Philip Hensher on how he decided, at age 11, that it was time to move from children’s books to adult novels…
I don’t know why it was that, in the summer of 1976, I suddenly decided that I should make more of an effort to read novels. I was only 11. I’d been a great reader, but for some reason I felt that I was now too old to be reading nothing but children’s books. I ought to make an effort to master a grown-up writer, not idly but with concentration, following the plot and remembering who all the characters were.
My idea of a really good novel isn’t a sensitive monologue, or a relationship drama where neither participant seems to have a job. What I really love is a story about a group of people tied together by a joint venture, arguing, getting frustrated, forming bonds and breaking up again. Where did that passion come from? Arthur Hailey.
Quite why my choice fell on so grossly unsuitable a writer as Hailey, I can’t now guess. No one around was going to say “Well, maybe when you’re a bit older” or “There’s a prison rape scene in this one – I really don’t know about it”. W Hartley Seed’s bookshop on West Street in Sheffield was apparently quite happy to sell these massive paperbacks with garish covers and gilt titles to a child, and I have to say I lapped them up.
The one I adored, and have just read again with a lot of enjoyment, was The Moneychangers.