An English teacher, Adele was born in 1942 in the Ecclesall area, and has always lived in Sheffield.
It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like without books. … I think my life would have been less rich without reading.
For this only child, reading was ‘partly comfort … partly escape … it just puts you into other realms’. Adele guesses that she learned to read easily and says, ‘I asked for books. I wanted to be bought books.’ In time she borrowed them from the Manor library too. But there were no other books at home. ‘I’ve no recollection of that at all. I can’t remember my father or mother reading to me. … No, there were no books in the house.’ Her parents just didn’t seem to be readers: ‘I never saw [my father] read a book. I never saw my mother read a book.’
Did these parents see how much books meant to their small daughter? Did they believe that reading could give Adele a good start in life, even a better start than theirs? Whatever their motives, they were both supportive.
I was probably a young teenager and reading and Mum would be in the kitchen getting tea ready when Dad came home and he said, “Oh look at her. She’s sitting reading.” And I can distinctly remember my Mum saying, “Leave her alone. She’s enjoying it.”
Yes, I think, really, there was encouragement when they saw my keenness and I think that helped it to grow. You can see how hard we had to work when we were at grammar school and the reading, I think, was a relaxation in their eyes. … But it was my mother who always said, “No, she’s reading. Leave her”. And yet she was the least educated of my parents. She’d been in service, but I think she’d seen a different way of life and I think she’d been surrounded by books. This is me surmising. Because she certainly didn’t talk about that.
Adele’s father did once express doubt about educating girls – ‘you’ll only get married’. She was undaunted. ‘Well, Dad, I would pass my education on to my children; in that case, it’s not wasted is it?’ She thinks her father was cautious, while her mother
‘wanted to do other things in her life that she hadn’t been able to do. And I think she felt thwarted and … wasn’t going to let me be thwarted.’
The books Adele remembers from childhood are those to be expected: Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series, Richmal Crompton’s William stories and the Katy books by Susan Coolidge. But they have stayed with her:
And I could quote from [the Katy books], really, I think now, ‘cos I read them so much’ and ‘I absolutely adored [the William books].
It interests Adele now how middle-class all these books were, with their boarding schools, ‘picnics and tucker’ and William who was ‘right out of my milieu – as a middle-class boy’. ‘It was a different life, wasn’t it? I never read anything about MY life,’ she says. Most young readers in the 1940s and ‘50s must have shared this. It is hard to think of books featuring working-class children. How much have things changed today?
Then, as Adele grew older and looked for other books, ‘a big surprise’. Her father started suggesting books. She guesses that he had enjoyed reading but stopped when he married. (Why? Was it the pressure of daily life, or because his wife did not read? You long to interview both parents too, to find out about this and also why they encouraged Adele to read.)
And he recommended people like PG Wodehouse –‘cos that was always commented on at school: “How did you come across PG Wodehouse, girl?” “Oh, my father recommended it.” You know. And he recommended Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping, which I’ve since come to realise had a very great impression on him, because his mother died when he was very young – and this is what the basis of the story is – and I hadn’t realised that.
By her teens Adele’s appetite for reading was ‘amazing’. ‘I was an avid reader of very big books’ – George Eliot, Dickens, Hardy, Lawrence and Tolstoy. But there was also room for Arnold Bennett, Mrs Gaskell, Trollope, Nevil Shute, H G Wells, Ngaio Marsh and others. School and college reinforced the habit: ‘we were exposed to lots of literature that I hadn’t been exposed to before. And encouraged to read. And so that was a wonderful time for me.’
One interesting effect is that Adele has never felt embarrassed about books.
Even when I’ve read rubbish, I’ve never felt like that. I’m quite confident about reading. You know, I wouldn’t really care what other people thought.
These days, Adele has less energy for ‘big books’. She says her level is the ‘Booker prizewinners … I read them and think, “Well, I wouldn’t have chosen that as the winner”, you know.’ And just as her father supported her reading, she takes an interest in her grandchildren’s.
… Children are so fortunate today; they have such a choice. My grandchildren’s bookcases are stuffed with books. Which I love; I love to see that. And they love the world; they’re totally immersed in books themselves. And if they’re being naughty, one’s only to sit down and start reading out loud and they’re drawn to you – and I think that’s amazing.
You can read and listen to Adele’s interview here.