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A traumatic tale that led to lifelong love of reading

By Barbara Henderson

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What started you on your reading journey?
What started you on your reading journey?

By the very fact that you are reading this book column, I am guessing that you are a reader. At some point you connected with a book, valued it, lost yourself in it, loved it. It left you looking for more of the same – a means of taking you out of the situation you’re in and taking you to a place you’d much rather be.

I do remember a little about how I became a reader. This next bit is not for the faint-hearted, so best to skip the next paragraph if you are easily traumatised.

When I was around five, I had a bit of an accident. I had borrowed my cousin’s scooter, a rusty affair, and was riding it down the hill by my aunt’s house when a car appeared, heading straight for me. I swerved out of the way – successfully – but lost my balance in the process. As I fell, I opened my mouth to scream, at the same time twisting the handlebars sideways. They had long lost the rubber handles and the rusty metal tube tore through my open mouth into my throat on impact with the tarmac. I remember only snippets after that – a lot of blood, four operations, pureed and liquidised food for weeks, and enforced rest on the sofa, day after day after day.

Fun fact: my uvula (the dangly thing at the back of my throat) is still a ring as a result, as doctors did not succeed in piecing all of it together again, but the utterly transformative part of this whole sordid affair was this: It made me a reader!

I fell in love with stories. My older sisters performed puppet plays for me and my parents read to me. Picture books and early readers were soon followed by the classic Enid Blyton phase and Anne of Green Gables. In my early teens, I longed for a horse, but Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series had to do – and I was more than recompensed! As a child, I wasn’t afraid to give myself over to a story wholeheartedly, and in that regard, not much has changed.

As such, children’s writers have a lot of responsibility. I spent this last week going through the final edits of my next book for children, a medieval adventure called The Siege of Caerlaverock, out in the summer, and with every page, I felt the burden a little more heavily. I so badly want to be a writer who engages young readers, not one to turn them off reading for life.

It is magical, really. I put some black marks on white paper. Those marks are edited, honed and perfected until, a year or two later, a young reader comes to them. And the same little marks get some sort of head-cinema going. Suddenly, a child is imagining a story I first saw in my mind. What these young readers see may differ considerably from what I first imagined – and that’s ok. The story belongs to both of us now. I maintain: If someone offered me the ability to do actual magic, I’d still choose to do this.

Noir from the Bar.
Noir from the Bar.

Crime-writing legend Stuart McBride famously credits AA Milne and Winnie the Pooh with making him a reader. All of us can think of books which hooked us in and created a lifelong love for the written word. It so happens that a whole group of crime writers have now joined forces in giving us a little more in the way of stories to love, including, among many others, Highland-based Margaret Morton Kirk and Neil Lancaster.

The crime writers have collaborated to produce a short story collection during the UK lockdown, with all proceeds to go to NHS Charities Together. The Newcastle-based literary group, Noir at the Bar, had set up a series of online author talks and workshops, to replicate the physical events. The inspiration for the book came from the virtual meetings. Titled Noir from the Bar, an Amazon Kindle edition of the anthology is available to download, with a paperback to follow (details to be confirmed).

Also happening soon is Independent Bookshop Week, from June 20-27. Follow the hashtag #booksaremybag for all things Independent Bookshop Week and bookshops!

Independent Bookshop Week.
Independent Bookshop Week.

And if this brave new world we live in becomes a little too much, cast your mind back to how it all started for you – to the books which took you to another place, and made you a reader.

I’d love to know your reading story!

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