In the beginning
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
My life in books goes way back, to a time before I was even born.
It seems my fate was sealed from the outset. Whilst still in the womb, I was named after a character from my brother’s favourite children's book - Timothy Tuppence! I can vaguely remember the book myself, being something to do with a farm.
I was blessed to grow up in a household where books and reading were valued. My earliest, and most treasured memories, are of bedtime stories. I can remember my mum and grandma reading to me - but even more so my dad. Dad was an excellent narrator. He really threw himself into it, using different voices to bring the cast to life and dramatise the reading. Recurring favourites include Dick Brunna's Miffy, who spoke with a permanently stuffy nose (as did Alison Uttley's Mumfie the Elephant); Brer Rabbit, wonderfully illustrated by William Backhouse (they, of course, had thick, Southern accents); Charlotte's Web by E.B. White; Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows ('Poop! Poop!').
Last year I began reflecting on the impact that these early forays into the delights of children's books have had on me, and their importance in instilling my passion for books and storytelling. So I decided to thank Dad for all his bedtime stories - and ask him where it all came from.
He retold his familiar tale of being evacuated as a young boy during WW2, leaving his home town of Worthing on the Sussex coast, and moving inland to Bracknell, and the home of his grandmother, Diamond Lil. But on this occasion, his story expanded...
A spinster headmistress also lived in the house. In the evenings she sat my father upon her lap, and read to him -The Tales of Uncle Remus, Kipling's Just So Stories - in front of the fire. Sadly, my Dad's own father died in a motorbike accident when he was just two. His mum never remarried, and singlehandedly brought him up (to be separated from her only child during those war years, whilst working as a nurse to the forces personnel, must have been agonising for her). It's against this backdrop that a routine revolving around a story developed, undoubtedly providing a source of comfort and reassurance in a world of turmoil. A moment of calm and intimacy; of entertainment and human touch. For both the adult and the child.
It is these same qualities that make our collective memories of bedtime stories so powerful. Being enfolded in loving arms, snuggled up to someone who loves you. I recall the quiet, hushed tones; the scratch of dad's stubble; summer light glowing through pulled curtains and the warmth of the bedside light on evenings when the dark had already started creeping in.
Through revisiting children's books, I have discovered memories that lay buried, hidden deep in my psyche, just waiting for a gentle nudge of nostalgia before bubbling up to the surface.
My father's responsible for passing on lots of interests and qualities to me (not to mention a fair few foibles!). I think my passion for children's books - that I have built my life around - is probably one of the greatest.
I may not be able to pass the torch directly on to you - but I hope to ignite a fire or two.