MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Jumping Side Saddle (Tuesday Talk)

Yesterday, my daughter had a side saddle riding lesson - how to jump properly while riding aside. And it was one of the best lessons I've ever watched!

Kathy and Ace
When jumping astride, a leg each side of the saddle, the rider must bend or "fold" forward as the horse "bascules" or forms a curved arc over the fence. (Note horses will not make this shape over fences under 2'6 to 3' - the height most riders draw the line at)
 (no idea who these riders are! Sorry)

Modern side saddle riders tend to fold in the same way, which with a side saddle looks, and is, pretty uncomfortable. For one thing you have the two side saddle pommels digging in your chest,

 and your own knee which is curved around the uppermost fixed head pommel to contend with. Your backside leaves the saddle - you lose contact and then you have to sit up quickly on landing, which usually brings you back to the saddle with a lurch and a bump.  

No disrespect to the lady rider above, but compare these two images 
- the bottom one looks far more secure and comfortable

Look at the paintings of Victorian women riding side saddle when hunting. Most of these experienced horsewomen (who rode on exactly the same type of saddle as we do today) sat up straight, the left hand on a loose rein, the right often out and down slightly behind the hip, near the balance strap (the second girth)
(with apologies to anyone who dislikes hunting
Victorian women only jumped when out hunting, 
so only hunting images are available)

As Kathy discovered yesterday, a comfortable, practical, 
safe and secure way to jump!

The rider is Becca Holland of the Flying Foxes (see link below)
 this looks a very secure seat to me! 
For more interesting information:

under the habit - what is under a side saddle habit!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Facebook - am I alone in being Baffled? (Thursday Thoughts)

Facebook has been in the news here in the UK - and I assume US et al.
It seems that going public on the stockmarket might not have been a good idea. Mind you, as the joke going round says:

Says it all don't you think? Whoever designed it - well done you! Bravo!

The new Timeline idea  - you either love it or hate it.
I like the layout, I like having a nice banner heading, I like being able to "pin to top".
I don't like not having a clue how the wretched thing works though! I miss half the comments and posts that other people put up because half the time I'm not aware they are there; I don't really know how to make best use of the "activity log" - and that's only on my main page. The "pages" are a nightmare. I would like to post on other people's sites as Helen Hollick Author
I would like to post on other people's sites as 1066 the Movie - if you can do so, I blowed if I can find out how!

I would  like Facebook a lot more if it was simpler to use.
The only relief is that I know I am not the only one who hasn't a clue how the darn thing actually works.
Users left Myspace in droves when they changed it. I doubt FB buffs will leave.... unless something better and simpler to use comes along (not sure that Google's one is catching on. I have an account but I rarely use it. Something else to figure out? No thanks!)

Twitter got changed. Sigh. But I use Tweetdeck, which is fairly simple.
The Blogger dashboard is next to change. Was simple, now it ain't. Double sigh.

It ain't broke, so 'they'  fix it. (Treble Sigh)

Why can't Those With Infinite Wisdom leave things alone? Or at least give us the choice of staying with the old, easy, simple, non-baffling, plain, uncluttered, layout?

Even The Doctor is baffled! LOL - sums my thoughts up nicely I think!

Happy Facebooking Folks

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Did the English Fleet Meet Duke William at Sea?

Tuesday Talk
(original article was written last year - this one extended and re-posted + original comments)

Why did Harold II, King of England, stand the fyrd down in August 1066? (Thus allowing William to march in unopposed in late September).
When King Edward died in January 1066 Harold Godwinesson was crowned king - elected by the English Witan as the only man suitable for the job. 
(Anyone who disagrees with that statement: that's another debate, you are more then welcome to submit an article and I will post it)

Official poster from 1066 the movie
Join 1066 the Movie Facebook Page
Harold was expecting William to come  - let's face it, he had his spies and word would have got back to him that Duke William of Normandy was building a fleet and preparing to invade.
All summer Harold had the men of the Southern Fyrd (Wessex, Kent, Hampshire etc) on stand-by; one can imagine the Watch keeping close eye for any sails appearing on the horizon of the English Channel.
But in August, Harold sent the men home. 

The argument of "it was harvest" is not acceptable. The women and children left at home were perfectly capable of getting the harvest in while the men-folk were away. Contrary to popular (Victorian?) belief, war did not stop because of the harvest - to use that thinking, war should also stop in spring because of the sowing / lambing / calving, in autumn because of the autumn slaughter - which leaves winter: when fighting was not a good idea because of the cold, wet, dark. Sounds a good method of stopping war to me! 
Pity the Saxons / Vikings et al did not adopt it.

Harold was not stupid. he was an extremely capable and experienced commander (which is why he was crowned King, of course).
The only logical reason why would be because he was certain William would not be coming that year.I do not have evidence, just logic, intuition, and listening to what was not said in various primary sources. 

Dives Sur Mer
William built his fleet at Dives sur Mer - we know he sailed earlier than September (end July, early August). The next we hear, he is at St Valerey and some of his ships are wrecked, men have died. He hushes this up and commandeers other ships to replace those that were lost.
The Norman version is that he met a storm which destroyed his fleet.
So if it was just a storm why try to hide the fact? Why not just say "we'll sail in better weather next time chaps"?

Many of his men were Viking descended & fishermen, therefore, experienced sailors. They'd know full well the dangers of storms, and not be overly bothered by them - not enough for the need of hiding the bad luck of a storm, anyway. (And William had no trouble convincing them to set sail that second time, in September, did he?)

Now, consider the fact that England had a powerful and effective navy and plenty of ships. You can see the fleet as "ghost" ships in the border of the Bayeux tapestry in the Westminster scene where Halley's Comet is depicted. Given the time of year, it is probable that this scene depicts the keels hauled up onto the land to overwinter; i.e. not made ready for sailing - an indication of the season & that Harold had not sent the fleet out yet.

"ghost" ships in the bottom border
Given we had an effective & efficient fleet - is it not absurd that Harold would not have ordered a blockade of the Channel? His predecessors - Aethelred, Cnut (and Edward) used blocakade tactics very successfully. Harold grandfather and father were heavily involved with the Fleet - the scyp fyrd) Indeed the Godwinesson's main manor house was specific as a deterrent against ship-borne invasion. Bosham is on the coast near Chichester, in Harold's time it was a bust little harbour. Earl Godwine had the church tower specifically built as a watch tower - not a church tower. 


It is therefore inconceivable that Harold had not used his knowledge and available forces to best advantage.

It therefore does not take much logic to work out that William met the English Fleet head on and was turned back with heavy casualties of men and ships. That fact he would want to keep quiet! If Harold had already defeated William - does this not explain why he assumed William would not be coming that summer, and stood the men down.

I concede this was a mistake on Harold's part, which later cost him his life - he underestimated William's determination. Maybe he received exaggerated information. Perhaps he was told that most of William's fleet had been destroyed, whereas in fact many of the ships were only damaged. All credit to Duke William: he re-rallied and tried again - most unexpectedly. 

I also wonder - just throwing this in here - as Harold assumed that William would not be coming until 1067, was this why he went north to Stamford Bridge to face his brother Tostig and the invading Hardrada and his men? It's just a thought: if Harold had suspected that William would rally and try again, would he have stayed in the south and sent his brothers north in his stead? As it was, the South was safe.... apparently.

The Normans made no mention of a first (failed) attack and defeat by a blockade  - this does not indicate that it didn't happen. 
In fact, I think the no mention of it proves that it did!

And as final "evidence": one of the first men William had arrested and imprisoned was the Commander of the Fleet - Eadric the Steersman (who later fled to Scandinavian exile). I wonder why William was so cross with this guy!

A selection of the Previous comments from the original post: Please feel free to add your thoughts!


paula said...
I think that what you have said definitely makes sense Helen. Its a good assumption and given the fact that the English fleet was there  and William's ended up in St valery in a bad way, you can easily put two and two together as you say. And History is often written by the victor, leaving out the facts and events that might cause embarrassment or loss of face, especially when your rationale for invasion is not exactly popular or just worthy.
cel said...
I wonder though at the believing that William would not hide the destruction by storm. Superstitions were strong, could not ships being destroyed by a storm be seen as a sign that God is against, and that he should not continue. Although of viking stock, sailors also were superstitious, so they may not be willing to sign on to a campaign that has had signs against it.
(H.H. see my additional comments now inserted above)
Carolyn Schriber said...
I've always understood that the fyrd was conscripted from local men who had to provide their own weapons and supplies for a short period of service. They were not a standing army, and they had major responsibilities at home. During harvest season, Harold would not have had any choice but to let the men return home to their crops and the chores associated with getting ready for winter -- unless, of course, he had clear proof of imminent danger, and that he did not have.
(H.H. see my additional comments now inserted above)

Marilyn said...
Yes Superstitions were very strong! I had to hunt for this but found it finally just to show the importance they attached to it:
"After a discouraging delay caused by adverse winds, William's fleet finally got under way and on September 28, 1066, arrived in the Bay of Pevensey on the Sussex coast. William was the first to land, and as he sprang from the boat, he, like Casar when he landed in Africa, slipped and fell. Like Cesar, too, he turned the accident into a good omen with the exclamation, "By the splendor of the earth, I have seized England with both my hands." from this site :

Helen said...
@ Cel & Marilyn
If sailors were superstitious about setting out to sea because of a past storm all merchant shipping would have stopped pre Roman times - yes sailors were (are!) superstitious, but it's never stopped them sailing. In fact they were more likely to have run into bad weather in September than in July/August as the winds change along the Channel as any regular UK sailor will tell you.
This would have been another factor as to why Harold stood the men down. If William had been seen off in early August, because of the approaching poor sailing conditions Harold possibly assumed he had no threat from William until next spring. What he did not expect was William to move further along the Norman/French coast (and thus make a shorter crossing) or to re-organise his fleet so quickly. And here I do give William his due, he managed to do so & took advantage as soon as a lull in the wind gave him opportunity to sail. Though even then he did mess up as his fleet did not stay together (indicating adverse weather conditions)
I also think William had no intention of landing at Pevensey - hence he moved along the coast to Hastings (which clearly indicates a cock-up) The Hastings peninsular was a daft place to land - because it was a peninsular and William could so easily have been penned it (which he nearly was.) Far better to have landed further down the coast near the Isle of Wight (easily reached from Dives sur Mer) where there is flat land and many small creeks to come ashore and hence easily penetrate inland. The next good landing place would be "round the corner" in Kent, or Exeter/Lyme Bay in Dorset - but that would mean a long march towards London.
There is a good reason why Ceasar, Claudius, the Saxons landed at Portsmouth/Southampton, Exeter and Thanet! William is the _only_ invader to have landed along the Hastings coast! He got it WRONG.

Helen said...
@ Carolyn, yes, technically, during normal circumstances the fyrd served for only so many days - but not during a time of emergency. Did the fyrd pack up and go home when the Vikings were raiding during Alfred's time? Did they serve their required time when Swein Forkbeard & Cnut invaded - get to harvest time then down weapons and go home? No. They did not.
Harold could easily have stood part of the fyrd down & brought in more men from a different area (He had the whole of Wessex to call upon - i.e all the lower part of England, from Somerset to Kent. As is proved by how many men he called up to come to Hastings.)
It would have messed up the harvest to keep the men on stand-by - but much of the harvesting was actually done by the women and children anyway.
We managed to get the harvest in during all the other following wars (right up until WWII ) even though the men were away!

Cel said...
So William got his landing wrong, and yet does he think in his eyes that he got things right after the battle when Harold died and he had conquered.

Does this fact reflect an element of chance/luck in how events pan out? How history develops?

Hus said...
There are several frustratingly vague and inconclusive references to naval 'battles' between the English and the Normans during the summer of 1066.
After all, the 'Normans' were not known for being a naval people, unlike their distant ancestors, the Vikings.

The English fleet had been stood down by Harold (running out of supplies and possibly not expecting William to brave a late-season Channel's rough tides), and was partly destroyed by bad weather by the south coast, en route for London.
The Norman fleet's first, aborted, attempt to sail, was beaten back by the same terrible non- campaigning season weather.

Were they merely minor skirmishes as the two fleets (Normans sailing to St.Valery & The Saxons patrolling in the Channel?) got lashed about in the severe storms that are recorded in the sources?

•The Peterborough Chronicle reports that Harold had "sailed out against William with a naval force".

•Henry of Huntingdon states that Harold "with a naval force went forward at sea against duke William".

•The Domesday book itself records that thegn Aethelric(of Kelvedon hatch, essex) "went away to a naval battle against King William and when he returned fell ill" (leaving his lands to St.Peter's, Westminster)

•The scribes from Neider-Altach describe a naval battle between the "Aquitanians" and the English that summer.
This hints at alot more than simply guarding the coast. It suffered wrecks whilst making for the Thames from the Isle of Wight (after being 'stood down' by Harold? -Portents of doom by the "Long-haired star"?).

The many separate sources could be confusing the naval clashes with the doomed English naval attack against France/Normandy during Ethelred II's reign, decades before?

And, if it did happen in 1066 as described, why would the Normans play it down, or even omit this supposed but recorded event?

Steven Till said...
It's possible there was a battle b/w Norman and English fleets, but I don't believe any of the sources are strong enough to support this actually happened. Even the Anglo Saxon Chronicle accounts I have read do not back this scenario with much conviction.

1) "Then came King Harold to Sandwich, where he awaited his fleet; for it was long ere it could be collected: but when it was assembled, he went into the Isle of Wight, and there lay all the summer and the autumn. There was also a land-force every where by the sea, though it availed nought in the end. It was now the nativity of St. Mary, when the provisioning of the men began; and no man could keep them there any longer. They therefore had leave to go home: and the king rode up, and the ships were driven to London; but many perished ere they came thither."

2) "Then came King Harold to Sandwich, and there awaited his fleet, because it was long before it could be gathered together. And when his fleet was gathered together, then went he into the Isle of Wight, and there lay all the summer and the harvest; and a land-force was kept everywhere by the sea, though in the end it was of no benefit. When it was the Nativity of St. Mary, then were the men's provisions gone, and no man could any longer keep them there. Then were the men allowed to go home, and the king rode up, and the ships were dispatched to London; and many perished before they came thither. When the ships had reached home, then came King Harald from Norway, north into Tyne, and unawares, with a very large ship-force, and no small one; that might be, or more."

3) And that same year that he became king, he went out with a fleet against William [Earl of
Normandy]; and the while, came Tosty the earl into Humber with sixty ships.

The Chronicle accounts make it sound as though King Harold's fleet lay in wait all summer around the Isle of Wight. And when the harvest season was upon them, and their provisions were running low, and Harold was certain due to the seasonal weather that another crossing would not be attempted until the following year, he ordered everyone to return home.

I would think if there was a battle, the Chronicles would describe it in more detail as they did the battle at Stamford Bridge and the Battle of Hastings. These accounts make no mention of a naval battle. The closest thing we have is King Harold "went out with a fleet against William," but arguing from that there was a naval battle would only be speculative.

On the one side, we have the Norman sources telling us the fleet of William was broken up by a storm. The English sources are silent about this storm. I suppose you could argue for either the case -- a naval battle or a storm -- breaking up the Norman fleet, but I lean more towards the storm scenario. There is just not enough strong evidence, in my opinion, to claim Harold's forces defeated William's forces in a naval battle.

Helen said...
I have said that Harold's fleet meeting William's is my own theory - and I stick to that as a "gut feeling" - however, at least we have now established that Harold DID have a fleet and it WAS deployed as an (effective ?) blockade.
Maybe the damage to the ships was a bad storm, which combined with word that the English had a blockade was enough for Harold to (wrongly) assume William would not be coming that year.

Though I do not see him as being that much of an idiot! He was brought up at Bosham, he would have known the sea very well. I really can't picture him standing the men (and the fleet) down without solid cause.
No proof - gut feeling, intuition and logic.

Steven Till said...
That's why I love history. There is not 100% proof either way, so sometimes it is left up to our own guesswork.

jel said...

Is not another interesting part of the history trying to see through the victors reports to remove the distortions the comments made about the vanquished. This of course can be very hard. A case in point is where the person who records an incident has different memories of it from others. (As the research is showing be wary of eye witnesses who say they saw identical things - as we have different ways of seeing things.

mikees1 said...
the Normans did seem to underwrite this fact. Though when producing the Domesday book they seem to have slipped up when mentioning an Aethelric of Kelveden in Essex who "went away to a naval battle against king William" and fell ill on his return.

Helen said...
that's interesting mikees1 - not come across that piece of information before.
Aethlric of Kelveden.... odd place for a navy man .... though I think Kelvedon is near the river Roding which is connected to the Lea, which is the main river in Essex  and flows into the Thames. (anyone watching the 2012 Olympics will be seeing a lot of the Lea!)
I am 100% convinced that the scyp fyrd met William at sea in the summer.
mikees1 said...
Its either one of two books i found that fact in, obviously its in the Domesday book but it was either The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo Saxon England by Harriet Harvey Wood or The English Resistance:The Underground War against The Normans by Peter Rex that pointed me towards the Domesday book entry. I was wondering if you maybe had a book about Hereward in mind at any point? Im yet to read Peter Rex's other book about Hereward but i think his story is an excellent one as well because he was exiled to start with so had nothing to do with any of 1066's three battles. But on his return he was very very close to beating William The Bastard, along with the last remaining English Earls Edwin,Morcar (and i think Waltheof was involved somewhere) and some Danish support.Had it have all gelled together more effectively leadership wise then history could have been very different as he really did come close. The English Resistance states that William was close to doing a deal with him(which could have led to a partitioned country,English North Norman South), it was only the Norman lords who had been given Herewards lands who talked him out of it. The whole era fascinates me, and I'd absolutely love to see Herewards story told by someone at some point.

Helen said...
I've an article on Hereward  Hereward  I might one day write his story (on my "to do" list!) 

Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Blog Tour - Tuesday Talk

I wrote this original article for a blog appearance on Carolyn Schriber's excellent (worth taking a look at when you've finished reading this!) She asked me to write something about doing a Virtual Book Tour, via the Blogs. I suggested that I do a follow-up of how the tour went.... so this is the follow-up of the follow-up : 

 I have a vague suspicion that writing a book is the easy part. Getting sales is much harder work, especially if you are a self published indie author.

You have produced a well written, entertaining novel and you are now glowing with pride as you see it appear on Amazon. 
Next comes the patient waiting for Amazon to alter the pre-order here box to add to basket. This may take a while, a lot of finger-drumming, several rude words and a couple of e-mails to Amazon Customer Services (if you are lucky you might even get a reply!)
The big mainstream publishers do not seem to have this problem; I suppose they have the weight and power of numbers of books in print behind them, but for the small time author (without an agent to do these menial tasks) we are akin to a loan voice crying up the Amazon Without a Paddle.
You get there - your book is available to buy! Yay! (do happy dance) It is  - ranked at something like #346,000. Is that good, you wonder? 

The problem here is - your book is now on Amazon, but how do we get readers (and buyers) to know this very important fact? Without going into the detail, ranked at something like #346,000 means there are at least another #345,999 books for sale, (actually you can add a few 0's to that figure.)

What was particularly frustrating for me back in 2011, my small UK publisher had gone bust in March and I had already planned a summer Blog Tour for my Sea Witch books. A little matter of not having a publisher, however, was not going to stop me!

I terminated my contract, asked for my files back, and signed up to a reliable assisted publishing house in Bristol UK, SilverWood Books. My intention: to get back in print as soon as possible and to go ahead with the Tour.

The files were never returned, so my old unedited copies had to be re-edited, typeset and prepared – thanks to the heroic efforts of Helen Hart and her team at SilverWood, and my wonderful graphics designer, Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, we made it.
The Sea Witch books were in print by July 1st 2011 and a month long blog Tour started with a bang (a broadside of cannons I suppose, seeing as the Sea Witch Voyages are based around pirates and nautical adventure.)
On July 2nd I appeared on Jessica Hasting’s Laugh, Love, Write, followed by the delightful Amy Bruno’s – and then  a first post on Carolyn’s Blog - I was off, hitting the ground running.

A pause here: not everyone knows what a Blog Tour is. Like a real book tour, where you go to a different book store every day to sign books and chat to the hundreds of people who drop by to buy it (or the odd one or two, depending how well known you are) a blog tour is dropping by someone's blog to chat about your book/s. Usually the host has already read said book and puts up a glowing review (ain't much point in doing a guest appearance if the reviewer didn't like the book.)
Quite often there is a give-away competition to win a copy of the book, and an interview (pre-written a few weeks before hand) with the delighted (and delightful) author.
I did almost one different blog a day for a whole month which meant I was a guest on 30 different blogs. Actually, it ended up as 35. That meant 35 articles or interviews and/or reviews. That in turn meant keeping an eye on 35 blogs, making sure I responded to any comments that kind (or occasionally, not so kind) readers had left.

Believe me a blog tour, even  if it is a virtual one, is hard work and tiring!
I will also add here, for the benefit of Indie writers, that you will have to organise the tour yourself - unless you can afford to pay someone to do it, you will have to supply the books for the host to review, and you will have to do all the follow-up. 

For almost every day somewhere on the Internet my books were being reviewed, discussed, advertised – and marketed. I had the task of visiting each Tour Post, responding to comments and doing my bit by linking to Facebook and Twitter.
I had completed several previous blog tours with my historical fiction books which are published in the US by Sourcebooks Inc – but even knowing (sort of) what I was doing, this Tour was nothing like I had expected.
For one thing, the organisation involved is very demanding. You have to keep in touch with the bloggers, ensure the posts are made, follow up any comments with your own – answering questions, saying thank you. Post links, be generally present etc.

I was lucky enough to have one of the ex-members of staff from my defunct gone-bust publisher willing to initially help me. Samantha had organised the setting up of the tour in February, neither of us aware that the company was about to go belly-up, that she was to lose her job (without receiving any back pay owed) and I was to be without a UK publisher. Sam had all the details backed up on her own computer, so I followed her initial enquiries with an explanation of what had happened and asked whether anyone would be interested in carrying on now I had decided to Indie-publish the Sea Witch Voyages myself.
The enthusiasm, support and eagerness I received was overwhelming.

I have an advantage over most self published authors in that I am already well known. My Historical Fiction books have received attention on the review blogs – I even made it on to the USA Today Bestseller List with Forever Queen (US edition of A Hollow Crown) and I have quite a readership following.
The Sea Witch Voyages were a different matter, however. They are a series of nautical adventures with a touch of supernatural fantasy, based around the pirate Jesamiah Acorne and his girlfriend (later his wife) the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh. By the spring of 2011, thanks to the not very impressive track record of my collapsed UK publisher, the books were on the verge of hitting the rocks and sinking without trace. As was my writing confidence.

This Tour was to be the make or break (sink or float?) for my pirate and his adventures – and my career. If the result was not encouraging I was prepared to wind my writing up as a lost cause. Self confidence is a difficult thing to maintain when you are on your own.
Some of the review blogs were keen to have an interview in the form of questions and answers, a couple wanted articles about myself or my books, all of which took time to compose.
Other blogs posted a simple review – and the books had to be sent out in the first place. I had a few copies from the previous publisher, but postage – considering many of these review blogs are in the US and I am UK, was expensive. Quite a few bloggers accept PDF electronic copies now, which is a much easier way of sending novels for review purposes – but self published authors take note – many bloggers want to see the quality of the book itself, its design, layout, the general “feel” of it.
Plus, several blogs offer giveaway copies as prizes, which the author is often expected to provide.
In all, I reckon I notched up at least £200 in expenses.

Would I gain this back via sales? I had no way of knowing until the next round of royalty statements. * I needed to ensure that I followed up the Tour with getting on with the next WIP (a fourth Sea Witch Novel), and maintain contact on various sites, including Facebook and Twitter. To sell books you have to market books, and Social Networking is an art in itself, one I find enjoyable – but it eats time like a hungry Hour Monster.

So was my month long Virtual Book Tour worth the cost and effort?

Put it like this – there is now an eager buzz on the ‘Net about a certain pirate called Jesamiah Acorne; I have a ship load of new followers and fans, and as the saying goes, ‘From little acorns mighty oak trees grow.’

All I have to do now is be vigilant, tend the seedling, and nurture the sapling…. 

Watch this space.

* Yes, I exceeded this particular cost in the recent round of royalties.

For the full blog tour and Going Indie Published:  Going Indie
SilverWood Books
Avalon Graphics

Thursday 10 May 2012

My friends - my books ~ Thursday Thoughts

I have always liked - no loved - books.
My earliest memory of books was when I was not quite four years old. I can clearly recall coming down the steps of Walthamstow Children's Library clutching a book so tight to my chest because it was one I hadn't 'read' before.
(For anyone who knows Walthamstow, the children's library, back then in 1956/7 was in its own building in the High Street, sited where Sainsbury's is today.)

The book was an Alison Uttley Little Grey Rabbit story, and I say 'read' in inverted commas because I can't remember if I read it myself or someone read it to me - but I have a suspicion that I was reading myself because I don't recall having to wait for Mum or Dad (or Big Sister) to read to me.
Like most children of my age (nearly 60) I clearly remember reading books beneath the bed clothes with a torch after lights out.
Does 'lights out' still happen nowadays? I assume its 'TV/Computer/Games Console Off' now?
The first love of my life book was Jill's Gymkhana by Ruby Furgusson. It was a birthday present (I was about nine I think) I knew the parcel was a book by its shape and feel, and I recall thinking 'Oh, a book, how boring'. Until I opened it and found it was a pony story.
I've still got that book - it was the start of my writing career because it opened up the world of pony stories - and I so desperately wanted a pony of my own. We couldn't afford to keep a pony though, so I made one up and wrote dozens of stories about my pony in countless school exercise books. (She was a palomino called Tara.)
From there I went to writing science fiction and fantasy, then historical novels, and now my nautical historical adventures (with other plots and outlines waiting to be explored on the Bookshelf of Ideas).
Books have comforted me when I was sad, have made me laugh, made me cry. I turned to books when I was lonely - which was most of my childhood and teenage years because I was shy and had very few friends. It didn't matter, in books, if you felt awkward and gawky, and had to wear horrid thick bottle-bottom glasses  which made you feel stupid and ugly. It didn't matter about the bullies and the snide girls who teased and tormented, or the fact that your parents were rowing yet again. With a book you could shut yourself away from the real world and enter a different world - your own world, where everything was beautiful.
Books have taken me on wild adventures, plunged me into romantic interludes, shattered my heart, and kept me awake at night too frightened to turn off the light until I had read to the end.
Books have entertained, educated, amused and made me think.
Books have given me a career, and brought me wonderful friends from all around the world.
I buy books compulsively, I could not exist without having books around me. I don't write books because I want to write them - I write them because I have to write them; there are too many words and thoughts and characters and plots inside me to stay buried in my mind - the words have to be released onto paper (well OK, the keyboard) As I'm writing this, I am not thinking about what I'm writing, the words are just coming, spilling from me like a summer rain storm, or a tumbling rainbow.
The worlds created in books are real, the characters are real, its just that they exist in another dimension, a place called Imagination.

Books are beautiful, and when I die, please make sure I am buried with a book.

And if you have fifteen minutes to spare, watch this wonderful video. It sort of sums up why books are so beautiful and why we love them so.

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and MGM Technicolor musicals. Morris Lessmore is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.