It’s World Book Day! Children up and down the country went scurrying to school this morning dressed as their favourite literary character, or the character their parents could make a costume for easiest at least! Books should be championed for many reasons, and making school a bit more fun is definitely one of them.
To celebrate, I thought I’d share what were, and still are, some of my favourite books from my childhood. Many have had a lasting and direct influence on me, shaping my stories as a writer and stirring my imagination even now. Here, in no particular order, are my top five.
1. The Call of the Wild
That said, The Call of the Wild is probably my all time favourite book! It’s my version of a literary security blanket. Whenever I’m feeling lost, down or unsure, I can pick up The Call of the Wild and be swept away to the harsh environment of the Yukon and the backdrop of the gold rush.
Journeying with Buck, the St. Bernard/German Shepherd cross, from his place at the feet of a country judge, through his kidnap and hardship as a sled dog, to his incredible feats and love for a man that leads to his savage transition to a pack leader of wild wolves is spellbinding throughout. I remember shouting for Buck as he breaks out the 1,000lb sled from the ice. He also defends his beloved Thornton with a roar, not a bark or growl!
I always identify with Buck’s longing to be amongst the woods, answering the call within that speaks to his spirit.
“But especially, he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called – called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.”
2. Danny the Champion of the World
As with many others, Roald Dahl books were an integral part of my childhood. Danny the Champion of the World is my absolute favourite though. I’m sure that a part of Danny’s dad is somewhere to be found in the character of Stubbs the poacher in my own book Shadow Beast.
This book is all about old school adventure, from the midnight drive to rescue his dad from a pit trap, to living in a gypsy caravan. Danny and his dad work on cars and share stories about the stars and the wildlife around them. Their relationship is wonderful, soul restoring and an example of how things should be. I also remember the wise words about people who don’t smile with their eyes not being genuine.
“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”
“When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants – and DESERVES – is a parent who is SPARKY!”
3. Lion Adventure
The Willard Price books have just been relaunched, with the son and daughter of respective brothers Hal and Roger Hunt taking up the ‘adventure’ business. The new spin is all about conservation and wildlife preservation, and is a welcome new update.
But before then, Hal and Roger as teenagers, roamed the globe for their father’s animal collection business and they had no shortage of close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous, including man.
In Lion Adventure, the two brothers are up against a scheming tribal chief and a pride of man-eating lions. This is classic boy’s brigade stuff and I loved all of the animal based adventures. Again, there is probably a little bit of Hal Hunt in my own character of Thomas Walker, the former big game hunter turned conservationist.
“It seemed a wild thing to do – lie out in lion country waiting to be attacked by a man-eater. But Hal was not wild. He was a steady nineteen-year-old, six feet tall, with the strength and brains of a man. He had thought it over carefully. This had seemed the best way to go at it.”
4. The Hobbit
There are two characters that I was always drawn to in The Hobbit. The first was Beorn, the incredible bear-man and shapeshifter. I thought he was one of the fiercest and most interesting of the characters, preferring the company of animals and distrusting men and dwarves intensely. I was in awe of his strength and pure presence. In the writing he comes across as a mountain of a man, so I have to say I was more than a little disappointed with his downsized role in the films.
The other character was Smaug, the sharp tongued dragon himself! I’ve always liked dragons and the red fire-drake from the north was one of the best.
“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
“There are no safe parts in this part of the world. Remember you are over the edge of the wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”
I think again I could identify with the ‘Tookish’ part that awakened in Bilbo, that made him want to go on an adventure. I also have fond memories of this book because I wanted more than anything to take it with me on my first ever school camp away from home. I couldn’t get it in time and remember being driven to tears. The camp was in Cumbria, as was my grandfather at the time, and on my free day he came to collect me and we visited a bookshop so I could get the book I wanted so badly! I’ve also always wanted a writing retreat just like Bag End. I wonder if I’ll ever build it? One day!
5. The Siege of White Deer Park
The series of books following the adventures of the animals of Farthing Wood was one I read avidly as a child. Everything from death to friendship and sacrifice is explored through the bonds of the animals forced to flee their home, who find refuge in the nature reserve of White Deer Park.
When a mysterious creature arrives and begins to stalk and kill the park’s inhabitants, the band of friends must do all they can to protect one another from falling prey to it.
I loved wildlife and I loved monsters, so this book felt like it had been written just for me. And clearly, when the mysterious animal turned out to be a giant cat that has stalked the land without being discovered by humans, I was thrilled. It must have stayed with me is all I can say, with big cats now being a favourite subject and of course the creature at the centre of my own book, Shadow Beast.
“From what you say, Fox” Badger wheezed, “it sounds as if some animal or other is planning to use the Park as a sort of larder.”
It doesn’t seem fair to list my favourite books without mentioning my very own (what do you mean I already have?!). I love having my name on a book that sits on my shelf, and on the shelf of my local bookshop, and has now been read on at least three continents that I know of! It combines my love of adventure, the wild, and wildlife perfectly, and I love being able to share it with people. I look forward to exploring its world further too!
Writing and publishing my very own book was first put in motion by an excellent English teacher who told me I could write and that my stories were good. And that’s one of the reasons I support World Book Day, because the combination of an inspiring teacher and books is an unbeatable one!