Monday 13 April 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Lisa Heathfield on Her Early Reading Life

I was impressed by Seed by Lisa Heathfield, which was significantly darker than the books I usually read but held my attention through her brilliant writing. I'm really pleased to be on the blog tour for the book, with Lisa talking about her early reading life today as part of my Classic Children's/YA feature.

My Early Reading Life

There's always been something magical about books for me - not only the stories buried deep within them, but also the way the words look on the page, the feel of the cover and even the smell of them.

I can't remember a time when I didn't have a book in my hand - curled on the sofa, tucked in my bed, or lying on the grass - I was always reading. And although I loved many different types of books, there were some that really stuck with me. These are the ones that, even now, give me that feeling in my stomach and the ones that I've searched out to read to my own children. There's nothing like watching our boys' faces, as they too are taken into these wonderful worlds.

The big stand-out one for me, which remains one of my favourite books to this day, is THE FOLK OF THE FARAWAY TREE, by Enid Blyton. From the moment I read the first word, I was side-by-side with Jo, Bessie and Fanny. I jumped over that stream with them and looked in awe at the amazing tree looming above us. I loved each and every one of the characters, from the brilliant Saucepan Man, to sweet-natured Silky - I even enjoyed running away from Dame Slap! I'd grip my book tight, wondering whether I'd get stuck in a land at the top of the tree. I truly believed that if I didn't get back in time, I'd be in the book forever.

Loyal to Enid Blyton, I moved seamlessly into her 'school' stories. in THE NAUGHTIEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL, I was torn between joining Elizabeth in the tricks she played and the desire to be good enough to become an elusive monitor. And I raced through MALLORY TOWERS, sharing midnight feasts with Darrel.

When I wasn't dreaming of being a writer, I was hoping to be a ballerina. I thought I could join Margot Fonteyn on the stage one day, but unfortunately I wasn't a natural… As I dusted myself down from rejection from ballet school, all I had to do was open Noel Streatfield's BALLET SHOES and instantly I was a dancer. I was there without having to even touch my toes!

All these early childhood adventure stories were soon replaced  by those depicting the devastation of the Holocaust. The realisation that this horror existed, brought with it a voracious need to know more and remember those who suffered. From the safety of my home, I read about human endurance in Anne Holm's I AM DAVID and Esther Hautzig's THE ENDLESS STEPPE. I re-read WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT recently and found that it was still moving and brilliant (and I was lucky enough to hear the inspirational Judith Kerr talk about writing and her childhood). In Ian Serraillier's THE SILVER SWORD I walked with Ruthy, Edak, Bronia and Jan and joined them again, as my husband and I read it to our boys a few weeks ago.

After my fascination with these dark, heart-rending books, things became a bit more abstract for a while. I found myself devouring every story by the medium Doris Stokes. And my mum despaired slightly as I read book after book about children possessed by evil spirits. I had definitely started tumbling down a darker route. Beatrice Sparks's GO ASK ALICE was a pre-cursor to the Melvin Burgess' novel, JUNK, that I'd love years later.

I don't think it's any co-incidence that the stories which find their way out of my pen, err on the edge of darkness. In SEED, the community are surrounded by the beauty of nature - they swim in the lake, worship at Dawn Rocks and grow all they need on their land. Yet, just underneath the surface, the roots of evil are growing. It takes the arrival of a stranger to unearth this darkness and open Pearl's eyes to the truth from which she must escape.

I'm convinced that everything I've read is stored in my subconscious and my writing spirit plucks and chooses what it needs for inspiration. It's reading all these books throughout my childhood that have shaped the writer I am today. And it's an unbelievable feeling knowing that my writing may influence another, as this love of words continues to step down the generations.

For more from Lisa, follow her on Twitter!

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