THE IMAGE was of a doting mother who enjoyed the kind of lifestyle she wrote about in her blockbusting children’s books – filled with picnics, jolly japes and, of course, lashings of ginger beer.

But fifty-years after the best-selling Dorset author’s death- she sold more than 600 million books - the dark side of Enid Blyton has been laid bare in a new biography.

The Real Enid Blyton by Nadia Cohen reveals how the writer’s private life was ‘a riot of extramarital affairs’ including ‘the hint of a lesbian romance’ plus ‘summary betrayals and casual cruelty’.

According to Cohen there was also – possibly- the darkest behaviour of all, ‘deliberately’ falling from an apple tree in order to provoke the miscarriage of an inconvenient child. As Blyton’s daughter, Imogen, wrote: ‘She would have been aware of the high risk of giving birth to a child with a defect at her age; and her books were still the most important part of her life.’

Add to this the cruelty she showed to her first husband – Blyton more or less tricked him into never seeing his children again – and it adds up to a story far more unpredictable and dramatic than anything she had ever penned in more than 700 works.

Cohen’s book is part of a series she is writing about children’s authors who had a complicated relationship with their own offspring.

“I’m not trying to ruin people’s childhoods but you would expect these people to be the most wonderful parents; in fact they had real difficulty connecting with their own kids while millions of kids around the work adored them,” she said.

“You imagine her sitting on her golf course, overlooking the Purbecks, writing these books and think how idyllic it was," said Cohen. "But I soon learned that she didn’t take her children out rock-pooling or on picnics, she would get annoyed if her children rattled around upstairs.”

She investigated the stories that Blyton had enjoyed a lesbian affair with one of her daughter’s nannies and also the theories behind her strange behaviour. “When she was 13 her father left her mother and she never recovered from the shock of it,” said Cohen. “She behaved like a 13-year-old child for the rest of her life.”

Interestingly, said Cohen, when Blyton went for pioneering fertility treatment before the birth of her first daughter she was told that her uterus had stopped developing from around the age of 13, possibly from the shock of her father’s departure.

She also discovered that Blyton was unusual for her time in another way – she took a keen interest in business and was highly involved with productions featuring her characters and stories, including the merchandising. “That was very different in those days,” she said.

* The Real Enid Blyton by Nadia Cohen is published by Pen & Sword History