Books that Mattered to me When Young

St George for England

by G.A. Henty

I came across a copy of this not long ago and was astonished to find how bad it is, mostly undigested chunks of history about the Hundred Years’ War, with our hero popping up from time to time to have an adventure. Early on he rescues the girl who becomes his childhood sweetheart. You don’t hear about her again till near the end, when you find he’s married to her, and gets to rescue her again. None of this mattered, because I was really into knights in armour. I read it every school holidays, which didn’t take long because I knew which bits to skip.


by Walter Scott

Ditto, really, except that it’s a much better book, and you only need to skip the first fifty pages. You get Robin Hood as well as the knights in armour.

The Radium Seekers

by Fenton Ash

This must have been one of my father’s books. I (and my brothers) read it whenever we stayed with my grandparents. I was given a copy recently, and it all came back. Early science fiction, a cult classic, wildly racist, but enjoyable tosh. Our hero and his friends go to South America to look for radium, which has anti-gravity properties, and battle with a race of cruel Inca-type people who use the radium to fly, and disguise themselves as giant birds and terrorise the locals.

King Solomon’s Mines

by Rider Haggard

Same sort of thing, but in Africa and with diamonds instead of radium, but one of the great myth-making books, which still affects the way we think about Africa, I’m afraid. The witch Gagool was one of my regular nightmares.

The Jungle Books

by Rudyard Kipling

Anything by Kipling, in fact. We had a complete run of them, and I read the lot. A truly great writer, despite his hideous opinions. I wouldn’t write the way I do if it weren’t for him.