Reading Festival: The wonderful David Hill says it ‘sounded as if a family of elderly ghosts were reading along with me.’

david-hillDavid Hill is a favourite NZ author of mine as his books can make me laugh and make me cry. He writes for all ages, and he writes both stories and poems (some of his poems will be in the children’s Treasury I am editing). He lives in New Plymouth.  I love this photo where you can see a cute soft toy and his grandsons’ knees!

 

This is a wonderful snapshot of his reading life as a child:

I grew up in a small, old, crumbling, rented house on Napier Hill, while my Mum and Dad saved enough money to buy a place of their own. The whole house creaked and shifted and groaned all the time, and whenever I read, it sounded as if a family of elderly ghosts were reading along with me. I used to lie face down on my bed, stopping to stare out the window at the back verandah where my Dad kept his bike. I can’t see an old black bike now without thinking of reading!

It’ll sound shocking, but much of my early reading was magazines and comics. There were heaps of kids’ magazines or comics then, called Champion, Eagle, Tiger – all of them with long, chapter-book-type stories serialised over several weeks.

I also got hooked on Boys’ Own Annuals. There weren’t many NZ books for children, and I read huge numbers of these annuals, with their stories of English schoolboys who all wore long trousers, collars and ties and school caps, and said things like “Wizard show, old chum!” and “I say, Bertie!” For a while I went around talking like that to my friends, who looked at me strangely.

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Then I met Arthur Ransome‘s stories – the Swallows and Amazons ones, in which kids went sailing, met baddies, always won. I swallowed them as fast as I could get them from the library. When I was running out, I asked the librarian, “What else have you got – PLEASE??”, and she showed me another English writer, Richmal Crompton, who wrote the William books, in which a scruffy kid and his scruffy friends are always causing trouble in the neighbourhood, in a harmless way. I longed to be like him. Again, I read every book featuring him that I could.

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The Napier Public Library then was up a flight of steps in the middle of town, with an echoing hard floor, a big sign on the wall reading ‘SILENCE’, and a stern-looking lady librarian. In fact, she was a sweetie, and she introduced me to so many books – White Fang by Jack London, the Professor Challenger stories and Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle (Prof Challenger was a great big guy who was always finding dinosaurs or poisonous clouds in strange countries); Rider Haggard‘s novels of British chaps fighting against African tribes – very racist and very sexist, though I hardly noticed it then.

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I went to University and read famous, sometimes-boring, sometimes-wonderful authors. I became a high school teacher for a while, and taught books which I enjoyed, because I hoped my classes would. Sometmes they did – The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle, about an alien intelligence; the World War 2 stories by Alistair Maclean; The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl, in which the Norwegian explorer sails on a raft from South America to the Pacific Islands. I read some of these so often that I can still quote bits by heart – and that’s a real bonus for any writer.

NZ books for children began to appear on the market. I heard about an author called Margaret Mahy, and another one called Joy Cowley. “They’re quite good,” people said. Wrong – they were brilliant. I still read everything by them, and I pick up all sorts of techniques and ideas. I read heaps of NZ writers (though only when I’m not trying to write my own book; otherwise I get too depressed because they’re so much better than me!) I’ve just finished Des Hunt‘s new book, Project Huia, about an extinct NZ bird that suddenly reappears. It’s sooooo good that I’ve turned dark green with jealousy.

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