Like so many others, it is the tales that captured me as a child that have led me to this place where I declare myself a fantasy writer.
There were fairy tale collections, those of Grimm and Andersen, and the Ladybird Well-Loved Tales series that each came in their own slim-line hard back with wonderful illustrations of a fancifully medieval Jack hastening away from a most angry giant, or the redoubtable little red hen facing off against the sly fox. Other tales of odder ancestry came in old hardback covers, like my favourite – It Happened One Day, which I long ago lost, (and have just bought the 1954 edition online!) but the individual tales still linger strongly in my mind. I loved The Water Babies for its pure escapism and adventure, (I was oblivious to its crude racism as a boy) along with Alice and her Tenniel illustrated adventures.
But what made me a writer of fantasy were these two classics: The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Read and re-read as a child. The idea of wild lands of the imagination, filled with their own history, mystery, and wonders was what captured me then, and still does. With the Narnia books you could indulge in the fantasy of literally leaving this world behind as the Pevensie children did. In the Hobbit, Bilbo was there as your stand-in, with the talk of post offices and tea times a framing that made it seem like Tolkien’s world did, somewhere, blend into our own. In one land you riddled with a dragon, in the other, you became a dragon, complete with regretful tears and a sore arm!
The Hobbit I still adore (though the references to modernity seem much more jarring now), the Chronicles of Narnia strike me as an adult as rather heavy-handed in their allegory, but I love them for the memories they evoke – reading until falling asleep, then waking to read again until I had to fall out of bed and run down the road to school, having put my uniform on and got back into bed to read just a little bit more after wolfing down my breakfast! For years I could only read the first 70 pages of Prince Caspian, as the book had fallen apart and the second half was lost, but still I came back to it, and imagined the ways the story would go, what gaps I could fill between it and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my childhood favourite, though The Silver Chair and The Last Battle ran it close.
And try as I might, (and I did), I never quite found my waking way to Narnia or Middle-Earth. But what was born in me was the desire to see other strange lands of the imagination, to read other books like those early classics, and what I found became the second wave of stories that inspired me to write my own.