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.



  1. We read the same books, Helen. Did you like the Pullen-Thompson pony books? All those posh children having adventures on ponies - I loved them :)

  2. Yes, read all the P.T. books - and Monica Edwards' Punchbowl Farm and Romney Marsh series, Pat Smythe's 3 Jays, Silver Brumby.... still have most of them!

  3. well that's yet another 15 minutes gone.... just watched the video again, isn't it lovely?

  4. I loved horses too but could only ride them at camp during the summer, so I had to do with the Black Stallion series. I went through the Narnia books, Mary Poppins, Lad, a Dog, various kid books and then some more grownup historical fiction books. Reading has led me to writing historical fiction too.

  5. I wonder if there are any writers who were not avid readers?

  6. I must away to the land of dreams now, but I will watch the video tomorrow. When I fill out a form that asks you to list your hobbies, I used to think that just putting down reading made me seem so boring and unadventurous. Now I feel happy to just have one 'hobby'.

  7. Hello Helen,

    I've recently purchased the Kingmaking and am looking forward to starting your Arthurian series. Very excited!

    I am a historical fiction writer who was not an avid reader as a child and gasped when adults would bring me books as presents. However, now, there are mountains of books in my home and our kids LOVE books.

    I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading your stories.


    Adam Haviaras

  8. Thank you Adam - do let me know what you think of The Pendragon's banner series when you've finished. I _hope_ you enjoy them of course!

  9. The first book I ever read Helen was "Babar the Elephant" It was during the war (the early forties) and sadly books were almost impossible to buy. I still remember hiding behind the armchair to read it so I could savour it undisturbed. I went through all the Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome books, Rosemary Sutcliffe's wonderful novel, Henry Treece's Viking Tales, all my mother's books on mythology.... the list is endless. "Babar the Elephant" was the beginning of a love affair with books that has lasted all through my life. In my seventies I still read books like those written by Brian Jacques for children and have every one of them ( Redwall) among many other genres. Historical fiction and fantasy have always been my favourites. Your books Helen, Sharon Penman's, Elizabeth Chadwick and so very many more. I to enjoy your blogs they are always so diverse and so interesting. Your sharing of how you first "met" Jesamiah is an immensely readable short story in its own right. As always Helen, thank you for the pleasure you give us all in the reading of your book.

    1. Oh I so know what you mean - what would we do without our friends - characters in books?


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