A few years ago, I was wandering through the library at the school where I work, and there was a book seller vending his wares. Just on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he had Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton.
And he did. Wow. Nostalgia trip! It was like finding an old childhood teddy bear in a forgotten cupboard.
You see, B&B was one of the first books I read independently when I was about six, and I devoured it. The plot was simple, the characters easy to grasp and I loved that book. I still love it, and sometimes still even quote it (“It’s cheaper to spit in a bus”, “Pale hands, my heart is singing…”). I read it over and over, and it soaked into me.
I was utterly transported by it, carried away for the first time I could remember. My love of books and writing is all down to this. Thank you Mary Norton, thank you more than I could ever tell you.
As a result, B&B is part of who I am today. It got me into reading, and there’s been nothing I’ve ever read since that has given me such simple pleasure. Flicking through it again years later, I was still captivated by it, like finding a childhood toy that can still transport your imagination to another world. It was like stepping back to being six years old again.
I was swept away by it again when I reread it, and that’s something every book should do to you. Take you away from where you are and drop you somewhere else, whether it’s by magical bed like in B&B or Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter.
There’s an elemental power in the first book we remember reading, something that stops with us for the rest of our lives. One of the reasons I love reading – and one of the reasons I love writing – is to write something like this: Something that doesn’t leave you, but becomes part of who you are as you go through life.
I haven’t come close to writing anything as elegant as B&B yet, which is why I keep trying. But I don’t think I’ll ever come close to anything like this wonderful and powerfully simple little story that captured my imagination and then set it free again.