Josie was born on the 25th April 1942.
She is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 4th May 2012.
[Throughout the interview Josie and Mary refer to a set of notebooks that Josie started to compile in 1962, a list of every book she read.]
Mary Grover: This is an interview conducted by Mary Grover and the date today is 4th May 2012 and I’m interviewing Josie Hall. Josie was born … Where were you born, Josie?
Josie Hall: I was born at Pitsmoor, Rock Street at Pitsmoor, during the war.
MG: And what was the date when you were born?
JH: 25th April 1942.
MG: And where did you live, Josie, between 1945 and 1965, roughly?
JH: [Pause] I have to really go back. Well, I started off at Pitsmoor, at Rock Street, and went down Attercliffe, Bright Street, and then moved to Borden Wood Crescent which was a much better place and area and – what date did you say?
JH: Oh …’65. Well by then I was married. We’d bought a house on Whiteways Road at Page Hall, Sheffield and then by ’65 we’d moved to Richmond Road in this area.
MG: So you moved about quite a bit, Josie.
MG: When you were talking to me before we were recording you were telling me about all the schools you went to, quite a few. Could you …
JH: Yes, first of all was the Church of England which was down Attercliffe. I still have memories of that as well, just very slight ones and the next one, when my parents moved house, was one year at Whitby Road School where they were doing work which I’d never seen before and I got tested on and then moved to the brand new school in my new area. Acres Hill. And then on to the seediest school which was Pipworth Road.
MG: Yeah. And do you think all that moving around affected your education?
JH: Oh, definitely. Absolutely. And I think that’s where the reading came in as well.
MG: How come?
JH: Because … well, if you weren’t getting things from school you got it yourself from books, and I do remember liking school. So my grandchildren think I’m rather odd. They say “What do you expect? She liked school”. [Laughs]
MG: So did any of the schools help you with your love of reading?
JH: Not particularly, no. I think it just came naturally. When you were sort of taken into the headmaster or headmistress’s study to be tested you just sat there and got out the book and read and I was always fine. I just think it came naturally and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. But I don’t remember there being many books in the house.
JH: Because there couldn’t be, I mean, it was just after the war, and working class people, they just didn’t have books in the house. I remember being…. I must have been a very young child but I was like really fond of newspapers and I think, yeah, because there was probably nothing else to read. And sometimes my father used to come home from work with a big pile of second-hand comics, and it was like manna from heaven: I just used to fall on them. And it wasn’t particularly because it was the comics. It was the written word, I suppose … looking back, with hindsight.
MG: Where did your father work, Josie?
JH: He worked in the steel works. But he was a really clever man but he was wasted. I remember he worked for the steel works and if the bosses had any problems – quite unbelievable this – they used to fetch my father in to solve them. Why they didn’t ever take him out of the steel works and give him a better job, I’ve no idea. Because he’d certainly got the brains. We used to laugh about it, it was like a family joke.
MG: So did he encourage you reading?
JH: Oh yes and eventually he started buying those … You know those condensed, those Reader’s Digest, he used to buy those, but I don’t remember ever reading any as a child. By then I’d discovered the libraries [laughs]
MG: Right, yes,
JH: … and of course you probably got books from school or at school and I just thought libraries were paradise.
MG: Which library did you use?
JH: There was one on Attercliffe Common which I do remember vividly. I’m sure it’s on a corner on the end of New Hall Road. I remember going there, I think it was wonderful. And then I could never, ever, as I grew up and got older … I started work at 15. I could never walk past a bookshop or into a bookshop, because when it all got out hand I used to say “Don’t let me go in a bookshop, don’t let me go in”. [Laughs]
MG: So which bookshops would it be that you passed and went into?
JH: Are you going back to those times?
MG: Mm [laughs] yeah.
JH: Well, I mean newsagents used to … I mean, obviously, all paperbacks. Hardbacks from the libraries but in bookshops and newsagents they used to sell novels. And, I mean, I’ve read a lot of rubbish, but I’ve read a lot of good stuff as well.
MG: So the newsagent is where you went for the more rubbishy ones?
JH: Yes, I mean, we used to go on holiday and sometimes seaside places, Blackpool, there used to be second-hand bookshops all over the place, because they didn’t have to be new; I mean, I didn’t care what state they were in as long as I could read them.
MG: What did you do with them when you’d read them?
JH: Mostly keep them [laughs]. That’s why I’ve ended up with a houseful. [Laughs] But I’ve been making the effort now but I’ve been clearing out for other people and I need …. my children are getting a bit worried, so …. But all those up there, they’re what I’ve read and loved and can’t part with. There’s far too many.
MG: Staying with the books you love and can’t part with, which of the books you read in the 1950s and 60s would you say you remember with great love?
JH: In the 50s. Well let me just think how old I would be. ‘52, 13 …’55. Jane Eyre, absolutely. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I loved those so much, they were real people to me and I’ve still got the originals.
MG: And where do you think you came across Jane Eyre?
MG: Presents, right.
JH: For Christmas. I think by now people had picked up I liked reading and there wasn’t as much choice. There wasn’t much money for parents buying presents, so for birthday and Christmas I did occasionally then get, like, a book. And also schools used to give them out as prizes, and Sunday School used to give them out.
MG: Did you get any prizes?
JH: Yes, and it was always a book.
JH: And they’re about somewhere.
MG: And where were you allowed to choose your book from for the prize, or did they choose them for you?
JH: Sometimes they gave you a list and you could either put like, as I got older, cookery book or romantic novel or boy’s book or whatever. There was categories and you could actually choose at some places, but not all. Sometimes they just chose and gave what they thought was suitable. Going back to the 50s [laughs].
MG: What about Jane Eyre? Who do you think introduced that to you?
JH: It must have been a parent or a grandparent. Definitely. I would imagine that my father had something to do with that.
JH: Because he obviously was fond of books and … he would have had a good education. He did pass his exams a year younger than everybody else apparently and he did go to the grammar school but he had to be fetched out because he was the eldest of six and he had to go to work which was really sad. He was really cheated.
MG: And then he went off to war in 1939.
MG: And do you think he came across any opportunity to read in the war, your dad?
JH: I don’t know. I hope that he did but I know my parents got married in 1940 and for a while he was stationed in Ireland and we’ve worked it out that’s where I was conceived and then, that was 194 .. [indistinct] and by ‘42, by then I was born he was already out in the Far East and was a prisoner. So two years later. So when he came back, it was a terrible traumatic time and he didn’t really, most of them, they never spoke about it. So we knew very, very little. And in those days you couldn’t ask your father things like that. So I don’t really know whether I would want to know more or not, no. I just can’t think of my kind gentle father being involved in what he was involved in.
MG: So he took great pleasure in your love of reading, though?
MG: And encouraged it.
JH: Yes he did, and my sister, younger than me, she liked reading as well and she actually [laughs] I didn’t get to pass the eleven-plus because of the disjointed schooling but my sister, because she was five years younger than me, she went to the same school throughout and went to grammar school, university and became a teacher. So, you know, he was really proud of her. So that was nice for him. Because he could have gone that route.
MG And did you and your sister share your love of books?
JH: Yes. I phoned her up about this …. [laughs]
MG: Did you?
JH: …. but she’s too young to be interviewed. [laughs]
MG: Did you find other people who shared your love of books?
JH: As I’ve grown up, yes. But not particularly, I don’t remember as a child.
MG: No. Did your parents read to you, Josie?
JH: I don’t remember any reading. I think my generation, we just had to get on with it. Learn to read and you read, read for ever … I don’t remember anybody, ever, reading to me.
JH: I would actually rather read myself than be read to, anyway.
MG: Yes. Did you read to your children?
JH: Yes. I tried to. I read to the eight grandchildren [laughs] Trying to encourage the love of books.
JH: We were all so thankful for Harry Potter, ‘cause I’ve got six grandsons. We all know boys, the reading sometimes can be difficult. The two girls, I mean, my four children have taken after me. They’re all readers because they’ve been encouraged. And the boys … that’s a bit … we’re trying to get there with them. [Indistinct]
MG: Can you remember the author you read like they read Harry Potter – you really galloped through? That you really liked when you were young?
JH: [Pause] There was a series about a nurse called Sue Barton and I remember if I went to the library and there was a new Sue Barton book in that I’d not read it was so exciting, it was like Christmas. I just thought it was … and my sister remembers those as well. So the Sue Barton series.
MG: So you got those from the library.
JH: I very often don’t gallop through books because I like … If I see the end coming I get mmm [laughs]
MG: You don’t want it to come.
JH: No. And there is a series of books from much later on that I … they were like best friends to me. And in fact one of my grandsons is called after one of the characters. [laughs]
MG: What was this series?
JH: It was the Diana Gabaldon series and the first book was Cross Stitch and it’s just so, what, amazing, and the main character is Jamie. So I’ve got this wonderful 14-year-old grandson called Jamie.
MG: Do you like saga stories? Ones where they have the same family through……
JH: Yes, yes. I’ve got a very wide range of reading. I read science fiction and absolutely anything.
MG: So there’s nothing you won’t read?
JH: No. I mean, that there is a textbook and I’m in the middle of clearing out but every time I pick … I think “I’ll throw that one” and I look at it and I think “Mmm, that sounds, that looks interesting” and I think “Read it, read it, and then you can get rid of it”. I get so much out of it.
MG: And that’s a history book.
JH: It’s a text book.
JH: I did A-level history and there’s Martin Luther and there’s all sorts, his life, everything. I’m enjoying it.
MG So when did you get to do A-levels?
JH: Oh, I went as a mature student, ‘cause I realised I’d missed out and I knew I wasn’t stupid. So I went back and did loads and loads of O-levels and really enjoyed it and then I did A-levels and then I went to the Uni…..to the Polytech as a mature student. I did a degree in the history of art, design and film. I really loved it. I just did it for pleasure. No work came out of it. All the jobs that were connected with that were down in London. And my life was up here, so …
MG: Do you feel your reading was somehow apart from your work? It didn’t feed into your work, particularly, your paid work?
JH: No, no.
MG: So reading has been a private thing?
MKG: But when you went to university did you find that your reading changed?
JH: Well there was so much … It got less, but there was much to do, reading connected, so I had to read all the university stuff. But I wouldn’t think …. no, I still just read anything I could get my hands on.
MG: Do you sometimes find it difficult to put a book down?
JH: Yeah. But I do some books that are … I just read Black Diamonds and I had to keep putting it down because I was too upset. It took so much out of you, I just went “I can’t read any more. I’ll go back to that later”. I don’t know if you know that book.
MKG: I haven’t read it but I’ve had it recommended to me so many times.
JH: Absolutely amazing.
MG: About Wentworth and the mining round there.
JH:The miners and the aristocracy and you end up feeling absolutely so sorry for everybody. It makes you weep, it really does, quite a few times. Well worth reading.
MG When you read a book, do you find yourself very engaged by the characters, taken …
JH: Oh yeah, the ones I was talking about, the Cross Stitch, when I’d finished … ’cause there’s a series that goes on and on, and when I’d finished reading any of those, because they got bigger and bigger books I felt bereft, like I’d lost two beloved friends. Jamie and Claire, I’ll never forget them. Absolutely marvellous.
MG: And your reading, you did A-level history and you’re reading history now…
JH: Oh, it’s just my subject
MKG: Is it?
JH: The loves of my life are reading and history, and children and grandchildren. Don’t ask me which order!
MKG: So do you like historical novels?
JH: Yes, I love them.
MKG: Which are your favourites?
JH: I used to read a lot of Jean Plaidy, a long time ago but….that said, oh let me look. These are absolutely amazing. Bernard Cornwell, the Arthur trilogy. The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur. They are so wonderful, they’re about Arthur. And that one as well, Mary Stewart The Crystal Cave. Yes, that’s Merlin as well.
MKG: Yes. Is there a period of history that really particularly grabs you?
JH: Well, I first remember being grabbed as a teenager by the French Revolution. That’s what got me into … the Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel (laughs). Yeah, I think that first grabbed me and then I was always grabbed as well by the Russian Revolution, Doctor Zhivago and …
MKG: I remember reading Doctor Zhivago because I’d seen the film…
MKG: I just wondered, are there any books you’ve read because you’ve seen the film?
JH: [Pause] I can’t remember that. No, I don’t know which way round, but I normally always prefer the book. Very rare that a film ever matches up. I mean, I’ve read Gone with the Wind as well and I just think that’s amazing. Scarlett O’Hara, she’s always been my heroine.
MKG: Why do you think she still is a heroine for women now?
JH: ‘Cause she was strong. She was a strong woman and I’ll think about that tomorrow. But I’ve now got a new heroine to put up with Jane Eyre and Scarlett and it’s the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Have you read those?
MKG: Yes, I’ve read one.
JH: Yes, I think Lisbeth Salander, I think she’s a new kind of heroine. Flawed, but still good.
MKG: Well, Scarlett was flawed.
JH: Yes, well …
MKG: That’s part of her reality, isn’t it?
MKG: So was there any other book? That sounds an important book to you, Gone with the Wind. Is there any other book you feel has been really important to you?
JH: Well, I always hark back to Jane Eyre. I just loved that book dearly. And every time they put it on the TV, I’ve watched every different interpretation.
MKG: And why is it, do you think, that it appeals so much to you?
JH: I do have a good imagination and it’s a book where you can use your imagination. I can see Jane sat in the window seat hiding from her cousin, reading the book and I presume maybe I was a bit like that. I never thought about it before. Hiding away, reading a book. Not wanting anybody to find you. [laughs]
MKG: Was there ever a time in your family when people said “Now come on, stop reading”?
JH: Oh yes. Going up to the table, my mum saying “Your meal’s ready” and I’m walking up – the classic one – “yes, yes, I’m coming” and she’d take it out of your hand. [laughs]
MKG: You said something to me, Josie, on the phone about reading being better than cigarettes.
JH: Oh yes, I’ve never smoked in my life but I know people who have and I actually do, I can, go into a panic if I haven’t got any reading material to hand or a book. I have to take one everywhere, dentist’s, doctor’s, all waiting rooms and I can just blank off. Even while the children have been playing on slot machines at the seaside I had to be in a corner, reading this book. People must think I’m insane. I panic if I haven’t got a book and I just think “Yes, they’re your cigarettes”. Where other people have to have a cigarette I have to have a book. And I know which I’d rather choose. [laughs]
It’s a lot healthier.
MKG: So part of its power, do you think, because it takes you to a world which is separate from the one you’re in at the moment?
JH: Yeah, I think actually it just stops you being bored. I think I could get bored very easy and I need something to engage the brain, so to speak.
MKG: So, if a lot of the power of it is reading on your own do you like meeting other people and talking about books with them?
MKG: You do?
MKG: How do you do that?
JH: Well, I recommend books to people and then I can’t wait to discuss it with them when they’ve read them. And they’ve all been very impressed by this Black Diamonds. And I wanted to see if my daughter in law, who comes from down south, and who hasn’t got the same history as we have, I thought “I want to know if …” and it affected her just the same. She was crying, so I thought “Good.” My friend Andrea, she’s very into books and is very intelligent, she thinks it should be on the National Curriculum for all the schools and everybody should be made to read it. She’s going a bit far. [laughs]
MKG: Do you think your curriculum at school introduced you to books which you’re glad you read?
JH: [Long pause] Probably. I remember the history lessons vividly, and I remember the drawing on the wall of England and all that about the Saxons and Angles and Jutes and everything. I still remember that and I was just absolutely absorbed by them, it just drew me in and I’ve never come out. And that was from school. I watch every history programme on TV. Just soaked in it. And all my holidays, I can’t have ordinary holidays, I have to go sightseeing, historical things and buildings.
MKG: Yes. So history and novels both draw you in to the life of other times and people.
JH: I mean, I like factual books as well as novels.
MKG: Have your reading tastes changes over the years, do you think?
JH: Yes. I think when I was a much younger woman you’re more into the romance and now I’m not bothered about the romance as much. I mean, if it’s there it’s there but I’m not searching out romantic novels. But perhaps when you’re very young you don’t really know there’s any other kind. And when I discovered science fiction, I mean I really love that as well.
MKG: How did you discover it?
JH: I’ve no idea. Probably somebody lent me a book or I picked one up by mistake and now I don’t know how I come by books but I never read the back of a book to see what it’s about, because I think they spoil it. And sometimes they tell you the whole story on the back and I just think “I know the authors and I know the titles and I can work it out from that”. And I don’t read the back.
MKG: Does the cover influence you at all?
JH: No, not if it’s about the author. In fact some of the covers actually put you off. I’ve read some really good books and I’ve said to people “Don’t judge a book by its cover. That is a fantastic book”. Some of the covers are ridiculous. [pause] I can’t give you any examples. I might if I rummage on the shelves.
MKG: When you were borrowing them from the library were the covers on the books or had they stripped the covers off and given them a single … ?
JH: I remember the books being plain when I was young.
MKG: Yes. So when you went into a library how did you choose what you wanted to take?
JH: I don’t know. Obviously you go to the children’s section and we must have looked under the Sue Barton section. I don’t know if they had them alphabetically or what, or if they were on display.
MKG: You can’t remember a librarian recommending something?
JH: [hesitation] No. Or whether we asked. I don’t think we’d be brave enough to ask.
MKG: Were they very stern, the librarians?
JH: So you had to be like, yes really quiet. I don’t remember ever speaking to one.
MKG: Did they look at your hands?
JH: They were probably terrified. I don’t remember that, but maybe … I do remember having people look at hands. That maybe was at school. Or maybe it was in the library, yes. They did used to check that your hands were clean. My daughter in law was a librarian.
MKG: Was she?
JH: So that’s strange, what with this lovely book, this Black Diamonds thing.
MKG: Would you like to have been a librarian?
JH: I would. Oh I would. I don’t know why I wasn’t a librarian. I just can’t think why. Probably I just didn’t have the education that you needed at the time. It’s perhaps a good job I wasn’t.
MKG: Why do you say that?
JH: I’d se so tempted all the time to read and I know you’ve got a certain amount of work to do but it’s just like putting a child in a sweetshop, being in a library.
MKG: As you got older, are there any books you feel a bit embarrassed by having read or do you just accept everything?
JH: Some of the silly Mills and Boon that people keep giving. When people know you like reading they give you tons and tons of books and I’ve ended up with tons of them and then one day I realised I wasn’t actually obliged to read them: I didn’t have to. So nowadays if anyone gives me a ton of Mills and Boon I just shove then to the Salvation Army. I don’t have to read them.
MKG Do you find that happens then? That because people know you’re a reader they just give you their books?
JH: They do, piles and piles of books. So that’s why I don’t know where half of them come from. I mean, I’ve bought a lot and I’ve had a lot as presents and then people have just given me them because they don’t know what else to do with them. I fell out with somebody once who burned their books. I just thought “I don’t want to be friends with these people”. It was a young couple and they were getting married and they just casually said to me they’d burnt all his books. Well, I went berserk. “What are you doing burning books? You do not burn books” [her emphasis]. They could have taken them to a charity shop or anything and I just let them go. I thought “I don’t want to be friends with people who burn books”.
MKG: Do you belong to a library now?
JH: I think I’ve let it lapse because … We have got one in Woodhouse but I’ve just got to get rid of these. For the sake of my children. And I realise that at my age now it’s no good collecting them for the future, it is the future now, you’ve got to get on with it now, get reading them.
MKG: Do your children use a library or do they tend to buy books?
JH: Caroline buys them … I think they buy them. My sister and her husband, they’re big library members. They go all the time and I recommend books to her because she lives in Kent and then she goes and requests them or gets them through the library.
MKG: Because that’s one of the things they’re debating at the moment, isn’t it, whether young people will use the library and whether they should keep them open.
JH: Yes, and it’s very sad but they’re just all so busy working. Because my children are now all in their 40s, they’ve all got children and they’re working. One of them lives in Switzerland so she’s struggling with languages over there. No, I don’t think they do. But all their children do, all the grandchildren use the library.
MKG: L00king back on your life, Josie, is there a time when you really felt you had not time for reading? Which was the lowest point for reading?
JH: When I had my first child. I was only…I was 22 and I knew absolutely nothing about anything. [laughs] Naïve and innocent springs to mind. And I didn’t get as much read while I was struggling being a new mum. I was very stressed and uptight. I remember saying to somebody … people used to say “Oh, we missed our freedom, we missed going out, revelling and partying.” I said I missed reading books. That was the one thing that struck me. I didn’t mind about anything else. I soon got back into it.
MKG: You did. So nothing really did much put you off course with reading for a long time.
JH: Oh no, never. And I used to have three books on the go at once. I used to have one in the car for emergencies, a big one that I couldn’t carry about at the side of the bed and then anther one that was with me, that I was carrying about. I must have been reading three at once.
MKG: And you never got them muddled up?
MKG: Because they were different kinds of books, I suppose.
JH: I mean, I’m reading books and them if I go away on holiday and it’s not a suitable book to go with, because when I go I won’t take that next Wednesday and then when I come back I’ll pick it up where I left it.
MKG: You’re not tempted to buy a Kindle?
JH: I’ve got one. I won’t use it. I’ve inherited it from my husband and until I get too feeble to turn a book and my eyesight’s too bad that I can’t see there’s nothing like having a book in your hands. Seeing it and feeling it and turning the pages, looking how much you’ve got left to read … no, I’ve never touched it. I’ve no desire at all. I can see when you go on holiday instead of taking twelve books with you if you’re flying, a Kindle would be handy. But I’m coming across that problem now because we had a motor home for thirty odd years and I used to fill one cupboard with books but now I’m having to fly and thinking I can only take one book, two at the most, and I just think “Oh well, I’ll buy one. I’ll buy one if I want.”
MKG: So what is it about the actual physical feel of the book that’s so appealing?
JH: I just don’t know. It’s just comforting, isn’t it? It’s like you’re touching … I love it, I just love it. And the best bit, I always have a sandwich at lunchtime and I know that the attraction of the sandwich is that I can read while I’m having lunch. It’s quite a phobia when you think about it. I didn’t realise I was this bad. [laughs]
MKG: You don’t read in the bath?
JH: No, I’m never in long enough. I have done. I read while … if I’m doing something …. if I put a rinse or a dye on my hair and it says leave on for half an hour, so I just sit there with a towel and sit reading.
MKG: Now this lovely notebook you’ve got, Josie, can you tell us about that? Why you started it?
JH: I have absolutely no idea why I started it. All my friends think I’m insane. In 1962 when I was 20 for some unknown reason I just started writing down, give or take the odd book that I might have forgotten because I’d been on holiday or something, but every book and author. And it started with the life and likeness of Charles II. The author, Forever Amber, Catherine Windsor. Oh that was good. A Tale of Two Cities. Yes, I really, I like looking back. The Scarlet Pimpernel, that crept in.
MKG: So you were twenty then?
MKG: And did you have a child when you were reading all these books?
JH: No, I had the child in ’64. So is should … (leafing through notebook) … ’62, ’63, oh ’64.
MKG: You still read a lot of books in ’64.
JH: Yes. Oh, ’65, look. There’s none put down for ’65. They must have been before he was born.
JH: Because he was born in August. So I read those while pregnant and then, ’65 there were no books and by ’66 I’d got back into it.
MKG: No wonder you were craving them.
JH: Then I had twins in ’67. I didn’t stop reading. I thought “they’re not doing that to me again”. And ’68 I had another child, They were only 18 months apart, all those three girls, so there wasn’t a great deal going on.
MKG: But 1969 you seem to have got going again.
JH: I got back into it. All the authors are down here; Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy, oh all the Angelique books, Sergeanne Golan. I’d forgotten about those, Ian Fleming, James Bond and Dennis Wheatley is another favourite, but not the black magic ones, that one’s The Quest of Julian Day. Oh yes, The Rising Stone, Roger Brook, that’s the French Revolution.
MKG: Did you read D K Broster’s book, The Flight of the Heron? They were much earlier, in the 1930s. But of course Baroness Orczy was writing in the 1920s. She’d gone on being popular a long time.
JH: Yes. And when I was 21 I was reading Mortimer Wheeler, Still Digging, the archaeology books and The Bull of Minos and, really funny, I went to Russia on holiday with one of my daughters about five year ago and they took us, they were telling us all the stories and the story of Rasputin and how he was killed and everything, and we went to the Yusupov Palace and I said the lady that I’d read this book Lost Splendour by a Prince Felix Yusupov and this Russian guide was absolutely amazed. She said “I have never in my life spoken to anybody who’s read that book”. I read it when I was 21! You see all the loves are in there, the Russia and the … I did finally get to Russia and I’ve been to France many times. So it’s all connected, the love of history, the love of reading, the love of travelling, just all comes together. Oh, I think I’ve picked that out to go on holiday with7 and I’ve obviously read it, a long time ago.
MKG: A long time ago! Did you read that book Katherine by her? About John of Gaunt.
JH: Yes, I did. I’ve read that recently, actually. I do have trouble remembering. This is why …
MKG: No detective stories there. Do you particularly like …
JH: I have moved on to those, yes.
MKG: But you didn’t read them when you were in your twenties?
JH: No. I hadn’t discovered them.
MKG: What a wonderful mix of things.
JH: Yes, obviously it’s like, just go. Such a mix. Barbara Cartland; oh yes, I’ve read a lot of hers.
MKG: And King Solomon’s Mines …
JH: Oh yes. And there was one which I really liked and it upset me. I can’t think what it is. Oh, it’s a famous author and it’s about the … something to so with the seaside. Oh, I’ll have to think about that. Oh yes, and I liked David Niven The Moon’s a Balloon.
MKG: Fun, isn’t it?
JH: I like biographies and autobiographies.
MKG: He’s a very comic writer. Are there any other comic writers you enjoyed?
JH: Well yes, but I can’t think who they are. Oh, and I’ve read the ones which were in fashion at the time, Jacqueline Susann and Jackie Collins, all those. The Carpetbaggers, Harold Robbins, you see it’s not all rubbish.
MKG: Well, it’s a mixture.
JH: Catherine Cookson.
MKG: Did you like hers?
JH: Yes. I did. And Margaret Powell, I liked those. The Upstairs, Downstairs lady.
MKG: You never read P G Wodehouse, did you?
JH: I don’t remember. No, I don’t.
MKG: You don’t seem to have ruled out authors that seem to be for men. I mean, I always think of Dennis Wheatley as read more by men than women. But you seem to have read quite a few books …
JH: Yes, I think actually as I’ve got older I’ve like drifted into more male books than female because science fiction is very often males, like. I like that.
MKG: Crime and Punishment. [Long pause] We’re in 1979 now.
JH: Oh yes. Shakespeare and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Joseph Conrad. I’m pleased that I didn’t read all rubbish. There is some good stuff in there. [laughs] How embarrassing if it had been all Mills and Boon.
MKG: Well, would you have been embarrassed, Josie, really?
JH: I think I would, yes.
MKG: Would you? Who would you be embarrassed in front of?
JH: Myself, because I’d think “Surely you could you have done a bit better than that”.
MKG My father certainly made me feel embarrassed about reading Georgette Heyer. He thought [laughs]
JH: You know, there’s so much stuff in there. As some of them are light, and I think, yes, you can actually learn things in a light way, it doesn’t always have to be heavy. I’ve picked up such an amazing amount of trivia and knowledge from all this reading. Oh, Jane Austen’s in there … thank goodness. [laughs]
MKG: Do you go back to her?
JH: Oh that’s Margaret Powell again. Yes I have done at times. They’re all about somewhere. They’re just like friends. Oh. George Orwell. I like George Orwell. Michael Bentine. Oh gosh.
MKG: We’re in 1984 now.
JH: Oh they’re good. John Wyndham. The Chrysalids and Day of the Triffids. Oh and the Helen Forrester series about Liverpool. Twopence to cross the Mersey. Those are all really sad books.
MKG: So you don’t mind sad books?
JH: No. I don’t shy away from them. I think people should read these kinds of things and then you don’t feel so hard done to yourself if you see what other people have had to suffer.
MKG: Has there been any book so painful that you just haven’t been able to finish it?
JH: No. I mean, Roots Alex Haley, that was another one. No, I have to put then down and have a rest, like with the Black Diamonds but I get there in the end. I very rare …. oh and Utopia’s in there, Thomas More. I don’t know how I got my hands on all these.
MKG: That’s what I was wondering because there’s it’s a fantastic mix …
JH: It is! Second-hand bookshops, it’s got to be. And people lending them.
MKG: And as you say, people giving them to you. If they know you’re a reader.
JH: Wilde. Loads of Catherine Cookson. You see, it’s funny how can see sometimes how you discover an author and then there’s a right load … George Orwell again. Dennis Wheatley, John Steinbeck.
MKG: What about the radio, did that ever give you any pointers to what you wanted to read?
JH: No. Ben Elton. I’ve read all his and they, that Stark, it actually made me laugh out loud on the bus. And I think all his were really, really good. And Dan Brown. Serious. But I mean that’s coming up modern times.
MKG: So you’ve kept that up?
JH: This is the one. That really, really bothered me. Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. And it’s just such a lovely book. About this woman had a very, very happy childhood, absolutely delightful in this lovely place, and then I think by the end of the book she’s old and widowed and on her own and she’s tried to recreate this idyllic lifestyle and she’s not succeeded. They’ve all gone away and left and then right at the end she dies and the people, the young couple next door, I think she’s more fond of them than her own children in the end and the children come and they get all the stuff and they chuck it in black plastic sacks. It really affected me, such a lovely book. A lovely book. But it’s just one that’s, like, there.
MKG: Is it?
JH: Yes. That’s what going to happen. You need to get all your stuff sorted out. I don’t if you’ve ever read it. It’s …
MKG: Yes, I have actually. It’s very poignant.
JH: It is.
MKG : Are there any other books like that which really lodged with you?
JH: I’d have to look through every [indistinct]. It’s shocking when your memory starts going. I dread….that’s one of my dreads when your memory starts going and you can’t read a book because you can’t remember who the characters are. Now I think that’s the one I’m not right keen on. Think it’s the Maeve Binchy books. For some reason, I’ve never connected with her. I read them but I don’t feel the connection. Oh, Sixty Days to Live, Dennis Wheatley. That is fantastic.
MKG: I’ve never read Dennis Wheatley, I’m afraid. Can you tell me what’s his appeal?
JH: Oh they’re just so different. They’re different books. I suppose they’re a but science fiction-y. I mean, Sixty Days to Live, I’m not sure if that isn’t the one where they, it’s the meteor coming to Earth and they’ve got sixty days and it’s [indistinct]. You have to put yourself back, and I do always look when a book was written and I project myself back to those times. That’s what I … I don’t look at the back page but I look at that. And I think no mobile phones, no television, none of this. Oh, they’re just very good for your imagination. They grab your mind. But there was two sides to Dennis Wheatley and he did do black magic and I won’t touch them with a bargepole because I think they can turn your mind especially somebody with an imagination like me.
MKG: Do you think it’s your imagination that made you such a passionate reader?
JH: Possibly. I think it does help. Oh and I do like Anna Karenina. I absolutely love that. I’ve read that quite a few times.Seen all the interpretations on TV.
JH: Oh yeah, they’re really funny, the Red Dwarf . I used to watch that on TV and I did actually get to read the books and they are quite funny.
MKG: Did you ever read Douglas Adams? What was it called? It was science fiction, jokey science fiction. About thirty years ago.
JH: I don’t remember that but I’ve just come across one that I absolutely adore. Barbara Erskine.
MKG: I don’t know her.
JH: Absolutely marvellous. She just writes novels and they do sometimes get a little bit scary: they’re really good.
MKG: Do you like being scared in a book?
JH: Not really, no but they’re very … Sometimes that actually comes with it. Barbara Erskine, which is the one … Oh just a minute. Lady of Hey. That one spoilt a holiday for me. It’s a thick book like that and I took it on holiday to the Isle of Wight and we were in a hotel and after the evening meal we were playing bingo, which I can’t stand, so we went back up to the room, and reading, and about 9 0’clock, quarter past, my eyes nearly fell out. I just couldn’t put that book down. Absolutely marvellous. I’d never read anything like it. You don’t know that one?
JH: I’m not sure now whether the young woman was hypnotised. It was a young woman of modern times who learned to hypnotise herself and go back in time and she was living, she was another woman form a hundred years ago, hundreds of years, that was reincarnated and was living two lives. And the people who were living then had come forward now and somebody was, the good ones and the bad ones, had come with her but she couldn’t work out which was which in modern life and she did end up coming to a sticky end and it’s really good.
MKG: So it made you a bit anti-social.
JH: Very. And fortunately my husband was reading as well so we … I don’t know why we bothered going down. Just thought we ought to. [laughs]
MKG: So he was a reader as well, your husband?
JH: Yes, yes. And it’s all set up near Berwick upon Tweed and we went up there on holiday and went all round the area. I do love it round there. But yeah, they’re well worth a read. Oh D H Lawrence.
MKG: How do you like him?
JH: Not one of my favourites. I can read him but definitely not one of my favourites. I’m just looking at ones that jump out. I’ve read Joanna Trollope but she’s not actually, not one of my favourites either. There look, Diana Gabaldon, she’s crept in. Sidney Sheldon, that’s a good story.
MKG: I don’t know him. What kind of stories does he write?
JH: I suppose a bit like … a popular novel but they have a bit of mystery in them and there’s usually some fantastic twist at the end. That one there is The Naked Face. I can’t … There will be some more.
MKG: We’re in 1995 now.
JH: Victoria Holt, Catherine Cookson, they keep … Oh Barbara’s Midnight is a Lonely Place. Ooh you must get hold of her. When I go in a bookshop, because I have bought those – Diana Gabaldon and Barbara Erskine, I buy those – I go straight to the Es and Gs in W H Smith’s or …
JH: Oh, I’ve read some Danielle Steel as well. And with John Grisham. So you see I did graduate on to the … and Patricia Cornwell, she creeps in much later on.
MKG: We’re in 1998 now.
JH: Bill Bryson. He is fantastic. I’ve read as many of his as I can. He’s another one that makes me laugh out loud. [long pause] Oh yes, Benjamin Disraeli wrote a book Henrietta Temple.
MKG: Would you recommend that?
JH: That was interesting. It was just interesting that he could, as well as doing everything else he did, write a book.
MKG: How he had the time?
JH: Sidney Sheldon again.
MKG: We’re going to have to draw it to a conclusion soon, because I’ve nearly got the hour up.
JH: Oh right …
MKG: Don’t worry. So you’ve got more notebooks there.
JH: This is the next one. These go up to the present day..
MKG: So you’ve kept a notebook ever since 1962.
JH: I still do it.
MKG: What made you start, I wonder.
JH: I have no idea.
JH: I think I must have got really OCD. It wasn’t invented then but it is now. [laughs]
MKG: You must be so glad to have done it.
JH: Oh, I am. Oh, it’s lovely. Bill Bryson, Barbara Erskine, Ben Elton, you see it’s still going on, the same ones. And that’s 2001.
MKG: Do you ever feel like a missionary about some books: “oh I must get people to read this one”?
MKG: You have with Black Diamonds obviously. So, looking back on all these books, can you think which one really changed the way you looked at things?
JH: I don’t know really.
MKG: There’s so many.
JH: There’s so many, so many, but I know the very first one that grabbed my mind, it’s got to be the Jane Eyre. It shows how bad some people lived and what a terrible early life she had, and you’re thinking “Ooh”. It’s got to be that Jane.
MKG: Is it sort of inspirational that she, somebody like her, can come through?
MKG: You don’t seem to be as struck by these books which are about people with hard lives coming through. You know. There’s quite a lot about … I mean autobiographies really. Do you read many of that?
JH: I do. Oh yes, they must be all in here somewhere.
MKG: So is there anything you don’t read?
JH: [slight pause] I can’t think of anything at all.
MKG: That’s amazing.
JH: Black magic stuff. The really horror books. And that’s only because of uncontrollable imagination. I know that once I’ve finished that book that stays in my head and I won’t be able to go to bed and I’ll be all on my own. It stays there for ever. No, I can’t let myself … Oh, the Philip Pullman. I think they’re absolutely amazing and I have read all the Harry Potter as well because I wanted to know what the grandchildren were on about. I picked one up, I thought “What are they on about?” and I couldn’t put it down. And then I read all of them.
MKG: Great for your grandchildren to have you with them.
JH: Oh yes, and I do encourage them. At the front, these were all lists of books to read.
MKG: And Howard’s End there, I saw you’ve read recently.
JH: Oh yes, I read Howard’s End, yes. Whispers in the Sand. I’ve introduced you to all these books!
MKG: Well, afterwards I must get a reading list from you, I think! [laughs]
Josie, I think we’re going to have to draw it to a close so I can get it on to my CD but thank you so much for sharing that.
JH: Well, I really enjoyed it. It’s one of my absolute favourite subjects.
MKG: I can see that. Thanks ever so much.