Where were you born, and where did you grow up? Born in mid Wales. Grew up in Wales, England, Scotland, Bermuda, Sri Lanka — we moved around a lot! Boarding school in Dolgellau.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? Early years were spent abroad in houses with just a few books already there, usually popular novels by authors like Marguerite Steen, Somerset Maugham and Nevil Shute. I loved the children’s classics especially Alice in Wonderland and often read adult books I couldn’t possibly understand — just for the words. My bent was towards adventure stories like Kidnapped and The Flight of the Heron — that is once I’d passed through Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five. In my teens, being an outsider in each new school I fancied myself as an intellectual and started quite early on reading existentialists like Sartre — understanding very little!Continue reading Interview | Janet Todd | Author of the Week
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear. I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.
The Yorkshire moors: wild and untameable. Land of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes and David Hockney, that much I knew, until I read Ben Myers’ pungent and addictive novel, The Gallows Pole, about a forgotten chapter of history. King David Hartley of Bell House was the leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, “whose brutality had put the fear in many and whose wicked practices had damaged the trade of the common man, but whose efforts had rewarded the brave too, and whose rumoured generosity had put clothes on the backs and food on the tables of the starved communities of the upper moorlands when everyone else had failed them.”
In the 1760s, Hartley ran “the yellow trade,” creating counterfeit coins, from his “gloomy sky palace” perched on the lawless upper moorlands — Sowerby Bridge and Halifax to the east; Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall to the west. A place apart, it is well away from a changing England where the “wheels of industry turn ever onwards and the trees are falling still. Last week I did chance to meet a man right down there in Cragg Vale who told me that soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and buildings and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money. This man — he told me this land around us was soon no longer to be our land but that of those who want to reap and rape and bind those of us whose blood is in the sod. They’re pulling it out from beneath our feet like a widow shaking out her clippy mat. He said he had it in writing. Said it was legally binding.”
BookBlast® interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.
Where were you born and where did you grow up? I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle. Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.
In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated? I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.