Rewrites a blight on Blyton

Enid Blyton with her two daughters Gillian and Imogen at their home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

Children’s author Enid Blyton, with her daughters Gillian (left) and Imogen in 1949. Photo: Getty Images

The literati snub her, publishers modernise her, but diehard fans are loath to see the Blyton world tampered with.

AN ENTIRE literary revolution can be traced back to 1922. In that year, James Joyce’s rule-changing masterpiece Ulysses was published in Paris. In London, Virginia Woolf’s most influential stream-of-consciousness novel, Jacob’s Room, and Katherine Mansfield’s first collection of stories, The Garden Party, came out within months of each other; towards the end of the year, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was first published in book form in New York. And in the middle of all this fierce modernity, one Enid Blyton also published for the first time: a collection of poems called Child Whispers.

Blyton’s prodigious body of work – she wrote an estimated 800 books for children – has never been seen as a positive contribution to English literature, it’s true. Even in the late 1930s, when she was yet to hit her straps with boarding schools and juvenile detectives and was still retelling legends of Camelot for littlies, she was banned from the BBC on the grounds of mediocrity. More recently, Philip Pullman described her books as ”mechanically recovered”. Perhaps this is literally true, given that she would often bang out 10,000 words on her manual typewriter in a day.

A 70th anniversary edition cover.

A 70th anniversary edition cover.

But there is no underestimating Enid Blyton’s success or reach. To date, her worldwide sales top €500 million ($772 million) and, more than 40 years after her death, show no signs of slipping. In the first decade of this millennium, she outsold Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, in Britain. Will breathless young fans still be reading Meyer’s vampiric hits in 60, 40 or even 20 years’ time? Unlikely. And while it is true that being popular doesn’t make a bad book any better – millions of readers can, in fact, be wrong – Blyton’s books are unlike other blockbusters in that they have never fallen out of fashion. If they are garbage, they are the kind of garbage that never degrades.

In the past couple of years, however, Blyton’s publishers in Britain have endeavoured to wring yet more cream out of their cash cow by updating the texts. In 2010, they released the first 10 Famous Fives in the new ”timeless” language. According to their research, they say, the books sound so dated that they appeal more to parents’ nostalgia than to the children for whom they were written. ”These days,” said Marlene Johnson, the managing director of Hachette’s children’s books division, earlier this year, ”you don’t talk about jolly japes to kids”.

The adventures remained the same, Hachette insisted. There were no gratuitous 21st-century add-ons: no rescues achieved through the use of mobile phones, no snuggling in front of breakfast television; no question that Uncle Quentin was locking himself in his study in order to watch online porn. ”Sensitive revisions” simply replaced Mother and Father with Mum and Dad, cut out words such as ”jolly” and ”wizard”, eliminated gay fairgrounds and queer happenings where the words’ modern meanings might be distracting or shocking and – now, this is jolly queer – replacing supposedly outmoded words, such as ditching ”peculiar” for ”strange”.

There were some tweaks to fit modern sensibilities, too; Blyton’s insistence on the obligations of girls to make sandwiches has gone the way of golliwogs and the sadistic Dame Slap in the Faraway Tree, who was reduced to reprimanding children as ”Dame Snap” in an earlier round of Blyton reforms. George still wanted to be a boy – given that this is a major plot point in every Famous Five book, it would be difficult to excise – but less was made of the shortness of her hair.

Now, having acquired rights to all the Blytons apart from Noddy, Hachette is to take the scalpel to the Secret Seven and the Naughtiest Girl . The latter series is particularly strong on midnight feasts, lacrosse triumphs, emotionally combustible French teachers and the peculiarly – sorry, strangely – hothouse atmosphere of a girls’ boarding school where parents are allowed only once a term.

How it could be modernised defies the imagination, which is perhaps why they are commissioning a raft of great illustrators such as Quentin Blake to interpret the covers. That certainly worked for the Famous Five; this year, Blake asked four of his fellow illustrators to create new covers for their favourite Fives. These were released earlier this month to commemorate their 70th anniversary. The delightful results are whimsical rather than thrilling, suggesting the rather retro nature of the stories inside; these characters are children, but not as we know them.

Inevitably, the program of revisions has drawn fire from upholders of the faith – those for whom Blyton’s books are an inalienable heritage – and from parents who complain to online forums that they want their children to be able to read the ”classics” they loved themselves. ”Why does Blyton have to be so heavily altered when other authors from the same era aren’t changed at all?” demanded Tony Summerfield of the Enid Blyton Society.

”No one’s going to change E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children … Children can appreciate these books were written in a different time.”

These are, of course, exactly the sorts of people who worry the modernisers. ”Language just changes, it evolves,” said children’s author Andy Briggs when the Famous Five modernisations were announced; at the time, he was busy doing a rewrite of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books for the present generation. ”The problem is if we don’t evolve with it, then the new generation of kids is not going to have anything to relate to.” This may be true of Tarzan, that white man in the jungle who, I would suggest, probably has a few more points against him than Burroughs’ overly florid prose. But is it true of Enid Blyton?

The Famous Five books – my own favourites – still sell half a million copies a year. It is questionable whether these are all being snapped up by literary parents keen to school their children, whether they like it or not, in how to trap escaped convicts on Dartmoor. If children were not interested, they would have gone the way of Little Lord Fauntleroy.

And while it may not matter much what is done to the texts from a literary point of view, whatever her supporters say – as a writer, Blyton was clearly not Edith Nesbit’s bootlace – the designated audience doesn’t seem bothered about whether they seem old-fashioned.

By golly, those children sound awfully queer – but so what? They speak book language, just as the things that happen to them only happen in books. I would be surprised if children ever spoke in the way Blyton children do, any more than they would have been likely to go away for weeks without any adults, catch criminals and deal with the police as equal partners.

If anything, it is the background detail of the stories that is potentially alienating. Blyton died in 1968, but her most enduring series – the Famous Five, Secret Seven, the Five Find-Outers and the school series Malory Towers, St Clare’s and the Naughtiest Girl – were largely written during and immediately after the ’40s. For all that Blyton is justifiably criticised for assuming both her characters and her readers are comfortably middle-class (and painfully superior with it), there are plenty of references to the black market, food shortages and a general frugality, even among the rich, that belongs to another era.

Nobody buys anything: it’s all make and mend. Inevitably, the passage of time and technology mean that the adult reader will find herself having to stop to explain why a train would have ”a fire in the engine” – of course, it’s a steam train – or why there might be spies in England. Even the endless meals can seem rather remote. But none of that has mattered to readers over the subsequent decades. On the contrary; as her supporters always point out, children who do not want to read anything else will read Enid Blyton.

My niece Stacey was a classic Blyton convert. Her elder sister, Holly, was born to read; as she neared four, she would stare intensely at any page being read to her as if willing the meaning to emerge from the strokes and twirls of print, so that once formal learning started she learned to read very quickly. She never bothered with Enid Blyton; it was a straight path through to Harry Potter. Stacey, by contrast, showed zero interest in reading for herself at all. What she liked, until she was about nine – scarily old – was to have a book read to her on someone’s knee, preferably her favourite story about the tooth fairy.

Our breakthrough into longer novels, still read on the knee, was The Magic Faraway Tree. She felt huge glee at the idea of the slide down the middle of the trunk. The lands at the top of the tree were always marvellous. She was even curious about Dame Slap, who unaccountably hit children. There was a time, I said, when that was normal. What a pity, I would add with hand raised while she giggled and wriggled, we couldn’t bring it back.

When her year 6 teacher started reading Five on a Treasure Island to the class, I wasn’t impressed; I thought they should be aiming rather higher during school hours. I still think that. But she was riveted, constructing her own Kirrin Island out of cardboard boxes; we then took out every Famous Five the library had. I read one or two, but she soon took over reading to herself, desperate to find out what happened as one chapter barrelled into the next.

Holly, who was 12 by then, would wander past during these readings saying loudly ”I SAY … oh Julian, you old silly!” on her way to the trampoline, just within earshot of the reading seat on the verandah. ”I SAY!” she would go on, bouncing. ”Jolly peculiar!” This strikes me as a sort of enjoyment, too. She liked the quaintness, even though she pretended not to. She revelled in mocking it, of course, but she was also feeling her way towards an understanding that language is always of its time, an understanding that now seems an antecedent to her later decision to study classics alongside maths.

Why shouldn’t young children be allowed to understand that people used to speak differently and, indeed, think differently? There is nothing so wonderfully precious about Blyton’s language that demands its preservation intact, apart from the fact that it exists. It is what it is.

It is also secondary to the stories themselves, of course. Blyton wrote carelessly, repetitively and at speed, with very little description; one reason the books are so readable for children now is that she deliberately loaded them with dialogue. More important than anything they say, however, is the rattling yarn set in a parallel world where children of 11 and 12 have dominion over their own lives. Even the boarding school stories are largely about what the girls do and say outside the classroom, well beyond any teacher’s purview.

Much of the time they are quite convincingly horrid to each other, to use the Blyton word. At the same time, however, they live by a code of Empire playground rules – no sneaking, no blubbing, no putting on airs, no refusing a physical challenge – that children continue to find appealingly rigid. As for the other anachronisms, they are easily – quite astonishingly easily – ignored. Stacey never questioned why nobody in the Famous Five had a phone to get help. They were on their own, which was the point and continues to be the point.

You can fiddle with the jolly old expressions all you want. For a 10-year-old safe at home from all adventures, the stories will still be absolutely smashing.

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Nexus 7 tablet: Android no longer an also-ran

There’s no single facet of Google’s new Nexus 7 that stands out as a game-changer on its own. However, the combination of a number of minor upsides is a powerful one, making the tablet into an intriguing contender in a competitive arena.

Android tablets seem to always launch in a haze of dizzy expectation among enthusiasts, but their popularity rarely extends far beyond that community. Show me an “iPad killer,” and I’ll show you a cobblestone on the Apple juggernaut’s road to dominance.

FIRST LOOK: Google’s Nexus 7 tablet

MORE NEXUS: Ask the magic 8-ball: Google’s Nexus Q brings Play to the home

Recently, however, that’s begun to change. Rather than trying to make a better iPad — remember, Apple’s already very good at that — devices like the Kindle Fire and, now, the Nexus 7 have begun to explore a slightly different subsector. Maybe they’re smaller and less jaw-dropping than the iPad, but you can’t argue with the $200 price tag. (The price goes up to $250 for a doubling of the device’s internal storage to 16GB.)

In terms of bang for the buck, the Nexus 7 delivers in spades.

The display

The 1280×800, 7-inch screen is attractive and functional in normal use. Watching movies on the device carries all the usual pitfalls of viewing on a small screen, but I didn’t feel like I was missing any details, even in the maniacally CGI-heavy “Transformers” movie that came pre-installed. It also picks up fingerprints more or less instantly, but it’s hardly alone in that.

The feel

The Nexus 7 sits comfortably in one hand, though you’re not going to be doing any single-hand thumb-typing unless your hands are the size of Kevin Garnett’s. It’s not absolutely feather-light — but it definitely won’t weigh your shoulder bag down too badly.

The interface

Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean, is the star here. Google has put a lot of effort into making Android more responsive and speedy, and the hard work pays off handsomely. A host of little interface tweaks and admirably complete integration for the Play store all contribute to the experience, and the Nexus 7 is a pleasure to use.

The media

Google’s touting the Nexus 7 as a complete media device — and not without reason. While it’s not going to replace the HDTV in your living room for watching movies, it’s a perfectly acceptable on-the-go option for video viewing. I really could have used a built-in podcasting option, though, as the Listen app (available through the Play store) is unspectacular and feels a little unloved.

The missing stuff

The conventional wisdom is that Google left out 3G/4G connectivity and a rear-facing camera in order to cut costs. At this point, both seem like inspired decisions — with increasingly strict mobile data caps coming down from the major telecoms, fewer customers are likely to be willing to pay for those extra radios, as well as a pricey data plan. Also, taking a lot of snapshots with a tablet seems like a curious choice — despite Apple’s heavy promotion of the photographic excellence in its latest iPad, I can’t help but think the form factor isn’t great for anything photography-related, except for video chat. (The Nexus 7 does have a front-facing camera.)

The wrap

More to the point, the latest iPad costs $500, while the Nexus 7 costs $200. That extra Nexus 7-and-a-half gets you a rear-facing camera, an admittedly brilliant and hugely impressive display, Apple’s apps and services and possible mobile data connectivity. Those are, undeniably, important advantages — but are they worth $300 on their own?

Google’s betting that, for a lot of people, the answer to that question is no. The Nexus 7 isn’t going to set the world on fire, but for $200, it doesn’t have to.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about data center in Network World’s Data Center section.

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SK Hynix boosts flash chip capacity to meet rising demand

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s SK Hynix, the world’s fourth-biggest NAND flash memory chipmaker, completed a new semiconductor line that will help meet rising demand for data-storage chips used in Apple’s smartphones and tablets.

The new capacity comes as chipmakers gear up for high-profile launches of ultra-slim laptops, smartphones and tablets in the second half of this year.

SK Hynix, which mainly produces Dynamic Random Access Memory chips used in computers, is targeting to increase the revenue share of NAND chips to 30 percent this year from about 20 percent a year earlier.

The global market for NAND chips is estimated to rise to around $29 billion this year from $25 billion a year earlier, according to research firm Gartner.

SK Hynix is planning to invest around 4.2 trillion won ($3.6 billion) this year, and more than half will be spent to increase production of NAND chips.

The new chip line will add to four existing semiconductor fabs, the firm said in a statement on Friday.

The new line comes after SK Hynix announced a 287 billion won deal earlier this month to acquire privately held chip controller firm Link_A_Media Devices Corp (LAMD) to produce packaged chips.

Its bigger rival Samsung Electronics is building a $7 billion NAND chip plant in China, betting booming sales of mobile gadgets will drive the flash chip market.

SK Hynix trails Samsung, Japan’s Toshiba Corp and U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc in flash chip production.

(Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Ryan Woo) Read story

Google takes browser battle to iPhone and iPad

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Google took the web browser battle to iPads and iPhones with the release of Chrome software for popular Apple devices built with Safari online surfing programs at heart.

“People have been asking to use Chrome on the iPhone,” Chrome product management director Brian Rakowski said on Thursday while showing off the new browser programs slated to be available in Apple’s online App Store.

“We figured why stop there, that we would launch Chrome for the iPad too.”

Safari remains the default browser used in Apple gadgets and the “engine” that Chrome or other web-surfing applications has to rely on.

“It is obviously not what powers Chrome in Windows and Android,” Chrome senior vice president Sundar Pichai said in an interview at Google’s annual developers conference in San Francisco.

“I think we were able to get it working well,” he continued. “We had to make trade-offs.”

Google announced Chrome for iPads and iPhones as it enhanced software to synch the browser across the array of Internet-linked devices commonly used in modern lifestyles.

People could start browsing with Chrome on a Macbook and then pick up where they left off on a smartphone, tablet, or other computer, Rakowski demonstrated at the company’s annual gathering of developers.

“Chrome was built for a better web,” Pichai said during a presentation.

“We want to make sure Chrome acts like a layer to work seamlessly across all your devices,” he continued. “No other browser is doing this.”

Google on Thursday also made its Drive online data storage service available on iPhones, iPods and iPads, joining Microsoft’s SkyDrive and others as competition to Apple’s iCloud.

Cloud-based “lockers” allow users to store documents, images or other digital files at datacenters and then access them from whichever Internet-linked devices they wish.

“Google Drive is about making it easy to live in the cloud,” said Google product manager Clay Bavor.

“At its core, Drive is about enabling sharing and collaboration.”

Improving and expanding Chrome appears to be part of a shrewd strategy to keep Google woven into people’s Internet activities no matter what gadgets they use, according to Forrester analyst Frank Gilette.

“Google wants to be in as many places as their customers are,” Gilette said. “Google is making it so that no matter what device an individual picks up, their stuff and what they were doing (at Google previously) is right there.”

Google’s strategy includes making Chrome ubiquitous and, where needed, making its own hardware.

On Tuesday, Google unveiled its own Nexus branded tablet computer built by Asus and a made-in-America Q device for streaming movies, music and other content from online shop Google Play to televisions or speakers.

“The goal behind something like Nexus is to serve as a reference design for the ecosystem to shoot at something,” Pichai said of Google working with partners on its Nexus brand devices.

Google said it will begin selling its Chromebook computers powered by versions of the browser in consumer electronics stores in the United States and Britain, and that it is readying a fresh line for the year-end holiday season.

“Google is growing and stretching and trying to go in a lot of directions,” Gilette said. “It looks really interesting.”

The release of Chrome and Drive for gadgets running on Apple’s iOS mobile platform came as Google also ramped up efforts to wean companies from Microsoft software used at work and developers from database services sold by Amazon.com.

Pichai said that more than five million businesses have switched from in-house computer programs to using applications hosted by Google as services in the Internet “cloud.”

“Many businesses are going Google,” Pichai said, firing barbs at Microsoft software in the process.

Google also took the wraps off a Compute Engine that lets developers or website operators tap into the massive power of datacenters in a direct challenge to Amazon Web Services.

“You now have access to the scale and performance of Google’s infrastructure and at a great price,” Google’s Urs Hoelzle said. “It is up to you to figure how to use that.” Read story

6 Steps to Improve BPM in a Social-Media-Driven World

As mobile devices and social media put down ever deeper roots in IT, businesses are seeing big changes in how employees do their jobs and how customers interact with them, in addition to–ideally–using the technologies to find new revenue streams.

But problems crop up when companies fail to adapt old business processes to these new ways of conducting business. Business process management (BPM) isn’t a write-once, use-forever task, and CIOs should work continuously with non-IT colleagues to improve and update value-creating processes, says management consultant Andrew Spanyi. “The M is always missing in ‘BPM,'” he says. Here, Spanyi and other BPM experts give advice on re-framing BPM projects for today’s technology environment:

1.Look outside the IT department. IT must understand existing business processes. How do products and services flow out? How does money come in? Reading a manual isn’t good enough, says Bob Scott, SVP and leader of BPM Global Service Line at Capgemini. “People have relationships with other people and have different information sources that they didn’t have when the process was [first] created.” Ask people to help you draw out how it really works.

2.Go big. Most BPM work occurs on a small scale, in departments, and is done by business analysts. The most effective BPM work, however, happens at a companywide level, led by CIOs and peer executives together, Spanyi says.

3.Seize the day. As companies create mobile applications for employees and customers, the IT group should grab the chance to suggest ways to streamline the business process at hand, says Bern Elliot, an analyst at Gartner. For example, if an app lets sales staff place orders using iPads as they sit with customers, perhaps the company can change the fulfillment process to show inventory and estimated delivery dates in real time. Rearranging those processes gives customers information they used to have to wait for or sometimes didn’t get at all, Elliott says. That’s a better customer experience.

4.Beware of social media. Talking with customers on social networks adds a new and complicated web of interactions outside traditional processes. IT must account for that information, feeding it to internal systems when it will be useful, Scott says. To figure out how, CIOs should try to conduct business with their own companies through these channels. “Understand what the experience is like for the customer,” he says, and you’ll know where existing business processes are breaking down.

5.Find the funding. IT might face stony faces in the finance department when trying to get BPM projects approved. When other projects vying for cash promise to bring in new revenue or reach more customers, making the case is tough. Try to estimate the value of soft benefits, says Nicholas Kitson, Capgemini’s head of BPM for the financial services industry. They include increased customer satisfaction and more efficient employees who need less training.

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99. Or read her blog, Strategic CIO.

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