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Narinder Dhami talks about the joys of writing a new Malory Towers story

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Once more with Darrell and friends

Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series—six novels set in a girl’s boarding school in Cornwall is reborn in different avatars. There is a stage play written and directed by Emma Rice and a television show by BBC set to premier in 2020. There is also a new book, New Class at Malory Towers, a collection of four short stories by Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Mangan, Narinder Dhami and Rebecca Westcott. The stories introduce characters such as Marietta from the circus who hides her hair and a trauma, a bookworm, Gwen’s cousin and Sunita Sharma from India to address contemporary issues.

About how she got attached to the project, Narinder who wrote The Secret Princess writes over email, “I have done a lot of work for Hachette Children’s Books in the past, including the novelisation of Bend it Like Beckham. I guess they asked me to be part of this project because I’ve worked closely with the editor on other books. Some authors don’t want to take on other writers’ characters. But I think of it as a challenge.”

Narinder Dhami talks about the joys of writing a new Malory Towers story

    Narinder says her brief was simple. “It was to write a story set in Malory Towers at the time of the original books, using the same characters. I was told we didn’t have to copy Blyton’s style slavishly; it was the spirit of the original stories we were trying to capture.”

    The 61-year-old author says, “When I was growing up in the UK years ago, books, comics and magazine stories occasionally featured Indian characters. I always found that thrilling, apart from the fact that these characters always seemed to be either royalty, or were eventually discovered to be royalty in disguise. I thought it would be fun to use this as the basis for my Malory Towers story and then subvert it, so that Sunita is not a secret princess at all and keen on science. Once I’d decided that, Sunita quickly became very alive inside my head. She is sparky, cheeky and funny – I love her.”

    One wonders if it would have been easy for Sunita to assimilate in Malory Towers in the 50s as shown in the story. “I don’t know, is the honest answer. I discussed this with my editor who pointed out that there were probably more girls (and boys) from Commonwealth countries at boarding-schools in the UK at that time than we realise. We had to make a judgement call regarding whether Sunita would be subjected to prejudice and name-calling, and if so, whether that should be included in the story. It was a difficult decision. But in the end, I decided that I wanted to write the kind of Malory Towers story I would like to have read myself when I was young, and so that is what I did.”

    Narinder says her favourite Malory Towers character from the original is “Darrell Rivers because she has to learn throughout the books how to control her hot temper. The reader travels on Darrell’s journey to self-awareness and self-control alongside her, and I think it is a great plot device.”

    Apart from Malory Towers, Blyton has written two other school series—the St Clares books featuring the twins Pat and Isabel and the Naughtiest Girl series featuring yet another hot head, Elizabeth Allen. “The Malory Towers series is definitely my favourite, although I also have a fondness for ‘The Naughtiest Girl’ books. I think the characters in the Malory Towers series are its biggest strengths – not just the girls, but the teachers such as Mam’zelle Dupont and Miss Grayling, too.”

    While admitting that life now is more complex for children than it was back then, Narinder says, “Blyton had a simple way of looking at the world in her books. If you were bad or selfish or greedy or deceitful, then you would be punished for your actions, one way or another. For example, when Mavis the aspiring opera singer sneaks out of school to take part in a talent contest, she is caught in the rain, becomes ill and is banned from singing for a year. Life doesn’t always necessarily turn out like that, but it is a world view that can be reassuring for young readers.”

    Writing a new Malory Towers story was a joy Narinder says, because she I loved the original characters. “When I was writing my story, it felt like I was meeting old friends. The biggest challenge was getting the story right, knowing that it would be read by some of the biggest Blyton fans on the planet.”

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    Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 3:07:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/narinder-dhami-on-the-joys-and-challenges-of-writing-malory-towers/article30162650.ece

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