For Jacqueline Wilson, being asked to write a new The Magic Faraway Tree adventure was a fantastic challenge, and an opportunity to revisit her own childhood

Libby Norman

Take one revered author and ask her to take on the next chapter of a classic children’s tale and the result is bound to be magical. For Dame Jacqueline Wilson, being asked to add to Enid Blyton’s classic The Magic Faraway Tree series was also something personal. This was the very first chapter book the former Children’s Laureate read by herself – she recalls placing her finger on every word to spell things out. But soon the stabilisers were off. “Enid Blyton does have the ability to suck her child readers in and I think by the time I finished the first chapter I’d forgotten I was reading. I just was in this world and wanting to know what happened next.

“As soon as I’d read that first book, I managed to read another two, and for a long time they were my all-time favourite books.” So much so that when she was confined to bed with a bad case of measles and under doctor’s orders to rest her eyes, Jacqueline Wilson would always request one or other Faraway Tree adventures be read to her by her long-suffering father. “When there was nobody around to read to me, and I was forbidden to while I was ill, I did truly make up my own magic lands and pretend to be meeting all these magical creatures. So now, at the other end of my life, to be able to invent them properly, and hopefully professionally, has just been a joy.”

Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Photo: James Jordan
Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Photo: James Jordan

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure stays true to the spirit of magic lands where anything can happen, but with Jacqueline Wilson’s own imaginative stamp. “It’s pointless trying to change the whole concept of the story that works so beautifully,” she says. “There were two things that I asked for: one was could I invent my own modern children? I could see this amazing magical world through their own eyes – and initially a reluctance to believe in a fairyland world – apart from the littlest sister Birdy, who I got very fond of.” So, our explorers Milo, Mia and little Birdy are three children of today, albeit on a countryside holiday with their parents close to the Enchanted Wood, still containing that magical tree.

“If a child was a genius and could write splendidly, they are the sort of adventures I think a child would make up… anything can happen”

Jaqueline Wilson also asked for new lands for them to explore. “Please, I don’t want to revisit Enid Blyton’s fantastic lands because she’s done it all so splendidly. What I want to do is invent my own!” As you’d expect, the long-time fan set about this task with great relish. “So, then I thought, children of a certain age, what are they interested in? Well, we’ll have to have some unicorns because, good lord, you can’t go past a toy shop without many different unicorns peering out of you. And we’ll have to have a little bit of suspense and danger with dragons because I think all children like dragons.

“And then I thought, I want something jolly and funny with the Land of Bouncy Castles. Also, I’ve got a land called the Land of Princes and Princesses. I know nowadays some people look askance at the idea of children wanting to be princes and princesses, but I thought we could have some fun with it. So, Mia, she is very much attracted to the tasks a. prince might do like jousting but little Birdy, my goodness, she’s like all the little children that have to dress up as Princess Elsa.”

For Jacqueline Wilson fans (and there are legions), it might be surprising to see an author, admired for her knack of creating great stories grounded in reality switch to pure magic mode. So was this a challenge? “It was a lovely challenge. And it came at the right time at the beginning of the pandemic,” she says. “Even though I love to write books about children going through hard times I thought: ‘well, we’ve all been going through hard times now, so how about a little holiday from hard times and having some tremendous fun?’.”

Jacqueline Wilson on a magic revival
Moonface and other favourites are in the book

Adventure is a huge element of Blyton’s original tales, along with fearlessness and courage among young heroes and heroines placed in unexpected, sometimes dangerous, situations. Jacqueline Wilson says it is a positive thing for children to experience challenges through fiction. “We have to teach our children to be very careful and not to try running across the road or talking to strangers, but in their imagination you can, in a safe way, stimulate all the bits that want excitement and adventure.”

She has huge respect for both Blyton’s output and her creativity: “She wrote over 600 books for children. How she managed to keep it up I just have no idea”. And in The Magic Faraway Tree, especially, she believes you can see just how brilliantly Blyton tapped into children’s mindset. “They were actually extremely original books. If a child was a genius and could write splendidly, they are the sort of adventures I think a child would make up. They are the sort of adventures where anything can happen.”

She really does not mind if parents and grandparents approach the new book as Blyton or Wilson fans. “Though I’ve got a healthy ego, at this stage I really don’t mind if people think, ‘oh, it’s another Enid Blyton book’, forgetting that she would be a very elderly lady now!”

She believes the concept behind The Magic Faraway Tree – incredible lands, fascinating characters and wonderful experiences – is as engaging today as it was when the first book was published in 1939. “These are exciting books that can stimulate a child’s imagination and they are really not hard work and I think that’s the joy of them.” she says. “A text being easy to read for quite young children is a huge bonus, because it’s at that stage of around six or seven that either a child launches itself off and can read practically anything as they grow through their childhood, or they get a bit stuck and say, ‘reading’s boring’ or ‘I can’t do it’.”

“I really don’t mind if people think ‘oh, it’s another Enid Blyton book’, forgetting that she would be a very elderly lady now!”

It has been a pleasure to revisit her own first steps as a reader and an inventor. “In a way, I was two people all at once – I was the professional writer seeing how I could do it and make the book myself and yet be true and respectful to the amazing selling Faraway Tree books. But also, there was a bit of me that was that six-year-old who loved that world. The very idea of inventing new things for Silky and Moonface to do and new lands for the children to experience – it was just a joy to do.”

And the good news for a new generation of fans – and parents and grandparents who can go up the tree with them – is that another addition to the series is being unveiled later this year. Jacqueline Wilson is not allowed to reveal much but will say it’s a special Christmas adventure. Tinsel, more fairies, presents galore?  Whatever the new lands bring, magic will be guaranteed.

Jacq Wilson Book Jacket M F T

* The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure, by Jacqueline Wilson, is published by Hachette Children’s (£7.99).

The Magic Faraway Tree®, Enid Blyton® and Enid Blyton’s signature are registered trade marks of Hodder & Stoughton Limited. All rights reserved. Illustrations by Mark Beech © Hodder & Stoughton Limited, 2022.

Further reading: Cressida Cowell on the magical powers of reading for pleasure