Books I Grew up on is a blog series featuring guest bloggers who discuss reading in their childhoods: the books they loved, the paths they found to developing a love for reading, and how reading helped them become who they are today! Today’s Books I Grew up on guest blogger is writer, musician, and publisher John King.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Corby, Northamptonshire, known as “Little Scotland.” All my family were Scottish and had moved there to find jobs in the steelworks. It was interesting to say the least, rich with characters. Most weeks our family and their friends would turn up at our house, my grannies or one of my aunties, have a tipple or two and proceed to sing, and sing, and sing …”One singer, one song …” They would call if any of the others wanted to join in with the chosen crooner. (As I grew older, I had my crooner moment too, singing old favourites like … King of the Swingers – King Louis in the Jungle Book, Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia – Laurel and Hardy and The Wild Rover – the Dubliners.)
I had an uncle who could turn up any time of day or night unannounced with his beloved accordion and if you knew a song he would play it. He had an rug of white hair and an eternal smile. Another uncle at Christmas would sing “Old MacDonald’s Farm” until he collapsed and was put to bed to sleep. Other times you might see him pass by dressed as a gorilla being chased by the police and giving my granny the fright of her life or telling my dad he had some amazing flower seeds, planting them and leaving the garden full of weeds. To this day my Granda loved telling stories of him growing up in Scotland and I loved listening to them. I would visit my grandparents most weeks just to sit with them, have tea and cakes (snowball was my favourite) and enjoy his colourful tales. This carried on for as long as I lived in Corby.
Football was my life growing up and I was lucky to be quite good at it, so reading sometimes took a bit of a back seat. I also had a famous uncle, Sir Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United, which probably added to the aura of playing. He visited my Grannie’s house one time when I was young and I got his autograph for my friends at school. He wrote “Best Wishes” and their name – many didn’t know he was my uncle and they thought I was playing a joke. I must admit a part of my heart remains in Corby.
What role did books have in your childhood?
For the most part I loved comics – The Dandy, The Beano, The Beezer and Rupert the Bear, also the Scottish comics Oor Wullie and The Broons which I continued to read even as I grew older. (I loved and still love the combination of words and illustrations.) Christmas was a special time when all the annuals came out.
How did you first develop a love for reading?
My reading came in waves or ripples reaching my shore. I loved autobiographies. When I was 20/21 I tore the ligaments and cartilage in my knee. The doctor told me I would never play again. I didn’t believe him and tried my best to get fit again. I did, but unfortunately he was right, not long after this my knee went again. Two operations later and that was the end of my playing days. Out of the blue I started to write, to draw and began to learn to play the saxophone, the creative side, that had been ‘hidden’, suddenly wanted to make an appearance. I learned to copy draw portraits of famous people and would do pencil drawings for friends of … Bob Dylan, Samuel Beckett, Edith Piaf, Bob Marley, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, to name a few, but each time, before I would do the drawing, I would read their life story in order to incorporate the feeling of the person into the picture. Also, around this time I went to college/university and this gave me the opportunity to explore books (everything but my chosen subjects) a new world was opening up for me. I was also intrigued by the hobo, the traveller, the wanderer, particularly in America, and had my Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer – Huckleberry Finn), John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac moments culminating in my going to live in Fort Worth, Texas for around a year. In my imagination following an idyll later, I worked for a few years in a Bookshop in London and entered the world of Carl Jung followed by Hermann Hesse, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Richard Bach, Kahlil Gibran etc … my journey has always been very much within, guided by the spirit of my imagination. Also, there were a couple of years where I always carried a copy of the Four Quartets by TS Eliot with me, which fitted snugly into my jacket pocket and would keep me company travelling on the buses and tubes.
What was your favorite book as a child? Why?
The book that immediately comes to mind is, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. I had a really vivid imagination when I was young and I think for many years I actually thought I had been a “water baby.” Although I haven’t read it since it is perhaps the power of the imagery that remains with me.
What is your favorite children’s book now? Why?
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (perhaps the whole of the Chronicles of Narnia but that might not count). It is the wonder of another world existing close to your own; learning and growing, alone and together and the realisation that in some way you could be part of this “world” – part of something amazing, although I must admit I am a Winnie the Pooh fan too.
What advice would you give to young readers?
It may be a bit cliche, but follow your heart. Read about what you love as you place your foot upon the road of discovery, embrace the sense of wonder. Allow the words and images to take you on a journey of the imagination – it is a beautiful journey. Find a pool of literature which reflects your dreams and dive in … Who knows where it will take you?
John is a writer and publisher. His publishing company is called Tatterdemalion Blue. John has also recently launched his book The Child and Silence. Find out more on the Tatterdemalion Blue website.