My author bio says that ‘as a young child I was ill quite a bit, which meant I could spend lots of time lying in bed, reading – bliss!’ It’s true. Severe asthma and constant chest infections led to me missing a great deal of primary school in the winter months. And being a weedy little creature, the usual childhood illnesses (fewer of which were vaccinated against then) also hit me hard. I spent days in bed or on the settee, listening to the radio (stories and plays as well as music) and reading, reading, reading.
Even when I was quite well, the gap between bedtime and falling-asleep time meant reading in bed was a necessity. And when told ‘Time to put your light off!’ there was the excitement of reading under the covers with a torch, which could be quickly switched off if I heard anyone coming up the stairs. Reading adventure stories by torchlight, in a tent of bed covers, just added to the atmosphere.
In my early teens I developed a taste for the macabre – classic ghost stories, vampires and shape-shifters, unexplained phenomena. The best time to read these tales was when staying over with friends. We would arrange our sleeping bags on the floor and scare ourselves silly in the half-darkness. Our collective fright – and laughter – was much more powerful than if I had just been reading these stories on my own.
It set up a habit for life. I still love reading in bed, and not just a page or two to make my eyes tired. I think that’s unfair to the book, and its author. It means you tend to read the same passages over and over each night, forgetting what’s happened so far, instead of connecting properly. The story never gets a chance to take off. So I’ll read for as long as I can, and then again in the morning – preferably with a cup of tea. Such a luxury on the days when you don’t have to get up!
I’ve been ill in the last few weeks. Proper flu, the sort that knocks you out for days and leaves you feeling weak and wobbly for ages afterwards. It was a sign of how ill I was feeling that I couldn’t read in bed. I could just about check my phone for emails and tweets, but no book could keep my attention for more than a few pages. New books and old favourites, funny or serious, books for children and books for adults – none of them was right. My appetite for reading felt really jaded. (Just like my appetite for food – and that’s most unusual for me!)
But I must be getting better, because l’ve managed to finish a whole book and am halfway through the very gripping one I started only yesterday. Maybe I can argue that I still need to spend a bit more time flat-out on the sofa, recovering, and reading a good book.