My childhood in books

My childhood in books

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what age my books are suitable for. I usually answer ‘twelve to one hundred and twelve’. Sometimes people follow up with a comment: ‘my daughter reads everything’, ‘he reads well above his age’, ‘she loves books by [adult author]’. And I smile, knowing my books will be going to a good home. Because that’s the sort of reader I was as a kid. One who loved intelligent, complex stories with layers of meaning. So of course those are the books I (hopefully) write.

My Dad was a copywriter and, eventually, a published author. I’ve talked before about how he was my writing inspiration. Words were his job, but also his love. And every Saturday he would take me to the library. And I read A LOT. So I worked my way through many different genres. Here’s a quick tour of my reading journey (in no particular order, because I can’t remember.)

Ghost stories

Cover of book 'The Ghost Belonged to Me'. Image shows a tram approaching a boy in pyjamas whilst a ghostly girl hovers in the sky overhead.

The little tingle of fear when you first see hints of something odd happening in the story… The slow build, waiting to see what form this haunting will take. A good story is like well-seasoned food – there’s not too much of the ghostly: just enough to flavour the atmosphere. And finally, the explanation, the reveal, the sad backstory. I devoured anthologies, I embraced Poe. Anything with a haunting. One of my favourites was ‘The Ghost Belonged to Me‘, by Richard Peck. A lost child, a mysterious (and damp!) dog and the exotic, faraway place of New Orleans. Delicious!

Asterix and Tintin

Cover of Asterix and the Golden Sickle. Asterix is pointing to a sign that says 'Lutece' whilst Obelix is behind him holding a menhir.

I can still picture exactly where these books were in the Hobart library, on a low shelf, near convenient cushioned seats. Being aspie, I couldn’t possibly read them out of order, so I was very inconvenienced if the next one was missing. My solution was to bounce between the pun-filled world of Asterix (the feasts! Dogmatix!) and the exotic, bejewelled adventures of Tintin. If the next Asterix was missing, it was time to read the next Tintin. When my kids were old enough to select their own library books, my eldest did the same thing, so it must be genetic!

Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books

gold fairy tale images embossed on 12 different coloured books
A rainbow of books. Two of my favourite things together.

As with other genres and authors, once I started on the (original!) rainbow fairy books, I couldn’t stop until I’d read them all. There were a lot of familiar fairy tales contained within the various ‘colours’, but also far less well known ones. Tracking them all down was a challenge, but I didn’t stop there – there were so many other fairy tale collections to discover, such as the beautiful, melancholic poetry of H.C. Andersen. At one point I discovered a book of modern fairy tales by a female author, and it still haunts me to this day because all I can remember is that they were marvelous – not the name of the author or the collection. Perhaps one day, with the good fortune of a secret fairy godmother, I will find those lost tales again.

Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl

My introduction to Roald Dahl was not through his children’s books, but through his adult short stories. Seeing how I had read my way through the entire children’s section at the Hobart library, one day my Dad took me to the adult stacks, and showed me these 2 authors. I was instantly hooked by the unexpected twists of their clever tales, and the way both could conjure so many images, ideas and emotions with so few words. I was transported to Mars and Mexico, shown conniving murderesses and deadly scorpions. It is because of these two writers that I began to aspire not just to be an author myself (that, after all was a decision I made at the age of 8) but to want to write well.

Libraries are hubs of magic.
Photo by Ivo Rainha from Pexels

Coincidentally, today I came across this quote from Ursula Le Guin: “To learn to write something well can take a whole lifetime, but it’s worth it.” The journey that began in the Hobart library many years ago is still ongoing. I hope one day I might be able to say I write well. All stories fall short of the dreamscapes in our heads. But reflecting on my childhood, I think my greatest hope is that my books might inspire young, avid readers who read above their age level. Because I am writing my tales for them.

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