When I was a kid, my mother complained to one of my teachers that I read the same books over and over again. “Just as long as she’s reading,” said the teacher, with a smile. There were, of course several reasons why this happened. Firstly, we didn’t have that many books at home, so the choice was limited. My father’s books were all in Polish, and as I didn’t speak the language I didn’t find out until many years later that Sienkiewicz was a terrific writer. The book most people have heard of is Quo Vadis, which was made into a film. It’s available free on the Kindle. Secondly, I’d often enjoyed a book so much that I wanted to repeat the experience, get that same glow of visiting a favourite haunt once more. I think I practically knew The Chronicles ofNarnia and the Silver Brumby
It was Disraeli who said, “When I want to read a novel, I write one…” And way back then, it seemed to be a good solution. However, in the adult world very few writers read their own books for entertainment, and I’m no exception.
The stories that draw me back time and time again tend to be the ones that immerse me in their world, and it needs to be a world that’s very different to the one in which I live. The Mary Renault books – especially The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea – not only gave me an authentic central character, but opened my eyes to Ancient Greece in a very immediate and intimate way. You can understand Theseus’s belief in the supernatural very easily when the natural world behaves in strange and unpredictable ways, destroying whole cities with its earthquakes, and devastating farmland with tsunamis. I Claudius
The last one in this list, chronologically, is The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (not to be confused with a the book of the same name by Michael Crichton). The moment it became available for the Kindle – and free, to boot – I downloaded it and re-read it straight away. Okay, it’s the white Victorian male proclaiming his dominance and superiority over the rest of life-kind, but it’s the first ever book to bring dinosaurs to life. We know a lot more about them now, and they’re not depicted all that accurately – but it doesn’t matter. You have to take it in context. When Conan Doyle wrote it, it was cutting-edge science. I have to admit that at the time I didn't believe in the unclimbable and unexplored table-top plateau that provides the setting for the book, but since then I've visited Venezuela and seen these tepuis for myself!
“…Professor Challenger drew off the top of the case, which formed a sliding lid. Peering down into the box he snapped his fingers several times and was heard from the Press seat to say, “Come, then, pretty, pretty,” in a coaxing voice. An instant later, with a scratching, rattling sound a most horrible and loathsome creature appeared from below and perched itself on the side of the case… For a moment there was danger of a general panic. Professor Challenger threw up his hands to still the commotion, but the movement alarmed the creature beside him. Its strange shawl suddenly unfurled, spread and fluttered as a pair of leathery wings. Its owner grabbed at its legs, but too late to hold it. It had sprung from its perch and was circling slowly around the Queen’s Hall with a dry, leathery flapping of ten-foot wings, while a putrid and insidious odour pervaded the room…”
I think one of the nicest things that can be said to any writer is that a child has read their book more than once. I was thrilled to bits when a librarian told me that a boy had taken out The Divide eleven times! I’ve also had parents telling me the something similar. Although I’ve written a number of books this is the one that children return to, and I feel privileged to have created something that has touched other lives in a positive way.