Current work: revisions (still!)
Listening to: Bach lute suites
Reading: Ariana Franklin, Relics of the Dead (I am a big fan of this series – and this one so far is shaping up to be just as good as the earlier ones)
Michelle Styles has tagged me in a really interesting meme about a ‘Magician’s book’ – i.e. books you remember reading as a child and being absolutley perfect (comes from Lucy in the Narnia books – see Michelle’s blog for details).
I have always been a voracious reader, so of course I can’t stop at just one. The problem might be stopping… so I’ll stick to the ones that really stayed with me from before the age of ten.
The Wind in the Willows – I can remember sitting on my mum’s lap, wrapped in a blanket (we didn’t have central heating in those days and I might have had one of my tonsillitis bouts), while she read this to me. I remember it being perfect – I loved the character of Mole, thought Toad was terribly naughty, and I liked the ducks. Actually, I can remember my dad doing the voices for the duck song – it’s one of the rare things I can remember him reading to me, too. (My dad has never been into books, even before his dementia. He actually stopped my pocket money when I was six because I spent the lot on books. My mum used to buy me books sneakily, and eventually he had to relent. He said afterwards that he was worried we were running out of room to store my books. Hmm… Didn’t work, did it?) Perfect? I bought a really nice illustrated version for my son when he was born, but it didn’t quite stand the test of time for us, so it’s made me wary of revisiting books I loved as a child. Just in case they’re not as I remember them.
Alison Uttley, The Country Child – I also loved her Little Grey Rabbit books (which my mum also read to me when I was little – and she used to make up stories to amuse me, too. She’s where I got the writing gene, and it’s gone to my daughter. I would dearly love to trace it back through the family. Must ask bestest uncle). What in particular? The views of the country (not surprising that I ended up being a huge Thomas Hardy fan, then) and the macabre stuff (the Mistletoe Bride – and I’m still very proud of my own ghost stories).
Ruby Ferguson, the ‘Jill’ series of pony books. I had the lot. I was desperate for a pony at the time. I do remember one of the series being called ‘A Pony of Her Own’ (not according to the official list, so maybe it was a chapter title?). Anyway, the memory stuck, so I was thrilled that my first M&B was called ‘A Baby of Her Own’. (And no, I didn’t explain that to my ed. She would’ve thought I was barking!) My other favourite pony series was Elyne Mitchell’s ‘Silver Brumby’ books. Oh, and I loved Mary O’Hara’s ‘My Friend Flicka’. Now, I used to write pony stories at that point. I remember bawling my eyes out over Flicka. I wonder whether that early memory has contributed to my tendency to write weepies now?
Alan Garner, The Owl Service – actually, all of Alan Garner’s books. I’ve always enjoyed reading paranormal books. This one stands the test of time, though sadly I haven’t managed to persuade son to read it. I do think he’d enjoy it, but never mind… daughter will!
Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden – I’ve always loved time-slips. (‘Charlotte Sometimes’ would come in here, too (daughter is reading this right now). And ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ – not strictly time-slip but has the concept of time travel via the tesseract.) I would LOVE to write a time-slip, but it’s a matter of persuading my editor! I sneaked a bit of the Regency Doctor into ‘Neurosurgeon… and Mum’, but she warned me beforehand that if I overdid it she’d make me cut it, sniff. This one stands up to a re-read – have read it to my kids.
Gillian Avery, The Warden’s Niece. I guess this is where my interest in the Victorian period started (Victorian Studies was my subsidiary subject in the first year at uni). And I think this story made me realise it was OK to have academic ambitions. Nobody in my family went to university, so the fact that from a very early age I wanted to go to uni to study English made me a bit – well, weird. (My mum was wonderfully supportive, and had she lived would’ve probably gone to uni and studied English herself.)
Malory, Morte d’Arthur – again, one my mum introduced me to. (Have I mentioned just how wonderful my mum was?) I think I can trace my love of mythology and all things medieval to this. (The heroine’s son – and the hero – of my book ‘A Christmas Knight’, out Christmas 2010, would both have been deeply into this book. Have re-read since and still love it.)
Richard Adams, Watership Down – I loved this. I was given it for Christmas, the year it came out, and I read it so many times that all the pages fell out. It was like immersing myself in a completely different world. And I can remember being very shocked that Kehaar the seagull swore!
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. OK, it was deeply unsuitable for a child to read. Emotionally, it was too old for me, but I was a voracious reader and I liked the idea behind it. This book blew me away – the passion and the emotion (not to mention Heathcliff). I remember being fascinated by the use of dialect, too; and the scene of Catherine putting primroses in Hareton’s porridge has never quite left me. (And yes, this did stand up to re-reading. Repeatedly.)
Laura Ingalls Wilder, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series. I can remember reading these avidly and talking about them with friends: and I think this might’ve been the first time that I can remember talking about books with my peer group. (Something I love doing now, and don’t get the chance to do often enough. Am so looking forward to the time when daughter is old enough to have free run of my library. In the meantime, I read hers so we can talk books.) Not sure if they’d stand up to a re-read because of the attitudes. However. I have fond memories of them.
I’d probably better stop there! Though I do remember that when I was ten I moved on to Victoria Holt (I loved her Gothics), Jean Plaidy, Mazo de la Roche (my mum had the Jalna series, and I remember reading them by torchlight because I wasn’t supposed to read them) and James Herriot. And at the age of ten I had a deal with my parents that I could have their library cards, and the local librarians allowed me to use said cards and take out any books I liked on my junior library card, too, as I’d gone through all their junior books at this stage. I can’t remember the names of those librarians, but I would like to thank them for their kindness and their encouragement, and for suggesting books I’d enjoy. They made a slightly odd, only child very, very happy. And I’m very grateful that I’ve also been able to pass on the sheer joy of reading to my children.
And thank you, Michelle, for letting me unlock a few memories!
Again, a lot of people I know have already been tagged (or are on screaming deadlines so might not appreciate being tagged) – so if you’d like to tell me about your ‘Magician’s book’, do leave me a comment (or post a link below so I can come over and be nosey!).