Like many of the best love stories, I remember exactly when, where and how I first fell for books. I remember the whoosh in my stomach, the tingle in my fingers and the flush in my cheeks. I remember instinctively knowing that this was going to be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. My mother, a literature fanatic with no concept of age-appropriateness, had read Tennyson, Rossetti and Longfellow to me as bedtime entertainment. The night we sat down to read The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton, the direction of my life changed permanently.
I was four years old, and as I became more engrossed, page by page, with an abrupt snap it all clicked into place. I suddenly realised that these confusing black squiggles on the page somehow unlocked this magical world full of enormous trees and worlds that span round. Silky and Saucepan Man, and the red squirrel, and Pop Biscuits, and fairy dances, and the lands of Take What You Want and Topsy Turvy. If I could just work out the puzzle of the squiggles, not only could I go into this world whenever I liked, I could go into any world. Be whoever I wanted to be. Do whatever I wanted to do. Climb to the top of every single magical tree.
In a flush of excitement, I abruptly demanded to know where this story had come from. The second my mum told me that a lady had made it up and written it down, that was it. I knew what I wanted to spend my life doing.
From that point on, I carried The Enchanted Wood around with me like a teddy-bear.
I slept hugging it, I clutched it in supermarkets, I ate dinner with it in hand. With my mum’s help, I slowly learnt what the words meant and how to read them. As the book fell apart and got stuck back together repeatedly, I read and studied every page until that world was mine. Until I no longer needed anyone else to take me there, because now I had the key.
And the second I had that key, I started writing.
Every author has books that are special to them: books that inspired them, saved them, gave them comfort, gave them hope. For me, The Enchanted Wood is the most magical of all. It didn’t just give me other worlds, it made me want to climb the tree and create my own. For that, I will always love it.