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Season of Mists and All That …

Dark mornings, brief afternoons, cold nights – the foliage might be spectacular, the chance to pull out the wool sweaters and warm slippers vaguely engaging, but let’s face it: Autumn is a herald only to one thing and confirms that long, bleak months lie in wait for us.

So it’s books we can turn to.

And without any guilt. After all, it’s unlikely that days ahead will be too fine to compel us to stay outside taking the air or offer sufficient vitamin D to justify time in the elusive sun.

No. Abandonment to the written word upon pale parchment is the only sensible solution.

And it’s always been the same for me. The consolation of books, of stories and characters has been there since I could first stumble my way through Janet and John’s prosaic adventures. And it’s the memories of some cherished childhood and early adolscent novels that rekindle wonderful solitary times of winters past, curled up inside keeping warm – just me and my latest library book or precious new paperback, the result of a carefully spent book token or postal order from a kindly aunt or grandparent.

Some of those cherished novels are still on my bookshelves today, too loved and valued ever to give away.

Ella at the Wells resides alongside A Dream of Sadlers’ Wells – two of Lorna Hill’s novels – as well as Golden Pavements, Pamela Brown’s story of theatrical ambitions with characters I’d already met in the wonderful The Swish of the Curtain. Quite why these three books remain when I seem to have lost so many over the years, through numerous moves and the determination, no doubt, to shrug off childish things, I am uncertain, but am delighted to have them to prompt memory. There’s one sole paperback in my residual junior collection and that’s White Boots. Ahhh!! How we all wanted to be skating stars after reading and re-reading Noel Streatfeild’s accounts of Harriet and Lala!

The other day, reorganising some books on my shelves, I couldn’t resist reading the opening pages of Ella at the Wells and within moments I was hooked and had to tear myself away to get on with the task in hand. I still found the story so compelling, the writing very good – which reassured me that my childhood tastes in literature had been spot on!

I am aware that all these children’s books that I read with such absorption and pleasure were very safely middle class with tales of ballet classes and drama schools and ambitions that are encouraged by loving parents. Not a shred of discord or subversion among them other than difficulty over a pirouette or disappointing casting in the end of term production.

A browse around current Waterstone’s shelves displays far more diversity for young readers – as well, I noticed the other day – rather a lot of dragons and fantastical creatures which were never my thing. Even The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe failed to capture me with witches and dwarves and – well, yes, all that business with the wardrobe itself! I was always a reader who needed to believe in the setting and characters. Firm pavements populated with human beings – realism, in other words, – was always my choice.

As it is now – both as reader and writer.

The slightest suggestion of fantasy, magical realism, parallel universes et al and for me the book is a non-starter. However brilliant others might claim it to be.

Luckily, there are sufficient novels steeped in our real world to keep me company through the next few dark months.

And considerable chapters of my current work in progress to keep me more than occupied.

But what were your favourite writers and books as a child?

Perhaps your repertoire was wider than my Pamela Brown, Lorna Hill, Noel Streatfeild canons.

I’d love to know.

Happy reading!





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