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Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Nadia Cohen about her career and inspiration, and the work that goes into her historical biographies on famous children’s book authors, including the latest release; The Real Enid Blyton.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I started out as an entertainment reporter but after having kids I realised my days of jetting off around the world with no notice were numbered, and it was time to grow up. Now I am the author of a series of historical biographies about seemingly whimsical children’s authors who actually hid a darker side.

Nadia Cohen, author of The Real Enid Blyton, on The Table Read
Nadia Cohen

The series includes: The Extraordinary Life of AA Milne, The Real Beatrix Potter, The Real Roald Dahl and The Real Enid Blyton.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I think I have always dreamt of being a published author – it sounds so grand, doesn’t it? I probably wrote (and self-published) my first book when I was about eight years old. It was the heart-wrenching tale of a girl who lived in our street called Kim who had a pony. I didn’t have a pony, which seemed very unfair.

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When did you take a step to start writing?

After completing my university degree, I did a journalism qualification and worked on various newspapers and magazines both here and in the US, but I started writing books properly and seriously ten years ago (no pony dramas)

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Probably around six months.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Maybe slightly less, but this was pre-pandemic when I had the house to myself all day, and it was lovely and quiet.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Real Enid Blyton?

Like many children, I was a huge fan of the Enid Blyton stories, and I devoured them all. It never occurred to me that they were formulaic or simplistic, they just absorbed me and transported me off to another world. Love her or hate her, it was dear old Enid who kick-started my love of reading, and it was fascinating to watch the exact same thing happen when my sons discovered Harry Potter (thank you JK Rowling!)

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Real Enid Blyton?

They say never meet your heroes, and that was true with Enid Blyton. I very quickly discovered that she was far from the cosy, cuddly matriarch I had imagined her to be. She was a terrible, violent mother to her own children and re-reading her books in adulthood is a rude awakening – they are littered with racist, sexist and snobbish undertones which had sailed over my head as a kid.

What was your research process for The Real Enid Blyton?

Nadia Cohen, author of The Real Enid Blyton, on The Table Read

Of course, I am not the first to tackle these big name biographies so my first port of call was to read everything that had been written in the past, and then I made a list of any surviving friends, relatives and business contacts I could think of in a bid to find something (anything!) fresh and ideally controversial on the subject.

I also contacted archives, for example AA Milne left many letters to The Garrick Club, and I eventually managed to get access to their library – not easy if you are not a member and are (gasp) female.

How did you plan the structure of The Real Enid Blyton?

Biographies are more straightforward than other books I imagine, as they follow a chronological timeline.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Real Enid Blyton need?

Yes, I was assigned a fabulous, forensic editor after I had submitted the first draft and it was great to have a fresh pair of eyes. After a while your own book becomes so familiar sometimes you can’t spot even the most glaring errors. It can be quite embarrassing.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Make sure it’s original. There is so much choice for readers out there, you must have something different to persuade people to part with their pennies. Not only that, but social media has given us all short attention spans, so it has to be exciting.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I have already written about my favourite childhood authors – Enid Blyton, AA Milne, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter – but I can’t decide who to tackle next. All suggestions gratefully received!

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, there is nothing like the buzz of seeing your name on the front of a book or spotting someone actually reading it in the wild. The series has also led to some fun TV and radio appearances too.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Website: www.nadiacohenauthor.com

Instagram: @nadiacohen

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadia-cohen-5151666/

Twitter: @nadiamarsh

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