It might be just a house, but this is where I entered the worlds of C.S.Lewis, Enid Blyton, Tolkein, Joan Aiken, Mary Norton, Frances Burnett, Tove Jansson… et al… A house which my parents bought for £9,000 in 1970 and sold five years later for £16,000. From the ages of 7 to 12, I lived here, the most significant reading years in in my life, when books and stories lay the foundation work for my future. Every beautiful story you can imagine – the sparkle and sinister-edged shadows of Peter Pan, for example – was opened for me in this plain 1970’s semi.
When I went out to play under the streetlights, I thought of the children in Ballet Shoes for Anna, digging with their bare hands in the earth to find their parents and grandparents lost in an earthquake in Turkey – and I learned that such things could happen, that the earth could swallow people in some faraway country if it decided to heave up out of its volatile rest.
And I learned that small children worked and died in the factories and mills of Lancashire (Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken) and their lives counted for nothing, and I wondered at the brutality and injustice of it all, while at the same time learning how a narrative could be structured and many-layered like an onion (which led me on, eventually, by degrees, to Wuthering Heights).
All of these worlds and more were discovered behind the facade of this plain 70s semi.
The door to the Secret Garden opened for me and I stepped through, and I read that same passage 30 years later at my Mum’s funeral, because… well, just because…
And what thrills me even more is that the copy of Peter Pan I read when I was a child is the same copy my Mum read when she was a little girl, and which my children later read – a beautiful old book with original illustrations, thick as a Church Bible, published before the invention of the mass-produced paperback and the Penguin revolution. That single volume has touched lives in the 1930s and 40s, as bombs fell out the sky over Leicester, and Norfolk in the seventies, and Scotland in the 90’s and Naughties.
Never under-estimate the doors and windows and opportunities that open when you read a book as a child. The texture of the pages, the smell, the words and the worlds it creates, weave a magic spell… and I can still step inside those worlds with ease, even now, and see them all clearly in the light of day, as fresh as they were when I was 8 years old. I wonder if playstation games can do that?