Dedications: Amy Alward on Nancy Drew
Who’s the person that introduced you to your favourite book? Or a particular genre? Whose recommendation still affects your reading habits today and how has that shaped who you are? Or who was the author you happened to discover who introduced you to a whole new way of reading?
But that’s where my love of reading might have ended. As a young child, I was a very reluctant reader; I still have vivid memories of the horrific temper tantrums I threw when asked to read a book for homework (or worse, to write a story. At the time, I could not think of anything more awful!).
My parents persisted gamely, trying all the usual suspects: Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Ballet School… but to no avail. It wasn’t until they introduced me to a certain series of girl mystery novels that my interest was piqued. So I owe my reading journey not to a particular person, but to a character. More specifically: to Nancy Drew.
I don’t know where the immense collection of Nancy Drew books came from, but we had an entire shelf of the slim paperbacks, each with an intriguing title like The Mystery of the 99 Steps or The Spider Sapphire Mystery. I ignored them like I did other books, but one night my mum sat down on my bed to read a chapter from the aforementioned 99 Steps… and, for the first time, I listened.
Being introduced to Nancy felt like a revelation. Here was a girl who was independent, adventurous, brave, clever… everything that I aspired to be. Yet it was agonizing to me that at the close of every chapter, Nancy was left in some kind of mortal peril, dangling off a tantalizing cliffhanger that left me gasping for more. But one, maybe two chapters a night were my quota. The book was shut, leaving me in the dark as to what was going to happen to Nancy – until the next night.
That was, until I realized that the story didn’t have to end when my Mum stopped reading. (I never said I was that clever). I could just pick up the book and finish it myself! I watched as Mum replaced the book back on the shelf; then when the lights went out I would take it down and devour it all by flashlight underneath the covers.
After finishing that first book, I swung almost completely in the other direction. Reading became an addiction. I rapidly made my way through all the Nancy Drew books in the house, until one night my Mum came in to read to me and there was nothing left that I hadn’t already read on my own.
Thanks to Nancy, I discovered other mystery writers and adventure novels. Not knowing what to do with this new voracious little reader, my parents got me my first library card and took me to my local, where I latched onto Agatha Christie, tearing through as much of her backlist as I could. My favourite thing to do was to find the ‘Also by’ list and check off all the books that I’d read. I loved the Miss Marple novels – I do have a thing for female detectives! I also found myself rediscovering classics my parents that I had dismissed before, like Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, the Hardy Boys, Swallows and Amazons and The Lord of the Rings.
I was a bonafide, die-hard reader, and since Nancy, there’s been no going back. I owe to her my dual careers as editorial director for Penguin and author of teen novels – since I couldn’t imagine a career that didn’t involve copious amounts of reading – and there’s always been a special place in my heart for a great mystery. I still rush for the latest Robert Galbraith, I adore Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series and I’m a sucker for books that combine mystery and fantasy (my other favourite genre) like Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London.
With my latest book, The Potion Diaries, I blended my love of high-stakes adventure with the pace and intrigue of those mystery books I loved so much as a kid. My main character, Samantha Kemi, is down-to-earth, smart and courageous, and I hope that readers love her as much as I loved Nancy.
I owe a lot to that teenage amateur sleuth. So thank you Nancy, for setting me along a reading path from which I’ve never, ever turned away.