My dad was an agronomist and when I was very young we lived in farms and agricultural colleges. My first recollections of a book as an object were pictures in a board book of farmyard animals, which I still have.
Every Christmas I received a book from my Aunty Mary. She was the Principal of Leicester Teacher Training College so I expect that the books she chose were to be educational as well enjoyable. My dad read to me every night before I went to sleep, and Aunty Mary’s books formed the core of my book collection. This is a period when books were chosen for me – for example, John Masefield (The Box of Delights), Hugh Lofting (the Dr Dolittle series) Grimms’ Fairy Tales, C S Lewis (the Narnia series), T H White (The Sword in the Stone), Andrew Lang’s Blue and Green Fairy Books, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. My favourites? Dr Dolittle, The Magician’s Nephew, The Box of Delights and The Secret Garden.
One of Aunty Mary’s last Christmas present books was The Hobbit, but I did not read Lord of the Rings until I was at university.
I became horse-mad around the age of six, and from then until about the age of ten horses dominated my reading. I had a huge volume called Horses, Horses, Horses that I read over and over again. Books by the three Pullein-Thompson sisters ring a bell; Black Beauty of course; a series about Romney Marsh; plus books on anatomy, riding, drawing and breeds of horses. As a family we often used the library at Impington Village College, where my dad ran a film club. I used to design and make the posters for the film screenings. My parents still directed my reading to some extent – for example, I was not allowed to read ‘trashy comics’. I got round this by devouring huge piles of the Beano and the Dandy. They were stored in a cupboard with gas masks and a tin helmet at a friend’s house. We also did not have a television, because it might interfere with our reading. Sounds crazy now.
The telly arrived when I was 11, and I increasingly selected my own reading. I was indirectly influenced because my parents just left their books about and I would pick them up. Women authors dominated my mum’s reading. She was a great fan of Jane Austen, and Emily and Charlotte Bronte. I had to read Pride and Prejudice for ‘O’ level English Lit but never really got on with Jane Austen. But I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier was one of mum’s favourites. Among the authors that I read due to her influence were: Edna O’Brien; Anita Brookner; Winifred Holtby; Rebecca West; A S Byatt; Katherine Whitehorn; Doris Lessing; Muriel Spark; Iris Murdoch.
My dad in contrast read contemporary fiction. Through him I read: John Updike; Salinger; John Braine; J P Donleavy; Thomas Pynchon; D H Lawrence; Hermann Hesse; and Kerouac.
Other authors I remember reading between 11 and 17 were: H G Wells; John Masters; John Wyndham; Lynne Reid Banks (The L Shaped Room); Jean Rhys; Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano); Patrick White; Saul Bellow; Zola; William Golding. I waded through The Herries Chronicles (Hugh Walpole) and attempted to read Lorna Doone but found the dialect tedious. However I quite liked Chaucer which, along with Shakespeare and a considerable amount of poetry (largely forgotten), was on the school syllabus.
Then there were the forbidden books – The Story of O by Pauline Réage, and the Kama Sutra. (Titles were passed pupil to pupil.)
I had six large factual books that I looked at repeatedly and which, looking back, have influenced the science and art that I did later.
- Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon. My mum was a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during WW2 and was stationed in Trincomalee. This was one of her books. It’s full of large black and white photographs.
- The Sculptures of Michelangelo – again a book of large black and white photographs, which most likely belonged to my dad. I can remember being especially impressed by the slaves freeing themselves from the rock.
- The World’s Greatest Paintings: Selected Masterpieces of Famous Art Galleries edited by T Leman Hare. Three muddy brown volumes probably inherited from my grandfather and a collection of coloured plates of what were then considered significant paintings from famous western galleries. It’s purely visual, with no information other than title and artist.
The large black and white photographs of Ceylon and the sculptures of Michelangelo have directly influenced my own photography and, although The World’s Greatest Paintings ends at the Pre-Raphaelites, it introduced me to Art History.
- And lastly The Science of Life by H G Wells, Julian Huxley and G P Wells.
My version of The Science of Life was published by Cassell & Company in 1931 and included some dubious and speculative science. My favourite picture remains that of the medium ‘Margery’ extruding ‘teleplasm’ from her nose and mouth.
And here is an example of more conventional, but equally fascinating, science.
Lizz Tuckerman is a freelance multimedia artist based in Sheffield. She was previously a research scientist working in genetics and reproduction. Lizz designed this website and has produced artworks inspired by the Reading Sheffield interviews. She was born near Ironbridge in Shropshire and her early childhood was spent in Penrith and Kilve (Somerset). When her father began work at The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, the family moved to first to Histon, a small village in Cambridgeshire and then to the market town of Saffron Walden in Essex. Lizz has lived in Sheffield for 26 years.