My favourite stories when I was five were the Greek Myths my mother read to me. They were ‘as told to children.’ But I realise now that they all came straight from Ovid. I was obsessed with Mercury and was comforted when I found a statue of him in the courtyard when I went very unwillingly to school. He was my refuge from all the noise and confusion, and I sat at his feet at playtime. It was a prep school where, due to my background, I was not allowed to fit in. The 1950’s hadn’t changed the world much. I was relieved when we moved to a village, and I went to an ordinary school.
I read all of Monica Edwards and that caused me to cycle to visit every horse I could find within about ten miles. It also got me a job in a hunt stable at the age of ten, in exchange for free riding lessons. Monica Edwards gradually let the children grow up in her stories at about the same pace as me.
The fields around the village were a great place for the play of imagination. That’s where C.S. Lewis came in. After I read the first book, aged about nine, I found so many doors into Narnia. I don’t think I identified with any of the children particularly. I was just myself in that world. I had my own adventures there.
After that I read any book that landed in front of me, romances, crime, thrillers, James Bond, Austen, the Bronte’s, Dickens, Wilke Collins, J.B. Priestley and even Jung but no fantasy until at sixteen I found Lord of the Rings. I was regularly painting signs for a local bookshop, and I asked them to pay me in books instead of money. I read the whole fantasy shelf and discovered George MacDonald whose descriptions and strangeness I loved.
I read a lot of poetry too. The Beat Generation were a new phenomenon. But I liked Wordsworth and Keats and Dylan Thomas more and the lines of a poem that have stuck in my head my whole life is from Wordsworth. I remembered seeing the world like that as a child.
‘There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.’
Dylan Thomas infected me with an almost sensual love of words and his poem ‘Fern Hill’ has the same vision of childhood.
Perhaps I am an escapist, but I don’t think so. It’s the clarity of the vision that attracts me.