Gaye Hiçyilmaz on a book that let her admit suffering…
I can’t say ‘I wish I’d written’ Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton, because I don’t. It’s such a contradictory feeling for a writer: to wish you’d written something, when it’s already been wonderfully done. Sure, we’ve all envied other people’s royalties, and uncomfortably acknowledged a better book which eclipses our own. But to want to have written that ‘other’ yourself, that’s absurd, isn’t it? And one in the eye for diversity.
I could never have written Shadow the Sheepdog, or any of the hundreds of Blyton books. Her fluency flowed through my childhood as warmly and necessarily as blood. It was her gift and I don’t have it. So, may I change the heading of this piece to ‘Thank goodness someone wrote’…And tell you how grateful I am?
A nice upbringing left me quite uneducated in emotions. Laughing, crying, quarrelling, loving, imagining and hating were considered as ill mannered as farting. Self-exposure was met with closed lips. It was judged as beastly as flashing, and best not mentioned at all. But I pulled through, because of Shadow and others similar. Not that there were flashers in them; only the conundrum of George. Shadow was just a lovely, easy read, with a cover illustration that bore inspection and line drawings on paper good enough to be coloured in. It was so well bound that although I re-read it regularly for years, ramming it under the pillow or down the bed when the stairs creaked, it’s still fine today.
The library lent six Blytons a week, but Shadow was my reserve, in case I ran out. From Blyton I learnt about love and circuses, courage and fear, about owning up, and finding treasure, about boarding schools, and disappointing adults, about dreams coming true, and islands, not far from shore, which children like me could row to, and live on, all by themselves. And there weren’t many of those where I came from.
Shadow let me admit suffering and cry about a tragedy that wasn’t fatal, in the end. It taught me to swim. Blyton books, as repetitive as widths in a pool, coached me and built up my reading stamina, so that suddenly, the stories weren’t enough. Shadow felt a bit ‘childish’, really. I became an ungrateful reading prig. Nibbling the tastier bits of Balzac and Tolstoy, I forgot my mentor and her book. Now I must repay my debt.
Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton is now out of print.
Gaye Hicyilmaz’s most recent books are In Flame (Faber, 0 571 20278 0, £4.99) and Girl in Red (Dolphin, 1 85881 490 1, £4.99).