When I wrote about (since deleted) this Mystery in 2012, I didn't include this 2003 cover from Jasper Ford. So it's a good place to start this time around, especially as it reminds me of the highpoint of that previous exercise - tracing the Find-Outers to a hilltop village in the Chilterns, Speen, the real-life equivalent to Sheepsale from where Mrs Moon posted most of her spiteful letters.

Enid Blyton tells us how she wrote her books in chapter 14 of her autobiography,
The Story of My Life. She uses her 1937 story, The Enchanted Wood as her example. But I'm going to adapt her words to make it apply as best I can to the writing of The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters.

'Let us say I am going to write my fourth Find-Outers book. You all know the Find-Outers books, I expect. Well, I sit in my chair, shut my eyes and wait till my characters appear in my mind's eye. Remember, we've met them before! But I need to remind myself of their personalities and what they've done already before my under-mind can tell what it is that the will do next.'

Underlying photo by George Konig, 1949.

'So I sit still and look into my mind's eye and my characters appear. What do I see? Yes - five children, and I know their names - Larry and Daisy, brother and sister, aged 14 and 13 now, Pip and Bets, brother and sister, aged 13 and 9, and 13-year-old Fatty, who has a dog called Buster. They stand there in my mind's eye and I can see them as clearly as I see you when I look at you. I can see if they are taller short, dark or fair, fat or thin. And more than that, in some queer way I can see into their characters too. I know if they are kind or unkind, hot-tempered, generous, amusing or deceitful! Fatty has evolved into the leader of the group. He always has a trick up his sleeve and he is becoming master of disguise, although he is still just a boy so can't disguise himself as adults yet. All five stand there complete before me, exactly as they would in real life, and I can see every single detail of them. I do not have to invent anything, either in their appearance of their character. They are complete. As is Buster, the feisty, black Scottie.'

Joseph Abbey

'As I look at my new characters, Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets and Fatty, they seem to come alive again. They move and laugh and talk - they are real to me now. They will be with me all the time I write my book.

'And now, having found my characters, I must find my 'setting'. This is important too. Mysteries cannot happen without characters to experience them, and a place to happen in! So once again, I look steadily into my mind's eye, and the setting appears.'


'What do I see? I see a lovely English village - Peterswood! A broad river rolls through it. A railway line takes people from the village south into the city. I am excited! This is a strange and thrilling setting. Anything might happen here!

'I look at Peterswood and I see little winding streets. Where do they lead to? My imagination tells me at once! In my mind's eye I follows the streets and lanes, and come to a house at the western edge of the village. This is the house where Pip and Bets Hilton live, not far up the lane from where the cottage got burned to the ground in the first Mystery.

'Mr and Mrs Hilton employ a cook and a housemaid and a woman who comes twice a week. It is a bustling household but I sense that all is not well. Mrs Moon is the cook and she is an embittered soul. Really anything could happen in that house. And when it happens the children will be right at the centre of the mystery.

'I walk through Peterswood, which is so spread out that the children need bikes to get around. In the middle of the village is a police house, where the policeman lives. Goodness, he is a strange man! 'Clear-Off' he shouts whenever a child approaches. The battle between this policeman, Goon, and the children will again be at the centre of my book. "The children will get the better of him," I think to myself. "He will make a complete fool of himself.

'And I suddenly know something very clearly. I know that my new book is going to be about five children and their dog and they are going to explore Peterswood again and investigate some nasty anonymous letters. They are going to discover clues and investigate suspects and they are going to have the most amazing adventures as they do so.

'"Now I know what my story is to be about," I say, and I open my eyes. My hands go up to the typewriter on my knees, and I begin:'

Actually, in a letter to Peter McKellar of February, 1953, she suggests that her conscious mind does have a little input. Adapting what she says for present purposes She writes:

'For instance, I have been asked to write another Mystery book, a follow up to the first three, with the Find-Outers, with Peterswood, and with a new thread running through it. Now the ordinary writer would begin to think consciously about the book, plans would take shape in his mind, and he would arrange scheme and so on - and then write the book according to what he had consciously planned.

'All I have to say to myself - there must be the Find-Outers - Goon - Peterswood - spiteful letters - and I leave it at that and don't think another word about it. But those conscious directions penetrate down into the imagination, and when, on Monday, I sit down to begin the book, it will already be complete in my imagination, characters, setting, everything. No thought or planning will have gone into the book. It will well up spontaneously and rhythmically, suited for the particular age of child and will be the right length. This is sometimes rather weird, as you can imagine.'

Take it away maestro!

Actually, maybe when she came to start writing
The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters she knew she only had a short writing day. I say this because chapters one and two don't take us very far, and she starts again, more or less, at the beginning of chapter three. But let's take this exercise one chapter at time.


Bets and Pip Hilton are at their house. Larry and Daisy arrive. They are waiting for Fatty. They decide to do so down by the front gate.

We are very much on Coldmoorholme Lane at this point, and below is the entrance to the drive of the house Enid seems to have had in mind.


At the gate, the Find-Outers see PC Goon, who is doing the rounds of his beat on foot. A red-headed telegraph-boy turns up and he almost runs into Goon.

Joseph Abbey illustration

While going through this Mystery, for the sake of visual completeness (whatever that means), I'm going to make use of all nine of the Joesph Abbey illustrations from the original 1944 book, plus the six images from Charles Stewart which decorate the first paperback edition of 1963, and the six from Mary Gernat that adorned paperback editions from 1966 to 1990.

The telegraph-boy who appears not to be in full control of his bike is Fatty. He delivers a telegram to the Find-Outers saying that Fatty has a mystery to solve in Tipplylooloo and is flying out there that day. Enid has a lot of fun with the place name, which Goon can't get his mind or his tongue around:

Goon: "Tippy - Tippy - whatever it is."

"Tippylooloo," said the telegraph-boy, who seemed as much interested as everyone else.

Goon: "Tippy - Tippy - er…"

"Tippylooloo," said the telegraph-boy obligingly.

At the end of the chapter, once the telegraph-boy has cycled off and Goon has gone too, the Find-Outers walk to Fatty's house to see if they can look after Buster while Fatty is away.


The children talk to Fatty's mother, who is puzzled to hear them suggest her son has gone to China. Buster appears and so does Fatty, who pretends to be as puzzled as his mother by the telegram. Forgive the shockingly poor drawing of Fatty by Joseph Abbey, all out of proportion and not in the least fat. On the other hand, Abbey may have been ahead of his time. The latest (2019) paperback edition of the Find-Outers maintains that Fatty gets his name purely from his initials (Frederick Algernon Trotteville).

Joseph Abbey illustration

The Find-Outers, including Fatty, agree to go and look for the red-headed telegraph-boy, and to meet back at the church. When the telegraph-boy turns up, Bets knows it's Fatty because of the way Buster behaves towards him. Everyone is surprised and thrilled. They then return to Pip's house and to the playroom, where they start talking about the prospect of a mystery.

So that's it. The beginning of the book. As I hypothesise, perhaps a short working day. What will happen next? Well, Enid has told us that she didn't plan her books, and I believe that. When she next sat down she would take into account (via her photographic memory) everything said and done to date, and she would type on, as fast as she could, trying to keep up with her fertile imagination, the action happening in front of her eyes on the private cinema screen that she had such privileged access to.


A week later. Bad weather. The Find-Outers are at the house of Pip and Bets Hilton again. Pip's messing about with the purple bed-spread that comes from Mrs Moon's bed. Mrs Moon, the cook, and a house-maid called Gladys, both have rooms at the Hilltons' house. And a Mrs Cockles comes round to help them out with chores twice a week. It's a well-serviced household, like Enid's own, as I outline in the 2012 essay. Pip doesn't like Mrs Moon and nor does Larry. So Enid is signalling pretty hard even at this stage that she's likely to be the guilty party. Indeed, knowing that, probably helps Enid write the book, notwithstanding that it's her under-mind that's in control. Indeed in her letters to Peter McKellar about her writing process she suggests that in her initial inventory of characters, in those few minutes when she's got her eyes closed, she knows all about each person.

The next day is bright. The Find-Outers plan to cycle to Burnham Beeches, which they visited
a year and three Mysteries previously. Fatty noticed that Gladys seemed upset when he arrived at the Hiltons' house, so Bets asks Gladys what's the matter but can't get anything out of her.

Joseph Abbey illustration

As they cycle off for their day out, they're conscious that Mrs Hilton seems pleased to have got rid of them.


The children have a nice time. When they get back to Peterswood, they part at the church and arrange to meet at Larry's the next day. (The location of this church, mentioned several times in this particular book, is a piece of geography that I can't work out from a study of Bourne End maps.) At home, Pip and Bets get some iced water from Mrs Moon, who seems in a good mood. Then they discover that Gladys's room has been cleared: she's not coming back. Pip finds a black glove with Goon's name on it in the study so they know that he's been there while they've been away. Pip and Bets can't tell Fatty about this in the evening, as they have to stay in and wash their hair! But at the scheduled meeting at Larry's the next day, the Find-Outers consult. Any reason for this particular meeting being at Larry's rather than Fatty's? Not really, but as most of the book happens on the territory of Pip and Bets, or at Fatty's, it's maybe just a way of marking out the full stage, as it were. Anyway, Fatty will take the glove back to Goon and see if he can finesse some info.

Charles Stewart illustration

It's a treat for the eye not to have to look at another Joseph Abbey drawing just yet. Charles Stewart's use of the pencil is more systematic, and he catches what I think of as a period feel. Not of the austere 1940s, when the book was written, but of the early '60s when Charles Stewart was wielding his pencil while grooving, I can imagine, to the latest pop music. "I wanna hold your ha-a-and. I wanna hold your hand!" Ah, the Beatles. Goon would have hated them.


Fatty talks to Goon (surprised to see Fatty back from Tippylooloo so soon, but a whole week has passed after all) and picks up that there has been some kind of letter written that's caused problems. He cycles back to Larry's, and in the meantime Bets is asked to get Mrs Moon talking. The kitchen at her house is empty when she gets there, but from the rocking-chair she hears Mrs Moon and Mrs Cockle talking outside and realises that a 'nonnimus' letter was written to Gladys, which upset her so much she left her job. The others are upstairs by then, so Bets briefs them there. The next time the Find-Outers bump Into Goon, Fatty teases him with the info he has about the latest Mystery, pulling out a white rat from his pocket. This doesn't further the plot (but see later), though both Charles Stewart and Mary Gernat take the opportunity to make an illustration.

Charles Stewart illustration

For a more subtle rendition of the rat reveal, let's turn to the Mary Gernat drawing:

Mary Gernat illustration.

I should just mention here something Enid Blyton wrote to Peter McKellar: 'I don't know what anyone is going to say or do. I don't know what is going to happen. I am in the happy position of being able to write a story and read it for the first time, and at one and the same moment.'

So Enid would have been just as surprised as Goon to see Fatty pull a white rat from his pocket.

Also, in respect of the rat scene, I'll quote this from later in the same long letter to McKellar: '
Another odd thing is that sometimes something crops up in a story which I am sure is wrong, or somehow out of place. Not a bit of it! It rights itself, falls into place - and now I dare not alter a thing I think is wrong.'


The Find-Outers meet in Fatty's den (that's in his house, not his shed which has to wait until book six in the series if I remember rightly) where they talk of disguises and Sherlock Holmes before getting down to business. Fatty makes a note that the mystery started on April 4th. They soon realise that the first thing they need to do is to speak to Gladys about the letter she's received. To do that they need her address. Bets has the idea of getting the address from her mother in order to return a book that Gladys lent her. Pip also has an idea, which is to write a letter to Gladys care of the Hiltons, and to see how his mother readdresses the envelope. Fatty shows how many different kinds of handwriting he's capable of, which one feels may be setting something up for later in the book. I wonder if Enid's conscious mind thought that too. "Oh, this skill of Fatty's might well come in handy later." It doesn't. But the complicated way that Mrs Moon has to write her notes in order not to give herself away is the very opposite of Fatty's facility.


Both Pip and Bets find their plans frustrated by their mother's reluctance to go and get Gladys's address when they ask for it. Indeed, it turns out that someone is going to call round at the Hiltons who will be able to deliver the items to Gladys. At Fatty's house, Pip and Bets get sympathy over their failures, but Fatty knows what to do next. He suggests it is Goon that is going to see Gladys via Mrs Hilton, so all they need do is follow him. Cue an image from Charles Stewart on the cover of the 1963 edition. Really, the incident depicted is a non-event. Goon has gone down to the river on another assignment, and when he turns back towards the middle of the village he almost collides with the Find-Outers. But it is atmospheric and symbolic. Cool kids versus blockish authority. Funny that Goon has lost his left-hand grip and the handlebars have gone straight for his goolies! Or that's how I choose to read the image.

Charles Stewart illustration


The Find-Outers follow Goon to Haycock Heath. I do the geography on this in my 2012 essay, so I won't repeat it here. The Find-Outers hide nearby while Goon is with Gladys, but Buster spoils their cover. No real harm done. Goon cycles back to Peterswood leaving the Find-Outers to talk with Gladys. It soon becomes clear that Gladys comes from an underprivileged background, her parents being criminals. Gladys is determined be a 'good' person, and was enjoying working for the Hiltons, but the anonymous letter has destroyed her confidence. Fatty realises that they must see the letter. Gladys explains that Goon has it. But she is willing to try and get it back.


That evening, Gladys does indeed hand Fatty the letter, along with others, in
a packet, which she simply took from within Goon's house as he was out. Charles Stewart makes the hand-over look like a romantic assignation.

Charles Stewart illustration

In the image below, Mary Gernat is on the money, as ever. Fatty remains on his side of the gate, as described by Enid.

Mary Gernat illustration.

The Find-Outers are all upstairs at Fatty's in order to scrutinise the letters. Apart from the postcard, the contents of the 'spiteful letters' are not divulged. Which is an odd decision by Enid, as the children would have been most curious as to that! Larry points out that the envelopes have all been sent from Sheepsale. Fatty shows that they were all posted at 11.45am on a Monday, when there was a market. They conclude that the letter-writer lives in Peterswood, since that's where all the victims live, but goes to Sheepsale market from where she posts her letters on Monday. The next step is obviously to get the bus to Sheepsale on a Monday morning! But straight away, Fatty must return the packet of letters to Goon before he notices they've been taken. He dresses up as the red-headed telegraph-boy to do so, and on bumping into Goon convinces the policeman that he must have dropped the packet.

I need to say something more about Enid's technique here. She told us that she just sat down, emptied her mind, let the characters and environment appear and then whoosh! - floodgates open… private cinema screen…Enid typing away in a bid to keep up. That was always the way she wrote the books. No planning. In the case of 'Spiteful Letters', the plot has a realistic domestic setting and the progress of the Find-Outers is fairly logical. The mystery neatly unfolds, This is in complete contrast to the next Mystery, 'Missing Necklace', where, rather than someone sending spiteful letters to people she knows, with the letters themselves providing the clues as to how the Find-Outers must progress, there is the absurd notion that a group of thieves communicate to each other via a deaf old man who sits on a bench of an afternoon in the middle of Peterswood!

I'm not saying that one story is better than the other. I'm saying that each has been written the same way. On one occasion, Enid's under-mind is more down to earth than on another occasion. No matter, the setting is still Peterswood and the cast of characters is much the same. Her level of intensity is just the same. And so she works through the 20-odd chapters, coming up with a story of comparable vividness and drama. In one story, she has to battle against (or work with) the preposterous nature of the central premise. In the other, she is able to go with a near-logical flow. Quite simply, she is stuck with what her imagination comes up with early on in the process.


What happens next is so joyous that I'm going to depart from the chapter-by-chapter analysis. Or at least I'm going to introduce a bit of a geographical introduction to the next few chapters.

Where is Sheepsale? That’s what I asked myself yesterday. And here is how I went about getting an answer. First, I looked up market towns in Buckinghamshire. This gave a list of about ten towns, but none were on top of a hill as Sheepsale is repeatedly mentioned as being. By Googling ‘perched on top of the Chilterns’ I came across the village of Speen. There’s mention of a Christmas market that’s been held for a few years at the pub by the village green. Worth a virtual bus trip, I thought.

As you can see from the timetable below, there is a bus as 9.49am which leaves from Bourne End Rail Station and which gets into High Wycombe at 10.15am. That’s only half-way to Speen, but bear with me.


Getting off the number 37, the present-day passenger has fifteen minutes to wait in High Wycombe Bus Station before boarding the number 333, as you can see from the following timetable.


The 333 is due to arrive at the King William the Fourth pub in Speen - where the Christmas market is held - at 10.53am. In Spiteful Letters, the single journey from Peterswood to Sheepsale takes 46 minutes. Nowadays, from Bourne End to Speen, the two legs of the journey (26 + 23 mins) add up to 49 minutes. So we’re in the right ballpark!. And what a ballpark. The Chilterns has long been designated an Area of Natural Beauty and Enid lived on the edge of it (Bourne End and Beaconsfield) for about forty years.

But I think I've digressed for long enough. Let's get back on track.


How exciting to be on the bus to Sheepsale! Daisy is sitting next to Goon (who is there for the same reason as the Find-Outers). Bets is next to nice Mrs Jolly. Larry is sitting next to Mrs Trimble from 'Disappearing Cat'. Pip is next to a young girl who is going to paint the market at Sheepsale ("It's such a jolly market - small and friendly and very picturesque, set on top of the hill, with lovely county all round.")

Here is the most relevant map, showing the bus journey north in the two stages that it nowadays takes:


And here is an idea of the landscape the bus goes through. Those uplifting Chilterns:


Meanwhile, here's what Joseph Abbey and Mary Gernat made of the bus journey. Whose treatment is the more successful? The one who believes in perspective and scale, or the one who doesn't? You decide.

First, Joseph Abbey. Dear me, you'd think he was drawing characters he'd first made out of balls of putty.

Joseph Abbey illustration

To liven things up, let's have some members of the End Blyton Society who are on the bus, compose a limerick together:

"'Twas on a bus to Sheepsale."
Eddie Muir:
"A culprit they tried to unveil."
"But it didn't go well."
Lucky Star: "After ringing the bell."
Lucky Star:
"The villain jumped over the guardrail."

Not a fantastic limerick, but it does help pass the journey!

Below is Mary Gernat's illustration. Yes, that actually looks like the interior of a bus. Yes, those are living passengers. Not-so-Fatty, Buster and Bets doing their Find-Outing.

Mary Gernat illustration.

Funny that none of the Find-Outers notice
me on the bus. I am dressed as a tramp, constantly wiping my nose on my sleeve and with old corduroy trousers tied round at the knees, just like old Johnny in The Mystery of the Missing Necklace.

Pete from the Enid Blyton Society is beside me and our conversation goes something like this:

Pete: "I've got some news for you. About the next robbery."
Pete: "The next robbery!"

Pete notices Goon cock an ear, so he shuts up sharpish. After a while, I realise Pete is humming a tune. Is he trying to give me a clue to something? Something Spiteful-Lettery? Maybe I can work it out. It's easy for me to put words to that tune, cos it's from my time - 1970. So I sing along, albeit under my breath:

"I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going?"

I don't know the lyrics to the next bit. But then Pete pipes up with the chorus:

"We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden."

Then I feel MORE DEAF THAN EVER and miss the next verse. However, I am soon back up to speed:

"By the time we got to Sheepsale
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation."

The way 'butterflies' sounds and looks is incredible. All fluttering down onto Sheepsale. Nice one Pete; nice one Joni; nice one Enid. Oops, they're not finished:

"We are stardust
Billion-year-old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden."

OK, OK… Back in the room…


Fatty gets nothing out of the sour-faced man he's sitting beside and soon shifts seats. The others join him and the consensus is that no-one on the bus is likely to be the guilty party. The Find-Outers are first to jump off the bus in Sheepsale, intent on clocking anyone who posts a letter. Goon is curious about that too, so the children beat a retreat to the sweet shop from where they can keep an eye on the post-box. But nobody posts a letter!

The postbox features in the cover image that heads this essay, but it also provides the focus of the most recent cover from Timothy Banks for Hachette in 2016. The Find-Outers may only have eyes for the discrete solidity of the postbox, but I'm looking at the way that the tree is becoming part of the wall behind the children, something I associate with a street in the Cotswolds.



Fatty goes off to a bench to mull things over. He's frustrated with the investigation, but recognises that they are in a lovely place. He phones all three sets of Find-Outer parents to get permission to stay out for lunch. Lunch is two boiled eggs apiece with bread and butter. Plus some bottled gooseberries with cream and freshly made buns. I believe that may have been what was eaten at Woodstock, though on that occasion the buns would have been jam-packed with pot.

I reckon Enid enjoyed writing the bus and Sheepsale chapters, knowing that as Mrs Moon wasn't on the bus it was going to be
a wild gooseberry chase. She could have made more of the sour-faced man, making him put a letter in the postbox, for example. But if her under-mind didn't want to do that, then that was fine by Enid, the last thing she wanted to do was consciously interfere. The chapter is just atmosphere, laughter and fun before running to catch the bus back home.

Talking about laughter, Enid says this to Peter McKellar about her experience of writing her books.
'To write book after book without knowing what is going to be said or done sounds silly - and yet it happens. Sometimes a character makes a joke, a really funny one that makes me laugh as I type it on my paper - and I think, 'Well, I couldn't have thought of that myself in a hundred years'! And then I think, 'Well, who did think of it then?'

I like to think that one of Enid's laughing-out-loud-as-she-typed moments came when, on Bets wondering how she would start a conversation with whoever she was sitting beside on the bus, Pip suggested her opening remark could be, while pointing towards Fatty: "Isn't that a remarkably clever-looking boy over there?"


The children are in Pip's playroom when they get a lucky break. Mrs Moon is called away from the Hilton house and so Fatty answers the phone. He learns that Mrs Cockles' sister, Mrs Lamb, has had an anonymous letter so arranges to go and see the letter. This time there is no post-mark or stamp, as the letter had been hand-delivered at 6.30 in the morning. Goon, who has also been told about this latest letter, is upset to find Fatty leaving the house of the victim.


Fatty goes so far as to say he's seen all the letters to date, leading to a teasing discussion about red-headed telegraph-boys.


Fatty joins the rest of the Find-Outers in Pip's playroom, but it's Daisy that suggests they really need to find out the names of anyone who regularly caught the Monday bus to Sheepsale but who'd been missing this particular week. Fatty suggests they interview Miss Trimble because she regularly took the bus on a Monday to see her elderly mother. She lives next door to the Red House of the Hiltons (as she did in
The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat), so the Find-Outers are soon talking to her.

Joseph Abbey illustration

She tells them about Miss Tittle, who is a gossip and a scandal-monger. Also, Old Nosey, who is a bit too curious about everyone else's affairs. And Mrs Moon, the cook at Red House. Back in Pip's playroom, the Find-Outers realise that they need to know if any of these suspects were up and about very early in the vicinity of Mrs Lamb's house on Willow Lane.


Fatty goes off and comes back an hour later, wearing a red wig and a butcher-boy's apron, and tells the others what he's found out by chatting to Old Dick who lives in a hut close to Willow Lane. Basically, all three of the suspects were seen near Mrs Lamb's place early on Tuesday morning. Larry thinks it's Mrs Moon. On impulse, Pip asks Mrs Moon if she really was about at half past six in the morning. She's a bit taken aback to be asked this, but comes up with a plausible answer. Daisy also thinks it's Mrs Moon, and Fatty grants the possibility. They then overhear shouting in the kitchen between Mr Goon and Mrs Moon.

Joseph Abbey illustration

The Find-Outers retreat to the old summer-house at the bottom of the garden. Later, they realise that Mrs Moon and Miss Tittle went on to have a conflab nearby and may have overheard the Find-Outers talking about them!


The next day, Fatty is dressed as a butcher boy when he cycles to the Hiltons' house. Bad timing, because a distressed Mrs Moon has just received an anonymous letter herself. Nobody saw the butcher-boy leave, could he be the culprit? Goon is soon on the case. He too has had an anonymous letter and wonders if Fatty sent it. By the end of the chapter, Fatty is thinking that it would be good to have samples of their three suspects' hand-writing.


Fatty dresses up as a delivery boy, donning red wig and
a round messenger-boy's hat. He cycles out to the place where Old Nosey lives in a caravan and tries to get him to sign for a package. This is a scene captured by all three of our principal artists. Joseph Abbey overdresses Fatty and slims him away to nothing. Charles Stewart overdresses Fatty, makes him look like a film-star, but gets the size about right. While Mary Gernat gets it all spot on as usual: friendly Fatty, the people person.


Old Nosey's wife informs Fatty that he can't read or write. So that's that. If Old Nosey was ever on anyone's real list of suspects, he wasn't any more.The next package is for Miss Tittle, but her hand-writing is very small and neat and not like on the envelopes that contained the spiteful letters. When Mrs Moon signs for a third package, she mixes up small letters and capitals in a most unusual way. Again, not like on the envelopes which feature capitals only. So Fatty feels no further forward. At this point, Fatty - still in disguise - runs into Goon who soon has the red-headed nuisance locked up in the police house. Fatty escapes by using a trick he also used in
The Mystery of the Secret Room, involving getting out of a locked room with the help of a newspaper. Not that this drawing of Joseph Abbey helps much with what's happening.

Joseph Abbey illustration

What is Enid's under-mind doing coming up with the same trick it came up with in the previous book? Is its invention flagging? Aren't there a million ways of getting out of a locked room? How about a variation on the theme at least? Fatty passing his red wig under the door and pushing out the key onto the wig so that he can then simply drag the wig back into the room, take the key out of it, and let himself out of the room while slapping the wig back on his brainy head? Oh, you red-headed trickster!


A bad chapter for Goon. He can't believe that his box room is empty of red-headed boys. His enquiries that morning at the post-office and the butchers had also come up with a blank as regards red-headers. He has to go for a drink in order to cope with it all.


The Find-Outers are in the summer-house in Pip's garden. It's hot. They are not sure what the next step in the investigation is, as the hand-writing samples have ruled out all three of their suspects. Fatty makes a reference to false clues by referring to the white rat he presented to Goon. They walk down by the river and meet Goon, who Fatty presents with a trick matchbox. The rat and the matchbox set up a scene whereby Goon furiously presents them with a bag of 'False Clues' that he thinks the Find-Outers have planted.

For some reason, Mary Gernat was not asked to do the cover illustration in 1966, though her pencil drawings were so strong that they lasted nearly thirty years. The 1966 cover is from Peter Archer and it's the image that heads my 2012 essay. Here I'll use illustrations of the same scene by Charles Stewart and Mary Gernat.

First, a sunny summer 60s landscape by Stewart.

Charles Stewart illustration

Second, an image full of teenage curiosity by Gernat.

Mary Gernat illustration.

The Find-Outers look through the bag and find Pip's dictionary, an alphabet book, a child's copy book and a bus time-table featuring Sheepsale. Also a note which mentions 'spoonful', 'stir' and 'oven'. This seals the deal for Fatty. He knows what's going on.

This chapter is interesting to consider in terms of technique. Enid's under-mind (aided by her photographic memory) has remembered the rat from early in the book, a mention which only comes into its own now as a 'false clue'. It's the kind of going-on you would expect from a meticulously planned book, where the author's conscious mind is going back and forth in the text, setting up revelations and surprises. In this case, the bag of 'false' clues has to be led up to, otherwise why would Goon have behaved as exasperatedly as he did? We have to take Enid's word that her under-mind came up with the rat when it did, early on, and remembered it, so that she was able to make use of the tease when she needed it. An alternative explanation is that Enid' can remember exactly what has been said so far and her imagination quickly seizes on the rat incident, or false clue example, at this juncture.


The Find-Outers go back to the Hiltons' house where both Goon and Inspector Jenks are waiting for them. Goon has a complaint to make about Fatty in particular. He's found the red wig thanks to Mrs Moon, who has told him that Fatty wrote the anonymous letter that Goon received. Fatty is asked to explain himself and soon gets round to the fact that he knows who the letter-writer is. And he rings the bell to summon the servants!


Mrs Moon enters. She pleads her innocence but is asked to be quiet and let Fatty speak. For his final illustration in the 1944 hardback, Joseph Abbey treats us to a scene in which the central figure seems to be an existentially suffering Pip, though the latter is hardly mentioned in the chapter.

Joseph Abbey illustration

Fatty take his audience through the impressive logic of the Find-Outers investigation, up until they'd come to a dead end over their suspects' signatures and were reliant on Goon dropping a bag of clues into their laps. Fatty outlines how Mrs Moon used a dictionary, an alphabet book and a copy book to practise writing the consistent capital letters that she used in her notes. And that's just about it. Mrs Moon is sacked on the spot by Mr Hilton, and taken away for further questioning by Inspector Jenks. The Find-Outers are invited to a big hotel for a meal with him later. Goon is humiliated, of course. And Buster gets to fling himself at Goon's ankles.

Game over.

Or nearly. In the course of updating this essay, I ordered Peter McKellar's book,
Imagination and Thinking, which was published in 1957, four years after his initial contact with Enid Blyton.


In the preface he says 'I have to thank Enid Blyton for allowing me to quote extensively from a series of letters to me.' And in the middle of the book, within a chapter called 'WORKS OF ART AS THOUGHT PROCESSES', he does indeed quote extensively from Enid's letters.

However, the best thing about McKellar's book as far as I'm concerned is the cover. It seems like such a flexible friend.


Worth investing in the bag, I mean book? It's better to have Barbara Stoney's biography, as this contains Enid's important letters to McKellar from 1953 and 1955 in a fuller form. As well as a long letter she wrote having read McKellar's book in 1957, in which she writes:

'I have just finished your remarkably interesting book, and really must write to congratulate you most warmly… You cover a very wide field, as you should, of course, but the reader never gets lost or bored - and your masterly little recapitulations at the end of each chapter are most satisfying - tying all those loose ends up neatly for any untidy-minded reader. I do that for children very often!'


"You cover so many interesting phases of mind, all of which aroused my curiosity, making me stop and consider, and delve into my own experiences. You used many happy phrases, apt for the reader's understanding - like the 'magic lantern' idea for hypnagogic imagery. I've been experimenting with this kind of imagery so different from my own way of imagining which really consists of a kind of opening of 'sluice gates', and allowing a flow of cinematograph pictures and sounds to flood into my own conscious mind, from the 'under-mind'. I find that the gargoyles and grotesque type do not come along as frequently as the more ordinary type - such as clouds, waves fountains, the moving, interchanging things - or still pictures in colour (or uncoloured) beautifully etched in every detail, such as a brilliantly golden gorse-bush against a clear blue sky…"


The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters
came out on Thursday, September 5th, 1946. I like to think Enid celebrated the occasion by taking a day off. I like to think she walked out of Green Hedges, caught the 10.04am bus from the stop adjacent to Beaconsfield Rail Station and travelled to High Wycombe. These days the bus is due to get to the bus station at 10.30am, which is exactly the time that the second bus departs for Speen. But that’s the sort of sharp little risk that Enid enjoys taking when she is on her own.

She makes it. The bus chugs through the rolling chalk landscape and arrives at Speen on schedule. It is a nice day, a fine mid-morning, so she sits on the bench opposite the post-office and deals with her mail.

Screen shot 2012-10-18 at 19.46.46

She is sending one of her author’s copies of
Spiteful Letters to Gillian at Benenden School. In her covering note she makes a little joke which she hopes Gillian will appreciate even if she doesn’t read the book.


After a short pause, she decides it might be wise to add: ‘
This is a joke, Gillian. To get it you will have to read the enclosed book which features our favourite Fatty.

Enid lifts a second copy of
Spiteful Letters from her basket and writes in the book itself:

With my warm love, darling
Enid Blyton (Mummy)’

She addresses the parcel to her daughter at Godstowe, knowing that at just coming up for 11-years-old, she is at the perfect age for enjoying this book. But will her troubled daughter feel the inclination to dip into her mother’s work?

Enid has one more copy of her new book to post. More conscious than ever of the natural father her daughters have lost, she takes a blank card on which she writes:


Enid places the card inside the book. The parcel is addressed to Hugh Pollock, 84 Beaufort Mansions, Chelsea. She then crosses the road to the post-office to have her parcels weighed, knowing that there is plenty time to ensure they make the 11.45am collection and are franked accordingly. ‘What a wonderful autumn day,’ she thinks, breathing the fresh air deep down into her lungs and putting her first husband right out of her mind. ‘One simply can’t beat the Chilterns at any time of year. I imagine Kenneth will want to hit a golf ball round one of its pretty courses all weekend. If so, I’ll be right by his side.’