Once in while, you come across a series of books that changes your life. I've already talked about the impact that 'Anne of Green Gables' had on me as a child and this time it's the turn of Susan Cooper's series 'The Dark is Rising'. My sister had a full set of these in hardback and the covers intrigued and terrified me as a child. When I was about 8, she started reading me the second in the series (also called The Dark Is Rising) as a bedtime story. It petrified me and I begged her to choose something else. However, the covers continued to draw me in and when I got to 14 and was staying at my sister's house and looking for something to read, she suggested that I try them again.
This time, I started at the beginning with Over Sea, Under Stone, an adventurous tale set in Cornwall and drawing on the legends of King Arthur that I'd already fallen in love with through multiple readings of Tennyson's La Morte d'Arthur at my grandmother's house. Before I was halfway through I was hooked and I galloped through the rest of the series over the next few days.
There are very few books that I come back to over and over again and still find that same joy of reading them for the first time, but these are amongst those few. There is something about them that draws me in each time - I can feel the freeze of the deep mid-winter, agonise alongside the characters when things go wrong and feel their pain when people they love turn out not to be so loving in return.
When my son asked me to write a book about him having an adventure with Robin Hood, it was to these books I turned for inspiration and The Forest Children was born: if the series I'm still working on turn out half as well as these, I will be well satisfied with my work.
Over the years, I've had various paperback omnibus editions and have the books on my kindle as well, but those first hardbacks that my sister have stayed with me. As I approached my 40th birthday earlier this year, my sister rang to ask if there was any particular present I wanted, as she knows that for the big birthdays I like to have something to keep and treasure. 'I'd like hardback versions of The Dark is Rising like the ones you've got' was my immediate response. Duly, when I opened my birthday presents a few months later, inside my sister's parcel were copies of the first three books, exactly as I'd requested, all inscribed to me with love from my sister. I will admit to becoming a little emotional at the sight. It wasn't until a few weeks later that she confessed to the fact that she'd only been able to find one of the books in the version I'd requested and so had actually given me two of her own copies. Emotional seems woefully inadequate to describe how that made me feel - I knew how much my sister loved those books - she'd owned them for more than 30 years and they had been lovingly cared for all that time.
However, I was then on a mission to track down the final two - The Grey King and Silver On The Tree. I've tried all the online book searching sites to try and track them down, but most of them are either ex-library copies or cannot guarantee that what I will receive is the specific edition I'm looking for. This morning, my copy of the latter arrived (having already traced the correct edition of the former). It's still not quite the right version (I'm desperate to get a copy of the Bodley Head edition) but at least the picture on the front is the correct one and it's in excellent condition considering its age, so for now at least, the collection I have longed for over the years is (almost) complete. I will keep searching for Bodley Head's Silver on the Tree but I'm nearly at the end of a journey that's taken 30 years to complete.
If anyone who reads this is looking to sell a copy of the edition I'm looking for then please contact me!!
The question now of course, is will the books ever be allowed to leave the shelf on which they are so proudly displayed? Not only are they extraordinarily precious to me in their own right, but they now represent something far more important - proof positive (not that I needed it, or that it was ever in doubt) of the depth of my sister's love for me.