My Reading Habits: Taken from My Collaboration with RLF

Select a book from my shelves, open it and you’ll find an unconventional bookmark – a Post-It note, a child’s drawing, even a prescription for folic acid never collected. My bookshelves contain secrets; I plot my life through the books I’ve read.

Reading wasn’t part of my childhood. I can’t recall ever seeing my parents read. No early reading habits to mimic. But we had a tiny village library and one day the girl across the road said I should go there with her. Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Lotta’ and Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny Champion of the World’ were my first reads. Over months, I’d borrow the same books, returning to loan them again and again. Lotta and Danny became friends, and I can still recall deep sadness that the books weren’t mine. That hope that the librarian would notice the repeated loans and unexpectedly declare that I should keep them for myself. Eventually I took a chance on more Dahl. ‘The Twits’ and ‘Matilda’ joining Danny and Lotta, and I rotated the four library books for years. I’d love to say that a need to read hit in my teens, but it didn’t. Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’ and all of the Sweet Valley High books were passed around school, but I didn’t participate. I’d yet to realise that reading would give me the escape and sense of belonging that I craved.

Then came sixth form college; almost seventeen, a new start. An astounding English literature teacher and books shrieked and bounced their way into my life. ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, Fowles’ ‘The Collector’ (passport photo still inside) my sudden love of reading and of books was brash and shouty. I couldn’t read fast enough.

A gap year and recovery from serious illness found me reading ‘Cat’s Eye’ (a get well soon card still inside). That novel made me wish I could write. Then I’d been at university only a few months when a new friend gave me Winterson’s ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ with a Post-It note (still inside) saying, ‘READ THIS!’ That led to more recommendations, to discovering Angela Carter, to devouring Greek mythology.

I met my future husband a year later. He claims he fell in love with me when he saw my newly collected, complete set of Mr Men books. We moved in together a month later, the only duplicate novel in our collections ‘The Master and Margarita’.

And then I was a mum and collecting children’s books to read aloud. Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ made one laugh and another refuse to emerge from under a blanket until I finished. That copy has a crayon scribble inside. And still I devoured books to escape and belong, and I wrote stories just for me, until that moment when I finished my debut. August 2006, in a farmhouse in rural France. No television, writing THE END and too excited to sleep, I turned to Dorothy Koomson’s ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ (a postcard still inside). My first official read as a writer.

Select from my bookshelves, open and you’ll find secrets from my life. My reading habits offer clues that possibly won’t make sense to anyone but me. Time capsules even. Life continues to twist and turn, but still, like Gretel but different, I carve my path through books once read.

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