Our guest blogger, children’s author S.P. Moss, shares memories of her RAF childhood and the books that became ‘home’.
She is kindly giving two signed copies of her books, The Bother in Burmeon and The Al-Eden Emergency, to Reading Force families. See our Facebook page for giveaway details.
Home is where the books are
I learned to read in Aden, back in the far-off days of the 1960s. According to my mum, once I started, I didn’t stop. I read on Tarshyne Beach, which was usually so hot it wasn’t negotiable without flip-flops. I read in the shade at the Union Club, drinking a bottle of the local pop, Stim. And I read sitting on the veranda on holiday in Kenya, while keeping an eye out for the monkeys that would swipe a banana from your pocket if you weren’t careful.
All the packing cases and postings, new schools and separations, married quarters and marching-out must have been a strain on my parents. My RAF pilot father had met my mum (then in the RCAF) on a posting to Canada. We moved as a family numerous times before I even started school. Yet, I have warm memories of my childhood. Books played a major part in keeping family members present, even if distance separated us. Although transportable, books feel like a symbol of home, a kind of literary security blanket. Some of my favourite books are even more well-travelled than I am.
While I have my mum to thank for teaching me to read, it was my dad who was the bookworm. Strangely, for an action-man pilot, he was as happy stuck in a book as he was in a cockpit. Military history, Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence – he had them all, in imposing stand-to-attention hardback editions. He loved poetry, too – and in fact I’ve included one of his favourite poems, An Arab Love Song by Francis Thompson, in my latest story. When he was back home, he’d read me favourites from his childhood – Winnie the Pooh, or stories of flying and derring-do by the likes of Captain W.E. Johns of Biggles fame. One of my treasured possessions is my dad’s copy of The Wind in the Willows – such a quintessentially English book with its picnics and messing about in boats. An exotic setting for a little girl who’d grown up amongst camels, goats and shark nets!
My brother was not so keen on fiction but collected non-fiction books along with Matchbox toys and Airfix models. His bookshelves were full of Ladybird Books on every subject from Trees to Musical Instruments, as well as Hippo, Dumpy and Observer’s books on aircraft and automobiles – well, we didn’t have the internet in those days.
I adored stories, especially those that involved travel and adventure. I was glued to TV shows like Thunderbirds or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In an RAF family, watching films like Reach for the Sky or The Great Escape was unavoidable, especially at Christmas.
It’s difficult, as an RAF child, to answer the question “where do you come from?”, but a little easier to say what my favourite books are. One of the first books I remember is hard to get hold of these days, but I managed to find a second-hand copy, which my son also enjoyed when he was small. Caroline and her Friends by Pierre Probst is a collection of stories about a slightly bossy little girl and her gang of animal friends. They travel around Europe, have adventures skiing and even go to the North Pole. Who wouldn’t want to be Caroline?
A book I read when I was about 10 is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s science fiction, but the characters are relatable and very much human. The story is both exciting and thought-provoking and has – excuse the pun – definitely stood the test of time.
My Family and Other Books (to misquote another favourite author) have had a major influence on my writing and my latest story, The Al-Eden Emergency, is no exception. It’s set in a 1966 Middle East and Swinging London jetpunk world. There are thrills and spills aplenty, scorpions, sharks, amazing aircraft and ancient prophecies. A sinister rebel army, kidnapping teens to fulfil its mysterious leader’s evil ambition, adds a strong note of relevance for today.
I’d love to think that a young reader of my books might, one day, pass them down to their own children and even grandchildren.
A huge thank you to Reading Force for having me.
S.P. Moss is the author of a series of retro-style adventures for 9 – 12s:
The Bother in Burmeon ISBN 9781910841525, Trouble in Teutonia ISBN 9781906451974 (both published by Circaidy Gregory) and The Al-Eden Emergency ISBN 9781910841525 (published by Matador)