Friday, 4 July 2008

Childhood's Beginning

Good morning!

What a beautiful morning it is, at least here in Derbyshire. It rained last night so the air is crisp and clean but now the sun is out and the whole landscape looks freshly laundered. Utterly delightful.

So... coffee morning... I've set out a pot of Americano and a thermos of whipped milk. For those that, like me, prefer tea there's Rington's or chai or fresh sprigs of thyme for thyme tea. Shall we sit in the garden? The Nightshade is blooming profusely this year.

Now my question is one I've borrowed from Stephanie Weeks, who's become a sort beta reader for me, and I for her:

Is there a book you recall from childhood or early adolescence that really set your imagination spinning and - just possibly - sowed the seeds for your own writing?

I have so many! Stig of the Dump and so many of Enid Blyton's and Agatha Christie and Tolkien and -oh yes, this is the root of H&J - The Chronicles of Narnia. Alan Garner, particularly Elidor, and Moorcock and The Phantom Tollbooth.

What are yours?


Helen said...

Good Morning. I know there were so many, but my problem is, I can't see beyond the Enid Blyton ones. I am obsessed with them at the moment. The Secret Island, the adventure series, the boarding schools and, obviously, The Famous Five.

Blame the hormones (I do very often), but I can't think what else I used to read! I am looking forward to reading everyone elses replies to spur my memory...

Lazy Perfectionista said...

There are plenty of books I read when I was a kid that can take me back to when I read them if I pick them up now. 'The Chronicles of Narnia', 'Swallows and Amazons', pretty much anything by Enid Blyton or PG Wodehouse. I also remember trying to read 'Vanity Fair' when I was about 8 - it was on TV and I loved it, but I don't think I even got to the end of the first paragraph at the time!

I read 'And Then There Were None' by Agatha Christie by torchlight on a long car journey when I was about 12, and can still remember how much it terrified me - not the genteel mystery without any actual violence that I had been expecting... But the first book I truly loved, 'The Pet Show' (known as 'Petch'), my mother can still recite!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I loved the Susan Cooper five-book series 'Over Sea, Under Stone'. And anything by Noel Streatfield. And American Victorian children's literature - an aunt much older than me had a whole shelf-full - the Katy books, anything by Louisa May Alcott, A Girl Of The Limberlost. And I loved the Little House On The Prairie series, too. And the Chalet School books. But I wasn't entirely gender-specific in my reading, as I also adored the Willard Price 'Adventure' series, Billy Bunter and Just William. I could go on... (and I still re-read some of them, sometimes)

NoviceNovelist said...

A delciious topic - thank you - love the sound of the americano also. Gorgeous morning here on the south coast. I loved the 'What Katy Did' books like Zinnia and 'Little Women' and anything by Enid Blighton.

The book I remember from school that Sister Helen used to read to us in the afternoons as a treat was called 'The Nargun and the Stars' -it took me to another world and let me forget I actually lived in a small country town and lived a regular schools girl life. That's what I love about reading and writing the most - being in someone else's world.

Lucy Diamond said...

I was a sucker for the boarding school ones: Enid Blyton, Chalet School, Trebizon, those ones by Antonia Forest (I think?), oh, WHY did my parents not send me to Malory Towers when I begged and begged them??
Also loved Noel Streatfeild, Helen Cresswell, any other Enid Blytons... just anything and everything I could get my hands on. It is incredibly pleasing to see my eldest daughter devouring books at a rate of knots, having to nag her about not reading at breakfast time, not reading when she's walking up and down stairs - takes me back.
Ahhh. Lovely topic, thank you. Feel all nostalgic now!

SpiralSkies said...

Oh yes, 'What Katy Did' for me too and also the 'Heidi' books by Joanna Spyrie... I never liked fairy tales but loved reading about different lives that could really happen. I've never thought about it before, but that's exactly what I write now.

Thanks Rachel, that's actually given me an insight I hadn't seen before.

'Profulsely Nightshade' sounds a deliciously dark title for a drama too.

Helen said...

I am worried about my memory...Lucy thanks for reminding me about Trebizon - I loved those books, along with the four in the series from Louisa M Alcott starting with Little Women, I also loved mystery ones like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

JJ said...

Ooh, lovely topic. I too loved Enid Blyton - although not the ones where little creatures lived in trees ... I love the school ones, Malory Towers (I so wanted to go there too) and St Clairs and the adventure ones, the Famous Five and Secret Seven (I so wanted to be George). But I also adored beyond reason the Lorna Hill series of 'Wells' books about a girl who wanted to be a ballerina. Then there were the Ruby Ferguson ones about Jill and her ponies. OMG I loved them I wanted to be Jill too.

Is it any wonder I'm perpetually confused?

Lovely nostalgic topic.

ChrisH said...

Stig of the Dump was great (and what we call the misery in charge of our local recycling centre here) I also loved Enid Blyton and Alan Garner. I was an avid reader and was allowed unrestricted access to my parents' books - even when it did lead to those 'Am I supposed to be reading this?' moments (eg like scaring the bejesus out of myself with Dennis Wheatley!). Shirley Hughes, 'My Naughty Little Sister' stories struck a chord and my favourite 'coming of age' novel was Dodie Smith's 'I Capture the Castle'. These days I adore Louise Rennison's 'Georgia' diaries and am greatly looking forwards to 'Stop in the Name of Pants' which has just come out. Good topic because it's made me think about what was so inspirational about those books.

Rowan Coleman said...

oh what a lovely subject!! I love Trebizon, and Mallory Towers. Was crazy for anything written by Diana Wynne Jones or Susan Cooper. I also loved, loved the Anne of Green Gable series, but I think if there is one book that really set me wanting to be a writer it's Jane Eyre. I read it first rather haphazardly when I was about eleven, and was utterly absorbed and compelled by the first half of Jane's life and a bit muddled and confused by the second half! But I never forgot the incredible vivid and emotive desciption and how I cried and cried for young Jane. I read it again in my late teens and once again in my twenties and about once a year ever since. Its an incredible groundbreaking piece of genius and though I will never write anything nearly so wonderful, it's passion, pace, description and characterisation still inspire me.

Caroline said...


Great question.

For me it was 'Lotta' by Astrid Lindgren, Roald Dahl and I loved Shirley Hughes, 'My Naughty Little Sister' books. I loved Noel Streatfield. But I came to all of these later than most.

We're already in July! I hope that writing is going well for you all.


watching9987 said...

Roald Dahl for definite - his short stories more than the children's books i think. (I discovered them in very early teens)

I read Tolkien too - to be honest though I can't really remember too much about what I read.

The only book that really stands out from the deepest darkest depth is Noggin the Nog. Cos it's mint. Just the names do it for me, Noggin of course, Nogbad the Bad (his evil uncle), Nanook of the North (the love interest)

Great stuff, I remember it was the sounds of the words I always liked more than the meanings. Does that make me odd?

Graeme K Talboys said...

The only children's books I recall reading when I was a child were the Arthur Ransome books. There must have been others as I was always borrowing books from the school library, but they didn't make much of an impression. I much preferred my mother's books. Companion Book Club, Reprint Society, the house was full of them. So my childhood reading was pretty much anything they put out - Graham Greene, Mary Stewart, Victor Canning, Ian Fleming, and a whole host of names that have faded into obscurity. I was also fond of Jules Verne, H G Wells (there's a surprise). When I got secondary school and was earning a bit of pocket money, I began to buy my own books. New Worlds magazine was an absolute must, which led to Mike Moorcock, Ballard, Joanna Russ, Angela Carter, Aldiss, and later M John Harrison. I really didn't discover children's books until I went to college - the bookshop there was stocked to the rafters with a huge range (given it was a small college) as the Principal's wife (who ran the shop) was a great fan of children's literature.

Clare Sudbery said...

You know it's funny but I've never been able to come up with a book or books which consciously inspired me to write, which I've always thought was a little odd.

But I've just had a "doh!" moment which I think explains this. The thing is, my mum had about one children's book (mostly aimed at 8-12-yr-olds) published per year, throughout my childhood. And I read and loved each one, and *she* was my inspiration. Being the daughter of a writer, and loving books myself, I just sort of assumed I would be a writer when I grew up. As a child, I never questioned it. It was only in adulthood that the doubts seeped in. Not only my mother, but also my grandmother, great-aunt and godmother were all published writers of children's books, so it seemed like an obvious and easy path. Ironically I still haven't written a proper children's novel (only short illustrated ones for very young kids), but I plan to soon! I've never lost my love and appreciation for children's books, and I still read them as happily as I read adult ones (being a parent is a great avenue for this - I've read to my son every night since he was a tiny baby, and normally read more than one story per session).

There are tons of books I read and loved as a child. I grew up in a bookish family, so my parents' and grandparents' houses were full of books to which I had unlimited access. Whenever I had friends round to the house, they would gaze in awe at the walls of our house, all of which were lined with books.

The ones I remember in particular:

When very young: Pooh, the Teddy Robinson books, Billy Brown babysitter, The Elephant and the Bad Baby, Are You My Mother? Put Me in the Zoo, Where the Wild Things Are, Russell Hoban's Frances books, The Cat in the Hat, oh dear I could go on forever.

When a little older, every Saturday my mother would take me to the library, and she would go off to browse the adult shelves while I was left in the children's section, and there were two books I returned to again and again: The Mouse's Christmas (no idea who it was by), and The 100 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, by Dr Seuss. I also loved all the Pippi Longstocking books, Roald Dahl, Blyton's fairy books, Dr Seuss, Robber Hotzenplotz, Hillaire Belloc, Edward Lear, the Bobby Brewster books, The Mouse and His Child, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH...

Older still: Noel Streatfield (particularly loved The Painted Garden, which had a massive impact for some reason), Blyton's Five Find-Outer books, Mallory Towers, St Clairs etc, the Jennings books (about a boy at boarding school, v funny and I too nagged my parents to send me to boarding school), Ursula K le Gwynn, E Nesbit, Malcolm Saville, The Secret Garden, The Little Prince...

Then as a teenager I raided the sizable thriller and sci fi collections of my parents (my dad edited a sci fi fanzine at Cambridge in the 60s, and after those library trips with my mum she always seemed to come home with an armful of those yellow Gollancz hardbacks), particularly enjoying Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Dick Francis, Eric Frank Russell, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Douglas Adams... oh, and I loved Adrian Mole, and all that American teen fiction from the school book club, where the girls all had "bangs" (I never could work out what the hell they were - I suspected it just meant "fringe" and have had that confirmed as an adult, but the fact that it was a plural really threw me). Incidentally, that was a common theme: I would make assumptions based on my reading, and never have them confirmed, leading to all sorts of weird and wonderful misconceptions of what words meant, including the common one: I thought "my-zuld" and "miss-led" were two entirely different words, although they had similar meanings (and were both spelt "misled").

In terms of my adult writing, I think those thrillers I read as a teen have had the biggest influence, and my young children's fiction has most been influenced by Dr Seuss.

Oh dear, sorry, that was rather a lot. But once I started listing stuff, I couldn't stop!

Anonymous said...

Is it too early to have a beer? Hmm, probably. I'll just have a very large Americano then.

My early books have a surprisingly large overlap with yours, LDUK. I didn't think many people had even heard of Alan Garner, though I preferred The Owl Service to Elidor. It was a bit weirder; which I liked. The very first book I can remember reading, or rather being read to me, was Dr Suess's Sleep Book.

There are so many books to choose from. I think I read a lot more back in childhood than I do now. Shame on me! I can't possibly list them all here, as Google would probably run out of server storage. So just a few examples...

For SF, I would have to say that I grew up on the likes of Arthur C Clarke, and EE "Doc" Smith's Lensman series. I also liked the Narnia series, blissfully unaware of their religious themes. The first thing I can remember that made me want to write, was probably Five On Kirrin Island Again.

It's so tempting to dig them all out and read them again, isn't it? I mustn't do that though. Got to finish OGINE first.

Right, it's gone 13:00 so I'm going to have that beer after all. It's Friday, yippeee!

Clare Sudbery said...

"the sounds of the words I always liked more than the meanings. Does that make me odd?"

God no, or if you are, then so am I. I get very excited about the sounds of words, entirely independent of their meanings - always have. I like to write nonsense verse sometimes, for instance - purely for the sound of it.

I too am an Alan Garner fan, by the way, and sadly read a lot more as a child than as an adult. But then I had a hell of a lit mofre spare time!

"I also liked the Narnia series, blissfully unaware of their religious themes."

Yeah, me too. My partner came back from the cinema the other day spitting feathers about the heavy-handed religious references in the latest Narnia film, particularly the fact that the baddies seem characterised only by their unwillingness to believe in Aslan, i.e. their secularity.

Forgot to mention I also got through a few classics as a child, Woman in White standing out in particular, but mainly not by reading them myself. My dad carried on reading me a bedtime story every night until I was about 13, because we both enjoyed it so much. When I got to about 11, he started to move away from kids' lit and on to the classics.

Kate.Kingsley said...

It's a gorgeous day up here too! :-).

This is a geart question, especially as I think its so pertinent ~ I'll bet most writers wanted to become writers because they revelled in the "transportedness" of reading really great books as a kid ~ that's certainly where my love of literature was formed. For me the book in question was called 'Prize Pony', and it was extra special as I inherited my copy from my mum. I loved this book so much that i sat at the dining table at my granparents house and attempted to rewrite it (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, and plagiarism laws being far from my seven-year-old legal experience!).

I think I'll dig my copy out this weekend and give it a another read :-)

wordtryst said...

I can't remember any specific books inspiring me to write as a child, but I grew up with my head in books, loved the worlds of books, so somewhere along the line there must have been a transition from just wanting to read to wanting to write too. My teachers probably inspired me more directly, especially my A Level GP teacher who scrawled at the end of an essay that I have a great facility with language.

Beyond that, many of the books mentioned above were books that I enjoyed as a child: Enid Blyton, all the Gerald Durrell books (especially My Family and Other Animals), the Katy books, the Little Women series, the William books, Agatha Christies that I purloined from my mother's bookshelf... and of course the classics.

Fiona said...

Like Jen, this question has really unlocked some memory boxes for me.

Enid Blyton first, then any pony book I could get my hands on: Jill's pony, Jill Wins a Derby, Jill's Next Horse get the picture. Oh, The Hobbit. Loved it and read it a zillion times. Just William and then Black Beauty. This was the book that did it for me. I still haven't got over Ginger dying.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Oh Lucy, ta for reminding me about Malory Towers ~ I REALLY wanted to go there!! (but not St Claire's, oddly enough). I HATED the fact that we didn't play lacrosse at our scholl (cos loads of comps in the NE of England do that, don't they....) and my best friend was good at drawing so i tried to persuade her to keep a scowl book. Spoilsport wouldn't though (and nor would she answer to 'Belinda' either, on account of it not being her name ~ some people, eh?)

Helen Shearer said...

Hi everyone,

Am I the only perosn alive who never read Enid Blyton as a child? I was a Dahl fan - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach. Food books. I never realized until right now that I was all about the food books. Might explain my obsession with cook books and indeed, food, to this day. I also read the B is for Betsy series and loved it but can't remember who wrote it. I still read loads of kids' books.

Cathy said...

Oh you have all mentioned so much of my childhood reading...Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfield, the Anne of Green Gables series, pony books and much more. Then on to Alan Garner, Tolkien. As a young teen I loved Agatha Christie, the James Bond books, Dennis Wheatley, and I devoured all of Anya Seton's historical novels. Then my reading tastes broadened even further...

As an adult I have enjoyed reading Harry Potter. I have also loved some of Jacqueline Wilson's books and in some ways the realism of her writing is much closer to what I write than the fiction that I read as a child myself...

L-Plate Author said...

Hey everyone.

Caroline, you stole my thunders! I was going to say My Naughty Little Sister too! I also remember a character called Amelia Jane but I'm not sure if she had her own series or if she was the naughty one.

Like wordtryst, nothing I read as a child inspired me to write but I do have so many fond memories of The Magic Faraway Tree. I've even gone so far, (hmm maybe I'mnot the only one come to think of it?) as to set up my own gangs after reading the secret seven and the famous five. So maybe there was some inspiration after all, just not with words.

And I adored Harry Potter too.

I did have a school report that said if I ever got my head out of a book, I would notice the world around me...

Fab topic LDUK. Evoked lots of happy memories. x

Flowerpot said...

I go with all of yours plus The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. and a Traveller in time - Alison Uttley. And so many more...!

B said...

Enid Blyton and then the Chalet School (I am surprised at how few have mentioned the Chalet SChool!).

I am however glad that they were an initial inspiration and that I don't write things like them now - much as I still love them. Does anyone else understand that?

And I love the sounds of words independently of their meaning too.

Calistro said...

Good topic!

For me it was:

"The Magic Faraway Tree" by Enid Blyton

All of the "Adventure" series by Willard Price (e.g Amazon Adventure, Underwater Adventure, Cannibal Adventure)

"The House at World's End" by Monica Dickens

"The L-Shaped Room" by Lynne Reid Banks

and tons and tons and tons of Judy Blume!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my late arrival. I'm more of a Tetley girl. The book that really inspired me to write was Enid Blyton's Mr. Twiddle stories. I have three books still today. I wrote a story when I was 9 years old and one of the Mr. Twiddle books inspired that particular story. It was for a competition and I won first prize!! I think the prize was a packet of felt tip pens and colouring books. I imagine the prize today would have to be an Xbox or a Nintendo Wii!!

Crystal xx

Lane said...

Too late for coffee? No, never too late:-) Great subject LDUK.

I loved the Ladybird books when I was very young and then had an obsession with Paddington. After that it was Mallory Towers and any book that had 'pony' in the title or a pony on the cover. 'A Clear Round for Katy' was the type of thing and I couldn't get enough of them. Then it was the Catherine Cookson 'Tilly' series and The Little House on the Prairie.

There are probably a million more but my memory's fading:-)

Annieye said...

I was an avid Enid Blyton fan too. I still have them all, upstairs in the loft! I have over 70 and some of them were my mum's when she was a child. Does anyone remember 'The Secret Necklace'? I really wished my Granny had a huge house with lots of secret passages!

The earliest books I read included the Milly Molly Mandy series and I hate to say it, but I loved the Janet and John 'learn to read' books at infant school!

At about eleven I read the 'Flicka' series (My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, Son of Flicka) by Mary O'Hara. I pestered my dad for a horse but ended up with riding lessons instead!

The book that really got me wanting to write was a very short children's book entitled 'The Runaway Four'. I think I was about nine when I read it and I can remember writing a composition at school about four children who ran away in the middle of the night, stole a boat from Wickies Park Lake and rowed off into the sunset down the River Ise!

At 12/13 I started on Catherine Cookson (the Mary-Ann series) then progressed to sci-fi and some very weird books - HG Wells, Aldous Huxley etc. I had a Denis Wheatley confiscated from me at school at about that time too, but the teacher realised it was a library book and had to give it back!

The book that got me in the most trouble at school, though, was 'Forever Amber' by Kathleen Winsor. I was 14. We were asked to bring our favourite book into an English lesson ... oh dear ... I was rather naughty! The English Teacher confiscated it, read it herself, and then returned it to me after school one night, with a wry smile on her face, advising me to keep it out of the sight of my mum and dad! She was a bit taken aback when I said my grandma had given me it to read and my mum had already read it.

(My English Teacher ended up as one of my greatest friends as an adult.)

Leigh said...

The Hobbit, Barney Blue Eyes and Robin Hood (which I can remember my father reading to me when I was very small), and the Narnia books, which were amongst the first I read for myself.

The Hobbit I list before the others because I think that had the most influence on me. I say my father read it to me, but in fact he read it to my sister first, and (while I was supposed to be asleep) I listened from across the room. Unable to see the illustrations, I can still remember marvelling at the images conjured in my mind's eye by the words alone. I must have been about six.

Debs said...

Sorry I'm so late.

I loved thinking back (so far) and remember that my favourite books were Swallows & Amazons, What Katy Did and The Chronicles of Narnia, I also loved Anne of Green Gables and The Magic Faraway Tree.

These books really set my imagination racing and took me off to wonderful other places that I'm sure helped my imagination grow over the years.

Caroline said...

I don't know where to put this - so it can go here.

I finished my first draft today! Yayayayayayayayay!

Thank you novel racers.
That's 2 novels written with you :)


B said...

Congratulations Cas :) I am so excited for you!

liz fenwick said...

Congrats Caroline!!!

Sorry to be soooooo late this weekend but was without internet at the Romantic Novelist Conference and I promise I will do detailed posts on the seminars - our own Kate H gave a brilliant one.

My reading sitting across the pond then was a bit didfferent - E Blyton but Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn got my imagination going but early still was EB White - especially Trumpet of the Swan and finally Green Eggs and Ham......

Later is was Georgette Heyer who really pushed me to want to put the stories in my head down on paper.

Great topic Rachel :-)

Anonymous said...

Caroline: Well done on completing your draft :o)