So what books stand out from the various phases of my life? Which have stayed with me or had the most influence? Delving into memory archives, I have chosen five favourite books each from my childhood, my adolescence, young adulthood and maturity (if you can call it that). Of course I have many more top choice books than this, but all of the ones in my selection have earned their place by being cherished and read many more times than one.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. These were charming, make-you-smile books that never lasted me more than a day. I'd devour them in an instant.
Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd. The story of a Scarecrow that comes to life and has adventures. He's a bit of a reprobate with a certain edginess to him, but it all adds to the pleasure in the same way that original fairy tales carry that hint of darkness. These had been some of my mother's favourites as a little girl and she passed on that love to me.
THE TEENAGE YEARS
The Hobbit by J. R..R. Tolkien. Again, given to us to read at school. I'd be 14 or 15 here, and again it was a refreshing change from other ghastly tomes we were forced to read such as Lord of the Flies. I had a leaning towards fantasy stories anyway, so this was one that was sold to me straight away and was to lead on to greater things!
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I would guess most women of my age have a bodice ripper somewhere on their keeper shelf that they read as a teen. I am not sure I could read this today, but it is a book of my growing up and when I was about 16, I just loved this one. The story of Norman conqueror Wulfgar and fiery Saxon beauty Aislinn. It is terribly, terribly, un-PC today, but back then it was historical glam-rock in novel form - so over the top that it was wonderful.
The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart. As I hit my teen years, my mother thought that a good way of easing me into adult reading was to give me some Mary Stewart to read. She was right. I took to this author straight away and I've cited Tne Moonspinners here because it was the first of her stories that I read. Back in the day, the holidays abroad thing had only just begun to take off, and places such as Greece and the South of France still had that certain mysterious cachet about them. Add a woman in jeopardy and some beautiful, restrained but lyrical writing and you have a winner. My absolute favourite of Mary Stewart's is The Crystal Cave, but I came to it after The Moonspinners.
Lord of the Rings by J R.R. Tolkien. It was inevitable that after I'd read The Hobbit I would follow through with Lord of the Rings. What an epic journey, with something different to find every time. When I first read it, I didn't appreciate the poetry pieces, but now I do, and some of them are very moving and beautiful.
Alinor by Roberta Gellis. By the time I was a young adult, I was also an unpublished novelist, having started writing when I was fifteen. Around this time I discovered the works of Roberta Gellis. She wrote medieval historical romances but with plenty of meaty historical background, and I learned from her that it was possible to write novels that were both detailed in the history and thumping good stories with a dash of romance. The two didn't have to be mutually exclusive. Alinor is the second of a series of books she wrote titled The Roselynde Chronicles, and it's here that I met one of my all time favourite heroes in Ian de Vipont. He's tall, dark and handsome, but never for one minute cardboard. I swear he just walks off the page and into the room, as does the heroine Alinor.
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. Trawling the library, I had often come across Dorothy Dunnett's novels. I had tried to read them and failed, but something kept drawing me back. Then one day I borrowed The Game of Kings and gave it another try. It was rather like finding a door in a wall that had always been locked before and now was suddenly open. A quick turn of the handle, and I stepped into this wonderful, exuberant, renaissance world, so rich in texture and language that it was almost overwhelming. Returning from it, blinking, was like stepping back into grey. I went out and bought every book in the series and have become a lifelong fan of Dorothy Dunnett.
Red Adam's Lady by Grace Ingram. In contrast to Dunnett, Red Adam's Lady is a light, easy read, but it's one of my favourite comfort companions. It's a fast paced romantic suspense tale of the twelfth century, involving a forced marriage, a conspiracy, and an old unsolved mystery that might just be a murder. I so wish Grace Ingram had been more prolific in her lifetime. She also wrote books as Doris Sutcliffe Adams. I have never read any of them because they are just too expensive on the second hand market, but I would love to do so.
The Green Mile by Stephen King. The second Stephen King on my list. I could carry on reading his work my life long. The Green Mile, I think, achieves absolute greatness for Stephen King. If the subject matter didn't involve horror and the supernatural, and if wasn't so mainstream and readable, this one would have been on The Booker list for sure. I'd certainly put it on my alternative Booker shortlist. There are lines in that book of such profound power that they bring tears to my eyes.
Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett, rather like Stephen King is misunderstood by people who haven't read him, or don't understand the subtleties and the sheer genius of the writing. Pratchett's cutting observations and dry wit make him one of our greatest satirists and almost every line cries out to be quoted. I love all of Pratchett's novels, but chose this one because of the character of Grebo who is perhaps the most magnificent alpha male ever to stalk the pages of a novel - really!
I wonder what others would choose as their books of a lifetime?