Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Formative Reading Experiences

I've been tagged by Short Story Day Africa about my formative reading experiences, so here goes...

What is your earliest memory of books and reading?

The house where I grew up was filled with books, and one of my earliest memories involves pulling books down from the shelves and being frustrated because I couldn’t read the stories. The whole idea that someone might have the wherewithal to sit down and write an *entire* book seemed magical to me. I couldn’t wait to read, and was able to do do so from a young age – I was way ahead of my peers in that regard.

By the time I was 12, I’d read through The Lord of the Rings in its entirety, and I was completely smitten. I knew then that one day I wanted to write my own stories, in my own made-up worlds.

Second only to that was my voracious reading habit, of up to a book every two days, which meant I was constantly at the library. Wherever I went, I’d lug at least one or two books around with me. I also managed to avoid getting invited to all future family weddings, because I once took a book into the reception after the ceremony. What can I say? I was bored and books were (and still are) far better company than people. And I was never invited to family functions with *that* side of the family ever again. Achievement unlocked!

As a small child, what book/s were your favourites?

I absolutely adored my Story Teller tapes and listened to them until they were stretched. My favourite story was about Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams, that was one of the stories that had been adapted for the Story Teller format, but I remember crying my eyes out at the Oscar Wilde stories about The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince. Looking back now, I realise what a treasure trove this collection was, because it instilled a love for storycraft and introduced me to a wide selection of tales from around the world.

But I loved The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, and CS Lewis’s Narnia books also captivated me. Charlotte’s Web by EB White was another favourite, but I also obsessively read anthologies of animal stories, especially if they had to do with cats.

Where did you grow up? Do you have a particular memory of a library, bookshop or other place of books in your hometown?

I grew up in the seaside fishing village of Hout Bay in the Cape Peninsula. Back then we were an isolated community. My family used to farm there, and I suspect I was of the last of the locals to eventually leave once the valley became fully yuppiefied. Nowadays Hout Bay is nothing like it used to be, which makes me sad. My mom used to teach at Kronendal Primary School and I’d have to hang out there and wait for her to finish. Bored out of my mind at the age of six, I started volunteering at the local library – just packing away the children’s books or sitting in a corner hunched over a book paging through pictures. Consequently, I’d spend large chunks of my time at the library, a place that was often a sanctuary for me, as I was often bullied by the “cool” kids.

Even during high school, I often spent more time in the library at Wynberg Girls’ High School than I did hanging out with my peers. I’d while away hours paging through old copies of National Geographics or even the high school journals. Even now, I’m able to digest facts at a glance and often surprise myself with some of the bizarre stuff I remember. Books are time capsules too, and offer fascinating glimpses into the past or possible futures.

I miss the time I had as a kid to just get lost between the shelves. When you’re young, you really live under the illusion that your time is limitless, and when I stepped into the pages of books, I always returned with the sense that I could go out and do anything.

As an adult, in the role of parent or caregiver, what has been your experience with children?

I don’t have children, but when young ones visit my home, I always go find a pile of books for them to look at. Some kids are like me when I was that age, and we don’t hear a peep from them for the entire time that their parents are visiting. I like those kids, and I get what they’re experiencing when they get lost in those books. And they’ll definitely be invited over again. If they’re reading, it means they’re willing to discover new worlds.

And as an aside, all these questions relate to my most recent release, The Guardian's Wyrd, which is exactly about a kid who loves libraries a little too much... (But he's no Bastian Balthazar Bux)

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