I was born in the North of England, but spent my formative school years living in the West of Scotland. Primary school was a place of creative and imaginative opportunities. Despite being introduced to my secondary school teacher by my primary school teacher as the one in the class who ‘has her head in the clouds’, primary school offered me the possibility to engage imaginatively with literature in a way that secondary school did not. I was picked out to curate the poetry corner in the classroom, and there I gathered poems composed by my classmates, and with a friend selected and pinned up poems by authors that we loved. Essential to any primary school curriculum in Scotland was Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. It was expected that every primary school child learn this poem by heart, a practice which I believe still persists in some schools in Scotland. A poem of twilight, of ghosts, witches and warlocks, of community and of fear, Tam O’Shanter offered me an early and formative incursion into works of the supernatural.
I pursued my fascination with the supernatural in other examples of poetry that I put up in the primary school corner; added to this were excerpts from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
My adolescence was punctuated by periods of quite serious illness which landed me in hospital for spells of two or three weeks at a time. Anyone who has spent any time in hospital will understand just how tedious and prolonged one day spent in a hospital is. For a twelve or thirteen year old, the feelings of boredom and frustration were even more intense. Thankfully my wonderful family kept me supplied with a steady supply of books from the library or our shelves at home. In hospital, I first read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. From that tale of Jo March, the daughter who asserts her independence and becomes an author I graduated to another tale of female independence, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
I read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen, and still it remains as one of my firmly favourite novels. The heroine’s desire to hide herself behind curtains to read undisturbed by others resonated with my own instincts at that time; her later defence of her independence which does not jar with her uncanny ability to tinge everyday occurrences with a whiff of the supernatural further intrigued me.
Thanks to enforced inaction and convalescence, I was able to undertake some weighty and formative reading, and draw solace from books during a difficult time. These encounters with strong female characters, and my evolving fascination with the supernatural, have without a doubt informed my subsequent progress as a scholar. My love of Romanticism and the Gothic, and of literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has its tributaries in those moments of my primary school education and adolescence.