Posted by: Natalie | February 27, 2010

Top Five . . .

Books that Inspired Me

It took me an embarrassing amount of time to really get into reading. We didn’t have a huge selection of books in our house – hand me down copies of Topsy and Tim, reader digest and football programmes were about the lot! But there are certain books from my past that I remember fondly, and have the dubious honour of being my inspiration. Whether or not it was the actual book or the person who caused me to read it, I don’t know. All I do know, is they made me want to put my thoughts onto a page for others to see.

I desperately need to re-read these books at some point, mainly as a thank you to their pages.

1. “The Sheep Pig” by Dick King-Smith

This is the only book I remember taking out from Adlington Library when I was a kid! We would go randomly from school or with my Mum, I don’t remember it being too often though. All I remember is taking my little piece of card to the desk with this, most beloved, of King-Smith’s kiddy fiction. I must have read it countless times!

I always enjoyed it because it was accessible, I was aware that I was a good reader (I was the first girl in my class to be given a home reader with words in it!!), but this I could read, understand and love for myself, without being told I had to read it!

Then the film destroyed it! The Americanisation of this book, for me, ruined some of the pretty, naive narrative. But still, it is a brilliant book. Dick King-Smith writes a myriad of animal based fiction for children including, “The Fox Busters”, “The Hodgheg” and “The Terrible Trins” to mention just three.

2. “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White

This is a book I desperately have to read again, as I can only just remember the contents. I haven’t watched any film adaptations, that I know of, so my memories are entirely from reading.

I was bought a beautiful hard back copy as a child, not sure where it is now, which is sad, and it is the only book I vividly remember my mum reading to me. I remember the feeling of the pages, thick and rich, as I turned them in my fingers. I remember the smell. I remember the little brass coloured book mark that was presented with it. It was the first time I knew the wonderful beauty of holding a book in my hands.

It was this feeling and the memory of the emotion created which made me choose this book for my top five.  I don’t remember how difficult the text was or how long it took us to read it, I just remember being in love with it. No other child’s book at that time had forced me to cry as most juvenile books dealt with very simplistic problems, their fundamental aim being to teach a child to read. Thankfully these days, that balance has been redressed, with books flooding that market that contain emotions closer to real life than they previously had done. “The Butterfly Lion” by Michael Morpurgo has had full classes of mine spontaneously burst into tears, and of course, the wondrous Jacqueline Wilson writes about real kids problems in our own time, books that they connect with personally and allow an outlet for all that pre-teen emotion.

But, even though “Charlotte’s Web” doesn’t delve into the now all too familiar issues of being a kid, it sensitively and beautifully discusses the issue of death. In my experience, there is no other novel like this, and I remember it fondly and will hopefully one day be reading it to my own children.

3. “Gobbolino the Witche’s Cat” by Ursula Moray Williams

Mrs Adamson read this book to us, we must have been in year 2? I think it was her, at the least I connect this book with her in my head – she was pretty terrifying at times so maybe I connected the witches reference? Either way, she is forever imprinted on my brain with this book!

First published in 1942, this book still occupies a space on my shelf. For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Gobbolino was born a witch’s cat, much against everything he wants in life. His sister Sootica is busy being the top student, learning all the things she needs to succeed in a world as a familiar. But Gobbolino, despite his heritage, simply wants to be a kitchen cat, to live with a family and be loved.

Each chapter is almost a separate short story, where he travels the country looking for somewhere new to live, and a family to adopt him. But it wasn’t the story line that hugely intrigued me, even though I do love anything that discusses magic! It was the description. I remember vivid images being painted in my imagination, this cat was so real it was untrue. I have no idea from which part of the book it was, but there is a description of the moon shining down onto his black fur, and his one white foot, his blue eyes sparkling and his whiskers twitching. Not long after this, I started writing things down, pretending to make my own little books, wanting to recreate the beauty of Ursula Moray Williams’ detail – alas I was only about 7, and I am still striving to be even a fraction as talented.

4. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee

Most teenagers, from starting secondary school, seem to loose the ability to read. I was no different. Years 7-9 at school were somewhat of a literary void for me. I don’t remember any books from that time, that’s not to say I didn’t read, but it was probably very rare and very uninspiring. Then came year 10 English and Miss Mills.

I am lucky to have several teachers in my past who I cite as being, in part, responsible for where and who I am, but with regards to literature, this woman opened my eyes entirely. The way she taught literature and the way she made me completely fascinated, led to my buying my first ‘adult’ fiction. This was the first book I remember actively wanting in my hands and actually wanting to read. I went into the Chorley W H Smiths and bought it. I don’t remember what my first single was, or my first album which most people do, for me I remember the first book I bought.

I remember relishing the historical context of it (History being another love and devotion of mine; also another of my key teachers at school, Mr Hitchin) and being oh so impressed with myself for reading a proper grown up book! It is quite dark and intriguing as a novel that tackles some fairly difficult topics. But what is also quite inspiring is, to date, this is the only published work of Harper Lee. See, it only takes one book, but one book of genius writing!

5. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte

Again, for this we need to thank Miss Mills. I have mentioned in previous posts such as Tragic Love about “Wuthering Heights”. It is my all time favourite book. It encapsulates everything I love from a piece of fiction; vivid and wild description, subtle but disturbing story lines, tragedy of love and obsession, elements of the surreal and supernatural, characters you not only believe in but can visualise so clearly you could touch them, and darkness. I do believe that these criteria that I look for in a book, entirely come from reading this novel.

One of the things I liked about Miss Mills’ reading of this book, was that she would skip out some of the ‘gumpf’ that can weigh the story down, such as long passages of Joseph speaking that you can barely decipher due to it ALL being written in strong Yorkshire dialect. But regardless of missing certain sections on my first reading, the magic of the book held strong. I wanted to be Cathy, I wanted to write like Emily Bronte, I wanted to portray characters and places as clearly and as eloquently as she.

It is a truly disturbing novel, if you actually read it as it was intended. Too many people read this book expecting, and finding (??!!!!) a romantic love story. No. The tale is one of obsession beyond this world and how revenge can become an obsession of love in itself. I always longed for a decent adaptation of this novel, it is no mean feat, as the two films I had previously watched barely created anything like the madness that Bronte did. Juliette Binnoche should never, never have even attempted to be Cathy – she had a bloody French accent!!! And the old black and white version only dealt with a very small part of the novel. However, last year, ITV did it! They produced a two part adaptation of Wuthering Heights which I thought was wonderful. It obviously still didn’t create a world quite as sinister as the one I can produce in my head from reading, but it did a very good job. It hit the key threads perfectly. So, for anyone who is still to read the book, please please do, but if you would like a hook in first, watch the ITV adaptation!

These five books are just the tip of the ice berg. Through this blog you will read countless books I claim to have inspired me, which they will have done, but these were the first. I recommend adding them to your reading pile, if you haven’t already!



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