Fundamentally, I think I’ve been formed more by films, but these are some of the books that have brought me here. Things I read as a child I’ve reread with my own children, like The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark (everyone is, I think, so this is a shared acknowledgement and cure). I took to horror early (Poe, Lovecraft, Wyndham) which directed me straight into horror cinema. My uncle always forgot birthdays, but once he turned up with a second-hand book on pterosaurs, and this is a book I’ve treasured. It entranced me with its mix of palaeontological fact (as believed then), fantasy fiction (Conan Doyle’s The Lost World) and exquisite illustrations. In retrospect I realise I loved it because it was a Harryhausen movie on my shelf.
Formative reads inevitably come from English teachers. The Hitchhiker’s Guide was recommended to me when I was eleven. If I worried about being Arthur Dent, lost in an arbitrary universe, I could aspire to be the judge of the Cricket War Trial – Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed. “Two out of three aint bad.” Heart of Darkness from my A Level teacher was absorbed crucially after Apocalypse Now, to show imperialism never changes. A (as it turns out) life-long friend gave me the book on Kurosawa’s Ran, about the creation more than just production of that film, back when I could read French pretty well. My Sixth Form library had two editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships — one from the 1950s, and this one (not this actual one, I didn’t steal it!). I like to think I was the only person who ever looked at them: now I own several editions of this book, and they’re great for flattening things. I was politicised by George Orwell, and I looked forward to the English revolution he assured me would come along: obviously still waiting for that, but Hitchhiker’s predicts it too.