Gonna Write It In An Attic...

Growing up in New Guinea, I was lucky to have access to the Mt Hagen library, which was positively stuffed with the greats of children's literature - E. Nesbit, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Arthur Ransome, Noel Streatfeild and many others. I don't know how this tiny library managed to acquire such riches; perhaps I have a shadowy benefactor to thank for this good fortune, but the imaginative fertiliser that was laid down in my primary school years has enriched and nourished all my writing since.

Of course no author can set out to write a classic, but I must admit, when I started to write the book that has become Cicada Summer, there were two classic books I was influenced by (let's not say, shamelessly copying).

The first is Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce, which celebrated its fiftieth birthday last year. Lonely Tom, exiled to his uncle and aunt's flat for the holidays, hears the old clock strike thirteen, and goes downstairs to discover a secret garden which doesn't exist during the day. During his visits, he befriends the equally lonely Hatty, and realises that he seems to have travelled back in time. The central mystery of the book has a beautifully clear and satisfying structure, and the ending always made me cry. Now I'm older, it still makes me cry, but for different reasons.

Another of my favourites was The Children Of Green Knowe, by Lucy M. Boston, in which the small boy Tolly wanders the very old house of his great-great grandmother and encounters the ghosts who live there. This was the first of six books, all of which brim with the same dreamy magic.

There is something irresistible about the idea of a lonely child exploring an (almost) deserted old house or garden. No doubt both of these beautiful books were in turn influenced by their predecessor, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is about as close to a perfect children's story as you could ever hope to read. It would be incredibly sad to think that children are missing out on these wonderful stories, just because they're old. And I would love to think that in her own humble way, when Eloise sets out to explore her own wild garden in Cicada Summer, she is continuing a tradition that goes back a century.

(Cicada Summer will be out in May.)

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