First Love.

Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

A question, asked on facebook, brought a storm of answers and a wander back through memory. What is the first novel that you can remember reading?

One of my first was Call of the Wild by Jack London, but one of the books that really fired me up to  read was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. This book, still in print 52 years after its first publication still haunts me and I am re-reading it in advance of buying and reading Boneland, his latest book.

I loved Garner. I think I heard about him first when the book was read on television. I don’t remember the program. I would have borrowed the book from the library. Although we were not ‘poor’ we had few books in the house and books were very much seen as a luxury, but I had 5 or 6 cardboard tickets to another world, or library tickets as they were called.

So, here are a few more from those early days of travelling with books:

The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner The owl service, signed

The Owl Service was too terrifying for me to read as a child. When I found a copy a few years ago I got that same spine chilling fear as I opened the pages to find the end papers with ‘those plates’ on. Flowers and owls. Amazing. And now that I live in Wales I know more about Blodeuwedd and the Mabinogion. And I have been to Alderley Edge. I had forgotten that I asked Alan Garner to sign my copy when I met him at Cheltenham Festival. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, not only does he write like a master, but he can hold an audience in a spell that stops time.


I think this is my copy of Moonfleet from when I was a child. I remember being swept away on the tide of it when I was young. I think I bought it with my pocket money. Kaye Webb. She made Puffin Books. What an amazing editor.

Watership Down

My favorite ever book cover, and it was only recently that I discovered it is by Pauline Baynes of Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series. Beautiful ( the image, not the type, that’s a bit heavy!). This book was a phenomena when I was young, but I wonder, does anyone read it now?

And this is what I have been contemplating. For many of the books that are on the list on facebook are still in print. Some have been so for 50 years. Books these days come and go, sometimes within a matter of months. So few are kept in print and not many have the ‘backbone’ that some of these books do. But even if they do, unless they catch the eye, have a force of marketing behind them so that they are picked up, they find themselves resigned to the remaindered pile. So what is it that gives a books legs? And is it not true that whatever ‘it’ is, this is what also makes readers? Yes, we need basic techniques for learning to read, for teaching reading, but what we also need is good books. So many of the people writing on the facebook thread on my wall didn’t come to reading easily, but persisted because of the wealth that waited for them inside pages, and like me, these pages were often harboured not on bookshelves at home but in public libraries.

Some of the books on this page have lived their whole lives with me from when I adopted them from bookshops. More have been rescued from second hand shops because they were like the copies I had when I was young.


I saw the film of Kes before I read the book. I must read it again. And this is another thing I wonder. With so many new books, do these older, classics, still sell? Do people re -read them? They change as we grow in life. Cider with Rosie now reads so differently now that I am older than it did when I read it as a child. Tarka the Otter was too rich in language for me when I was a child. Re reading as an adult I find a wildly beautiful poetic prose so rich in texture.

The Goshawk

My reading improved with practice, so when I found The Goshawk I fell in love with T H White and deeper in love with The Once and Future King.

One more thing. On a Friday for the last 30 minutes of school things would stop and the teacher would take out of her desk the book she was reading to us and we would all sit, quiet and listen. Because when teachers could teach there was more time to encourage a love of books and less testing of children.

And still I am made from books, my house so full with them that sometimes I wonder where they can all go. And still people write more that I wish to read.

So, I ask again here, what is the first novel that you remember reading? You can answer here, or comment on your own blog and link back.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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35 Responses to First Love.

  1. Elizabeth Rimmer says:

    The Weirdstaone of Brisigamen was serialised on the radio (Children’s Hour) when I was little. It gave me nightmares so my Mum tried to stop us listening, but we couldn’t resist. One of the first novels I ever read was Naughty Sophie – also off Childrens Hour – about a princess who was stolen by Kobbolds. And The Hobbit too. These were read by David Davies and I’m amazed now to realise how much of my reading habits he formed!

    • Jackie says:

      Maybe that is where I heard it first too, on the radio, where the pictures are always the best!

      • Bethany Starr says:

        David Davies had the most beautiful voice, and read many things on the wireless – there was a BBC Cassette tape of him reading The Just So Stories. Does anyone know if his recordings are still available?

  2. There was also Jackanory.

  3. I can’t actually remember the first novel, unless it was Strawberry Girl, which is more like a story about how people in other places live. My Grandpa worked as a caretaker in a primary school and would bring us boxes of ‘discard’ books from the school library. I loved them. This was in America, and I guess American classics were Little House on the Prarie books.
    when my son was young- nearly 20 years ago, I started buying up and borrowing the’ English Classics’ and read them. I love them! I have several of these Alan Garner books I have kept for the same reasons you loved them. The Owl Service was confusing and scary to me as an adult, So I can imagine how you felt as a child.
    Now and then I find a reading child and guide them to these books. Have you read The Lantern Bearer by Rosemary Sutcliffe?
    I am glad you showed the Goshawk. I have been thinking about a book for my nephew – in his early teens. I was going to get Rosemary’s book, but was tossing about for another one. The Goshawk is perfect! Haven’t read it, but if you say so , it should do. Especially as he lives in Alaska and is still begging his mom to have his own Goshawk. He used to help a man who works with birds of prey.
    I love it when you have these little ‘conversations’ about various things here on the blog. I am not a Facebooker.
    Sandy in Bracknell

    • Jackie says:

      I loved The Goshawk. Likewise Kes, but that is very very English. He may also like The Oncce and Future King, which has hawks in it. But also A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, about a boy who goes to a wizard school ( sound familiar?)He is called Sparrowhawk,and is wonderful and in later book rides on dragons. But these are all old books. Of the new I would recommend Gillian Philip’s Firebrand, Bloodstone and Wolfsbane as a great trilogy.

  4. marilyn ritter says:

    What a lovely remembrance of your favorites. I don’t know the first book I actually read myself. I “thought” I read Madeline by L. Bemelmans but in truth I had memorized it from listening to my mother read it so many times. I played school with my dolls and read it to them. To this day, I can recite the entire book!

  5. Mandy Farley Owen says:

    Ooh “The Owl Service”, I forgot that one…..utterly freaky and terrifying to me as a child.

    • Jackie says:

      I couldn’t read it the first time around. But I did once go to a big old house, in Wales. There was nothing in it, and in one room, that looked as if it had been a library, there was a cupboard. In the cupboard were stuffed birds. One was an owl. Imagine! He now sits on my table where I work and looks at me. Sometimes I hear a scratching, claws on wood and glass. But maybe it is only my imagination.

  6. Mo Crow says:

    “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, the memory of Ginger and the awful bearing reins still brings tears to my eyes and funnily enough I have just started reading “Watership Down” again after all these years !

  7. Georgia says:

    By first book, I assume you mean novel, as I have many fond memories of picture books. I still have my favourite picture books from when I was a child, and I have kept all my childrens’ favourites.
    I have to say that I am lucky enough not to remember my “first book” because I think reading was just always there for me. I had many picture books and inherited all my parents classic books plus I am young enough to have been of that era where they started producing pulp fiction for kids; total rubbish which I read voraciously.
    Funnily enough, I think I have more memories of reading children’s novels as an adult. Both my husband and I are total bibliophiles and our collection of books is extensive. I have tried to provide a library of books for my 4 children so they can come at them when they are ready.
    Yes, we have collected plenty of the pulp series that they whizz through, and usually those are the ones that get donated on, but there are some books which are “keepers”. These are the ones that we have all read and enjoyed, or that one or two of us like to re read.
    The Wizard of Brisinger I read only a few years ago, it was my husband’s childhood copy) and I still feel absolute terror when I think of the children crawling through that tunnel.

  8. Marianne says:

    Possibly one of the Famous Five books or the Secret Seven. I queued for them in the library. But the first book I actually remember sitting down to read was The Midnight Folk by John Masefield. And I remember interrupting my mother’s conversation to ask what a necromancer was! My grandmother wondered whether the book was too old for me…. And I too grew up with David Davies. I heard his voice again on the radio a few years ago and was transported back to childhood. I still hear him in my head.

  9. Tom Ass ( I cannot remember who it was by) bought with my own money from the Puffin book club. It was run by one of our teachers. A classic fable of a foolish boy who learns value from becoming a donkey. I also remember being read the Adventures of the Robber Hotzenplotz by our wonderful teacher, Mrs Tompkins.
    Elidor was my first encounter with Alan Garner, through school radio; that ignited a love affair similar to yours. I too came to reading later than many peers, but was rich in stories as mum and I went to the library weekly and I was read to every night. I can picture sitting on the floor listening to anything by Ruth Manning Saunders, CS Lewis and Russell Hoban. Later I wore out the library copy of Russian Folk Tales. I was very privileged as a child, my parents would always find money for books; a habit that continues in our house today.

    Your comment about the loss of story time is so true. It is increasingly hard to fit in to a curriculum filled with testing that is really only used to test the teacher and not the child. I try very hard to make class story special, blinds are closed, lights go out, curtains are shut. Children may lay their heads on the desk and close their eyes, then we take our trips to new places. The last class relished Skellig and the one before adored The Beak Speaks.

    I also run a drop in book club for the kids, they come in, pick a book and read, draw pictures from the stories or listen to one of the BBC4 i=player stories. Just for the fun of it,,,nothing more, nothing less.

  10. James Mayhew says:

    Fascinating. Never read any of these except Moonfleet. My first “novel” was Comet in Moominland. Other memorable children’s novels were the Carbonel series (under appreciated series about the king of the cats), Green Smoke (also under appreciated – about a Cornish dragon who knew King Arthur; a love of Arthurian legends was sparked through these books), all the Moomin books of course. The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, and Edith Unnerstad’s Little O and The Urchin books are etched on my memory. I also loved Anne of Green Gables – taught me lot about the value of using imagination; Wuthering Heights was the first “proper” novel I read – it blew me away; As did David Copperfield – especially as I lived in the village where the novel begins: Blunderstone. I adored Mistress Masham’s Repose and The Sword in the Stone (White), ManxMouse by Paul Gallico, Chocky by John Wyndham, On The Beach (Nevil Shute; I have been resolutely anti-nuclear ever since). And lastly: The E Nesbit Psammead series, in particular The Story of the Amulet which, like The Railway Children, can still make me cry.

  11. Christina says:

    Oh my, there are many of my favourites mentioned here. I recently bought the 50th anniversary edition of The Weirdstone, I had 2nd hand copies of the Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, Red Shift and The Owl Service, so it was the only one missing, and it was always my favourite. But I think the first novel I can actually remember reading was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. A teacher read it class when I was 9 and I fell in love with it and sought it out in the school library. Imagine my delight when I discovered there were 7 books in the series! With my pocket money I gradually bought the whole set of paperbacks illustrated by Pauline Baynes, and still have them all. The other huge influence was Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. I still have the boxed set swapped for something (what, I cannot now remember) from a friend. Madeleine L’Engle was another favourite, as was Ursula Le Guin, and Rosemary Sutcliffe, and Watership Down too. I read them all between the ages of 9 and 13, and I think they shaped me into the person I am now.

  12. Jon Mayhew says:

    I’m with James, my first ‘novel’ was Finn Family Moomintroll, I loved the colourful cover and the stories within! On a holiday to North Wales, I bought A Book of Devils and Demons by Ruth Manning Sanders and that was my favourite (again a brilliant cover by Brian Froud). The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. The Minnipins by Carol Kendal! I’ll stop now.

  13. Do you know A Candle In Her Room by Ruth M Arthur? It’s set in Pembrokeshire and is about three generations of girls and their obsession with an evil doll called Dido…

    I remember both being transfixed and terrified by it aged around 10. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago for a ‘Bookshelf’ project I’ve begun on my Other Blog (the one that’s supposed to be more commercial – but soon both will merge and I will become an integrated human being at last…).

    I think A Candle In Her Room has probably dated more than some of the fantasy titles you and others have written already written about (I recently bought A Wizard of Earthsea for my son who is loving it, and have powerful memories of The Owl Service) but there’s something about its situation on the cusp of adulthood that has me shivering as I flick back through the pages.

    The link – with a front cover picture – is below, if you’d like to read more.

    • Jackie says:

      How funny. I was sent a copy of this just a few weeks ago, all the way from Lynne in Toronto. Illustrated by Margery Gill. First published in 1966 and with a dedication ” For the Curtis family and all my friends in Pembrokeshire.”

      • Yes, same illustrator, same dedication! I tracked mine down through and a bookseller in Columbia, Kentucky. It is an ex-library book, stamped Newport Board of Education (presumably Newport, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio). It was still being taken out regularly in 1991/92. I’m now totally fascinated to think of all those young girls in landlocked Kentucky reading about the wilds of the Pembrokeshire coast and identifying with the book’s emotional landscape…

        I think I want to read it again, but confess to feeling a little chilled as I pick it up!

  14. helen says:

    What a great question…..and beautifully diverse answers both here and on Facebook.

    My first was Indian Paint by Glenn Balch. I think I was about 6 or 7. I remember telling my teacher all about it the next day and how it had made me cry, and that she replied, “it is a good book if it can make you cry, or laugh”.

    I also remember with love, The Black Stallion, Flicka, Thunderhead, the Flambards trilogy, and many more.

    I had a very large cardboard box in my bedroom, where I tried to keep my books tidy….did not succeed most of the time. My mother bought me a five-shelf book case for my 16th birthday…..the best present…apart from more books :~)) I still have it, and it stands, heavily pregnant with tomes, next to me here as I type. Thank you for asking.

  15. Donna Baker says:

    I love all the King Arthur and Merlin stories and can only imagine what it must have been like to live in Great Britain while reading them. I tended to read books that were too advanced for my little mind to comprehend. One was THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullars, written by a 21 year old southern girl, and she won the Pulitizer Prize for it.

  16. Asni says:

    I already commented on the Facebook thread but thanks for posting this blog!

    The first book I remember reading on my own is “Latte Igel” (Latte the Hedgehog) by Sebastian Lybeck – it was one of three books our primary teacher gave to the three kids in her class who’d mastered reading ahead of everyone else, so we wouldn’t get bored! Bless her – best way to inspire a love of reading. It must actually have been the second book I read – the book she gave to me was a different one, something to do with American Indians I think, I was the kid with the auntie in Canada – but then we swopped, and this is the one I remember because I really loved it.

    My mother was a children’s librarian before she had me, so I was fed on a very select diet of great children’s books – the deepest impression was made by Astrid Lindgren’s books – I am named after her, so of course I felt a special connection, and I read pretty much every book and story she has ever written. My favourites were The Children of Noisy Village (which is the first I read since it is addressed at younger children) – and especially the Kalle Blomquist series. I wasn’t so taken by Pippi Longstockings, but Eva-Lis from the Blomquist books was definitely an important role model! 🙂 I also loved her fantasy/fairy tale books, Mio my Mio, and later (when I was already a bit past “the age”) The Brothers Lionheart, which is one of my all time favourite books – and even later, Ronja. I also fell deeply in love with Ilon Wikland’s illustrations for these books, she has a lot to do with my aspirations at being an illustrator myself! Of my picture books (which I loved to bits, and some of which I still keep), I tend to remember the images rather than the words or stories. 🙂

    Other authors I remember are Ottfried Preussler (Krabat, in particular) and Hans Baumann, who wrote both fiction and non-fiction books on historical topics, and archeology. Also the “Urmel” series by Hans Kruse. Erich Kästner, and Michael Ende (though Momo and The Neverending Story were written when I was already a “young adult”). Some of these books were made into puppet shows which ran on the kid’s tv programme – magic stuff.

    I also read a lot of non-fiction books as a kid, too, I was a real science buff then! – Obviously, as I grew up in Germany, all these books were in German, so I don’t know if anyone else here knows them (unless they are also German).

    My mother gave me a (translated) copy of The Hobbit but though I liked it, it didn’t leave a particularly deep impression – I didn’t turn into a raving Tolkien fan until I read Lord of the Rings in my mid-to-late teens.

    I do, however, remember what I think must have been the first proper adult romance novel I read, when I was 14 – Trade Wind, by M. M. Kaye. I should like to use this opportunity to make a case for this author, who, in my opinion, is MUCH underrated, and not nearly well known enough! The Far Pavillions is her best known book (and the only one that currently still seems to be in print – but there are plenty of second hand copies around of the other books), and The Ordinary Princess is a well known (and very lovely) children’s book.

    The author was born in what was then British India, and later married a British army officer (which may give completely the wrong impression of where she is coming from in terms of her political views! It’s not a fashionable point of view that she writes from, but a very interesting and though provoking one, and she is a fiercely intelligent writer with a deep inside understanding of the issues involved in colonialism, or power structures in general!). — Before her marriage, she’d worked as an illustrator, and later a writer of mystery novels, in London and in her native India.

    Two of her historical novels, The Far Pavillions, and Shadow of the Moon, are set in 19th century India, and the third, Trade Wind, in 19th century Zanzibar, which was then one of the last bastions of the African slave trade (she’d spent time on Zanzibar, as well as a number of other far flung places, accompanying her husband, and dug out some dusty history books from a forgotten library shelf – all three historical novels are based quite substantially on her own original research.)

    Trade Wind is a bit “controversial” – there are a few discussion groups on the internet, and it has been called a “rape fantasy” by people who have evidently not read it properly, because it is anything but that – though a rape (or rather, two rapes of two very different women) is, indeed, a crucial plot point. It also features one of the strongest female characters I have ever encountered in literature (all of M. M. Kaye’s heroines are strong and well developed characters, but I think Hero Hollis carries the palm, for sheer stubborn moral courage!) — and it is definitely not your average love story. It MOST definitely does not glorify violence (sexual, or otherwise) in any way. But it asks a lot of interesting questions around that topic!

    I used to put it down as a “trivial” bodice ripper (though I always enjoyed it, and was touched by it), but I recently picked it up again and was stunned at how tightly it is constructed and written – not a word wasted! – and in how many directions it flies off, once one takes a closer look.

    I’m also stunned that this book was written in 1963 – a lot of the topics it touches on didn’t come into the intellectual mainstream until the ’70’s (feminist analysis) or the ’90s (postcolonialism, the slave trade – they’re still working on processing that!). The author does require her readers to look closely, and think for themselves – and I’m sure there are other possible ways to read the story – but I had to shamefacedly admit to myself that if I thought this book trivial, I just hadn’t understood it properly! I can’t recommend this author enough.

    I don’t want to waffle on here for too long, but I’m currently in the process of writing a lengthy article (review, analysis) on my newsletter, which I will shamelessly link to (I’m just writing the 5th installment, and there will have to be a 6th one, I am afraid – so be prepared! 🙂 ) —

    The 5th will be here in a few days:

    • Jackie says:

      So lovely to have this, thanks, and for all the links too.

      • Asni says:

        🙂 – Oh and the Kalle Blomquist character is called Eva-Lotta, not Eva-Lis. Eva-Lis is a real existing Swedish friend of mine. I keep confusing the two. 😀

        • Asni says:

          … another book I absolutely loved was The Jungle Books. I seem to have read a lot of books about India when I was young. Always wanted to visit some day, haven’t made it so far – need to put on my agenda of Thinsg To Do Before I Die!

      • Asni says:

        … another book I absolutely loved was The Jungle Books. I seem to have read a lot of books about India when I was young. Always wanted to visit some day, haven’t made it, so far – need to put on my agenda of Things To Do Before I Die!

  17. I love this post and all the comments, though I’m a little late! (And thank you for the mention, Jackie!) Many of these were my own favourites, too. I adored The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and The Hobbit, and I read them all so many times. The trouble with childhood favourites, for me, was that I spent so much time re-reading them all umpteen times, I neglected others I know I would have loved. I STILL haven’t read The Dark Is Rising or Moonfleet! (But they are both on my bookshelves, so I’ll remedy that…)

    Anybody else remember Mary Plain? She was a bear who lived in Switzerland, in a bear pit in Berne with her stern but kind grandmother, and I loved her. (Like most kids I must have had a thing about bears, because I loved Ponder & William and A Bear Called Paddington too.) And horses – yes, The Silver Brumby (no child I ask now has ever heard of Thowra!), My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion were all favourites. I remember having a picture book called Big Black Horse, with fabulous illustrations – it was an adaptation of The Black Stallion for young readers, and it brought me eventually to the novel. Misty of Chincoteague was another one I read over and over again – I was just given a copy of a new edition by a bookshop I visited in San Francisco, and I devoured it again that evening.

    And Watership Down completely converted me to animal fantasy. It was HUGE – I can’t believe it isn’t read so much nowadays…

    As for Enid Blyton – I remember crying my eyes out because I couldn’t be one of the Famous Five 🙂

    Lovely memories, Jackie – thanks!

    • Jackie says:

      I remember Mary Plain, but she was one of the books I took out and couldn’t read, because I couldn’t read, so I pretended to and then took her back and never ever did know what the stories were about.

  18. Marian Rudd says:

    I don’t remember books from early childhood, but studied The Rainbow by DH Lawrence, probably for A Level and named my daughter Ursula because I loved it so much. We read to our 3 children every night and some of the favourites have been Finn Family Moomintroll, The Little Grey Men by “BB” is a beautifully written story about 3 gnomes, Cloudberry, Dodder and Sneezewort. (My husband is waxing lyrical about “BB”‘s other book Brendon Chase about 2 brothers who run away from school.) Tarka The Otter would have been hard going reading as a child, but my son loved hearing it read to him. We are on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books the second time round (only one more to go). And my husband cried while reading the ending of The Incredible Journey to our eldest. We can’t seem to find any recently written books that we like as much, my 11 year old refuses to read Harry Potter, perhaps he absorbed them as I read them one after the other when I was pregnant with him! I am always on the look out for more corkers to share with our children, so thanks for this thread!

    • Bethany Starr says:

      Try Cynthia Harnett, we have read The Woolpack and are going to have The Load of Unicorn next. I’m also keen on Barbara Willard, my 2 nine year olds have enjoyed The Lark and The Laurel, though some of the Mantlemass series are best for older children. I’m going to track down Barbara Leonie Pichard next, hoping both I and the children might enjoy them since I read her obituary recently.

      We have had the Laura books twice round too. And I so agree with you about preferring the old fashioned stuff – a lot of current books are disappointingly thin… Haven’t found the incredible journey yet but enjoyed Haki the Shetland Pony. Also loved Lavinia Derwent’s Sula books.

      I’d forgotten Brendan Chase – thanks for the reminder! And wow, there’s so much really good children’s literature out there. My husband is reading aloud The Wizard of Earthsea at this very moment….

      My favourite Ruth Arthur was The Little Dark Thorn… I think this and several of hers were really girls books so have lent them to several girls over the years.
      Sheena Porter was another writer I enjoyed at around ten (?) and Cordelia Jones’s A Cat Called Camouflage…..

  19. Shira says:

    I was reading since day one in school, usually under my desk (and my teacher let me), so it’s hard to remember what came first… anything to do with horses, Black Beauty and the Black Stallion, the horses of Assateague… I had plenty of books, but I used to go to the catholic library on sundays and pick up more books. There was a lovely trilogy called Little Dott (die kleine Dott) about a girl that is rendered invisible on summer solstice night and travels the east of Germany with animals, mythical creatures and travels thru time as well -bit of a Selma Lagerlöff rip off I guess, but I loved it- so much that I tracked down copies a few years back. The books have gone out of of print. I remember I read the Owl service (in German) and found it scary. Not as scary as the Lord of the Rings, which I read when I was eleven.

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