniform. Enid Blyton knew him and when she required a police Inspector for a series of books, she used her memories of this man and named him Jenks Inspector, Chief Inspector, Superintendent Jenks. She promoted the character accordingly to fit in with her friend's advancement in the police ranks. Who hasn't heard of Bill Smugs? No one? Right he's drawn from a real person that Enid Blyton met in Swanage. The man asked if he could be put into one of the books although he'd never had any adventures per se. "I'd like to have been in the Secret Service or something like that," he told her and ... yes, "Put me in as I am with no hair on top of my head and anything else you like." It took place! Kiki was a real parrot. George (Georgina) was also inspired by a real person very like the fictional George we know with all her characteristics but the real one's not "sulky" now because " ... she's grown up."

Chapter Nineteen is all about the Blyton or Waters family. "Waters" was of course the surname of her husband (Kenneth Waters) but the Blyton word is so well known that we tend to call her by that name and many still refer to her, even at this late stage, as "Miss Blyton!" There are family pictures of the kids (Gillian and Imogen) at the beach and in their "dolls" house photographs that any family album might contain except that the children in them are special to the extent that their mother won fame throughout the world. We learn that Imogen has her own horse and the "horsiest" bedroom ever seen! We are told how the family home is run and it seems pretty typical. Away from her typewriter "Miss Blyton" would go shopping and even stand in queues just like anyone else. I wonder what the queues were for? They may reflect that during the war and for sometime after, there were shortages of many products and presumably the people had to stand in line to obtain the required groceries essential to survive. So, not only does Enid Blyton reflect the conditions of the time, but here she is telling us how she took part in them as well. The children's various interests are listed and we are told that they have often appeared in the books either as themselves or else lent some of their mannerisms to the make-up of characters that fill out the stories.

This very child-friendly autobiography now comes to an end with a detailed appendix featuring a list of all the author's books categorized under various headings the first four being: "Adventure," "Autobiography" (this book), "School Stories," and "Detective/Mystery Stories." There are also numbers beside each entry that signify the appropriate age-range of the contents.
Laddie was a black spaniel owned by the author.

The original Green Hedges sign would be a very nice article to own. I was told by an acquaintance that a friend of hers was rooting about round the time that Green Hedges was demolished and had actually found the sign amongst the debris and claimed it as a souvenir. That's what I was told - so it's either true, or an Urban Myth!

Noddy is a little wooden man who doesn't really need an introduction.

Amelia Jane is a large doll owned by Gillian Blyton/Waters.

Enid Blyton's old home in Coldmoorholme Lane in the Bourne End area has been opened many times to the public and if you are a visitor it might be worth looking around a little more closely with the thought in mind that some legendary "treasure" is just waiting to be discovered!

Loony was another black spaniel that appeared in what the author called her "Mystery" (or "Mystery-Adventure") series of books starring four children named Roger, Diana, Snubby and Barney.

Enid Blyton loved all wild life (one would think) and that's more-or-less how it stands but there was one animal she absolutely detested because of its "cruel" and "savage" nature not to mention that it carried "disease!" "I make war on him relentlessly." That's how she described her attitude to the common rat.

On Page 43 there's a picture of some fantail pigeons beside a pond and it always intrigued me. We are told -"Turn the picture sideways, half shut your eyes, and they will look like a strange snapdragon flower." They do!

You can see the cover of "Round the Clock Stories" in the Cave of Books on this site. That's the one Enid Blyton is reading by her bookcase.

To read the "Children's Encyclopaedia " twice would be quite a feat. They've been in my bookcase for many years but I've only "dipped" in because there are ten volumes chock full of practically everything known round the time they were printed. I think those people who possess them fully intend to work their way through every single volume one day! Enid Blyton must been a very knowledgeable person indeed because if she possessed a good memory and had read all ten volumes twice, I think she'd be ready for any question fired at her.

Arthur Mee hails from the 1870's and it could seem that he rivaled Enid Blyton in that he seemed to be involved with so many books and magazines but as he eventually became an editor his work may have been more in that field. There are certainly a host of journalistic items that came out under his name and many of his works were thought stimulating, with a philosophical bent. The Children's Encyclopaedia has this information inside: Founded by Arthur Mee.

There was quite an imaginative tale wound around the game of "Snakes and Ladders" in Enid Blyton's A Second Book of Naughty Children. A brother and sister actually found themselves in a place where they had to climb ladders or slide down snakes depending on how they conducted themselves.

An interesting facet of the Blyton phenomenon is that the author received many rejection slips. Enid Blyton rejected? Yes ... it happened because she wasn't established. I was often in despair. Was I too young? Was my writing foolish and worthless? Was music really my gift and not writing? She was young but persistent and because she loved writing she just kept on going where others would have fallen by the wayside. If anyone is struggling unsuccessfully to be a writer then take heed Enid Blyton says that she received over (unbelievably) "Five Hundred" rejections so it pays to persevere and set your goals high. EB even sent one of her poems "absurdly and boldly" to Punch Magazine and was thrilled to receive it back with a few suggestions from the editor himself Owen Seaman! Punch was a successful and well-respected magazine that began its life round the middle of the nineteenth century.

A phrenologist is, or was, a practitioner who supposedly gained insight into a person's psychological make-up by measuring his or her head and "reading " the various uneven parts in said head. Quackery? Who knows?

In a book entitled Imagination and Thinking (1957) a New Zealand psychologist included an analysis of "Miss Blyton's" thought processes gained through some lively correspondence with the author.

Inspector Jenks starred in the Find-Outers series.

Some say that Enid Blyton modeled George, the enigmatic "Kirrin" girl, on herself! That's not what EB says, of course.

The first title in the bibliography at the end of the book is, very fittingly, The Secret Island a well loved and one of EB's oldest Adventure-type novels. The last title listed is Enid Blyton's Gay Street Book which is a collection of short stories, and to view any of these classic volumes is a very simple process just look them up in the Cave of Books on this site.

In October 2007, I came across a copy of "The Story of my Life" that I'd never seen before. It's in paperback form produced by Grafton Books, c-1986 with a classic portrait of the author on the front (a copy of the picture can be seen at the top left hand corner of the Enid Blyton Society home-page). The "Letter" inside is dispensed with and so is Chapter 4 (the one devoted to Old Thatch). The photographs are reduced to just a few in the middle of Enid Blyton and her family. It's worth getting perhaps - but if it's photos you're after then stick with the original because that has over 75, plus a few pictures from the books.

Can the "The Story of My Life" still be bought? The answer is "Yes" and as is common these days, a search on the Internet can be a helpful exercise. The very organized sites that cater to the collector are geared to providing the books we want and there are also those places like Book Finder that even search for you. The costs vary of course, with some sellers "hitching their wagons to stars" and asking ridiculous prices. The average around the 2007-2008 mark for a copy with the much-desired wrapper was about 22. One with a water stain running through it went for a couple of quid in May of 2009 a bargain for someone who's not all that fussy. Another copy (no cover) was auctioned on the Internet for the equivalent of just under 5 in August of this year (2010) and one was offered for a Buy Now price of about 13 at he beginning of September 2010, so the book is still obtainable at a reasonable price.