When Pamela Butchart was growing up in a tenement block in Dundee, she loved two things more than most – reading the works of Enid Blyton, and going on adventures with her friends in the communal gardens outside her home.
Pamela loved Blyton’s Secret Seven series in particular, the stories of a group of friends who met in a hut, had secret passwords, enjoyed many snacks and solved mysteries together. When Pamela was at primary school, she loved the tales so much she was part of her own secret group.
They met under bushes, had their own passwords and enjoyed snacks of Kit Kats and salt and vinegar Quavers. Armed with overactive imaginations, they went on adventures to discover the location of the neighbour’s missing cat, or how a strange stone came to be in the middle of a Dundee estate.
Years later, Pamela had lost touch with most of her childhood friends after she had moved home. She would become a successful children’s author while also working as a high school philosophy and religious studies teacher in Dundee’s Harris Academy.
In partnership with illustrator Thomas Flintham, her book The Spy Who Loved School Dinners won the Blue Peter book award in 2015 while My Headteacher is a Vampire Rat won The Children’s Book Award the following year.
Hachette publishers, who own the Enid Blyton estate of Secret Seven novels, took note. They asked Pamela to write two new Secret Seven stories. “I thought they were joking,” she reflected in an interview with BBC Scotland News. “I was excited, and then I was terrified.”
She made her own Secret Seven hut in the back garden of her Dundee home, filled it with biscuits and lemonade, and got to work.
Pamela’s second Secret Seven book – Mystery of the Theatre Ghost – has just been released, and she believes “girl power” was very much in her mind when writing the work.
She said: “I was told I could have written in whichever way I wanted, but I chose to keep it in the same time period, with the same characters and setting.
“I didn’t introduce any new technology. There are no mobile phones. The only things I changed were the language, which I modernised a little, and there is a bit more ‘girl power’.
“Two of the Secret Seven – Pam and Barbara – were giggly girls in the first 15 books. There is more of them being a bit wilder rather than giggly. They are actually the heroines who save the day a lot of the time.
“I wanted the female characters to have more of a role that reflects 2019. There is no going off to make the food. They are very much the centre of the investigation.”
The original Secret Seven books were published between 1949 and 1963 and, along with The Famous Five and Noddy, are at the heart of Enid Blyton’s popularity and a legacy of 500 million books sold worldwide.
Pamela is the first British author to write a continuation of The Secret Seven series since Enid Blyton. The French author Evelyne Lallemand wrote 12 Secret Seven books, nine of which were translated into English between 1983 and 1987.
The latest story was inspired by a trip Pamela took to Brighton last year during the Beast from the East. After finishing up at an event in the Theatre Royal to mark World Book Day, Pamela realised she had left her bag behind.
When she went back inside to get it, the theatre was deserted and she became very aware of every smell and sound – and the potential for the paranormal. The idea for the ‘Theatre Ghost’ was born.
She said: “A theatre is somewhere that is so loud and full of life, it becomes a completely different place when empty. It was quite spooky. I was looking around backstage for my bag, at 36 years old, and I was really scared.”
The Mystery of the Theatre Ghost follows The Secret Seven as they are chosen as extras to perform in a local play. During the opening performances, things go badly wrong for the cast. Is someone trying to sabotage the play, or is there a ghost behind it all?
For Pamela, she has now taken a break from teaching while she looks after her baby son Albie. She continues to write while he goes for his nap.
Young fans can look forward to more Pamela Butchart books this year – Wigglesbottom Primary: The Classroom Cat, which is out in July, and the as yet untitled book in the ‘Izzy’ series that will hit our shelves in September.
As for the possibility of another Secret Seven book in the future, written in her own Secret Seven hut, Pamela is tight-lipped.
“I think you would need to know the Secret Seven password for me to reveal that.”