Quite a lot of you are probably snowed in today, so you can honour the festival by grabbing a favourite read, or a brand new one, and curling up contentedly in the warm, with the most perfect means of escape invented right there in your hands.
Like a lot of writers, I was a book lover from a very early age. The bookshelf in my bedroom still contains a very tattered copy of a story called Tommy The Bus, which I think I won as some sort of school prize, aged five. My parents worked out, quite early on, that the quickest and easiest way to keep me happily amused and out from underfoot was to provide me with a book to read. They did get a little tired of the fact that the average age-appropriate story would generally only last me an hour or so, after which I’d be back pulling at their sleeves and demanding another one, which may explain some of the stuff I got to read, unsupervised.
Yes, like most children of the 60s and 70s I binged on Enid Blyton, the Narnia Chronicles,, E Nesbitt and the rest, but there was also a mail order book club for children, that sent out a termly newsletter of books you could order at pocket-money prices. I imagine parents and teachers thought that, what with it being officially For Kids, the books were all going to be ‘suitable’ and they didn’t need to monitor our choices. Hence me getting my hands on HP Lovecraft and Alan Garner at the age of nine… (Alan Garner? Surely he’s just a children’s writer, I think I hear you say – in which case I advise you to go read The Owl Service and marvel at the wonderful study of class conflict, sexual tension and family jealousies in that book).
I know a lot of people slightly younger than me got their first taste of sexy reading from the likes of Shirley Conran (that poor bloody goldfish!) or Judith Krantz or, to an extent, Jilly Cooper. The two books I mainly remember doing the rounds ‘for the naughty bits’ in my mid-to-late teens were the novelization of Quadrophenia, and Lair by James Herbert (which did have sex in it, in between all the being-eaten-by-rats stuff, honest). I read magazines as avidly and determinedly as I read books, though I tended to prefer the fiction-heavy ones like Loving or Love Story or Rio (now all long-defunct) to Cosmo and Honey and the rest.
Another source of, well, impure thoughts was a habit I developed once I was considered old enough to be left alone in the family home. My parents had a bookcase in the spare room, where they tended to store those titles they didn’t want their little darling getting into. But there were no locks on the door, and as long as I put the books back exactly as I found them, I had no qualms about helping myself to stuff like The Dice Man and The Story Of O. (I asked my father, many years later, how come he had such a choice collection of naughty books and he said he liked to make his own mind up about anything people were creating a lot of fuss about.)
When I wasn’t reading, I was writing. I was at least 16 before I got to even the most euphemistic references to characters ‘spending the night together’, which had a lot to do with my own lack of practical experience – I did write the odd kiss or hug into my tales of murder, suicide and adolescent anguish, or course, but those tended to be pretty cringy, too.
In my 20s, when I started working for various top-shelf titles, I got to read a few of the erotic novels that were quietly and steadily making a market for themselves: a lot of the early Nexus titles such as Pleasurehouse 13 and the Domino Tattoo. I wrote more, I read more, and I kept on going.
I was going to conclude this post with a suggested reading list, but I think it would run into the hundreds, so I’ll just say: if you want to warm your cockles up this afternoon, you could do worse than check me out
Happy #WorldBookDay 2018, anyway.