I was a precocious child. Thinking back, my time was divided between music and books. I was painfully shy too and had trouble gaining friends, especially in school. No wonder: when I was two-years-old, I started learning music and with three years under my belt, I could just about cover the holes in a soprano recorder. From there I swiftly went on the larger models and with six, I started playing the piano. To top it all off, I got my first violin as a nine-year-old.
Picture me, going to school, with a violin and plats. Of course, I sang too . . . soprano. I was eccentric, to say the least. My only escape was reading. And I scoured the local library every week. It didn’t take me long to exhaust the children’s books, although I always returned to the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I believe, I even decided to grow my hair and plat it, to emulate that heroine.
We lived in a ‘plebeian’ society: without a doubt, it was warm and friendly. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t approve of the ‘lack of culture’ displayed. She kept to herself — and kept her children ‘out of harm’s way’. Obviously, that didn’t endear us to the neighbours and by default: my school-mates.
So, I had plenty of time to study, to practise my instruments, and to read. My father had inherited a complete collection of Dickens novels, which I devoured. I fell in love with Esther Summerson and Lucie Manette — so much so that the books fell apart before I’d done with them. Interestingly, I found Jane Austen in the local library. My mother scoffed: that’s a ‘governess-novel’ not worth wasting your time on. I read Pride and Prejudice, all the same. As a result, I told my mum that Jane Austen was better than she thought and kept reading those novels. That experience brought the Bronte’s books to my attention, and I fell in love all over: this time with Jane Eyre.
After that, I swiftly moved through Katherine by Anya Seton, Ivanhoe, and The Moonstone. The Moonstone was a coincidence: I had a period of reading cosy mysteries, including Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and the Swedish author, Maria Lang. In one of her books, it happens that her detective reads the Moonstone, and I began to wonder who Wilkie Collins might be. Naturally, I managed to find out, and The Moonstone convinced me of his merit.
Come to think of it: my granny supplied me with some interesting reads. She had a library of well-thumbed paper-back novels, including Desiree by Annemarie Selinko, an illustrated art history, and The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang.
I mustn’t forget the Danish authors: Johannes V Jensen, his Sister Thit, Wilhelm Bergsøe, H C Andersen, and Karen Blixen. By the way, my sister had a Shakespeare retold for kids, and we used our dolls to stage his plays. Mostly the casting was so difficult that we didn’t get much past that stage: we couldn’t agree on the simplest things.
And then there were the fairly-tales. From A Thousand and One Night to Grimm, from East of the Moon to The Golden Pot.
It was easy to forget everyday trouble when you could read. And read I did, from morning to late at night. No wonder that I had trouble staying awake in school as a teenager. By then I didn’t give a hoot about A-levels: I wanted to become an opera singer, a famous soprano. Well immersed in dreams, I still managed to get into the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music.
© HMH, 2018