Blog posts tagged "Twelve+Minutes+to+Midnight"
Actually, I doubt it was to the day, but I couldn’t resist the Sergeant Pepper’s reference, even though it doesn’t scan. Anyway, it was twenty-two years ago when I made the fateful decision to bunk off school and go along to a book signing by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean instead.
I was fourteen years old, just starting my GCSEs at a rather bleak comprehensive school in Salford. This was the kind of school where the P.E. teacher forced you to do press-ups in an icy puddle at the start of every lesson, Woodwork and Metalwork were mainly concerned with the production of concealed armaments, and Chemistry lessons a constant battle for control of the gas taps between the kids who wanted to blow up the Science block and those of us who wanted to live. It wasn’t the kind of school where authors popped in to chat about their latest books and reveal the secrets of the writing life. To me the idea of meeting a writer was as strange and exotic as the idea of meeting an astronaut (another childhood ambition, as yet sadly unfulfilled).
It wasn’t that I didn’t know about authors; my brain was full to bursting with their names. I was the Incredible Book Eating Boy before Oliver Jeffers had even drawn him, devouring the shelves of my local library. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Cormier, Ursula Le Guin. With every book I took out, a new favourite author could be discovered and I’d then eagerly seek out everything that they had written.
As well as books I loved comics, a passion born from my paper round. As I waited for the newsagent to load up my delivery bag, I flicked through old DC and Marvel comics on a spinner at the back of the shop, the worlds of these four-colour heroes a welcome escape from the slate-grey streets. Then when Saturday came around, I’d spend every penny of my wages on these comic books: Batman, Detective Comics, Daredevil, 2000AD. That newsagent must’ve loved me!
After a while though, I’d finally depleted his stock of comics and had to look further afield for a fresh source. I’d seen an advertisement in the pages of 2000AD for a comic shop called Odyssey 7 in Manchester. So one Saturday morning, leaving the paper shop with my wages in my pocket for a change, I jumped on the bus into town to search out this shop. Trudging down Oxford Road, I turned into the shopping precinct at Manchester University and entered an Aladdin’s Cave.
Odyssey 7 didn’t just have a single spinner filled with comics; it had boxes of them running down the central aisle of the shop. Flicking through them, I could see comics about every superhero I had ever heard of and dozens more that I hadn’t. Along the walls were posters, magazines, and on a section of shelves filled with large, glossy books, something called graphic novels. That’s where I discovered Violent Cases.
I can’t remember what initially drew me to this book. Maybe it was the illicit promise of the title that appealed to my teenage mind. But when I picked it up and started to flick through the pages, I was entranced. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was like nothing I had ever read before. In black-and-white and without a superhero in sight, it was a story about childhood told in the most remarkable way. This wasn’t a comic book, this was something else. Leaving behind the handful of Batman comics I’d already picked up, I took the book to the counter and bought my first graphic novel.
Over the next week I must have read Violent Cases more than a dozen times, each time finding some new detail to obsess over. For those who haven’t yet read it, I won’t give away too much, but something in this story sang to me. Its depiction of the narrator’s memories of his childhood: a fuzzy and confusing world, where adults lied and the threat of violence was never far from the surface, fascinated and troubled me at the same time.
The next Saturday I was standing at the counter of Odyssey 7 again, and, using the same logic that had served me so well in the library, asked if they had any more books by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The man at the counter pointed me in the direction of a couple of new comic books, Black Orchid and the first issue of something called The Sandman, and then he told me something that changed my life.
“They’re coming in to do a signing next week.”
I looked up at the poster in the shop window. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean would be signing copies of Violent Cases, the book that had blown my mind, next Friday afternoon. It was incredible – here was a chance to meet a real live author and a fantastic artist too. There was only one problem. The only way I’d be able to get to the signing in time would be to bunk off school at lunchtime. I think the time of the signing was 2pm, enough time I reasoned to get the bus into town, get my new favourite author to sign my books (I’d now bought the first issues of both Black Orchid and The Sandman as well) and still get home before my mum got back from work. That way I could pretend that I’d been in school all day, just like normal.
That was the plan. When Friday arrived, I sneaked out of school as the lunchtime bell rang and caught the bus into town. But arriving at Odyssey 7 just before two in the afternoon, I discovered my plan’s first flaw. Outside the store a queue snaked across the shopping precinct and out onto Oxford Road. (Remember, this was a signing for his very first book – Lord knows what kind of monstrous wyrm a Neil Gaiman signing queue looks like nowadays!) Joining the back of the queue I slowly started to worry. With the speed the queue was moving at, there was no way I’d get back home in time to pretend I’d been in school all day. If I stayed put, I was going to be in trouble. Big trouble.
Standing around me in the queue were trench-coated university students, their comic books and graphic novels tucked under their arms. I was still wearing my school uniform, my copy of Violent Cases, Black Orchid and The Sandman shoved in the depths of my school bag. This was the only chance I’d ever have to meet the extraordinary people who had created these stories. I stayed in the line
Eventually, sometime after four I think, I made it inside the shop, the remnants of the queue now snaking around the central aisle and back up to the counter where two guys were seated, patiently signing each book that was thrust in front of them. They didn’t look much older than students themselves, but the face of one of them was strangely familiar. From my bag, I dug out my copy of Violent Cases and turned to the first page. There, staring out at me in black and white was the same face. This was Neil Gaiman.
It’s funny, I’m trying to remember now what happened next, but my memories are turning out to be as fragmentary as those of the narrator of Violent Cases. I don’t really remember getting to the front of the queue, can’t recall what I said when I handed over my books to Neil and Dave to be signed. But when I finally stepped out of the comic shop and started walking back to the bus station and the inevitable mountain of trouble I was in, I remember thinking one thing: I wanted to be a writer.
Fast forward twenty-two years. Neil Gaiman is now one of the most famous authors on the planet. He’s written a mountain of books that I love: Coraline, Stardust, The Wolves in the Walls, American Gods, The Graveyard Book; not to mention all his comics and graphic novels, film screenplays and TV scripts (including possibly my favourite-ever episode of Doctor Who). Dave McKean is an award-winning artist, author and filmmaker.
As for me, well, at the end of this week my novel The Dead Ways is published, whilst early next year sees the publication of Twelve Minutes to Midnight. Two very different books, but both the realisation of a childhood dream. And on the 29th October at Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester, I’ve got my first signing session.
Unfortunately, it’s on a Saturday, so I’m not going to present any school-age children with the same moral dilemma I faced. But there will be ghostly happenings, a fancy-dress competition in the queue, and prizes for the reader wearing the spookiest outfit. I can’t wait.
When I finally got confirmation of the event, I tweeted about how twenty-two years after I’d skipped school to go along to a book signing by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, I finally had my own to announce. And then to my utter astonishment, Neil Gaiman replied!
“That makes me so proud! And so old!”
With a grin as wide as the Joker’s on my face, I tweeted back to try and thank him in 140 characters or less for all the inspiration he’d given me and, more importantly, finally let him know how much trouble he’d indirectly got me in. (I was grounded for a month for bunking off school!) Then a few minutes later, his reply popped up.
“You did the right thing.”
And I know he’s right. That day twenty-two years ago, was the first time I believed it was possible to become a writer. An outlandish dream sparked into life as I stood in front of the counter in that Manchester comic shop and met Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The day that changed my life.
In fifteen days time my book Twelve Minutes to Midnight is published. Hurrah! To give you a taste of the story to come, here's a glimpse of the back cover blurb:
It's 1899. Every night at twelve minutes to midnight the inmates of Bedlam, London's notorious hospital for the insane, rise from their beds and begin scribbling strange words on any surface they can find - scraps of paper, the walls of their cells, even their own skin. What can it mean?
Penelope Tredwell, thirteen-year-old owner of the bestselling magazine, The Penny Dreadful, is intrigued. She's always seeking out sinister stories to fill her magazine's pages but she's never encountered anything as chilling as this. Soon she's ensnared in a venomous plot, and Penny realises that this isn't just a story, it's the future.
And the future looks deadly...
As each tick of the clock brings the publication of Twelve Minutes to Midnight closer, I'm going to give you the chance to win a signed copy today! All you need to do is make your own prediction of the future in the comments below.
From flying cars to books you can download directly into your brain, what do you think the next hundred years will bring? The contest is open internationally and closes at twelve minutes to midnight on Sunday 22 January (UK time).
I can't wait to see what you think the future holds...
So, seven days to go until Twelve Minutes to Midnight is published, but somebody has won themselves a signed copy already! Thanks to everyone who entered the Twelve Minutes to Midnight giveaway - it was fantastic to read your future predictions and I think that some of you could put Mystic Meg to shame. Anway, without further ado, here's the winning entry from AliB68:
I think that genetically modified exotic animals will be kept as pets. Giraffes the size of greyhounds, hippos you can keep in an aquarium, jaguars the size of tabbies. It will be brilliant.
A visionary prediction that I think JG Ballard would have been proud to have come up with! Congratulations AliB68 - please get in touch with your address so I can send you a signed copy of Twelve Minutes to Midnight.
Right, off to a pet shop now to ask if they've got any pocket-sized zebras!
Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time – the publication day of Twelve Minutes to Midnight! I’m immensely excited about the prospect of going into a bookshop and spotting my book out there in the wilds of the shelves at last. It hardly seems a minute ago when it was just a tiny Word document with a title page, a chapter heading and a handful of words typed inside. Sniff!
Looking back at my notebook where I first scribbled my ideas for Twelve Minutes to Midnight, I was reminded of some of the inspirations which seeped into the pages of the story in strange and unforeseen ways and I thought I'd share some of these with you here.
“I chose next to wander by Bethlehem Hospital … partly, because I had a night fancy in my head which could be best pursued within sight of its walls and dome. And the fancy was this: Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our lives?” Charles Dickens
“People think dreams aren't real just because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” Neil Gaiman
“Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” Virginia Woolf
“The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.” H. G. Wells
“The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion” Albert Einstein
“The past is still there, the future has always been here. Every moment that has existed or will ever exist is all part of this giant hyper-moment of space-time.” Alan Moore
“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” Winston Churchill
Finally, if Twelve Minutes to Midnight had a theme song, I think it would be the song at the top of this page. Sweet dreams...
At the end of last week I received the fantastic news that Twelve Minutes to Midnight has been chosen by Booktrust for their inaugural Bookbuzz list. Bookbuzz is a new reading programme that offers secondary schools the chance to give their Year 7 pupils the choice of a book from a specially selected list of 17 titles that includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
The Bookbuzz programme aims to support reading for pleasure as children make the transition from primary to secondary school, which is time when many pupils can start to drift away from books and lose their love of reading. As someone who has written publications about promoting enthusiasm for reading and improving reading in schools, I am incredibly proud that Twelve Minutes to Midnight has been chosen to be part of this wonderful programme.
Bookbuzz rolls out this September to secondary schools across the country and schools who wish to take part have until the 20th July to register. So, if you're involved in secondary education and want to encourage reading for pleasure with some fabulous books and resources, get the Bookbuzz!
A huge thank you to Booktrust for choosing Twelve Minutes to Midnight, and Nosy Crow and all the other publishers who support this vitally important initiative.
First of all, an apology. I’m afraid that I’ve been treating this blog like the diary I kept when I was thirteen: initial flurries of activity punctuated by long drawn-out silences, although with slightly less angst-ridden poetry written in the margins.
Anyway, since Twelve Minutes to Midnight was published back in February, it’s been receiving some rather lovely reviews and I just wanted to collect some of these together in one place so that anyone who hasn’t bought a copy yet can see just what they’re missing out on! I was prompted to do this when I spotted this great review yesterday from a reader on the Guardian Children’s Books website. A huge thank you to Isaac260 and to all the reviewers who have taken the time to share their thoughts on Twelve Minutes to Midnight.
"Pacy and tightly-plotted, this is an exuberant and entertaining adventure story set in an appealingly foggy and sinister Victorian London. The feisty and courageous Penelope makes the perfect heroine for an adventure packed with exciting twists and turns." Booktrust
“Really pacey historical thriller with a great sense of eerie Victorian atmosphere.” The Bookseller
"Twelve Minutes to Midnight is an exceptional introduction to the mystery genre in children’s literature. This is a fast-paced historical thriller in every sense of the word. Packed full of intrigue and drama, it reads like a 'Sherlock Holmes' for kids." The Bookbag
"This is a clever Victorian romp, fast paced and very readable." Books for Keeps
"Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge is my first “must-read” of 2012 and will continue to be one that other middle grade novels will be held up against." Theresabook.com
“A thriller with a fast-paced cinematic style…an electrifying story from an exciting new author” lovereading4kids.com
"A gripping story which brings Victorian London vividly to life." parentsintouch.co.uk
“An enjoyable read set in Victorian England with a lead character who I adored … I am already excited about getting the next instalment.” The Overflowing Library
"Christopher Edge weaves a truly delicate and intricate plot set at a perfect level for this age group." My Book Corner
“I found this book absolutely gripping and loved the combination of Victorian London – with its Dickensian scar-faced villains and possibly-mad beautiful widows – and the supernatural, with the eerie predictions of the asylum inmates.” Liz Bankes
"More feisty fictional heroines are definitely welcome – and Penelope Tredwell certainly fits the bill." iVillage.co.uk
"It's got everything you want from a mystery set in Victorian times - scar-faced villains, beautiful but damned widows, and elements of the supernatural - it's the ultimate tale of terror!" The Kooky Toon Book Corner
There is also a fantastic review of Twelve Minutes to Midnight on the Fun Kids radio station Book Club podcast - you can download this for iTunes for free or just click on the play button next to the February podcast (number 4) to listen.
This Saturday I’m heading to the Just So Festival for a weekend filled with pirate training, stone balancing, pillow fights, levitation, music, poetry, dens and daydreams, children’s authors and even Babar and the Gruffalo! And on Saturday night, at around twelve minutes to midnight, there will be the Twelve Minutes to Midnight feast! Come along to hear the electrifying adventures of Penelope Tredwell as she investigates a sinister mystery filled with spiders, madness and strange glimpses of the future and then stay for hot chocolate, marshmallows and even moustaches...
Being invited to fabulous events like the Just So festival is one of the unexpected benefits I’ve discovered to being a published author. Earlier this year, I took part in the marvellous Oxford Literary Festival where I was honoured to appear on the same stage as the children’s publisher Marion Lloyd, the children’s author JD Sharpe, and one of my literary heroes, Philip Pullman. Here's the four of us in front of the Sheldonian Theatre where our debate on the legacy of Charles Dickens took place, and where I let slip my confession that my first experience of Dickens's work was the Muppet Christmas Carol.
Perhaps in my next blog I'll be able to post up a picture where I'm hobnobbing with the Gruffalo!
Over the past week or so I've been delighted to receive some lovely emails from students who have picked Twelve Minutes to Midnight as their Bookbuzz choice. To find out more about Bookbuzz, check out the fantastic website where you'll find competitions, quizzes, book reviews and much much more. You'll even be able to watch a video of me introducing Twelve Minutes to Midnight and hear from a young reader who explains why the story gave him goosebumps.
A huge thank you to everyone who has chosen Twelve Minutes to Midnight as their Bookbuzz selection.
I meant to post this up back in Children's Book Week at the start of the month, but at the time I was chained to my desk checking the proofs of Shadows of the Silver Screen and writing the first draft of The Black Crow Conspiracy. Anyway, I just wanted to say how incredibly proud I am that Twelve Minutes to Midnight has been included in Booktrust's 2012 Best Book Guide alongside some wonderful books from fantastic authors such as Philip Reeve, Celia Rees and Eva Ibbotson to name but a few.
As well as appearing in the 2012 Best Book Guide, Twelve Minutes to Midnight also appears in a Booktrust's Children's Book Week list of their favourite stories with inspiring heroines, with Penelope sandwiched between Roald Dahl's Matilda and Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I cannot tell you how happy this conjunction made me!
Until next time when I'll have news of heroic adventures...
I'm thrilled to reveal that Twelve Minutes to Midnight has been shortlisted for both the 2013 Northern Ireland Book Award and the Warwickshire Secondary Book Award. It's been chosen alongside some marvellous books on both shortlists and I'm really proud to be a part of these awards that help promote a love of reading.
Speaking of which, the education company Pearson have recently launched a campaign to promote reading for pleasure. If you visit the Enjoy Reading website, you'll find a host of videos from myself and the author Michaela Morgan sharing our ideas and tips for parents on ways to help children to enjoy reading. Watch these if you want to find out why I recommend you don't turn up at the birth of your first child with a copy of War and Peace, and exactly which Axel Scheffler book taught my daughter the word 'Monster'.
I've also got a new blog up on the Bookbuzz website where I write about the literary inspiration I found on my older brother's bookshelf when I was growing up. And finally, I just wanted to share the following poem that an eleven year-old reader of Twelve Minutes to Midnight sent to me recently. Caution - mild spoilers ahead if you haven't read the book yet!
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Nothing is as it seems
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
The inmates of Bedlam awake from their dreams
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Visions are unleashed
And Penelope is intrigued
Soon she can't resist
The suspicious mist
And secrets of the future
Thanks so much Ahlaam for sending me your poem and giving me permission to share it on this blog.
Happy New Year everyone! Don't worry, I haven't succumbed to a bout of rampant egomania; the title of this blogpost is taken from an internet meme called the #NextBigThing that I've been invited to take part in. The charming Piers Torday who I met at the CWIG conference in Reading last year tagged me to take part in this back in December, but due to a flurry of last-minute deadlines and pre-Christmas preparations, I'm only now getting round to posting this up. Piers's debut novel The Last Wild which has been described by one reader as a 'sci-fi Roald Dahl' is one of my most eagerly-awaited reads of 2013 and you can find out more about it by reading Piers's #NextBigThing post here.
Anyway, here are my answers to the #NextBigThing questions:
What's the title of your next book?
Shadows of the Silver Screen. It's the follow-up to Twelve Minutes to Midnight.
Where did the idea come from?
When I finished writing Twelve Minutes to Midnight, I knew there were more stories I wanted to tell about Penelope, Alfie and Monty and even stranger mysteries for them to solve. Shadows of the Silver Screen is set at the dawn of the twentieth century: a time when the new-fangled world of moving pictures was taking its first steps from the fairground to the cinema screen, whilst spirit photographers and charlatans claimed to be able to photograph the dead. I've always loved haunted house stories and when I had the idea of a mysterious filmmaker approaching The Penny Dreadful to turn one of Montgomery Flinch's stories into a motion picture, I saw the chance to combine these two strands into a haunted house story with a twist...
What genre does your book fall under?
Mystery and adventure with a touch of the supernatural.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
I think I'd have to scour the country, holding a series of Harry Potter-style open auditions to cast the part of Penelope Tredwell, but I'd love to see Mark Gatiss play the part of Montgomery Flinch. I'm a huge fan of his work in Crooked House, The First Men in the Moon and the remarkable Sherlock, so if he wanted to adapt, produce and direct it too, he'd be more than welcome!
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
What if the camera could capture more than just memories of the past - would you dare to watch the shadows of the silver screen?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Shadows of the Silver Screen will be published on the 10th January 2013 by Nosy Crow.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me about a year to finish the first draft of Shadows of the Silver Screen. Moving house in the middle of writing and having to scribble away in an unfinished office whilst builders, plumbers and electricians knocked the house down around my ears probably didn't help my productivity!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
One of the highlights of 2012 for me was appearing on stage alongside Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival. Although I wouldn't dare to compare my books to Phililp Pullman's, several reviewers of Twelve Minutes to Midnight said that it would appeal to fans of his Sally Lockhart series which was a comparison I was delighted by.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think every book I write takes inspiration in some way from the stories I have read and seen. Shadows of the Silver Screen has its roots entwined with classic ghost stories such as The Ash Tree by M.R. James and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
If you want to find out what happened to the man who invented cinema but who history forgot, you should read Shadows of the Silver Screen.
Who are you passing the baton to for next week's Next Big Thing?
Two fantastic authors who I share a roost with at the Nosy Crow nest. Helen Peters, author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret Hen House Theatre, who tweets as @farmgirlwriter, and Paula Harrison, author of the fabulous Rescue Princesses series and the forthcoming Faerie Tribes.
Thirty years ago, at the age of nine, I won a prize from my local library service in Manchester for reading the most books over the long summer holiday. I can't remember what my prize was now, but I suspect it was probably a book token that I soon put to good use.
Fast forward to the 30th October 2013 and I am seated in the stunning Plaza Theatre in Stockport, the auditorium filled with school children, parents, teachers and librarians, all gathered together for the glitzy Stockport Schools' Book Awards Ceremony. I have been invited to this wonderful celebration of books and reading as Twelve Minutes to Midnight had been shortlisted in the Key Stage 2 category alongside fantastic books by Philip Reeve, Gill Lewis, Ruth Eastham and Elen Caldecott. Before each award was announced, the audience was shown wonderful presentations that school children had prepared for each of the shortlisted titles, combining animation, readings and readers' comments. These were fabulous and wouldn't have looked out of place at the Oscars!
I was absolutely thrilled when Twelve Minutes to Midnight was announced as the winner of the Stockport Schools' Book Award for Key Stage 2 and made sure not to trip over my laces in best Oscars fashion as I climbed the steps to the stage. There I was awarded with my prize, an incredible painting created by Molly-Mae Rafferty which was inspired by Twelve Minutes to Midnight. In my acceptance speech, I told the audience how this had been the first prize that I had won since that day thirteen miles and thirty years ago and how honoured I was to receive an award that had been voted for by the children themselves. I explained how filling myself up with stories when I was young had turned me into a writer, but that reading books could do so much more than this; how every book contained a spark that could set a reader's imagination ablaze and even transform their life.
I'd like to thank Stockport council, and especially the Stockport Schools Library Service for organising this wonderful event that allowed the young readers of Stockport to celebrate the pleasure of reading and books. I was proud to be part of such a special evening and have the chance to chat to so many fabulous librarians, teachers and young readers - the true reading champions.
Amidst the excitement of the publication of The Black Crow Conspiracy, the third and final book in the series that began with Twelve Minutes to Midnight, I was thrilled to learn last week that Shadows of the Silver Screen, the second book in the series, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Lambeth Phoenix Book Award. I was particularly pleased about this as Twelve Minutes to Midnight was up for the same award back in 2013, appearing on the shortlist then alongside books by such wonderful authors as Michael Morpurgo and Jonathan Meres.
Nobody writes a novel in order to be shortlisted for a prize - not even Hilary Mantel - but since Twelve Minutes to Midnight was published back in 2012, one of the most exciting things for me as an author has been seeing it appear on the shortlists of regional book awards across the country. After months spent writing alone in a shed at the bottom of my garden, to suddenly find out that young readers from Northern Ireland to Warwickshire, Redbridge to Southampton, not to mention Hillingdon, Dudley and Oldham too, were reading the adventures of Penelope and her friends at The Penny Dreadful was completely amazing and rather thrilling to me. When Twelve Minutes to Midnight won its category at the Stockport Schools Book Award, it was fantastic to have the chance to meet the children who had voted for the award - to see the wonderful and creative work that their reading had inspired and hear their excitement about the books they had read. For me, these awards are about celebrating young readers - encouraging children to discover new authors, pick up books that they might not usually try, and, most importantly, to read for pleasure.
I'm really looking forward to attending the award ceremony in Lambeth on the 1st of May and finding out what the readers there have made of Shadows of the Silver Screen. And if you're a young reader in Lambeth, don't forget to vote!
If you’d have asked me what books inspired me to read as a child, I would usually have answered with The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper or The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner or even The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. But these books were all books that I read once I had learned to read, whilst the memories of the books that had got me to that point were lost in a haze of colour-coded reading schemes.
All except one. I can distinctly recall sitting on a rug in the corner of my primary school classroom, a chill winter’s day rapping on the window outside, whilst I was lost in a story about a boy named Tim and a cat who could fly on a broomstick. I can remember the image of the two of them, silhouetted against the night sky, and, for the first time, the words of the story being mine to read alone.
The magic and mystery of this story stayed with me across the years, even though its title was lost somewhere in the overstuffed filing cabinets of my mind. Until, that is, Saturday the 8th of February – National Libraries Day, when I had been invited to speak at Tewkesbury and Dursley Libraries alongside the very talented children’s author and illustrator, Tom Percival.
After I had talked about mystery, Victorian moustaches and the final book in the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy, The Black Crow Conspiracy, Tom stepped up to talk about what inspired his stories. He asked if anyone had learned to read using a 1970s reading scheme called Tim and the Hidden People, and, as he talked about the adventures of a boy named Tim and his cat called Tobias, I realised that this was the book that had held me spellbound all those years ago.
After Googling Tim and the Hidden People I’ve discovered that the reading scheme these books belonged to was called Flightpath to Reading. Now long out of print and fetching astronomical prices on eBay – £3000 for a complete set of 32 books! – the memories stirred by these covers remind me that this was the series that launched my love of reading. From learning to decode words and sentences to discovering the worlds of magic and wonder they could reveal, Tim and the Hidden People was the key for me, setting me on path that led to Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Neil Gaiman and countless other authors and books, as well as being the taproot of my own writing.
So, thank you Sheila K. McCullagh. Thank you for teaching me how to fly.