Author Archives: shelleytrower

Launching guest blog series!

We’re delighted to introduce our new series of guest blogs, written by some of the readers being interviewed for the project. The first of these is written by Ferelith Hordon, the facilitator of Alvering reading group. Ferelith has been a children’s librarian for over 30 years, and also a judge of the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards. We are very grateful for her reflections on her memories of fiction.


What are my reading memories? Indeed, what do I mean by this – or what do I think when presented with the phrase? Am I talking about remembering what I have read? Or is it remembering the effect the reading of particular texts had? Is it the memory of what “reading” meant for me as a child and what I felt about it as an activity? Perhaps all these aspects are entwined.

I have no memory of learning to read – though I do not think I am alone in this. Family mythology says I was reading before I was three years old (my mother said by two….I wonder!) It is possible; my father also read very young, forced to learn for himself by a barren nursery. However, I was not reading Dickens or even Blyton at this early age. Living in Sudan, there was no library to raid. I remember Old Lob the Farmer (lovely coloured illustrations) – a series to teach reading though I did not see it as such, an OUP series retelling tales from Greek and Roman mythology and another of folktales from around the world. There was Orlando and Babar and Ursula Moray Williams’ Good Little Christmas Treethese may have been part of the summer breaks back in Scotland.

Time and memory are slippery. When was I reading those wonderful Edwardian tomes that belonged to my father’s childhood (they had his bookplate inside the covers)? I remember vividly When they were Children (Amy Steedman), In the Once upon a Time (Gask), Secret’s of the Hills (Craig) or Our Island’s Story (H. E. Marshall) – books that opened the window onto history and geography and were read and reread by me, crouching on the floor by the bookcase in the spare bedroom of our Perthshire home. Or what about Bee (Anatole France) – a strange choice but it had wonderful illustrations by Charles Robinson, or My days with the fairies with illustrations by Dulac? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. They were always there in the background. What is interesting is that I am clear that the first book I remember reading as a novel is The Lion, the Witch TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)and the Wardrobe (Lewis) and I am convinced that at that moment I became a Reader. I would have been eight (quite late you might say) but Reading is not (from my observation) something that can be precisely charted. Whatever it was about Lewis story, it was the door through which I walked hungry for more.

Reading for me is not just the narrative; I enjoy reading as a physical activity but I am quite lazy and very unadventurous. As a child I reread and reread the books that really hooked me in. I would decide what I wanted to feel – if I felt up to tears I would read Heidi from cover to cover, if too much sadness was not in order, I skipped her banishment from the Alp. I rarely reread the first Mowgli story. I found it too heartbreaking. This may be where I developed the life-long habit of reading the end of the story first !!!! It didn’t put me off reading at all. I joined the local library for myself and my sisters and brother; I chose all the books but do not remember any guidance from librarian or parent. I would walk up with the dog who would be tied to the library door while I went in to sit on the floor to read. I would only stop when the dog began to protest (usually about an hour or two later), then I would remove myself to where he was tied and continue reading. No one seemed to think it strange. I read my way through Sutcliff (my all time favourite), Welch, Harnett, de Angeli, Jane Oliver, John Pudney, M. Pardoe…

Then there is a break – exams, university – took over – I have few reading memories of these years – Gombrich was discovered and Propertius. Then I became a Children’s Librarian – and have a whole new world of memories to tap into.

Creative Commons Licence
Reading Memories by Ferelith Hordon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Project news

Battersea library - home of the Alvering book group.

Battersea library – home of the Alvering book group.

We’re happy to have started interviewing this autumn, and would like to thank the members of Alvering book group for taking the time to talk to us, and also two further book groups – who meet at Roehampton and Balham libraries – for inviting us to introduce our project to them. We have enjoyed some really interesting conversations with readers so far, and are looking forward to talking with more people.

We’re also excited that the two PhD researchers have started their projects, in association with Memories of Fiction: Alice Cook and Sarah Pyke.

Alice has a background in psychotherapy and creative writing, and will explore how remembered fiction from childhood lives on in the imagination of adults. She will look at how the stories we tell ourselves about our lives connect with memories of childhood reading and hopes to investigate the way in which these memories shape our sense of identity. She will start with a pilot project talking with individuals and go on to work with groups using auto-ethnographic narrative inquiry to work collaboratively with participants. There will be opportunities within her project for participants to work together in a sustained way to create new writing. This may include journals, life writing and short stories using these memories creatively to produce new stories. This project will be a blend of theoretical work on memory, imagination and the way reading affects us combined with life story work and creative writing. Alice’s research is funded by the University of Roehampton.

Sarah is interested in finding out more about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) adult readers’ memories of childhood reading, and about the narratives these readers create from their childhood reading histories. She will use an oral history approach, inviting participants to take part in individual and group interviews in order to explore the dynamic, mutually constructing relationship between the reader, memory and the text. Recovering and archiving memories of childhood reading, including reading-against-the-grain, Sarah also intends to challenge the discourse of the innocent child reader, illuminating the ways in which texts for children and young adults can act as sites of resistance. Sarah’s research is funded by the AHRC.

The project has also acquired an archive administrator, Sheila Mercieca, who will be helping with the archive especially by carrying out interview summaries. Sheila completed her BA at Roehampton and wants to go on to postgraduate study in archiving.

We have begun working on the first project publication, and are looking at references to reading in the oral history collection ‘100 Families‘ (the longer title is ‘Families, Social Mobility and Ageing, an Intergenerational Approach, 1900-1988’), on which Graham Smith worked in the 1980s.

Finally, the podcast of Martyn Lyons’s talk on 4 September, ‘The Australian Readers Remember Project in retrospect, or why we (still) need an oral history of reading’, is now available here.

Why we (still) need an oral history of reading

We’re delighted that Professor Martyn Lyons is spending this summer 2014 in the UK. With Lucy Taska, Martyn published the first oral history of reading, Australian Readers Remember (1992), and he’ll be giving the first of the Oral History Society‘s research seminars at the Institute of Historical Research on Thursday 4 September: ‘The Australian Readers Remember project in retrospect, or why we (still) need an oral history of reading’.

The seminars are at 6pm, free and open to all. Click here for more information.

Martyn is also part of the project’s Advisory Group which is first meeting on Monday 8 September.