Books In The Wild

Books In The Wild
1. to share and explore books with those we know and those we haven't yet met.
2. to explore the journey a book takes us on.
3. to release books in to the wild.

14 July 2012

A Reader's Early Days - Blyton Rock

Thinking about creating 'Books in the Wild' has made me recall the books which pulled me into reading as a child; the characters that got into my head and the stories that whispered and called to me, drawing me back into their pages to explore their worlds. From early on I found that books had the power to absorb me completely and transport me directly to the events on the page. I would become deaf and blind to everything around me and would have to be shouted at several times before the present penetrated my subconscious and I'd return to the real world. Many, many books had this power but one author particularly dominates my earliest memories of being an independent reader. Enid Blyton's stories where toys came alive, pixies lived in the back garden and trees could transport you to far away lands held me in thrall. Her adventures where children outwitted criminal gangs and lived lives where adults were only peripherals thrilled me. As a child I had no awareness of any of the issues that surrounded Blyton's writing. I was only aware of the stories she spun and and how they introduced me to reading.

My mum tells me I started off with Noddy; books she couldn't bear and coped with constantly having to re-read them by making me read all the parts in speech marks. This had the bonus of meaning I could read them for myself before too long. I don't really remember the Noddy days, but I do remember my love affair with Blyton's Adventure stories and my need to get each hardback copy from the library and race through its exciting pages. In my head there was always a fifth child exploring valleys of butterflies or guarding eagles along with Jack, Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Anne and Kiki. Just thinking of The Castle of Adventure whisks me back to primary school, rough carpet scratchy against bare legs as we sat cross-legged, listening to the teacher unfurl magic around us. I remember my utter absorption in the tales and belief that such adventures were just around the corner, complete with biscuit munching and lashings of ginger beer.

© Books in the Wild (prev The Book Blog)

Family holidays in Dorset meant that the image of Corfe Castle, stark against a blue, summery sky, become entangled with my memories of the Adventure books. We'd walk around the narrow streets, cagoules clammy over our summer tops, and buy packages of liver sausage from a tiny butcher's shop to picnic on amidst the ruins. I do the same now with my children, but they refuse to wear cagoules or eat liver sausage.

The sky's not as blue as in my childhood, but Corfe Castle still calls to be explored
© Books in the Wild
 As a young teenager, on a Geography field trip to the Isle of Purbeck, we were let loose in the woods with compasses, maps and vague instructions to find check points. Unsurprisingly we got lost. After what memory has turned into hours, we discovered a clearing dominated by an ominous line of nodding donkey oil pumps, each one rhythmically bending towards the earth and up again, slightly out of sync with each other. Having spooked ourselves silly wandering through the woods we were now convinced we'd unearthed some kind of illicit operation. Oil wells? England? What the ...?  Obviously we had to scarper quick or some guy in a stetson brandishing a firearm (we'd all watched too much Dallas) would hound us off the land, or drag us to a mine shaft because we'd seen too much. After much stumbling through undergrowth and listening for the sound of pursuing feet, or worse, dogs, we found a road. The castle visible in the distance, we made our way to Corfe where we were reunited with our fellow explorers, all of whom had managed to read the maps and get checked off at the orienteering points. Somewhere there is a picture of us sitting on Queen Victoria's jubilee monument, set in the middle of the main road through the village, eating ice creams.

Aspiring adventurers waiting for a train at Swanage Railway near Corfe Castle.
© Books in the Wild
The Mallory Towers and St. Claire's books tend to blur into one, my prevailing memories being tuck boxes, midnight feasts, and complete confusion as to what a lacrosse stick looked like, or what lacrosse was. However, I am eternally grateful to another Blyton hero for teaching me all the tricks an investigative adventurer may need. Fatty from the Five Find-Outers taught me how to get out of a locked room with a piece of wire and a newspaper, assuming the baddies had left the key in the lock on the other side. My sister obliged by locked me in my room so I could practise with an old wire coat hanger. It was total satisfaction when the key thunked onto the newspaper and could be carefully pulled under the door. Fortunately we had floorboards at the time. I'd probably still be locked in my room to this day if we'd had shag pile carpets. Thanks also to Fatty I'm pretty certain that if ever I was kidnapped and driven away blindfold, I'd be able to retrace the journey for the Police. It's a useful skill, honed on evenings travelling, eyes tightly shut, back from mum and dad's friends who lived 20 minutes away over the Downs. I also always check the state of people's finger nails just in case they are in disguise and have forgotten that minor, but all important, detail of whether nails should be clean or dirty - another useful Five Find-Outer tip.

The key and paper trick.
© Books in the Wild

Something also inspired by Fatty and that other jolly group, The Famous Five, was sneaking out of the house at midnight. On a few occasions I forced myself to stay awake, excitedly reading under the covers whilst time blinked away on my digital Seiko watch. Faking sleep and forcing deep, slow breathing, praying fluttering eyelashes didn't give me away when my parents came to check on us. Happily I was always thwarted from an adventure by my dad putting out the cat, or my mum sitting up in bed reading in her cream quilted dressing gown. Somehow our house was never deeply asleep at midnight like it was meant to be. I'm not sure what my plan was anyway. I would have been too scared to actually leave the house and wouldn't have made it into the garden, let alone venture beyond. Probably just raiding the cupboard for dad's chocolate buttons would have been enough but, then again, all the best adventures had at least one midnight feast.

I would be really interested to know which books and authors turned other people into readers.

© Books in the Wild

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