‘absorbing second mystery . . . stunning resolution.’ [Stage Fright]


The first book that you remember?

One of the pleasures of parenthood is the excuse to buy children’s books. There are wonderful picture books for children these days, and I loved reading and looking at them with my daughter. It’s strange, looking back, that I don’t remember any picture books from my own childhood. Of course there were far fewer books around generally and, relatively speaking, they were more expensive and we didn’t have a lot of money. Yet, both my parents were readers, so I can’t believe there weren’t any. It’s even stranger that I can recall so few books at my little village primary school. The only one is The Hobbit, which was read out to us in class: the description of Smaug asleep on a vast mountain of golden treasure has lodged in my memory.
I learned to read quickly after I had started school at five and I read everything I could get my hands on. Those were mainly from two sources. One was the local library in Helmsley. My mother used to take my brother and I there on the bus, a journey which took us past the neo-Gothic splendour of Ampleforth College, so romantic to my child’s eyes. I was enthralled by the Norse legends and frustrated by being able to take out so few books. I had usually read mine by the day after the visit and there would be nearly a week to wait until the next time. My other resource was a collection of my mother’s books from her own childhood and these were often read and much loved: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, Alice in Wonderland (not so much loved, that one: I found it rather sinister). And there was Dumas’s The Count of Monte-Cristo. I still have that and inside it is a  book plate recording that it was awarded to my mother in her second year at Staveley Netherthorpe Grammar School in 1938. I was reading it at the age of eight or nine and I have never forgotten the thrill and the terror of hero’s escape from the Ch√Ęteau d’If. Most of my reading was of books meant for older children or even adults, but that didn’t deter me. I just read whatever was to hand and made the most of it.