Posted by Christopher at 7.30pm
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.