The recent death of Diana Wynne Jones has got me thinking. A great many tributes have been posted on-line recently, not just by those who actually knew her, but also by many who trace their own development as writers back to reading her magical books as children. And it's that that's got me thinking, because no matter how far I delve into the crumb-filled cardboard spaceship of my own childhood memories, I can't find Diana Wynne Jones in there anywhere.
Perhaps it doesn't matter. I mean, I have read some her books as a grown up, and seeing as how I have a professional interest in keeping my inner eleven-year-old alive and dreaming, maybe that's enough. But I can't shake off the obvious question: what was I reading then?
Well, the earliest memory I have of being signed up for permanent membership of the Great Book Club of Life was reading The Hobbit at about age 13. Yes, I know that's probably the most uninteresting piece of autobiographical information I have ever posted here (what boy didn't read The Hobbit at age 13?), but for all it's banality, it was still a key event for me. It was the first time I remember feeling bereft at the finishing of a book, and also the moment I understood fully that a story doesn't disappear just because it's over. I even remember exactly where I was standing when I realised I could turn the book over and start it again if I wanted to. The best thing about book covers is everything they contain.
Anyway,The Hobbit led to The Lord of the Rings, and from there I discovered Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, John Wyndham, Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, Real Life, and eventually Girls. But how did I get to Tolkein in the first place? What steps did I take to become a committed reader? And how can I – as a writer for children -- help make sure that other young people get switched on too?
Well, I can reveal that I did read Enid Blyton, though only because I borrowed my little sister's Magic faraway Tree books. I was about 11, and already aware that they were too young for me. I have also -- with the help of Facebook friends -- uncovered the fact that I read The Three Investigators, and this might push my reading back to the age of ten. There were comics of course, and much further back I know my father read Beatrix Potter to me, and my mother was definitely there when the tiger came to tea, but no matter how I look at it there's definitely a big round hole in my memory, and it's at exactly the point where Diana Wynne Jones would have fitted in nicely.
Oh, well. I can't exactly complain about having lots of great books still to read, now can I? But I am sorry to have missed her first time round, back when I wasn't bristling with critical faculties, prejudice and ugly ambition – back when all I needed was a torch and a duvet and a heap of books under my pillow.
So how did you become a reader? And what do you do to help the young people in your life find out where the stories are? In fact, should you do anything?
(I lifted this photo from a fansite. I have no idea if I need permission to use it or not -- feel free to tell me if you know better)