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April 24, 2012

Amanda Hodgkinson on a Lively Childhood

Amanda Hodgkinson is a British writer and journalist who grew up in a small Essex fishing village before moving to Suffolk, and attending the University of East Anglia. She now lives and works in south west France with her husband Guy and their two daughters. 22 BRITANNIA ROAD is Amanda Hodgkinson’s first novel. Here, she talks about being inspired by her mother and her bustling childhood home. 

As a child, I remember my mother as a gentle and creative woman, always painting or drawing, reading, sewing or crocheting. When she saw us children following her around, she might look surprised, as if she had forgotten briefly who we were. And yet children, people and animals were always drawn to her. She was (and still is) a great one for collecting all manner of waifs and strays.

In the early 1970s we lived in the countryside surrounded by fields and not far from the sea. Our house was big and messy and full of noisy children (there were four of us and we always had friends round). We had lots of pets too: dogs and cats, ponies, parrots, hamsters and chickens. At one point, my mother kept squirrel monkeys that ran free around the house.

To this bubbling pot of family life I must also throw in a vast quantity of books. My mother was an avid reader and our house was crammed full of reading matter. There were huge piles of books on the floor. Tables were covered in them and every bookshelf we had was stocked solid.

Like most children growing up, I thought the grass might be greener elsewhere. I stormed around like any other hippy child of the time but I also longed to be an only child with my mother’s undivided attention. I liked to imagine living alone with my parents in a neat little house where the furniture gleamed and the ticking of the clock in the hall could be heard in every room.

My mother must have felt that need for quiet too because she would often hide herself away with a book. I would find her and settle nearby. I loved her almost black hair, the deep tan of her skin, her hazel eyes made up with black kohl. I was a blonde child, with blue eyes, pale skin and freckles. Oh, but I wanted so much to look like her!

I have strong memories of her sitting with her feet curled under her, a book in hand, utterly absorbed by its pages. I was desperate to know what it was in a book that could hold her attention so perfectly. I think, back then, I probably wanted to be a book…

So it was a wonderful thing when my mother began to share her love of literature with me. She opened a door for me into a world of novels and poetry and encouraged me to write my own stories too. With her as my supportive muse, I threw myself into the task with great enthusiasm and sadly, a single-minded lack of regard for other people’s property.

‘You wrote all over everything,’ she says when I speak to her of the past. She laughs, displaying her longheld, hippy penchant for lawlessness in children.

 ‘You wrote all over the walls in the house with pens and crayons. You wrote in library books, tax forms, on your arms and your sister’s and brothers’ arms, and on every scrap of paper you could find. I never minded. You were always making huge, long lists of words you liked. I was sure you were going to be a poet one day.’

My mother is in her seventies now. She has eight grandchildren and encourages any sign of creativity in them just as she did with us. Her home is warm and welcoming and filled with books, crayon-marked walls, lots of visitors and various elderly pets.

Every time I call by, she goes off to her bookshelves and produces unusual books she thinks I might like, pressing them into my hands as gifts. She is not one for talking much about feelings but when she hands me a book it is a loving act.

It’s a long time since I was an eight year old menace with a crayon in my hand and an obsession for listmaking. These days I have a quiet house (lots of books and quite tidy though the furniture could do with a dusting). I am a mother of two teenage daughters and a full time novelist. I’m still obsessed with words and I’m happy to say that my mother, who encourages creativity in everybody, is still in many ways, my muse.