Saturday, 24 July 2021


Summer was never my favourite season when I was a kid. That was winter, with its Christmas celebrations, trips to the theatre and long baking sessions with my grandma. I also liked spring, the perfect time of year for nature rambles when I'd fill entire notebooks with notes about the local flora and fauna. 

But summer? In the med? For three endless months? Nope, not for me the blinding sunshine, the intense heat that melted the tarmac on the roads and, worst of all, the trauma of being forced to expose my wobbly tummy on the beach. 

The only good thing about summer as far as I was concerned was the time I could spend reading.  I had no access to a public library, so I begged, borrowed and, yes, stole books whenever I got the chance. The house next door to us was rented to British servicemen with large families. They always moved on to Cyprus or Hong Kong and their kids introduced me to British authors I might never had have discovered otherwise: Malcom Saville, Arthur Ransome, John Aiken, Ursula LeGuin. The list is endless.

There were some books I returned to every year and some of those have shaped the writer I became. Some of those stories I still treasure to this very day. Here' my top three.

TREASURE ISLAND, by R.L. Stevenson  was the perfect summer story. It featured pirates and ships. It told of the sea but not as a benign entity lapping gently against a sandy beach packed with idle holiday makers. In Stevenson's story it was a path to dangerous adventure, a link to an outside world I always dreamt of exploring. I fell in love with Long John Silver, who I much preferred to the pompous Dr. Livesey who reminded me of all the respectable men in our village. (PS. I didn't beg, steal or borrow my copy of this book. It was an end of year prize in Year 4.)

THE SILVER SWORD, by Ian Serallier. I borrowed this from my elder brother who was studying it at school. The version I read was part of the Windmill Classics series so it might have been abridged. Nevertheless, I loved travelling with Ruth, Edik and Bronia as they tried to meet up with their parents at the end of World War II. They befriend a mysterious street boy called Jan who you're never sure if he is on their side or not. He has a little wooden box in which he keeps a secret collection of objects. I still have a similar box, which I show to children during school visits. It's filled with little objects that feature in my own books.

TIME AND THE CONWAYS, by J.B. Priestley. This isn't strictly a book, and certainly not a children's story. It's one of Priestlye's Time Plays. I have no idea where I found a Cassell edition of the script but I devoured it in one afternoon. Most of the themes must have gone right over my head but I was gripped by the story of a snobbish family and what happens to them over the years.  What got me most of all was Priestley's manipulation of the time sequence to make his points. Act 1 takes place during a birthday party in 1919. We meed the young Conways and their friends and learn about their hopes for the future. Act 2 takes place twenty years later and we discover what became of the family. Act 3 goes back to the moment it left off in Act 1, forcing us to witness the Conway's actions in a completely different light.  The idea blew my mind.  It was perhaps one of the reading experiences that wanted me to write my own plays.

Saviour Pirotta's Wolfsong series is set in the Neolithic. The final book, The Wolf's Song comes out in January 2022. Follow him on twitter


Mystica said...

I'd love to get hold of the Conways book. Sounds very good.

Lynne Benton said...

I heard Time and the Conways on the radio and have never forgotten it! Such a brilliant manipulation of time. Thank you for this post, Saviour.

Susan Price said...

Stevenson! I love h im and was influenced by him too -- although not Treasure Island, which was ruined for me by being made to read it at school. But Kidnapped, Dr Jekyll, the Bottle Imp, Maaster of Ballentrae -- he was a wonderful writer.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks for your comments, Mystica, Lynne and Susan. I wonder if the radio version of Time and the Conways is available online, Lynne. It would be the sort of thing the BBC would do. Susan, I love the Master of Ballantrae.