Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What I Read In My Holidays by Scott Harrison (aged 36)

I love books from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Absolutely love ‘em - particularly novelisations and TV tie-ins. And collecting old and out of print editions has become a bit of a part time hobby of mine.

I guess it all harks back to my formative years when I moved on to grown-up fiction a year ahead of the rest of my year. The School’s reading library was colour-coded in sections, with each label (white, yellow & white, red, black & red, etc) denoting a particular level of reading ability; with the final level being labelled simply ‘library book’, which meant you could read just about anything you liked, as long as it didn’t contain anything of an ‘adult’ nature.

The first book I remember taking in to read in the regular afternoon Reading Group (first class straight after dinner, every afternoon) was a Star Trek novel from my mother’s own personal stash. It was from her that I inherited both my love of all things Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror as well as my insatiable appetite for reading; and in the living room cupboard, beneath the Venetian serving hatch, my mother had a rather impressive collection of genre titles, all bought in the late 70s and early 80s. It was here, amongst this weighty stack of paperback fiction, where I had my first proper exposure to Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel Dracula, something that was to turn into an obsession – both for the original novel and it’s various book and film spin-offs. Coincidentally this copy of Dracula was bought in 1979 and had the Universal film cover tie-in with Frank Langella as the Count on the front, the version that would become my favourite movie adaptation many years later.

Slowly, yet with great eagerness, I made my way through my mother’s collection of genre novels in the living room cupboard, many by writers who are sadly out of print today, such as; Audrey Rose by Frank De Fellita, Sasquatch by M.E.Knerr, The Howling by Gary Bradner, Gateway to Hell by Dennis Wheatley, Omen: The Abomination by Gordon McGill, The Entity by Frank De Fellita, Spock Messiah by Theodore R. Cogswell & Charles A. Spano and Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation of Alien, to name only a handful. All of which I remember with great fondness.

Over the intervening years, with the need to make room for new titles, not to mention moving house several times, the above novels have been lost, thrown or lent out never to be returned, much to my great disappointment and sadness.

As the 80s wore on the collection was starting to run dry, so instead I began to buy novels of my own. Original novels, such as ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, The Death of Grass by John Christopher and Magician by Raymond E. Feist , as well as film and TV tie-in novels aimed at the 15-and-upwards market such as V by A.C. Crispin, The Spaceman and King Arthur by Vic Crume, Ghostbusters by Larry Milne and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by James Khan.

Around the same time my family, along with my aunt and uncle, would regularly spend our summer holidays at the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington. At first we would stay in a wonderful little B&B on Tennyson Avenue (sadly no longer there) about 5 minutes walk from the beach, until my aunt and uncle bought a small caravan a mile or so up the coast in the village of Sewerby. Naturally with my uncle being the big reader that he was the caravan was constantly littered with paperback novels, seemingly every shelf space, cupboard, nook and cranny heaving with them (they were mostly spy novels by Len Deighton, WWII adventures by Jack Higgins or the Minder novels of Leon Griffiths and Anthony Masters). Later, when borrowing the caravan for my own holidays, I would often spend the evening on the quiet little campsite, winding down reading one of my uncle’s novels.

Consequently, in the last couple of years, I have been hunting down these books in various charity, second hand, and rare book shops, as well as online - not just in an attempt to recapture a small slice of childish nostalgia, but because these are wonderfully fun novels, with cover artwork and designs that have, arguably, never been bettered.

Recently my fiancée and I spent a very enjoyable week out and about visiting various cities and places of historical interest, but we also managed to find the time to pop in to any second hand bookshop, if we’re passing, on the off-chance that I might find myself a 60s, 70s or 80s print of a much loved novel or perhaps even something that’s now out of print. And we found some, by god! I’ve just about managed to replace all those books from my childhood, in those original covers I remember from the 1960s – 80s. Now I’m slowly working my way through reading them again, trying to recapture those long, hot, carefree days of my childhood. And sometimes, just sometimes, when the sun is out, or I’m visiting Bridlington, or I find that book with that cover that I read all those years ago…sometimes it does feel like I’m 9 again.


  1. Lovely post! 'Spock Messiah' was a favourite of mine - when Corgi was reprinting these books in about 1984 / 5. It was one of the stranger Star Trek novels. At about that time I also read the 'V' books - which I loved. My favourite was 'East Coast Crisis' - in which the Visitors are defeated by an all-out assault from Macy's Parade. For me, all these things slot in alongside the 'Dune' novels and 'Stranger in a Strange Land.'
    I think film and TV Tie-ins are a neglected art form. Did you ever read 'Splinter of the Mind's Eye'..?
    I really like the idea of the caravan filled with spin-off paperbacks...

  2. I used to adore 'Splinter of the Mind's Eye', it had one of the spookiest Star Wars covers ever. It was only recently that I discovered the story behind it (it was conceived as a stand-by low-budget sequel if Star Wars flopped). I also used to read the original trilogy novelisations over and over too. My favourite 'V' book (other than the miniseries novelisation) was 'The Pursuit of Diana' - which took place between the final episode of 'The Final Battle' miniseries and the first episode of the full length series. 'Spock Messiah' has always been a favourite of mine, that and 'Price of the Phoenix' and 'Spock Must Die'. I managed to get hold of a copy of all three in the original covers I read them in when I was a nipper. I stumbled across a huge warehouse-like second-hand and rare bookshop when on my way back from a holiday in Wiltshire not long ago. I could have spent a fortune in there.

    Unfortunately that little caravan full of books no longer exists. My uncle died a few years back and my aunt bought a bigger caravan elsewhere. It was a wonderful time and I shall never forget it.

  3. Thank you for telling me about "Splinter". I shall pass that on to my sons. (Who will probably both tell me scornfully that they knew...)