I was born in the front bedroom of a council house in the sixties and grew up surrounded by books.
The idea of a council house full of books rather challenges stereotypes, doesn’t it? But there you go, we had lots of them. Partly because Dad’s dad had been a printer and had given us his huge collection of old books, partly because Mum’s parents had moved to a flat and given us most of their books, too. We had so many books, in fact, that my elder brothers cut the middles out of a couple of them to hide things in. (Some of the collection were rip-roaring children’s adventures from the 30’s, and I think they got the idea from them.)
Both parents were avid readers from working class families with a tradition of valuing books. I consider myself blessed.
One of the books we had and loved was ‘The Family from One End Street’. Published in 1937 by artist-cum-author Eve Garnett, it was the first children’s book to feature urban, working-class children as main characters. It certainly reminded Mum of her own wartime East End childhood, and she often referred to us as ‘the Family from One End Street’ as if nostalgic for that time.
I definitely connected with the stories, at any rate. The Ruggles family didn’t go on rip-roaring adventures involving books you could hide things in, but got into the same kind of everyday scrapes me and my siblings did.
Looking back on that time, I identify with them still. It was a special place to me, our own ‘One End Street.’ I think about it a lot, and stories about it leak into lots of the things I write.
And draw, too. When a friend set a Lockdown challenge to draw the cover of a favourite book, I chose ‘The Family from One End Street.’ Had to google to find the right cover (my copy has a reworked modern monstrosity) and I couldn’t quite fit it all in on the page. But I’m pleased with it, nevertheless, and smile at us little rogues, every time I look at it.