‘I committed a crime against Enid Blyton in 1979’
Having forged the author’s signature for her autograph book, Alison Healy, now a writer herself, must practise her own as ‘it’s very messy’, according to her youngest child
Alison Healy: I have a long way to go to catch up with Enid Blyton’s prolific output, but my second children’s book has been submitted and I’m busy working on the third
They say it’s never too late to do the right thing. So here goes. I committed a crime against Enid Blyton in 1979. But she was dead at the time, so perhaps I’m in the clear.
Since I was old enough to read, I wanted to be an author. More specifically, I wanted to be the next Enid Blyton and spend my life writing bestselling books for children. I worked my way through her collections, starting with the Faraway Tree stories and moving on to the Secret Seven, the Famous Five and the Five Find-Outers. Along the way, a few diversions were taken to attend Malory Towers and St Clare’s. I could rhapsodise about midnight feasts all night long. I could taste the ginger beer on my lips and imagine the generous chunks of cherry cake being handed around.
When I was nine, a sparkly blue autograph book arrived in the family home. Autograph books were very popular back then, but we had great difficulty finding someone famous to sign our autograph book in rural Co Sligo. It’s not like we were going to bump into Bob Geldof at the mart. The cast of Worzel Gummidge was not known to attend first Mass in Ballymote on a Sunday morning.
But then I hit on a genius plan. I had been lovingly practising Enid Blyton’s distinctive signature, ever since I had noticed it on the front of one of her books. With my finest pen, I very carefully forged her signature, complete with the two little dashes under the d.
Then I brought the autograph book into school and brazenly told everyone that I had posted the autograph book to the author for her signature. My classmates were not as excited as I had expected. Someone had heard a rumour that Cassidy’s shop was going to start selling space hoppers and the entire school was convulsed with excitement over that instead. How could an Enid Blyton signature compete with the possibility of space hoppers in the corner shop? My precious autograph hardly got a second glance.
A few months later my mother picked up the autograph book. By then it contained two signatures – Enid Blyton’s forged one, and one from my father’s friend. He drove a gold-coloured Mercedes, so I reasoned that he must be incredibly rich and famous and therefore eligible for the autograph book.
My mother’s eyes alighted on the forged signature and looked at me. “You do know that she died before you were born?” she said. The British writer had died in 1968. Luckily the news had not reached the scholars of Third Class or my reputation would have been in shreds.
I was reminded of the inept forgery this week, when my youngest child advised me to start practising my own signature because “it’s very messy”. My first children’s book How Billy Brown Saved the Queen went on sale earlier this month and she loyally envisages queues around the block for mammoth book-signing sessions.
It may have taken almost 40 years, but I am finally realising that childhood dream. Little Island Books is publishing the story, which is aimed at children from eight years onwards. I will never forget the thrill I got when Little Island’s Siobhán Parkinson invited me to her office to discuss publishing the book. She introduced me to her intern as “the author” she had been talking about. It was the first time I had been described as such.
How Billy Brown Saved the Queen tells the story of how a little boy explains a tricky sum to Queen Alicia. One thing leads to another and it culminates in the queen arriving at Billy Brown’s house on a mission, with her gold suitcase in tow. The queen discovers the delights of the bottle bank, she has her first encounter with a washing machine and she fills the royal belly with copious amounts of Gran’s apple tart.
The character of Billy Brown was informed by my own experience, in particular my dramatic lack of success on the sports field. Like me, Billy Brown comes last in every race. It’s tough on children who aren’t sporty when they see their friends winning medals and trophies all the time, so I wanted to show that you can win at other things. Billy Brown may have been overtaken by a boy in crutches in the 100 metre dash but he still wins in another, most magnificent, way.
I have a long way to go to catch up with Enid Blyton’s prolific output, but my second children’s book has been submitted to Little Island and I’m busy working on the third one before I return to my job in The Irish Times newsroom in July after a career break. That will give me enough time to come up with my own distinctive signature, just in case anyone brandishes an autograph book at me.
How Billy Brown Saved the Queen is published by Little Island Books and available from all book shops or can be ordered from littleisland.ie