Wednesday, 2 October 2013

History Boy - Lucy Inglis

This weekend I went up to the Wigtown Book Festival. It is a looong way. But it was more than worth it. It wasn't only worth it to spend time with other writers, eat scads of lobster, drink delicious boozes, sell some books and chat chat chat, it was worth it because something happened that reminded me of exactly the reasons I do what I do.

On Sunday I led two walks around the Georgian planned village of Garlieston with local farmer and historian Tom MacCreath. History walks are always a fluid and unpredictable thing, but these were even more so as I realised that as the walks went on, we were becoming like the Pied Pipers of Garlieston, as retired residents and customers from the Harbour Inn had joined in. We had beautiful weather and I hope a good time was had by all. As one of the residents observed, it had indeed, 'Turned out nice again', in our honour. I signed books from the boot of the festival car and Tom returned me to Wigtown where a lot of people sat around talking about the Booker and Dr Who until midnight and I felt a bit inadequate and made notes of things I need to read.

Yesterday, after a fine breakfast in the Glaisnock Cafe, I gave a talk on Georgian London in the town hall, known as the County Buildings. Georgian London in rural Scotland. Honestly? I hadn't expected the crowd that arrived. I did my usual trick of trying to pack in too much information, but the slightly risky eighteenth century jokes went down well. The Q&A was great and then there was a book signing. My first customer was a ten year old boy. He was with his mum, but the book was for him. I was delighted. But as is the nature of these things (as I am learning), it was all a rush. After the signing, I went back to the Wigtown Bookshop, where I was staying. It was packed, and History Boy and his parents were there. There's no stopping him! He had just bought a book about the Blitz. We talked about Lancaster bombers and Spitfires. I promised to send him another book, if he gave me his address.

The Bookshop in Wigtown runs the Random Book Club. You sign up, and they send you a random second hand book each month. And this gave me an idea: I am going to send History Boy a work of historical fiction (can be fantasy, but must have a historical bent) every month for a year. Ten years old was when my yearning for books kicked in. It was when they became friends, and I wore them out through repeated readings. Those books are still my friends now, broken and tired and a little greasy on the shelf in the hall. The Owl Service, The Silver Sword, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Machine Gunners, Viking Dawn, The Lord of the Rings, Smith, the list goes on. But it can't only be my choice. That wouldn't be right. So, I am asking for your help. What are the books you remember from that time? The ones that sparked your love of history? Twelve magical, transporting books is what I need. So suggestions in the comments please!

(The festival ended on a slightly less magical note for me. In rummaging for my charger in my bag, I managed to discard a bra at the Bookshop. And then the car broke down on the M40 and I didn't get home until almost four am. But the AA got me back, and the Bookshop have emailed to say they're putting the bra on ebay. So it all turned out nice, again.)

32 comments:

Katherine Langrish said...

What a wonderful, generous, exciting idea, Lucy! ALL those books you mentioned resonate for me, but how about 'The Mark of the Horse Lord' by Rosemary Sutcliff? And 'Puck of Pook;s Hill' and 'Rewards and Fairies' by Rudyard Kipling?

Emma Barnes said...

At ten years old:
The Young Elizabeth by Jean Plaidy (intrigue at the court of the Tudors - all from the perspective of a very clever, observant young girl), the Sprig of Broom by Barbara Willard (Tudor England, but rural Sussex), One is One by Barbara Leonie Picard (medieval knights and monasteries), the Viking books by Henry Trease and Man With a Sword - think that one is Geoffrey Trease.

And Tolkien, yes, though I never thought of these as at all historical.

And now The Players and the Rebels by Antonia Forest is my favourite children's book - set in the world of Shakespeare and the Globe theatre.

(ps Wigtown is a lovely festival, isn't it?)

Katherine Langrish said...

Yay, I love all those! - though 'One is One' is SO sad... Antonia Forest, woop!

lucy inglis said...

Great to see the Viking books in Emma's comment, so I think those are a must.

And yes, Wigtown is great. Super atmosphere.

lucy inglis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kit said...

Now I understand what your tweet was looking for - definitely anything by Geoffrey Trease - I loved them all as a 10 yr old and my kids enjoy having them read to them now, though they haven't inherited my love for historical fiction to read to themselves unfortunately.
I second Barbara Willard - still love that series.
What about Susan Cooper - The Dark is Rising - not quite historical but has link to the King Arthur legends and by now the 70s when it was set are almost history!

PhilD said...

The one I remember most is Henry Treece's 'Man With A Sword', the story of Hereward the Wake. Must have triggered something, because I've just started a history PhD :)

EHChalus said...

What a lovely, generous idea! Josephine Tey, Walter Scott, Thomas B. Costain might all appeal to a boy. Dickens, perhaps, which I started reading about that age as well.

Joan Lennon said...

If Dickens, Tale of Two Cities is a great way in.

Penny Dolan said...

Leon Garfield, perhaps. Not sure what title I'd choose, though. Devil in the Fog? Black Jack? Smith? Or The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris?

Catherine Johnson said...

Joan Aiken. Everything by Joan Aiken.

Taccolina said...

I remember from those days...
The Dark is Rising, a series by Susan Cooper - first experience of ancient British mythology, but especially book 2, titlular book of the series. Rosemary Sutcliffe - the Eagle of the Ninth would stay with me forever.
Sweetwater, a book about native Canadians on the plains. It made me see the fear and unreason of a plague such as smallpox. Went on to read books by Rudy Wiebe on the same themes in late teens. Penelope Lively. A Stitch in Time. A book called The Root Cellar scared me rigid but also was about history.


George Harris said...

I was born in 1950 and the house was full of my parents old books, so some choices are pretty dated. Also some were not technically historical novels when written, but became so with the passage of time, because they were set in the past, when they were written. (Am I limited to 12?) I'll asterisk my best 12.
A Conan Doyle: "The Sign of Four*" (Vivid picture of Victorian London and a first sight of the Indian Mutiny)and "The White Company"
john Masefield "The Midnight Folk*" (A special favourite. Fantasy +social history)
RLS: "Treasure Island*" and "Kidnapped*" (Helped that I'd seen TV versions)
Rosemary Sutcliff "The Shield Ring*", "Simon*" and "The Eagle of the Ninth" (The shield Ring was very special to me. Love the Lakes)
W E Johns: "Biggles Fails to return" (The WW2 Biggles avoid political incorrectness, by the way. This one is on the Riviera, so packed with new general knowledge)
Cynthia Harnet: "A Load of Unicorn*" (London. Caxton. What's not to like)
C S Forester "Lieutenant Hornblower*" (and then all the others)
George Grossmith "Diary of a Nobody" (Got to know the family from the 1880s)
Jerome K Jerome: "Three Men in a Boat*" (Loved the Thames ever since)
Rudyard Kipling "Stalky and Co*" and "Puck of Pooks Hill*" Also "Captain's Courageous"
A.L. Hadfield "King Arthur and the Round Table*" (My preferred re-telling of Mallory for children. conveys the mystery)
Helen Clare: "Merlin's Magic*" (Why is this great book not famous? Fantasy and history and literature)
Geoffrey Trease; "Cue for Treason" (Another Lake District meets Shakespeare.



George Harris said...

Am I the only man to comment? Is there a difference between boys and girl's books? Can you guess which of the ones on my list were borrowed from my big sister and which were from my boys' prep school?
I should have mentioned Herge "King Ottakar's Sceptre" for a sense of European history.

Katherine Roberts said...

I discovered "She" by H Rider Haggard around that time - because it was one of my mum's favourites! A ten year old today might struggle with some of the dense language, but the story is still wonderful.

Elspeth Scott said...

I'd second Cynthia Harnett, The Woolpack might go down well, though Load of Unicorn is my favourite. What about Robert Westall, perhaps The Machine-gunners and Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom is very popular with our pupils.

Polly said...

Anything by Rosemary Sutcliff (for me, it was Simon and Flame-Coloured Taffeta, but I should think any of them would work) and you might also consider Janet Lunn's books for a North American perspective.

Ruan Peat said...

My childhood was filled with folk lore and gods and goddesses, but my fave author I would recommend is Rodger Lancelyn Green, his norse gods books is my all time childhood fave and its all fiction but you get to dream! Also I loved Susan Cooper and her war time ones though now she has a whole lot more!!!! Bear in mind that history for today's youngsters is often the 1980's! :-( feel so old when they do projects in school on the old days! and its not even when I was young!!!!! (off to sulk and feel old)

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