A short while ago I showed you my earliest writing. But what you didn’t see there were some of the books that inspired me during my childhood and adolescence. Back then I only owned a few of them: the majority were carried away, like treasure, from either my village library in Churchdown, or the main one in Gloucester. I lived for library days! The quietness of a library, the smell of the books, wondering what unexpected jewel I was going to come across next. It is no exaggeration to say that I could easily have lived in a library; in any case, the Gloucester one was a great place for mum and dad to dump me while they went shopping (I was a teenager at that point!). When they came to pick me up I could often be found sat on the floor, usually in the Greek history or mythology section, reading through some academic tome or other. A cool kid I was not!
Rites of passage are very important when growing up. They may take the form of a specific birthday, a Bar Mitzvah, a girl’s first period, being old enough to get into a cert 15 film… For me, the most important one was when I could change, at the age of 12, from a child’s library ticket (and yes, we’re going back to the small cardboard holder type here) to an adults, allowing me not only to access the adult library but also to up my book limit from three to six! As I’d grown out of the children’s library stock way before then, it came as quite a liberation (and, at times, with some books, a lesson in what sex was all about! Not that it was, necessarily, but I didn’t know that then!).
So, for this post, I’ve tracked down some of those books that made such an impression on up until the age of 18. Sadly, many of the ones here no longer have the older covers that I remember, but at least the story will be the same!
The Adventure Books by Willard Price
I think there were about 12 books in this series about two explorers and animal collectors, and I collected them all. They’d probably be considered politically incorrect now (in more ways than one), but at the time I found them thrilling – and they taught me a lot about animals! I was surprised to find that they’re still in print. One of my achievements (in a rather sad way) was to be able to quote whole passages from them.
The King Must Die by Mary Renault
One of my first ‘adult’ books and my introduction to Mary Renault. I probably read it at about the same time as the Misty comic series about Bulldancers, and hence my debut ‘novel’ of the same name. I also loved the sequel, Bull From the Sea.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Another favourite from the children’s section. I was always fascinated by the paranormal and that there was a force of ‘light’ and a force of ‘darkness’ fighting against each other. This series by Susan Cooper did rather inflame a rather already vivid imagination and I began to see agents of the Dark everywhere. Especially in crows, who, I was convinced, were spying on me as I walked to school. Yep, I was a strange child.
Nefertiti, The Beautiful One
A very adult book (actually there were three in the series: this one, Nefertiti, Lady of Grace, and Nefertiti, the Devious Being). I suppose I picked it up because of my new fascination with all things ancient Egypt, but I became even more fascinated by the extremely graphic and often dysfunctional sexual scenes, depicting things which, at the tender age of 12/1, I hadn’t even dreamed were possible. Oh, the end of the age of innocence. But don’t get me wrong, I loved the books for the actual story too, and through them I educated myself about the 18th dynasty of Egypt. I reread this series so many times that I think, for a couple of years I had them out on permanent loan!
A few years ago, while going through a nostalgic patch, I decided I wanted to find the Nefertiti series again and actually buy them this time. But it wasn’t that easy: not only had they gone out of print, there were no second-hand copies available either (in fact I’ve only found one today – the one above). Not to be defeated I went through one of the specialist book-finding agencies and they eventually tracked them down for me – at a rather large cost! However, looking at them again with a grown up eye, I was rather disappointed: the magic I saw in them once upon a time seemed to have disappeared and now they came across as being overly dramatic, with the antagonist as a permanent victim. Strange how time’s lens changes things.
And so onto my the books that, at the time, informed my personal (and very secret) belief system:
Isis In the Ancient World by R.E Witt
This is the book which I was usually found to be reading on the floor of the library in between the tall wooden shelves. Of course, I took it home too, and it was another one that was on almost permanent loan! From the age of nine, I’d regarded myself as a pagan. No-one encouraged me in this: in fact I thought I was the only one in the world. It began with the Greek Gods and then progressed to Isis. This book became my basis of my worship of Isis (usually by sitting on a windowsill and watching the moon for most of the night while making up chants).
But then, my paganism took an entirely new, and to me, exciting turn, with the discovery of this book in the local library:
Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente
I wasn’t alone after all! There were others like me who shunned traditional religion! Whoopee! This book gave me the grounding that followed me into my life within Wicca for the next 20 years and, at the time, was very important to me. The trouble was, I didn’t think my parents would approve and so I kept it hidden, and read it behind another book. It seems a rather quaint book now, and, no longer being part of the Wiccan community, I have no real use for it. But it does bring back some memories that make me smile because, this was my first, and only real stab at teenage rebellion (and I even did that secretly!).