I was an avid reader from an early age, but I think my love of language has less to do with reading stories and more to do with listening to them…. My parents read to me when I was small, as many lovely parents do. I used to learn these simple stories off by heart and recite them as Mum or Dad turned the pages, giving the illusion of being able to read when I was little more than a tot.
Later on it was audiobooks. Every night I would go to sleep listening to one of my favourite stories. The words would soak into my subconscious as I slept. By some sort of linguistic osmosis, I absorbed some of the most beautiful sounds, rhythms and patterns of English prose…
The only problem with this was the very loud CLUNK sound the cassette would make when it reached the end of one side, waking me up again after the familiar words had lulled me to sleep.
BEHOLD the device on which I used to play my audiobooks… Don’t laugh now, this was the height of sophisticated audio-technology for small people in the early 1980s.
The problem with cassettes was that if you played them too many times, the tape wore thin and snapped. They also had a tendency to unravel and get stuck, creating a simultaneous high pitched / distorted sound and a stab of panic in the listener, as you became aware that your favourite tape was being viciously chewed up and mangled.
Thankfully, a few lasted long enough to stay in my heart and my mind for ever. Here are the audiobooks that made me the person (and the writer) I am today.
1. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (and The Magic Finger) – written and read by Roald Dahl. This was the only audiobook I owned that was actually read by its author. Roald Dahl had a wonderfully low, soft voice, quite surprisingly dry and dead-pan. The sadder and darker elements of the story were emphasised through his intonation. This worked particularly well for the rather sinister short story, The Magic Finger (which was on ‘Side 4’ of the two cassette box set).
2. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – read by Kenneth Williams. This audiobook technically belonged to my older brother, but I managed to borrow it from time to time. The wonderful Kenneth Williams read this story so gloriously, relishing the humour and the sounds of Grahame’s words. I can still hear his voice in my head saying, as only he could, the word, ‘Toad.’ He managed to get at least three syllables out of it.
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – read by Honor Blackman. This was a lovely recording with beautiful music – a very special audiobook that I listened to whilst reading the actual book at the same time. It therefore taught me a huge amount about punctuation and sentence structures, the pronunciation of new and difficult words, and helped me to make sense of the phonetically written Yorkshire accents: “Canna’ tha’ dress thysen?”
4 .The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – read by Windsor Davies. Windsor Davies had the most gorgeously deep and resonant voice, almost growly, and therefore perfect for bringing to life Shere Khan the tiger and Bagheera the panther in the wonderful adventures of Mowgli the man-cub in the jungles of India…
5. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. A dramatization rather than just a straightforward reading, with Margaretta Scott as the narrator, and the dialogue read by a fabulous cast of actors including Jane Asher as Alice. I can still recite great swathes of this story off by heart, and when I read it now I can’t help but hear Margaretta Scott’s lovely voice and her playful intonation in my mind. While I was putting this post together I was delighted to discover the recording is now available to listen to here… That’s my evening sorted then – story time! 🙂
Night night, folks…