Posted by Anna Campbell May 10 2012, 12:02 am in Anna Campbell, anya seton, Barbara Cartland, Dorothy Dunnett, Inspiration, Lorna Hill, Mary Stewart, reading, travel, Victoria Holt, writer's life
by Anna Campbell
I’ve always been a really enthusiastic reader, right from the first moment I worked out what those scratchy black marks on white paper meant. And I can’t tell you how many ways reading has influenced my life and the person I’ve become.
One of the big things reading has done is give me the desire to travel. All those tired, aching Visa bills from my wanderings can be blamed on the fact that I always have a book on the go – and usually more than one!
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I had a pretty idyllic childhood on an avocado farm on the Queensland coast. Now when I know how rotten a lot of kids have it, I’m enormously grateful. But at the time, it seemed that everything happened somewhere OTHER than Redland Bay. I wanted drama. I wanted glamour. I wanted adventure. Not much of any of those where I grew up.
So I fed my mania for romance and drama with my reading. And in the process, developed a list longer than the Great Wall of China (which is on the list) of places I’d love to see someday. Partly because foreign places have such alluring and interesting names. Who could resist wanting to visit places called Archangel or Umbria or Yokohama?
So far, I’ve knocked a serious number of those places off my list. Still lots to go if anyone wants to donate to my travel fund!
Today I thought I’d wander down Memory Lane (yet another place to visit!) and talk about some of the books that made me want to see the world.
The first book I’d like to talk about was a firm favorite when I was in late primary school. It’s called A DREAM OF SADLER’S WELLS and it’s about an aspiring ballerina called Veronica who has to leave London and her dance school to live with her cousins in the wilds of Northumberland. I was a ballet-mad kid so this was right up my alley. Not only that, it was funny and heartfelt and there was a lovely romance between Veronica and a boy called Sebastian. I still think Sebastian is one of the most romantic names out there!
It was the first of a series of ballet books from Lorna Hill and I read a lot of them but none really compared to ADOSW (Sadlers Wells was the headquarters of the Royal Ballet at the time, the 1940s and 1950s). I must have read that 100 times! Lorna Hill describes both glamorous London with its rich culture and history and the rugged beauty of the moors so beautifully, that both went to the top of my travel list. Not to mention the yen to see the Royal Ballet. I remember when I finally got to visit London in 1985, I went to see SWAN LAKE at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Definitely experienced a flashback to Veronica and her highjinks when I settled back to watch the performance!
Another writer who got me interested in an enormous number of places is the much-maligned Barbara Cartland. I must have read hundreds of her romances in late primary school and early high school. I think they’re wonderful for that age – they’re not too explicit and the historical detail is fascinating. The very first Barbara Cartland I ever read was snaffled from my grandmother’s library pile – LOVE UNDER FIRE. It featured an intrepid young Spanish girl who disguises herself as a boy and joins Wellington’s Army so she can get to England and safety. Hmm, interesting that the Regency was such an early subject of my reading, isn’t it? Not to mention dark and dangerous aristocratic English heroes!
Then I discovered really meaty historical romance with Anya Seton, an American who wrote meticulously researched and emotive novels about women in history. I suspect she might be out of fashion now but I adored those books in high school. Favorites were GREEN DARKNESS, based on Ightham Mote in Kent which I was lucky enough to visit in 2004, and above all KATHERINE. KATHERINE is the epic love story of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford and it brings the rich tapestry of medieval France and England to vivid life. Not to mention packing in oceans of romance and emotion. Just my cup of tea! I remember in 2004, I saw the real Katherine’s grave in Lincoln Cathedral and immediately I was swept back to my 13-year-old self for whom that book was an obsession.
About the same stage as I was reading Anya Seton, I discovered the wonderful romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart. Now that’s someone who REALLY inspired me to travel. Her descriptions of setting are unrivalled. I recently re-read MY BROTHER MICHAEL and WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT for a review that’s coming up on The Romance Dish on 24th May (check it out!). Mary S. can still take my breath away with her gorgeous writing about place. She engages every sense when she’s talking about Greece or Skye or the South of France. It’s really like being there in person.
Another author who made settings come alive in my starved imagination was Victoria Holt (who also wrote as Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr). I think I can lay the start of the gothic tendency in my own writing very firmly at her feet. I devoured VH at about the same stage as I was reading Anya Seton and Mary Stewart. Interesting how these terrifically influential writers hit me all at the same time, isn’t it? The very first VH I read was a stormy romance called BRIDE OF PENDORRIC. After that, I devoured those books about innocent girls in the clutches of dangerous dark-hearted men – men who ended up saving them from even darker-hearted men who intended our heroines’ ruin and murder. Sigh. Great stuff!
The last of the books I want to talk about today when it comes to travel obsession was a slightly later crazeme. I must have been in my early 20s when I discovered the vivid historical world of Dorothy Dunnett. My obsession for the Lymond Chronicles (starting with THE GAME OF KINGS) set in 16th century Europe outshone all previous obsessions. My poor friends – they heard nothing except Francis Crawford for quite a while there!
Then when I traveled in Europe that first time in the mid-80s, I was seeing so much through the filter of Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful tales. I’m yet to visit the Eastern Mediterranean or Russia but when I do, I’m positive that those Dorothy Dunnett books will still haunt everything I see. Now, that’s powerful writing!
So did any books influence your life? Have you read any of these authors? Any early reading that still resonates with your life today? Have you ever visited a place just because you read about it in a book? Let’s talk armchair travel today in the lair!