By Thea John
I was born in Nottingham and we moved to Sheffield by Halloween of 1999. Basically, I’ve lived here my whole life and haven’t lived in any house other than the one we live in now. My grandmothers were a large part of my early life, though I can only recall my granny on my dad’s side actually reading to me. We are firmly middle class, both sides of grandparents are first generation immigrants, and I don’t know if they went to any kind of university. My parents both came from London and met at university – I’m not sure if I would call either of them big readers. But education was certainly something that has always been encouraged.
We were Baptists, so we went to church. Cemetery Road Baptist Church, the building was lovely but I wasn’t much of a good Christian. I enjoyed the psalms and hymns but the only book in that place was the Good Book. Maureen Lambert, one of the Reading Sheffield interviewees said ‘your faith changes all the time’ and I think she’s right. The Bible meant a lot of different things to me as a child, but I was much more invested in the songbooks. I’m attracted to bright colours, so I bought myself a purple covered version.
Growing up my brother and I spent more time arguing over the television than sharing books with each other. It’s very disconcerting to think of a living room without a tv in it. Unlike many of the interviewees, I’ve only lived without it in my university halls. Though, there has also always been a bookshelf, even if my brother’s was full of video game cheat sheets, we definitely read them. We had the Horrible History comics, that were given to us from an old family friend. We then got the proper books when they started to be released. We went to the theatre performance they did at the Lyceum one year even.
I stole his Horrid Henrys for my own bookshelf, then the Horrible Histories. If my brother brought home a book, I would look at it first and decide whether it was worth my interest. My stepmother was the one who introduced my now most loved book series – Harry Potter. First heard as an audiobook camping trip while my parents were trying to set up a tent whilst being rained on. My brother would insist on being the first person to show interest in them, but I was the one devoured the rest of them as soon as I could. I was about six at the time I heard the initial audiobook. After that I was a proper bookworm, I finished The Deathly Hallows in the dark of my room, under the covers. At some time in junior school, I was outraged that my dad wasn’t reading to me, even though at that point I could very well read on my own; he made me read him a book that was like a thousand Arabian nights. Each night we read a chapter, it was about a tree and at the top of the tree was a magical land that changed every time they went up the tree.
We’ve got family friends who used to send me a book for Christmas and my birthday every year. But I suppose I’ve always been more into ‘boy’s’ books – the Saga of Darren Shan, Skullduggery Pleasant, Alex Rider, CHERUB. And they used to send things that any girl might read rather than what my brother would read.
As a tween becoming a teenager I moved from audiobooks and paperbacks to Japanese comics, graphic novels and webcomics. I re-read Macbeth in graphic novel form and relished in the adaptation; it was novel to me (pardon the pun) to explore my favoured words through a new medium. I really fell in love with drama at secondary and through that plays. There’s something so lovely about reading as a group and scripts are the easiest way to do it. Everyone gets a character and that’s how we read The Tempest for the first time.
I tried to push myself into reading more of the classics, Dickens (more than A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations), War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice. I did read a little of each of them, but I was quickly bored – ‘It was too old for me.’ – to quote another one of the interviews (Shirley Ellins). The writing style stopped me in my tracks and I moved on to films. I hope that I too find them more accessible to read when I get a bit older.
So, I read less as teenager. Less published books, so I had to make do with the assigned reading. I always ended up enjoying the assigned reading despite how determined I was to not care, Lord of the Flies and Mister Pip are stories I really love despite their grim contents, and Shakespeare, especially Macbeth. Animal Farm was my first introduction to how something can grow off the page and take wings. Ironic considering how much money I had already spent on the Harry Potter series. I find I’m fond of a happy ending, but I read for the terrible things that happen to characters. I write for the terrible things I can do to characters; when you’re the author the power you hold over character is absolute. The internet is a good place to be if you have a creative imagination and decent Wi-Fi!
Through GCSE and 6th form I was much the same, head in my phone and trying to clumsily write stories without having to come up with brand new characters. Though I did that anyway. Over lockdown, I got to spend time with my younger siblings and though I know that I’m here now, seeing the things they’re learning makes me wonder how different I would be if the curriculum had been changed earlier, to quote a final interview, ‘It’s so vastly different’. (Barbara Green)