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I was brought up in a creaky, leaky old house on the edge of a wild moor in northern England, about 11 miles as the crow flies to the parsonage in which Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte lived. Inside our house, through which the wind whistled and groaned much as Emily Bronte describes in Wuthering Heights, were hundreds of books, all written by authors already dead, which is why, for years, I thought you couldn’t be an author until you were dead yourself.
The seven of us (six girls, one boy, I’m number 3) were looked after by a succession of nannies, some nice and some perfectly horrible. But though there were strict rules about Sitting Up Straight and Saying Please and Thankyou, we could read anything we liked, from anywhere, so long as we put it back. Anything, that is, except Enid Blyton (whose books we devoured surreptitiously, under the bedclothes, when Nanny had turned out the light).
I read all the time, so it’s as hard to choose favourite books as it is to choose a favourite pet. Yet I suppose because I longed to be a brave rider, I especially loved Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka series. I sat with Ken, in the brook, willing Flicka to live; I clung to Thunderhead’s mane as he battled with Banner. I was dead jealous of Carey. Those books are on my shelf still. Then, how could I not choose Ursula Moray Williams’ The Little Wooden Horse, when the little wooden horse was just as real to me as my own, naughty piebald pony? And finally, though I’m long grown up, every year I still read The Black Riders by Violet Needham, which is nothing to do with horses at all; it’s about a boy who gets caught up in a revolution. Stormy Petrel is his code name, and the password, my dear fellow-readers, is ‘Fortitude’.