Having written about Love the last time round-the biggest topic in the world in my opinion-I needed a break!
And my last post caused me to think afresh, in a rather deep way, on that subject.
In fact, pondering on love sent me back to my bookshelves, re-reading the words other more exalted writers had written.
As always, in matters of the heart, I turned first to Shakespeare and his Sonnets, Sonnet 116 in particular :
‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.’
Very well-known and popular, but no less profound for that.
From there, I took down my anthology of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and turned to Sonnet 43, to gather solace from her beautiful and timeless words :
‘ I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need
By sun and candle- light.’
Still with poetry as my theme ( for it is the language of love and expresses tenderness and the heart’s longings better than any other form ) I opened my treasured book of the verses of WB Yeats.
Never far from my side, this is my favourite book of poetry, by my favourite Irish poet.
What had William Butler to say about love, oh so many years ago?
Many of his love poems were written to, and for, Maud Gonne, his Muse and the great love of his life.
Yeats adored her for her beauty, sweetness of nature and outspoken manner.
This is one of my favourite lines from his poem, ‘ When You Are Old’ :
‘ How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true.
But one man loved the Pilgrim soul in you
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.’
It doesn’t get better than that, you can feel his love for her all down the centuries.
The point I’m making, is that books have been my comfort and my release, as well as my main source of inspiration since I first learnt to read.
And so, with that in mind, my post today is about my journey through literature and my love of reading.
When I was 5 years old, I made up my mind to be a writer one day.
I didn’t think exactly how that might come about, I just knew in my very soul that reading and words were able to transport me to a quiet place of my own, where no-one could reach me and where nothing was able to intrude. In Yoga, we recognise this as being in ‘ flow’.
My mother realised this, and encouraged it, buying me little books to read alongside the regulation ‘Janet and John ‘.
My paternal grandmother, a devoted church- goer all her life, gave me The Children’s Bible for my 7th birthday. Her writing is still on the fly-leaf, another thing I love about books.
This is the very first book I remember as being my favourite. I was obsessed with it, and would avidly read as much as I could each night before I was made to turn out my bedroom light.
It was beautifully illustrated with pictures that completely captured my imagination and I had a particular fascination for the story of Bathsheba.
The coloured plate at the bottom of the page depicted a beautiful temptress in a white robe, immersed in an outdoor pool.
It was obviously on a roof, as there were high trees behind her, as well as a bearded man who appeared to be spying on her.
I don’t know what it says about my seven year old self that I couldn’t get enough of this chapter!
All I remember are the words : ‘ He saw a very beautiful woman and sent to ask who she was. She was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam .’
These wonderful and exotic stories bewitched me far more than the standard texts set in primary school. I longed to be called Bathsheba!
My first big leap into what could be termed grown -up fiction, came at the age of 12.
By then, I was in Secondary school and studying English Literature.
The riches of F. Scott Fitzgerald unfolded before me- I couldn’t get enough.
I even read the biographies of Zelda Fitzgerald, his wife, and the famous autobiography ‘ Beloved Infidel’ by Sheilah Graham, which chronicled her affair with Fitzgerald and the Golden Era of Hollywood.
I lapped up all the American authors at this point- everyone from Gore Vidal to John Updike and, of course, Norman Mailer, who like me, had a complete fixation on Marilyn Monroe.
As an antidote to all this Americana, and influenced heavily by my maternal grandmother, I also made it my business to read all I could about the Tudors, Medicis and Borgias.
The more grisly and gory the facts, the better I liked it!
Again, my fascination was mainly for a very strong and vivid female character, Lucrezia Borgia.
With her waist- length golden tresses, she seemed to have every man in Rome in love with her- including her own brother.
It was always these less wholesome heroines that I liked the best.
Scarlett O’ Hara, Lucrezia, Lolita and Anne Boleyn won out over Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna every time- although I did have a fondness for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers boarding school series, which featured a roguish, prank-loving tomboy called Darrell Rivers and her escapades with the brilliant and mischievous Alicia.
Later on, and perhaps influenced by these tales, I was to attend a boarding school myself, complete with midnight feasts in the boot room!
Growing up in a male dominated household with brothers, my forays into magazines began with those august publications ‘ Match’ and ‘ Shoot’.
Along with The Beano, they were sometimes all I could find to read while in the bath.
Then, at the age of 12, I began my life-long love affair with Vogue.
These were the 70’s, and glamazons such as Jerry Hall and Bianca Jagger adorned the pages.
I still like that look almost better than anything- flowing wavy hair, tanned skin and a red lip.
I would save up all my pocket money to buy it, going without school lunches sometimes in order to do so, and I am still a subscriber, finding joy and beauty in its pages, and a different kind of escapism.
Around this time also, I published my own amateur magazine- complete with a Problem Page…a taste of my psychology training to come?
My late teens were the study years- my deep love of classic literature seriously challenged as I spent far too long closeted with Laurie Lee, Dickens and Austen. But I sought relief in song lyrics, particularly those of Bowie and Lou Reed, whose Perfect Day was my favourite to have a good sing to when fed up with studying.
It was the literary critic Cyril Connolly who said that the enemy of good art is ‘ the pram in the hall’.
Once I became a mother, raising my family, my writing and reading for pleasure took a serious nose-dive due to lack of time and sheer exhaustion.
To compensate, I could not believe the joy I took in reading to my own three children.
Tucked up in bed in their pyjamas, rosy-cheeked and adorable from their baths, the light on low to encourage sleep, I was the book Nazi to end them all.
Refusing to read anything that was not beautifully written, my children were brought up on Peter Rabbit and C S Lewis, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl. Although I did ( and still do ) have a weakness for nonsense rhymes, such as those by Edward Lear and Spike Milligan.
As the children grew, I returned to my studies.
This time, Psychology and Philosophy, as well as spiritual texts such as The Bible ( yes, a return and a staple of my life ) The Quran and the wonderful Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, along with The Bhagavad Gita.
Greek Mythology too.
Immersing myself in philosophical and academic texts was my escape from discussions on who had started which fight amongst my children and the sheer daily labours- and pleasures- of being a mother of three.
I felt that if I could understand how our long- term memory works, and the theories of Aristotle, that I was somehow staving off the numbing of the mind that can occasionally happen as you care for young people.
I hope it has worked, for I’m now a Freelance writer as well as a Psychologist, and in the fortunate postion of being paid for doing something I love.
On a personal reading note, I belong to a fabulous book club, and my enduring love of the classics, as well as an epic love story are well -known.
Only yesterday, a few of us went to see the latest film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘ Far From The Madding Crowd’, one of my favourites of both genres, featuring, funnily enough, another Bathsheba.
Due to a very great friend, I’ve re- discovered poetry too, and even written some of my own.
Yet, as Picasso so wisely said : ‘ Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’.
Luckily for me, and as regular readers will know, I live on a beautiful island on The Thames, where the Muse is often able to strike due to the complete peace and tranquility.
If I leave any kind of a legacy for my children, I hope it is my love of words, books and ideas, along with kindness and an appreciation for all living creatures.
My bookshelves remain over-flowing, and apart from Brenda, our beloved cat, my books would be the first things I saved in fire or flood ( well, maybe some of my clothes too, since I’m rather fond of those, hence my love of Vogue ! )
For what could be better, in any weather, or any mood, winter spring summer or fall, than curling up with a good book, losing yourself and escaping into somebody else’s imagination for a while.
Copyright, Amanda Hills 2015, All Rights Reserved
SOME OF THE BOOKS MENTIONED: ( In case you feel inspired ! )
The Oxford Shakespeare, Complete Sonnets & Poems
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Selected Poems
The Complete Poems Of WB Yeats
The Children’s Bible, Hamlyn
Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford
The Great Gatsby and Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham Westbrook
Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
Blood & Beauty: The Borgias, by Sarah Dunant
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, CS Lewis
A Book Of Nonsense, Edward Lear
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Greek Myths, Robert Graves
Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy