If I had to summarise my childhood home, and my parents’ influence, I would have to say that I grew up in a house of:
- Cheese (both of the edible and comedic variety)
- Theatre (from Shakespearian plays in Hatfield Forest to the most unabashedly ridiculous musicals possible!)
- And… mountains of books.
My parents’ shelves are sagging with the weight of them! Cookery books from low fat to coronary inducing, play scripts and poems, straight laced novels to holiday flutters, they are all present and correct. But there is one particular set of shelves which are special… Here there be treasure!
Here lie the oldest, best loved books. Beautifully bound and illustrated; only brought out for careful inspection and a chance to rediscover forgotten memories. Now, I know it’s selfish with brothers and sisters to think about, but I just can’t help singling out a few of the special ones that I’d someday like to inherit, along with photos, furniture, and the occasional teapot.
So, here for your inspection are the two top contenders from my little list of covetousness:
Tales from Ebony is a gorgeous collection of fairy tales, published by Putnam in 1934 and given to my father from his, two years later. Its pages are well worn, and constantly trying to escape, but this is definitely one of my favourite books of all time. E. Harcourt William’s interpretations of Snow White and Rose Red, and The Tinderbox stand out in my memory and this book helped to instil a desire to help pass on lesser known/original versions of these tales. The more magical, and brutal, stories have gradually died out while ‘Disney-fied’ versions become common-place. I’m not sure if I was just a morbid child but I don’t think the story of Cinderella is quite the same without the comeuppances that originally befell the stepmother and stepsisters in different versions of the story; ranging from dancing in red hot shoes to transforming into pillars of salt.
(Tales from Ebony also happens to be one of the books that my dad relished reading to my sister and I, voices and all, along with many others such as the Hobbit. To this day his impersonation of Golem is spot on! )
Another gem is The Silver Sword, given to my mum on her eighth Christmas in 1958. I think I was about the same age when I read this book…and then taking the story as inspiration I dressed as a 1940’s Polish girl for World Book Day in primary school. I can’t remember what that outfit consisted of other than a wooden toy horse and cart that carried the book with me for the day. I think I had to explain to everyone which country I was supposed to represent as no-one could tell by my costume. To my eight year old self the story of three siblings surviving together despite all odds in the midst of the Second World War was absolutely gripping, and I particularly loved the character Jan; the master pickpocket, the perfect war-time Artful Dodger.
There are many more gorgeous titles so, without boring you with the rest of my list, let’s just say it also includes the thrilling story of a Dr and his alter ego, a boy raised by wolves, a gentlemen in want of a wife, and downcast woman who finally lives for a day.
So come on guys, what heirlooms have you got your eye on? Don’t tell me I’m the only one!
On another note my month at Hot Key Books is over, I had an amazing time and have learned so much! I attended my first London Book Fair, sat in on many meetings and got completely addicted to reading book submissions. All I can say is: be prepared to drool when you look at the launch list and keep an eye out for future nail-biting releases! Thank you so much guys, I wish you all the best and I hope to bump into you all again soon.