Joan C was interviewed by Jan Chatterton on Friday 9 March 2012
Joan was born at 24 Parkhead Crescent, Ecclesall, Sheffield on 19 April 1941 and lived there until 1963 when she married and moved to High Storrs. She now lives in Wetherby.
[Unfortunately the recording machine did not work, despite two attempts, so these responses are taken from contemporaneous notes.]
Jan Chatterton: Did anyone read to you when you were young? How, when, who?
Joan: My grandfather read to me when I was young. He sat in the dining room under a grandmother clock we had on the wall. I sat on his knee and he read to me. He was my mother’s father and lived with us.
Jan Chatterton: What kind of books?
Joan: I remember one book. I can see the front cover: it had a little girl on it. At the end a fairy had three wishes and she had to choose one. One was a purse that always had another penny in it, one was a book that when you got to the end always had another page to read – I can’t remember the third wish. I always chose the book (that never ended).
My sister had a book with Koala bears in Australia, which I think she got from a pen-friend who lived in Australia.
JC: What were the first books you read that made you feel that you were now reading more grown-up books?
Joan: Well, I read all the Famous Five … probably while I was at school, primary school.
JC: Where did you get them from?
Joan: We went to Weetwood Library (in Ecclesall). I used the libraries until I was married, then I tended to buy books except when I had the children. I used to take them to Wetherby Library. I like buying books because I can keep them and re-read them.
JC: How many tickets could you have?
Joan: I think it was two … I think we went every week.
JC: Were there any books you read as a teenager that made an impression on you or you really liked or disliked?
Joan: I wasn’t reading a lot at that time, apart from at school. I went to High Storrs Grammar School. We read a poet, a Shakespeare and a book (novel) each year. I remember I really enjoyed The Time Machine, HG Wells. I hated Guy Mannering – it was all in Scottish dialect, translated in footnotes at the bottom of the page and I had to read them for everything he said and I really hated it. … I never read it all.
I never read Shakespeare (out of school) … I never got on with it. … We had to read Dickens’ Great Expectations – I didn’t enjoy it.
JC: Did anyone encourage you to read?
Joan: Well, Dad read a lot – westerns, Zane Grey, when I was a child. … It was later in the ’60s and ’70s he read books about the sea – Alexander Kent.
JC: Did anyone make you feel that reading was a waste of time or make you feel guilty about reading?
Joan: No! Nobody would put me off – nobody tried, I’d got to do it (read).
JC: Where and when did you find time to read?
Joan: Well, I’ve always read in bed, from being ten up to getting married. I took seven books on honeymoon! … My husband liked reading and it was hot and we lay on the beach and read.
JC: Was there anything you read that made you feel embarrassed?
Joan: I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover when it came out (after the trial in the ’60s) because I wasn’t supposed to. I can’t remember how I got it; I think I must have borrowed it from a friend. It wasn’t very good.
JC: Were there any books you read when you were young that you wouldn’t read now?
Joan: Well, after I was married a friend had some Famous Five that had come out after I stopped reading them, so I borrowed them and read them all! I wouldn’t read them now! I used to read Mills and Boon: I grew out of them.
JC: What type of books did you like?
Joan: Now I like those with a historical setting. I’ve always liked history, ever since I was at school. I read a lot of Jean Plaidy and I think I was reading a lot of Agatha Christie when I got married. I didn’t like Georgette Heyer, she was too frivolous, and I could not get into Catherine Cookson at all. My mother-in-law kept giving me them to try, she said “you’ll like this one”, but I never did. I read all Anya Seton. I read Daughters of England – Philippa Carr – there is a series of 20-odd books. I enjoyed learning more about history – royalty. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles started off writing about the Tudors and one mentioned round here, Wetherby, so that interested me. The books are all about a family … it started with the Tudors through to the American Civil War and then the First World War and after.
JC: Are your reading tastes different from your mum’s and your sister’s?
Joan: My sister and I like the same books. Mum reads the same books now too; we tend to get them and pass them on. Mum used to like Mills and Boon but now she reads historical novels. We’ve all read the Emerald Peacock series by Katharine Gordon, set in India. We like The Convicts series by William Stuart Long – The Exiles, The Settlers – fifteen books set in Australia. My mum’s reading Call the Midwife at the moment and she’s quite shocked at what was going on. She’s led a very sheltered life. I said to her, it is set in the East End. She won’t watch it on television because she’s reading it.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – my granddaughter did it at school. She’s only ten … she’s in the advanced reading group. They read a chapter then discussed it. They asked them to think what might happen next. My daughter (her mum) also read it and I was amazed that until the last chapter she didn’t realise it was in a concentration camp – she didn’t know anything about them, they hadn’t done it in history.
JC: What about your brother? Does he read?
Joan: No, my brother doesn’t read. He says he has no time. I don’t know why, he’s never liked reading. He was always outside doing active things…
JC: Have you ever not finished a book?
Joan: The first time in my life I haven’t finished a book … it was recently, I couldn’t get on with it. I think it’s called One Day. It seemed flat and boring. I liked the film.
JC: Does reading really matter to you?
Joan: Oh, absolutely!
[On 22 November 2017 Mary Grover talked with Joan C on the phone and these notes are a summary of that conversation.]
Joan discussed further the effect that she and her sister had on her mother’s reading. Until her mother was unable to get out to the library herself, she used to read Mills and Boon. When she became housebound, she depended on her daughters for her reading and they started to lend her books unlike any she had got out for herself before. Many of them were historical novels. Her mother (Wynne, another of our interviewees, whose interview is here) said that she learned more history from these novels than she ever had at school. She enjoyed Jean Plaidy and other novels written by her under other pseudonyms.
The exchange of books between Joan, her sister and their mother took place around the fortnightly visits to their mother by the two daughters and their brother. The books would be passed by means of these visits between the three women.
Joan says that she and her sister usually enjoy the same books. In fact quite recently her sister lent her some books by David Baldacci. At first Joan dismissed them as rubbish but because of the respect she has for her sister’s taste she get going and then thoroughly enjoyed them.
The grandfather who read to Joan figured so largely in her story because ever since Joan had been born, he had lived with her mother and father. He had been a miner but later became a gardener.
Joan mentioned that she has a neighbour, now aged 90, to whom she lends books.