Jean was born in 1933 and grew up in Sheffield. After leaving High Storrs School she married and had a family. Later on she trained as a teacher of English and French.
Jean’s recollection is that when she was small her parents were very busy and therefore didn’t read to her much. However, she still became an enthusiastic reader.
I learnt to read when I was… I think five, almost as soon as I started school, and got very bored because there wasn’t any stimulation in school.
So at the age of seven she joined the Children’s Library in Sheffield and from then on made weekly trips in search of suitable books. In addition her parents bought her Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, ‘all twelve volumes which I devoured.’Also from that time Jean remembers Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson.
The library trip was very important. Jean and a friend would go into town for music lessons and then go to the library and also to Andrew’s, a shop in Holly Street which had a lot of children’s books. They saved their pocket money and bought books which they shared.
Once at High Storrs School she began to read classics like Walter Scott and Jane Austen as well as lighter books, such as The Forsyte Saga, Little Women, W.E Johns’ Biggles books and Malcolm Saville. She remembers getting from the library all Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna novels,
She also read Hugh Walpole and some Dickens and began to move towards adult books. She recalls enjoying the novels of Frances Parkinson Keyes, ‘very meaty, very long novels’. Also Dornford Yates whose books she found ‘screamingly funny’.
I shouldn’t find them funny now but I did then…I used to annoy my parents by sitting in the corner and laughing at the books and they couldn’t understand why. They were fascinating.
Jean’s parents always encouraged her reading and as she puts it
The only other thing to do in the evenings,apart from school work,was to listen to the radio, which obviously we did as a family, but, yes reading was very much encouraged.
The Red Circle Library on Snig Hill,which Jean’s mother belonged to was another important source of books. This stocked popular fiction,such as crime fiction and westerns, not found in the public libraries. By contrast Jean described the latter as ‘very much more erudite’. She read widely and was aware of reading both high- and low-brow books. School was a
very, very strong influence and it was very much, ‘Children, girls, you must read uplifting books’..we were very much discouraged from having, for instance, comics or anything like that. I had something called Girl’s Crystal which was quite a decent comic but you couldn’t possibly have mentioned that in school because that wasn’t the done thing as it were.
She remembers Geoffrey Thorne for light reading and John Buchan, who was seen as ‘more approved of,much more literary’.She and her father shared a liking for Nevil Shute’s books. He also liked Denis Wheatley’s novels but didn’t think they were suitable for Jean; however, she read them on the quiet.
She enjoyed historical fiction, for example, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, D.K.Broster and Anya Seton.She tried Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy but didn’t particularly enjoy them.She has fond memories of A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, ‘That was one that absolutely fascinated me as an early teenager.’
But she devoured all kinds of literature. She belongs now to a group of ex-teachers who swap and talk about books. Of the importance of reading to her, she says,
I can’t imagine a life without it and in fact at the moment I’m beginning to have some trouble with my eyes and I can’t read for long and that is a real hurt, you know.