My first visit to a bookshop was an occasion which I can still remember, and it set a pattern for a love of books which has lasted all my life. I grew up in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a small cathedral city in the Cambridgeshire fens. Back in 1980 Ely had only one bookshop, Bennett’s. It was a fabulous place, crammed with books, and to 9 year old me it seemed enormous. It’s not there now – a tea-room occupies the building – and it’s a building which looks so tiny it’s a wonder it could of been a bookshop at all. But to me, it was a place to explore with my mum and lose myself in.
Mum had bought me books from Bennett’s before, but for a recent birthday my grandmother had sent me a book voucher, and this seemed like a very grown-up and serious thing. I had permission to buy whatever I wanted, and I couldn’t wait to exchange this important-looking piece of paper for a book of my own – and I knew just which one I wanted.
I’d seen Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll in the shop before, drawn in by the cover and confusing title. What was a Finn? What was a Moomintroll? I was puzzled, and I wanted in on the secret of the Moomins, and the mysterious-sounding writer, Tove Jansson. I had never heard of anyone called Tove before. The front cover was brilliant, and more confusing still. There was a Moomin in a hat, Moomins on clouds, and a host of other strange-looking creatures on the back cover to find out about. It was like nothing I had ever seen.
Carefully carrying my prize to the counter, the sale of the book was written up in a large ledger, which gave the occasion even more grown-up importance. I felt so proud handing over my book token. The book was placed inside a paper bag, and I clutched it all the way home.
I loved reading Finn Family Moomintroll. I felt as if I could wrap myself up in the story and the characters. I loved the illustrations, the map to refer to as the story unfolded, and the crazily-written introduction from MoominMamma. I felt as if it had been written just for me, and I read it again and again. I saved up my pocket money and eventually I had a whole Moomin series to explore. But none of the other books made me as happy as the first one. I have it still, and looking back, it was a wonderful choice to begin my journey of reading.