The Books that shape you
I find it interesting that the things we like as children seem to really stick with us, and yet at times, in our grown up worlds, we can feel like we’ve lost touch with who we are, of the essence of who we were when we were young. I only have to look back to those times, turn the pages of the books that mattered, remember what I loved then and reflect on why, for this small exploration to remind me, not only why I love books, but what makes me tick, as a person and as a writer.
As a really young child, the book that intrigued and fascinated me more than any other, was Cicely M Barker’s, ‘The Book of the Flower Fairies’. I wasn’t an especially girly kind of girl, but I adored the pictures, the bright colours, the flowers and plants, and I seemed to have an instinctive love for the rhythms in poetry. My mum had a very old copy of the book, one of the originals, which I am pleased to say I now have. What made this book even more magical was the fact that it was coming apart a bit, that my mum had traced the fairy shapes so that the other sides of the pages, which would have been blank, showed a fairy pencil outline. I was so fascinated by this and whole conversations would spring up about how she did this, adding to the magic.
As a child of around seven or eight, my favourite book was ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. We didn’t have ‘the whole’ Narnia series… we didn’t even know ‘the whole’ Narnia series existed, and it really didn’t matter. Unlike nowadays, where we automatically expect there to be more, one book was enough. This book was certainly enough for me! I wasn’t a big reader myself as a child – I struggled with it to be honest. So, my mum would sit on the edge of my bed in my tiny box room, and read this book to me, and when she got to the end, I would ask her to start all over again. My favourite moment was (and still is) when Lucy first walks through the back of the wardrobe into the snowy land. When I watched the film, a few years ago, I confess to tear drenched cheeks at this point! This escape into a magical world definitely influenced my writing of ‘Buttercup Magic’… just the thought that we can move between worlds has a magic all of its own for me.
I was also crazy about the Asterix books by Goscinny and Uderzo. I have always loved comics – in fact, I wanted to be a comic artist for a long time. My dad, who for years was a Jaguar specialist, had his own garage and had some interesting customers, including members of Showaddywaddy and Englebert Humperdink! One of his customers was the translator of the Asterix books, which meant that me and my bro got given two of the books, one of which was signed. I still have them, and have added to this small collection since. As a child, I adored the pictures and the humour. I’d spend hours drawing Obelix and Dogmatix, caught up in their crazy slapdash world.
Another of my faves was my Dad’s Monty Python book… it was rude, it was irreverant, it was random… right up my street! Not exactly standard child fare, but then I wasn’t especially drawn to books for children. Luckily, I had very open minded parents, who let me read whatever was around. Dad’s Monty Python book made me cackle. The way they put together such contrasting ideas appealed to me on another level. It’s still something I love, find funny, and like to explore in my own writing.
Last, but by no means least, in my teens, I honed in on my mum’s collection of Sylvia Plath poems, ‘Aerial’. When I read Sylvia’s poems something inside fitted together. I didn’t understand them all, but I felt them. I was so intrigued that I bought all her poetry collections. I then read a biography on her, ‘Bitter Fame’ by Anne Stevenson. This book had an even more profound effect on me – I felt like there was someone else like me out there, someone who felt some of the things I did and who chose to express those through the written word. This inspired me to write more seriuosly, which, at the time, meant writing reams of poetry and actually sending them out to people! One of these was published, another three led to me being a runner-up in a poetry competition – Dylan Thomas’s daughter was one of the judges – I was in awe! I’ve visited Sylvia’s grave at Heptonstall twice, a very moving experience given the influence her writing has had on me, and hope to visit again soon… it’s all very pertinent to what I am writing at the moment.
I think certain books reach out to us as ones that mirror elements of who we are, and then, furthermore, help to shape us and help us to understand what makes us tick. These books certainly did that for me.
Which books have influenced you most in your life and writing, and seem to echo a part of who you are?