David’s reading journey had begun long before he was born. He was the heir of two of Sheffield’s literary families: the Waterhouses and the Leaders. He was also born into a family of steel makers. Perhaps because his mother died when he was very young, his father was the main influence on his early reading. ‘I was taught to read the newspapers as well, particularly for the cricket scores and things like the coronation of 1937’. David, aged six, and his father ‘pored over that’.
With no mother to look after him when his father was running the steel works, from the age of five David began a series of journeys that took him down to boarding schools, in Eastbourne and Peterborough, and then to and fro between relatives in Sheffield and his stepmother in Retford. ‘One thing I did pick up, rather than books, was that I, at a very early age, learned to read maps’.
David is drawn to books with local connections: ‘Winifred Holtby, South Riding because my family come from that part of the world, my grandmother came from East Riding.’ ‘The only ones of the 19th century I’ve read particularly are the Brontë girls. I’ve read them all, largely because they’re fairly local, but also because they’re well read.’ The books in his father’s house could themselves be mapped on to the fabric of the family’s history.
I have some books which actually belonged to my grandfather’s grandfather, also called David Flather. My grandfather had an enormous library with book plates in. He had so many books.
His grandfather’s bookplate celebrates the family’s connection with the smithy where his ancestors worked.
Wherever David went the reading landscape changed. Away from home he had access to the school library with its plentiful supply of boys’ adventure stories: Buchan, Haggard and Ian Hay. But back in Retford with his stepmother he was introduced to the local Boots library and romantic novels.
The library would hold and bring in books for her. And every time you went in, ‘Have you got any books for Mrs Flather?’ ‘Oh yes, we’ve got two today’ and you’d take them back in and tick them off the list. And then she’d keep adding to the list and it worked a dream.
But David didn’t share his stepmother’s taste for romance. ‘I was just the book carrier’. The municipal library in Retford has no place in his memories: ‘I think I went to it once in ten years because it wasn’t really in our net, for no other reason than that’.
However, when David moved into a suburb of Sheffield as a teenager, the configuration of the net changed. The ‘net’ now included the public library of Ecclesall, superbly stocked and catering for all the family’s reading needs.
When David married Sally they shared a love for reading, and for organisation. Sally kept a record of every book she read and David prepared a compendious list for us. If he came upon a book he didn’t take to, David didn’t dismiss it, just commented ‘it’s not my scene’.
There’s such a wide spectrum of books anyway, that it’s everyone to their own tastes. Sally’s tastes were different. I’m probably nearer to my father’s tastes. But there we are.
Like his father, David went on to combine a day in industry and an evening with his books (or his choir or his family or one of his multitude of community activities). He became an adept technical writer, hardly ever talking about what he read at work, but ‘books were a constant’. For the first twenty years of his life, perhaps one of the most constant things in David’s life were his books.