Delia

Delia

Delia was born on 5th October 1942.

Delia was interviewed by Trisha Cooper. The interview has been edited by Delia and the audio is not available by request.

TC:  Delia: was born in … Where were you born, Delia:?

DELIA:  Stannington.

TC:  In Stannington.  Can I ask you when you were born, the date?

DELIA:  Yes, October 5th, 1942.

TC:  October 5th, 1942.  And which area of Sheffield did you live in between 1945 and 1965?

DELIA:  I lived in Sheffield at Stannington until 1962, well, early 1963 really, and then I moved to Rotherham.

TC:  Right, so we’ll start the interview now, and we’re looking particularly at the books you read as a child and as a young adult, between … up till 1965.  So, we can start by asking you when you were young, did anybody read to you, when you were young?  What are your very first memories of the books that you had around you?

DELIA:  Well, about the first book I can remember, and I don’t know if anyone’s heard of it now, it was a book about a pig called Toby Twirl, and his friend, I think, was a penguin. And I had it for Christmas, and that’s about the first one I can remember.  And then I moved on to, once I’d learned to read, in the infant school, I moved on to sort of children’s … there [sic] The Twins at Hillside Farm.  I don’t know who wrote that.  It was lovely, that.  It was about two children, twins, living on a farm in some country place and it would tell things about milk separators and things like that.  And there was one called Ranch on the Plain, which was about cowboys.  And The Girl from Golden [sic].  Oh, and another one that I really liked they called it A Pair of Red Polls, and it was about two red-headed children who lived on a farm.  But I couldn’t tell you any of the authors.  But that was between … I’d say I read those between five and seven years old.

TC:  And where did you get those books from?

DELIA:  Oh, they belonged to my older sister who’s nearly ten years older than me.  And they were handed down.  But the Toby Twirl one was bought for me when I was very small.

TC:  Were you what they describe as a bookworm?  Did you immediately take to it?

DELIA:  Oh yes, yes, I was one of the first in the class to do what they called silent reading.  So once I’d mastered silent reading, I just never stopped.  I used to like the Enid Blyton ones, and one was called The Valley of Adventure, and I really enjoyed that.  I’m just trying to think of some more.  But I was always reading, I always am.

TC:  Which school did you go to?

DELIA:  Stannington County Primary School to start with, and then … in those days there was the 11-plus and at eleven I passed for Ecclesfield Grammar.

TC:  When you were at school, how did you access books then?

DELIA:  I think I had some in classroom, but we had teachers who read to us as well.  I remember one teacher, we called her Miss Gart, and she used to read Aesop’s Fables to us, but I can’t really remember borrowing books at school.  No, the ones I had were usually the ones that were around.

TC:  And you read anything you could lay your hands on?

DELIA:   Yes, yes I did.

TC:  Were you drawn to a particular author or a particular genre?

DELIA:  I did like Enid Blyton.  I think most people did.  And … I’m just trying to think.  I can’t remember any of the other authors.  I used to like these books about children who lived on farms for some reason.

TC:  You weren’t living on a farm or?

DELIA:  No, it was really countrified around Stannington in those days. I mean, not like it is now. It was very much … It seemed miles away from Sheffield, miles.  You had to go on one bus to Malin Bridge, and then catch a tram into Sheffield town centre.  So I think I must have been about five before I even went into the town centre.  There was a little shopping centre at Hillsborough and Malin Bridge, and that’s mainly where we went.

TC: Where did your parents get their books from, and did your sister get her books from?

DELIA:  I think they were just bought, you know, I think they just bought them.  I can’t remember actually, anybody actually buying them for them, or getting them from the libraries.  Although, there was a council library at our school, thinking about it.  They used to come around and change books fairly frequently, but I can’t remember bringing any home.  But you’ve probably … I’ve probably forgotten about that.

TC:  Once you became a teenager, what books attracted you then, do you think?

DELIA:  Well, I’ve been trying to rack my brains to think. I used to read Elizabeth Goudge.  Have you heard of her?  And Anya Seton.  I used to like those.

TC:  Black Beauty.  No, that’s Anna Sewell.  Anya Seton, sorry.

DELIA:  Anya Seton, it was Katherine, she wrote.  Yes.  I remember reading that and The Herb of Grace, Elizabeth Goudge.  And Agatha Christie of course, I used to read all the detective books.  I used to love detective books.  Oh, and I remember reading one by a lady called Lillie Le Pla and it was called The Secret Shore and I think it was probably about the Channel Islands, which is somewhere that I love now.  I remember reading that one, it just came to me, it had a blue cloth back.  And it was about some … It was about a girl who would … I’m not sure if her dad had died, but they lived in this house and she found this tunnel through the cliff and there was a gate in it.  And that led up to this man’s house, and she used to go straight on and it led down to the secret shore.  And I remember this man, I think he must’ve been some connection of her mother’s because he bought her a lovely watch for her birthday.  [Laughing.]  I just remembered.  And then I think in the end there was a happy ending where they got married, where he married her mother.  I can’t remember all the circumstances, but it was about this shore that she used to go down to and be on her own and find shells and things, you know.

TC:  There’s a theme there. Your teenage reading was obviously influenced by your childhood reading of adventure and country life, of going somewhere else.

DELIA:  Yes, that was when I was a very young teenager, I was about eleven when I read that book.  And then I remember reading Gulliver’s Travels, round about then as well, and I enjoyed that.

TC:  Gulliver’s Travels is going to different places, isn’t it?

DELIA:  Yes it is.  [Laughing.]  I don’t really go to many places now.

TC:  Just in your imagination?

DELIA:  Yes.

TC:  That’s what books …

DELIA:  Books are great things for children’s imaginations.  I just to live in the books [sic], you know, I was always reading, well, as I am now.  So, I started going to Sheffield Library when I left school.  I had a friend who’s a lot cleverer than me.  She was in the top stream all the way through school and she was the one who introduced me to Sheffield Library because I started work and used to meet her there.  And we used to exchange our books, you know.

TC:  What year would that be?

DELIA:  That would be 1960, I’d say.  ’59 I was still in school, so I didn’t go into Sheffield Library then.  But ’60, ’61, ’62, I used to meet her in Sheffield straight from work and then we used to go and exchange our books and, uh, you know, just meet up.

TC:  That must have been amazing though, to go into a massive library like Sheffield Library and just be [DELIA:  Yes, yes it was!] … have that much choice!  What did you make for, can you remember?

DELIA:  Well, as I say, I made for the authors that I knew. I started with Elizabeth Goudge and Anya Seton in the school library and I sort of went for those books again when I went to the main library.  And then with Agatha Christie as well, they’d always got the latest one.  And I can remember one that I never read but was advertised in Sheffield Library.  It was Frank Yerby – The Old Gods Laugh.  And I used to see it advertised on the counter and, you know, I never borrowed that book and I still don’t know what it was about.

TC: You should check it now.

DELIA:  Have you heard of Frank Yerby?

TC:  I have not, I’m afraid.

DELIA:  No.

TC:  No, who was he?  Do you know who he was?

DELIA:  No, I don’t know.  I just remember going into Sheffield Library to change my books and they had a little display and it was this one called The Old Gods Laugh and for some reason or other I never borrowed the book. It had just come out. I’ve never read it to this day. [Laughs.]  Came back to me when I was talking to you, you know, about Sheffield Library. I just remember that one.

TC:  It’s interesting how we get into different genres, you know.  You kind of latched onto an author, didn’t you?  But another way is by recommendation.  You met your school friend and you would search for books.

DELIA:  Yes, I think she started me off with the Agatha Christies while we were still at school. We used to read paperbacks. Oh, and Dragonwyck, that was another Anya Seton one.  Have you heard of that one?  It was a film as well, an old film.

TC:  I think our reading must have been a bit …

DELIA:  Foxfire, that was another one.  And My Theodosia, that was another one.  Yes.

TC:  You’re remembering all the titles.  So this is when you left school, so you’re what now, 16, 17? Okay, so you left school.  And you carried on reading with your friend from school, going to the library. Can you remember what took you on then from the Agatha Christie into other authors, other genres?  You were into detective, obviously, maybe a bit of a …

DELIA:  Yes, I don’t know.  I mean, I started reading Thomas Hardy when I was in my early 20s.  I read all his books because I liked the Dorset theme to them.

TC:  Again, that’s farming and countryside, isn’t it?  That’s a real theme.

DELIA:  It is, Yes, Yes.  Yes, so I’ve read a lot of those.  And at the moment, I’m reading Wolf Hall.

TC:  Oh, Hilary Mantel.

DELIA:  Yes.

TC:  Historical, fantastic.

DELIA:  I’ve only just started that.  Also Catherine Bailey, Black Diamonds, I’ve read that one.

TC:  So, historical books attracted you, well, attract you now.  Did they at that time then, in the early ’60s?

DELIA:  Yes, I think so, because Katherine is historical.  It’s about the Duke of Lancaster and things like that.  It was a romance.  I’m just trying to think of any … I mean, no, I read just about everything, you see.  I’ve read Clive Cussler.

TC:  Was there a type of … Going back to sort of the early ’60s, the ’50s and the ’60s, was there a time that you dropped off reading, or that it became difficult for you?

DELIA:  No, I’ve never dropped off reading because in 1963 I got married and immediately became pregnant with my first child and books were a wonderful escape from housework and crying babies.  [Laughs.]

TC:  [Laughing.] I found the same thing.  And did you buy books then, were you buying books or were you still going to the library?  Were you being given ..?

DELIA:  No, it was the Rotherham Library.  I was a member of Rotherham Library.  I’ve used Rotherham Library a lot over the years, but since the … When I went back to work full time, of course I didn’t have time to go to the library, so I bought paperbacks, really.

TC:  Can you remember those days with your little baby and what you were reading?

DELIA:  Oh Yes, definitely, Yes, Yes.

TC:  What were you reading?

DELIA:  Oh now then, I think carried on … I got books by the same authors, but it was Thomas Hardy.  I started off with those and I’ve read Dickens, and I went to …

TC:  All of Dickens?

DELIA:  No, not all of it, no.

TC:  Any favourites?

DELIA:  I went to night school for English Literature when I’d got the whole family and I read Hard Times at night school, which is not my favourite Dickens, that.  I like David Copperfield and I’ve read quite a lot.  Um, I don’t know whether I’ve read … It’s hard to remember when you’re trying to think.  I think David Copperfield was one of my favourites, but I wasn’t keen on Hard Times.

TC:  Great Expectations, that’s a great book, isn’t it?

DELIA:  Great Expectations, yes.  It’s not my favourite though, I don’t think.  I’m just trying to think … Oh, Christmas Carol, I read that, and Cricket on the Hearth and those kinds of things.  I’m just trying to think what other books … We’ve got a whole set of old books and I remember reading East Lynne, that’s not Dickens.  Have you read East Lynne?

TC:  Who’s that by?

DELIA:  I don’t know to be honest.  It’s a Victorian melodrama-type thing.

TC:  That’s another classic.

DELIA:  And I remember reading that and The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  And Sylvia’s Lovers, Mrs Gaskell, wasn’t it?  And Cranford, Yes, I’ve read most of those classic ones.  But, they say reading is a great way of escapism.  Particularly on a summer’s day when you take your book outside and just get lost in it.

TC:  It’s heaven, isn’t it, Yes.

DELIA:  Do you read much?

TC:  Oh, I was, yes. [Laughing.]  I was described as a bookworm, you know, when I was little at school.  And they gave you a reading age, didn’t they, and it was, “Ooohhh, you know, your reading age is twice your actual age.”

DELIA:  Yes, when I was at school, we didn’t have reading ages.  They just sort of stood back in amazement when you picked it up.  [Laughs.]

TC:  I had my nose in a book all the time, and a bit like you.  When I had my children, it was therapy.  I start … I picked up an Iris Murdoch that was on the shelf.

DELIA:  Oh, yes.  I can’t get on with Iris Murdoch.

TC:  She’s very peculiar, but it completely took me out of my …

DELIA:  Yes.  I read one of hers the other year and I can’t remember what it was called.  It was about … it wasn’t one of the famous ones.  It was where she had sort of done a mystery thing.  Oh, anyway, I didn’t enjoy it.  It was one where there was a family and they lived down south near the sea.

TC:  Was it called The Sea, The Sea?

DELIA:  No, it wasn’t that one.  One of them worked in London in the civil service.  It was sort of a … it was a funny … I don’t think it was a typical Iris Murdoch.  I got it from the Telegraph Readers thing.  I bought it as a sort of offer, but I didn’t like it at all.

TC:  You liked the classics.  Did you read Auden and Trollope or any of those authors?

DELIA:  I’ve read some Trollope, Barchester Towers.  Yes, that was good.  But I’ve not really read Auden.  Oh, Evelyn Waugh, I love those.  But I don’t think I’ve read any Auden.  Wasn’t he a poet?  W H.Auden.

TC:  Yes, he was a poet, yes, yes.

DELIA:  I’ve read one or two of his poems, but I’ve never actually read a novel of his.  I can’t think of any.

TC:  And Jane Austen?

DELIA:  Oh, Jane Austen, yes, I’ve read those.  I’ve got the complete works in one volume.

TC:  At what stage in your life did you read those?  Did you read those sort of before 1965?

DELIA:  Pride and Prejudice we had to do at school, which was ’59, ’58 – ’59.  We did it for O level.  And, uh, the way you do it at school, you’re bored to tears by it, absolutely bored to tears by it.

TC:  Especially if you’re a quick reader because you’ll have read it before anybody else.

DELIA:  Yes, we had to go back and forth over it and I got fed up with it.  But I’ve read it since and enjoyed it.  I’ve read all the others as well:  Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion and all of those.  As I say, I have the omnibus edition of her works.  It came out from Pan Books some years ago and so I’ve actually got all of those.  And the Brontës.  Jane Eyre I read at school.  Yes, I liked Jane Eyre.  I remember reading it when I was ill once.  [Laughs.]

TC:  So school introduced you to those authors again, gave you an author and you then explored the rest of her output.

DELIA:  Yes, I think Jane Eyre was bought for me.  I can’t remember who bought it, but I remember reading it.  And Wuthering Heights I read after I got married, like I say, when I got babies.  So, yes, it was um … I used to get really into them, you know.  Well, I still do. [Laughs.]

TC:  Well, it’s great writing, isn’t it?  Did you ever explore any other types of books, like horror or fantasy?

DELIA:  Yes, yes, that’s why I say I’ve read Clive Cussler.  Clive Cussler’s are a bit horrific.  One of them, Sahara, is.  It’s not like the film.  And I’ve just read one called The Ritual, which is pretty horrific.  Have you heard … I don’t know what author that one was either.  I’ve only just finished that one.  And The Rome Prophecy I’ve just finished.  They’re all a bit gruesome, those.  But, I really just pick them off the shelves when I’m out and read them, you know.  But yes, I’ve read some of the horror ones as well.

TC:  In those days at school, they were also encouraging us to read people like H.G. Wells and Orwell.  Did you get into those authors?

DELIA:  Yes, I read some H.G. Wells when I was at school, but Orwell I haven’t read.  No, I haven’t read any Orwell.  I’ve heard of it, you know.  I’ve heard snatches of it, but I’ve never actually picked it up and read it.  I find it might be a bit depressing.  I was listening to the radio about a year ago and they had The Road to Wigan Pier on it and the description of the tripe shop, I don’t think I want to read any of it.  [Both laugh.]  Have you read that?

TC:  Do you know, it’s on my shelf and I haven’t.  I read 1984 … Oh no, I read Animal … We had to do Animal Farm at school.

DELIA:  Oh Yes.

TC:  And I read a few around that, but I haven’t read The Road to Wigan Pier.  I read Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

DELIA:  Oh no, I haven’t read that either.

TC:  What … I just wanted to ask you.  I’ve forgotten my next question.  I can’t remember what it was.

DELIA:  Oh dear.  [Both laughing.]  We used to do that all the time.  It’s terrible, isn’t it?

TC:  Oh my word.  I can’t remember really … Oh yes.  I was wanting to ask you, particularly focusing on those books that you read, you know, as a sort of teenager and into your mid-twenties.  Is there a book that you could identify as one that had changed your life in any way?

DELIA:  Oh no, that is a good question.  [Laughs.]  Oh dear.  I’ll think of it when you’ve gone, but …

TC:  I’ll just ask you another one whilst that is sort of going around in your brain.

DELIA:  Yes.

TC:  Were there any foreign authors, any European authors or American authors that you were attracted to?

DELIA:  Ah, now, the American detective one, I can never remember his name.

TC:  Chandler?  Raymond Chandler?

DELIA:  No, there’s another one, a very famous one.

TC:  Elmore Leonard, no?

DELIA:  The one who wrote … Oh, I can never remember his name.   It’s as equally as famous as Chandler.  Oh, I’ve read what they call … Oh God, what they call the … the one … Mia Farrow played the heroine in it.  Great Gatsby, that’s it.  Great Gatsby, I’ve read that one.

TC:  Scott Fitzgerald.

DELIA:  Yes, Yes, I’ve read that one.  But this other one, what did they call it?  It’s not Chandler, it’s the other one.

TC:  It’ll come to us.  What about people like Steinbeck, you know, The Grapes of Wrath and Hemingway, those authors?

DELIA:  I may have read a Hemingway one.

TC:  But they didn’t particularly attract you?

DELIA:  No, they didn’t, no.  I’m not really attracted to American authors, I have to say.

TC:  And what about European: French, Germans, the Italians?

DELIA:  Flaubert.  Madame Bovary.  Yes, Yes, I’ve read that.

TC:  Was that when you were young?

DELIA:  No, when I was first married, that.

TC:  Oh dear, that’s not a good one to read when you’re first … [Trails off laughing.]

DELIA:  It isn’t, but we’d got it in these books, you see, we got on the shelf.  They were an old set that my husband’s mother and father had bought as a set.  One of those brown leather bound ones, so I just started going through them.  So yes, I read Madame Bovary.  I’m just trying to think if there were any others.  I wish I could remember the name of that American detective.

TC:  We’ll think of him.

DELIA:  Yes.

TC:  The other sort of great authors are the Russians, of course.

DELIA:  Yes, I’ve not read anything like that.  I’m not sure if I’ve read parts of War and Peace, and not got through it.  Mm, I’m just trying to think of any others. There’s Ibsen, isn’t there, but he was Swedish.  To be honest, I’ve read so many things that I can’t always remember them, but the Russian ones … There was … Oh, what’s the one with the wheel tappers?

TC:  Dostoevsky?

DELIA:  No, no.  Anna Karenina.

TC:  Yes, Yes.

DELIA:  Where they’re tapping the wheels on the train.

TC:  On the train that finally killed her.

DELIA:  Yes, Yes, that’s right.  But some of these, I’ve started and not finished.  And you said the one book that really affected me.  It was a Thomas Hardy one, and I’m not sure if it’s Far from the Madding Crowd or Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  I’m not quite sure which one it was because I’ve read them all.  And once I started reading Hardy, I can’t remember which one it was I read first.  I borrowed those from Rotherham Library and I just love Hardy.  He’s a bit gloomy sometimes, but so descriptive.

TC:  Yes, I adore him as well.  He’s a bit of a Marmite author, isn’t he?

DELIA:  Oh, and the Clayhanger trilogy, who I can’t remember the author of now. [Pause.]  Arnold Bennett.

TC:  Oh, yes!

DELIA:  I’ve got those in paperback.

TC:  When did you read those?

DELIA:  Uh, 1970s. And they’re very good.  What else?  I’ve gone through so many books.  I’ve thrown so many books away, given so many books away that you just wouldn’t believe it.  And as I say, often I just pick them up.  Sometimes I don’t like them and then don’t get through them.  And I get a lot bought for birthdays and Christmas and that’s how, you know, sometimes you get these, you just can’t get into them.  I couldn’t read … Atonement, I couldn’t get on with that at all.  Who was the author of that?

TC:  Ian McEwan.

DELIA:  And Enduring Love.  They’re just weird, those.  Have you read them?

TC:  You see, I love those Ian McEwans.  They’re a bit like … [Both talk at the same time] aren’t quite … just don’t quite understand them.

DELIA:  My daughter likes Ian McEwan.  She bought me that Enduring Love and someone bought me Atonement, but that Enduring Love is really weird where they see the person fall from the balloon.  And there’s another one of his that I’ve got.

TC:  Saturday?

DELIA:  No, I’m not sure if it’s by him or not.  Canal Dreams, have you read that one? Something to do with the Panama Canal, that.  And it’s quite weird.  It starts off to do with the Panama Canal, but it’s not.  Some people are just going across there and it’s … I don’t know, it’s just weird.  I never finished that one either.  But, I’m sure there are others that I can think of, but I’ll think of them when you’re gone.  [Laughs.]

TC:  So, very often … You know, I’ve got a list and maybe you have, of books that I want to read, you know.  They’re there, but I’ve not got around to them.  What is on your list?  Is there one book or, you know, a collection of books that you think, “I must get round to reading that particular book” or maybe one that you’ve started and haven’t finished, “I’m going to get back to that one day”?

DELIA:  Yes, as I say, those Ian McEwan ones.  I did get through Atonement and I did get through Enduring Love, but I’ve never got through the other one, Canal Dreams.  I don’t know if that’s by him or not.  But some of them … There’s another one called Snow Sifting Through Cedars [sic].  I don’t know who’s written that, but I never finished that one either.  I put them to one side, but, mm, I’ve read … I’m just trying to think … I’ve got a load here.

TC:  Is there a book from your early days, sort of going back to this 1965 date that we’re sort of focusing on.  Is there a book that you would pass on to your grandchildren?

DELIA:  Uh, if they were interested.  But I don’t find young people as interested in books these days, do you?  My grandchildren don’t seem to be very interested.  They can all read, I mean, obviously, but I would encourage them to read the Hardy novels and Dickens, but as for passing them on, I’m not quite sure.

TC:  I’m going to switch off now and thank you ever so much for your time.

DELIA:  Oh, it’s okay.

TC:  And your lovely memory of books.

 

 

Recent Posts

Mary Robertson’s Reading Journey

Off to Brid in 1927

Mary was born in 1923. She has lived all her life in the suburbs to the west of Sheffield, far from the smoke of the factories in the east side of the city where her father worked as an industrial chemist. There were books in the house and it was her sister who read them to her before she could read herself.

Mother seemed to be too busy. Father would read after Sunday lunch until he fell asleep but my sister was the one who read to me. She was two and half years older and she would always read to me when I was little.

And this was despite being taunted by the tiny Mary when she was reading. ‘Reader reader!’ was the insult hurled to drag her sister back into her world to pay her some attention. She left her brother alone with his Beanos. Though reading was encouraged, the chores came first. Then the girls could retreat to their bedroom where Mary’s sister read to her.

Mary and her sister on Bridlington sands in 1927. Mary on the right.

Bedtime was reading-time for ‘the children’s books of the day’. First there were nursery rhyme books followed by Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and the stories of Mabel Lucie Attwell. As a school girl she treasured What Katy Did and the Girl’s Own annuals she was given at Christmas. None of these books was borrowed. All came into the house as gifts because the children were not taken to the library and were certainly not allowed to go on their own: ‘we weren’t allowed out of the end of the road you know’. But the family nevertheless encouraged reading. ‘Oh yes that was our main means of entertainment. Going to the cinema and reading’.

On Sunday we always had the roast lunch, Sunday lunch time and the fire would be [lit] … they were biggish houses down on Westwood Road. And we always read after Sunday lunch. We had lots of armchairs and that is where we always read. Mother, my sister and I – I don’t think my brother did.

One Christmas Mary’s father bought his two daughters the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica, about 12 volumes.’That was our greatest source of delight. We learnt everything we knew.’ When Mary took her first independent steps to find books, it was on behalf of her mother. In 1939, having just left school, Mary was living at home and waiting to be called up.

So I used to go to the library for mother and she liked Mary Burchell, Ethel M Dell. And I used to go to the local Red Circle library … and I’d get some books for her when you paid tuppence a time to join and I would read very light romances. I always felt guilty because, you know, you didn’t read those kind of things then.

When an Ethel M Dell got a little ‘spicy’, Mary would read it hidden under the bedclothes by the light of her torch. Later on Forever Amber and Gone with the Wind would also be read by torchlight.

Mary went to a fee-paying convent school. The nuns were interested in poetry, ‘gentle things’. ‘Poetry was the great thing. Poetry, singing, music.’ So like the children at Sheffield’s elementary schools, Mary and her contemporaries learned a lot of poetry off by heart. But not much else. ‘They were the happiest years of my life but I didn’t learn much! But that’s me, a lot of them did’ so The Red Circle Library on the Moor was the institution from which she ‘graduated’ –  to the Central Library which was to become her ‘greatest delight’. Until she couldn’t walk, Mary went there every fortnight: ‘I loved it’.

Mary looks back in amusement at the thrills she and her mother got from the romantic novels of Ethel M Dell and E M Hull. ‘They got as far as the bedroom door, “and then the door closed”, and that was it.’ She also enjoyed the cowboy books of Zane Grey. ‘It was war days, very dull days and you escaped, as you do now. You escape into another world when you read.’

But her choices from the Central Library were more serious and ‘gritty’: Nevil Shute, Alan Sillitoe, A J Cronin, Howard Spring, H E Bates and John Braine. The novel by H E Bates she remembers is The Purple Plain, describing the survival of three men in Japanese-occupied Burma. Though Bates is more usually associated with his rural novels about the rollicking Larkin family, Mary preferred the ‘stronger’ war novel to the more ‘frivoty’ Darling Buds of May. She also became a serious reader of historical novels. She and her sister shared a taste for Anya Seton. ‘I realised that I liked history far more than I ever did when I was at school.’ When Sue, the history teacher who was interviewing Mary, commented that this didn’t say much for the teachers who taught her, Mary acknowledged this but defends them.

Nuns, you know – bless ‘em, they were lovely, it was a lovely school but I don’t think I learnt a lot. As I say, the war was coming up and it was a very bad time. I left in 1939 as the war started and it broke into anything you were going to do.

Mary was called to serve in the NAAFI shop in a detention camp ‘for the fliers who had flipped their tops a bit with their terrible job. And they were sent to us for three weeks and they used to pile into my shop. Quite an exciting time’, so there was not much reading.

When Mary became a mother, she was on her own with her first baby because her husband was away a lot. It was difficult to travel down to the Central Library with the baby so, in the early 1950s, Mary returned to using a twopenny library in a newsagent’s shop at the bottom of her road. Both this and another she used were simply a couple of shelves full of novels but the stock must have changed regularly because she always found something to read in the evenings when she had ‘got the baby down’.

She was quite discriminating about the degrees of seriousness she would go for. She was absorbed by Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild but was never attracted to adventure books. Though John Braine was depressing ,his books were well written. She never developed a taste for ‘Galsworthy – the heavier ones’. She definitely ruled out ‘these great novels where it starts with, “She’s the kitchen maid, terrible hard life…” You know very well she is going to marry the Lord of the Manor!’

While Mary is enthusiastic about the authors she loves, like P G Wodehouse, she is absolute in her condemnations too.

I did not [with emphasis] like American books. I still don’t. I think it is the language. . . .  It’s not so much the swearing, it’s the style.

Mary shared a love of reading with her husband but when the children were small, it was the cinema that was the greatest treat. It was a pleasure they shared but not in each other’s company.

Well when we lived down Carter Knowle Road, I mustn’t keep you but when Andrew was a baby I would get him washed or whatever and then run all the way to the Abbeydale and watch the first house and run all the way back and then David would have got Andrew to bed and then he would go to the second house.

File:Abbeydale Cinema - Abbeydale Road 26-03-06.jpg

Mary is clearly open to any suggestion about what she might read. She described the taste that her husband had for Dickens and asked Sue whether or not we had found that Dickens is more of a man’s book.

Sue: I do like Dickens. He is my favourite.

Mary: Do you really? I should have given him a go, shouldn’t I? Given him a go. I think it is a bit too late now.

  1. The Book of Hints and Wrinkles (1939) Leave a reply
  2. The Tuesday Club at Upperthorpe 1 Reply
  3. Malcolm Mercer’s Reading Journey Leave a reply
  4. The Five Find-Outers by Enid Blyton 4 Replies
  5. ‘Books. This will be good.’ Leave a reply
  6. The Magic Story Book (1949 and 1950) 2 Replies
  7. Peter B’s Reading Journey Leave a reply
  8. Barbara Green’s Reading Journey Leave a reply
  9. Librarians’ Voices: When the library came calling… Leave a reply