Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Tim Keegan’s formative reading experiences

Biggles the Detective Pilot

Back, far back, almost lost in the mists of time (thank God!, says Tim), when childhood was very different, and there was no TV, an age before he was an academic historian, and long before Tromp’s Last Stand and My Life with the Duvals, Tim Keegan had little hands and this is what he read …

Tim’s earliest memory of books and reading:

My first thought about my earliest reading experiences is what a different world we lived in when I was growing up. Being over fifty now, my earliest memories go back to the 1950s, a time when Cape Town was a provincial place, cut off from the world not only be distance but also by an attitude of mind that was resolutely colonial, defensive and inward-looking. England, rather than America, was the source of all that was culturally worthwhile, with Africa barely registering on our mental maps. It was only in my adolescent years and later that I rebelled against the world of my upbringing, and discovered a world beyond the narrow confines of white suburbia that I hardly knew existed. I was also brought up in a family (Irish immigrants made good) that regarded fiction as slightly suspect, certainly not what you should be reading if you wanted to get ahead in the world, as, in fact, a habit that should be shaken off once one moved beyond childhood into adult life. In my home, the only books of fiction that were to be found were those I collected with my own pocket money, much to the puzzlement of my parents, who always balked at the idea of giving books as presents at birthdays or Christmas.Black Beauty I frequented the local municipal libraries (Wynberg and Claremont) as soon as I was old enough to walk through the streets without being escorted. I remember being so affected by the cruelty to animals in the novel Black Beauty that my parents found me sobbing in bed on two or three nights in succession, and on discovering the book hidden under my bed, confiscated it! So books provided a private pleasure that took place outside the purview of my family’s accepted realm of leisure activities. I was regarded as a little strange as a consequence, too bookish, not like other children. The sense of guilt attached to reading books that had no utilitarian value influenced my choice of career, I now realise, and for years as an academic historian, I read fiction only sporadically. It was well into adult life that I rediscovered that childhood sense of delight in literature, which I now regard as a consuming passion. But the love of books that gripped me as a child, that led me to value my small library more than anything else, never left me. I still feel a thrill of anticipation when entering a bookshop or library, cannot imagine spending money on anything else in preference to a book, and am surrounded at home by thousands of volumes, collected over many years of intense emotional attachment to books.

Tim’s picture books:

It’s difficult now to remember the earliest reading matter that came my way, but I remember reading with great fascination and involvement The Pooh books, the Beatrix Potter stories, Dr Dolittle, Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies, Wind in the Willows. I loved Enid Blyton (one hates to admit such a thing), from Noddy to the Famous Five and Secret Seven books, the Hardy Boys stories, the Biggles Books. At quite a young age I’d moved on to Stevenson, Twain, Dickens.


Tim, as an adult, reading with children:

My own children had a very different experience. We read to them nightly while they were growing up. Having an American mother and an American grandfather who was a professor of literature and sent us endless supplies of children’s literature, they had a surfeit of things to choose from, with a decidedly American flavour. Dr Seuss was always a favourite.

Children today are more fortunate than children of my generation, not least because of the stories being produced in Africa about Africans, so that children can see their own worlds and experiences being reflected unselfconsciously in the stories they read. That’s a new thing, and is a very exciting development. But there are also other distractions more likely to breed an intellectual passivity, such as television, which wasn’t around when I was growing up.
Children who don’t have books at the earliest age lose out terribly. Schooling can become quite an alien and frightening experience later on, unless they’ve been exposed to that sense of adventure and curiosity that access to books awakens early in life.


From a thread on the Enid Blyton Society message board:

Enid Blyton’s influence on crime writing
I’ve just finished reading The American Boy by Andrew Taylor, a fictional account of the childhood of Edgar Allan Poe. I was interested to read that his crime writing was inspired by Enid Blyton. I quote:

“With Andrew’s natural inclination for melodrama there was ‘usually the odd corpse, the odd murder’ even in his schoolboy plays, and he places the blame firmly on Enid Blyton’s Noddy, the first ‘crime’ book he can remember reading. ‘Hurrah for Little Noddy was Enid Blyton’s groundbreaking expose of police incompetence and gang culture among goblins in the fast set. It has red herrings, a wrongful arrest and a thrilling car chase. Big Ears puts in some solid detective work too.’ According to Andrew, at some point in the near future someone will publish a PhD thesis on the influence of Enid Blyton on crime writing in the UK. “I’m sure a lot of us in my early age group had our psyches warped at a very early age.’”

It’s nice to see a modern writer paying tribute to Enid Blyton for a change

Aims of The Little Hands Trust
• To support initiatives that promote reading for enjoyment.
• To mentor African literary artists, including writers, illustrators and editors, to produce creative, suitable and appropriate children’s storybooks for children of various ages with a focus on early childhood (ages 0 to 9 years).
• To collaborate with African publishers to increase and sustain publication of children’s books in African languages. To initiate and support translations of stories between African languages, from African languages to ex-colonial languages and from ex-colonial languages to African languages.
• To help to orientate and educate adults in the importance and significance of reading to and with children.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Carole</a>
    August 15th, 2008 @16:51 #

    Tim, Im interested in what you remember about how you actually got to love and want to read stories, if your parents weren't encouraging you. Who read to you? Who or what activities inspired you? Was it at school?


  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 16th, 2008 @10:17 #


  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    August 16th, 2008 @10:55 #

    I adored Enid Blyton and continue to love crime fiction, another addiction. Famous Five, Island of adventure etc, the ones with Kiki the parrot. I never really got into Noddy or the Secret Seven. Feels like coming out of the closet - admitting to a love for Enid.

    I had a beautifully illustrated The Water Babies. My grandfather read King Solomon's Mines to my brother and me. I was rapt.

    And I loved Willard Price - I think he was - boys own adventure stories, like Alistair McLean for boys. The second half of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow reminded me of these books.

    Wasn't it lovely to read without censorship or self-consciousness, to not have that slightly self-conscious thing one has as an adult - should I really be reading Sushi for Beginners or whatever.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    August 17th, 2008 @14:28 #

    I discovered crime writing through Dick Francis, while in the last agonising stages of writing my MA thesis. After hours of wrestling with the Morte D'Arthur, I discovered I could unwind by reading his racing thrillers (it helped being horsey) -- and promptly threw my vague guilt about reading "junk" fiction out the window. But there was a precedent -- while I loathed poor old Enid (I checked out my friends' copies and couldn't stand her smug, cruel and clique-y characters -- sorry, Colleen), I loved Willard Price (Gorilla Adventure! Volcano Adventure! Mars Adventure! -- yay, Colleen!) and segued straight into Hammond Innes. Now I have a strange push-pull relationship with crime-writers -- for instance, I really enjoy Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels, but cannot read anything else she writes. Weird.

    I am also curious to know how Tim got "bookish" when this was discouraged at home. Were you allowed to read improving non-fiction? Did it feel daring or glamorous reading "against the stream" -- like sneaking a cigarette behind the bicycle-shed?

    Oops, Colleen -- have remembered I should be finishing a MS assessment for you. Guilt guilt. Logging off NOW.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 18th, 2008 @09:27 #

    Hammond Innes!

    Anybody ever encountered/remember Alfred Connable's Twelve Trains to Babylon:


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat