Looking out across the sea
Pictured are a few of the books and comics that helped me imagine the world over the sea, far from the confines of the island of Madeira where I grew up, until I came to school in England aged eleven. The flowers are deliberate; my parents were passionate gardeners and I spent much of my childhood hiding in the library from the tyranny of the garden. My father had bought some of the contents of the British Church library and so my reading offer was heavily Victorian, from Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Oman Khayyan, to heavily bound editions of The Illustrated London News, and the complete works of Walter Scott.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I wasn’t a natural reader at first, and it was a subscription to The Beano that got me hooked into the ability to step into a different world. From Dennis and Gnasher it was a easy step up to Nancy Drew and then into the thrilling chill of Rebecca, via Nevil Shute and Evelyn Anthony. When I went to school, my copy of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature led me happily astray through years of literature. It was where I first remember reading Yeats amongst others. I read in Portuguese as well, and Florbela Espanca marked my adolescence, whilst Conrad guided me through university. I love our 1913 edition Kipling’s Just So Stories because it is one of the few books I remember my father reading to me. We marvelled at the inventiveness of the stories and the eccentricity of the illustrations. From Kipling through to Maus, I’ve always been fascinated by how illustration works to complement and open up text. My mother, a natural linguist, introduced me to Balzac and Maupassant – in French, which I never really mastered – but that feeling of excitement and mystery when encountering a different culture and language through the pages of a book has never yet left me.