A ‘Dark is Rising’ Night

English: It was a 'dark and stormy night' ... ...

This train of thought began a few nights ago, as wind and something wet and very cold lashed against my bedroom window.  I’d been working on my latest manuscript, so I suppose I was in that slightly altered state that books always bring about in me.  At any rate, the combination of the storm, the creaks and groans of the cottage and this dark, deep magical time of year as we approach the winter solstice made me think, “Whoa – it’s a Dark is Rising night!”

It was then that I realised how Susan Cooper’s stunning and fearsome children’s novel had seeped into the very bones of me.  It had shaped my perceptions and altered the person I was.  A truly great book should do that.

I don’t remember when I first discovered The Dark is Rising.  Probably in one of my jobs as a school librarian/ head of English in the early seventies.  There was some wonderful children’s literature around at that time – Ursula Le Guin‘s Wizard of Earthsea, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Penelope Lively‘s meticulously crafted time-slip adventures, Peter Dickinson‘s Changes Trilogy – but it was Susan Cooper’s masterpiece which helped to craft the person I am now.

Kids bookshelf with German and American childr...

So all this got me thinking:  What other books have shaped my life?  Notice I’m not talking here about favourite books, books I’ve enjoyed, books I’d recommend (although – to the right person – I’d recommend every one of them).  I’m talking of books that have jolted me into a new understanding and way of seeing.  I’m talking of having my prior perceptions dragged – kicking and screaming at times – into a new paradigm or, in some cases, of having my wildest and most cherished suspicions and hopes about what is really going on here validated and encouraged.  In either case, what follows is a list of books – whittled down reluctantly to ten and in no particular order – which have changed me forever.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper  Written for children but reaches the magic deep inside each of us.  For me, the boundary between the normal and the magical was broken down forever once I’d read it.

CosMos by Ervin Laszlo and Jude Currivan  Magic for grown-ups!  Here I discovered highly respected academics writing about and expanding upon the cosmos as I wanted and needed it to be.  (I’ve been lucky enough to encounter both authors in life, and they are two of the most delightful and inspiring people I’ve ever met.)

The Crack in the Golden Egg by Joseph Chilton Pearce  This book kept appearing in other authors’ bibliographies, so I decided I needed to read it for myself.  Thank goodness I did.  Stunning and life-changing revelations on every page.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell  Yes, he’s a brilliant novelist and I loved The Bone Clocks too, but it was this book and it’s way of weaving infinitely subtle links between lifetimes and personalities that shifted my way of seeing other lives and times.

Autism and the Edges of the Known World by Olga Bogdashina  With a title that great, how could I resist?  This (along with my next choice and Suzy Miller’s Awesomism) should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the autistic spectrum and the amazing people who dwell on it.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida  I’ve already devoted one blog post to this stunning little book but it still deserves a place here.  For me it was filled with moments of joyful recognition as I was shown that hunches had been right all along, or gave me insights I’d never have found alone.

The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto  Needs no introduction.  A beautiful, wise, witty man (I was fortunate enough to hear him speak once) whose unique vision and stunning images changed the way the world worked for me.

Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts  Before I settled here in Glastonbury, I came for a long weekend and – as visitors do – went for a psychic reading.  I was told many things that day.  One was that I would become a writer, but that first I needed to find and read the Seth books.  I did.  They are complicated, abstract, awkwardly written and lack the easy readability of Abraham Hicks, but they changed my life and I re-read them constantly.

Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch  This is where I first discovered a God I liked.  Neale’s God was witty, charming, wise and surprising.  I struggle with the financial empire the books have spawned, but the words resonate deeply.

Khalil Gibran (April 1913)

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran  Last on my list but the first of these books I discovered and – if I had to choose – probably the most life-changing.  I love this beautiful, deceptively simple little volume like no other.


So there you have it: the books that made me.

Please feel free to share any of your own life-changing reads below.



The Curious Incident of Communication

Dynamic Earth - Ocean Currents

I’ve long suspected that time doesn’t flow the way we’ve been taught it does.  I believe that rather than moving along steadily from past through present to future, or following round in a huge karmic circle, it spirals, whirls and eddies through our lives, throwing all manner of interesting synchronicities, portents and realisations to us.

If we’re not looking out for them, these can be easily missed, but just a few are so strong that even the most myopic amongst us can’t fail to notice.

That’s how it was for me many decades ago, when I watched a grainy black and white documentary on the television.

I can’t remember the year, or how old I was, but still young enough that my mother was arguing with dad about whether it was suitable for me to watch something this harrowing – so sometime in the early 1960s, I would guess.


TV (Photo credit: Melissa Segal)

The BBC was very black and white in those days – no grey areas.  Documentaries spoke with an assertive, authoritative voice and we all believed every word.  The voice-over man with his ‘received English’ accent left no room for doubt or questioning.  In his cold, compassionless voice, he was explaining childhood autism.

It was a brutal, terrible programme.  Much footage of wild, staring children banging their heads against cot bars, howling and rocking or sitting mute and expressionless as adult carers tried vainly to elicit a response or interact with them in any meaningful way.

“Poor unfortunates…Locked away inside their own minds,” the dry voice intoned.  “Unable to engage in any normal activities… Don’t appear to feel pain… Will frequently tear at their own flesh… Show no reaction or affection even to their own parents…”

Yes, this was certainly one of my out-of-time moments.

I don’t think I’d even heard of autism up to that point in my life.  I’d certainly never come across anyone who was on the autistic spectrum.  Yet I knew – utterly and overwhelmingly – that this was something I needed to know about and to understand.

“I don’t believe they don’t feel!” I remember yelling.  “There must be some way to reach them.”
If I wasn’t crying, I was certainly close to tears.

My mother bustled me off to bed, with lame reassurances that ‘people like that’ were cared for in special places and that their carers were very kind to them, so I didn’t need to worry.

Those images and the chilling words left me horrified and frightened, yet still this strongest of intuitions was letting me know that what I had seen was extremely  significant to me and would become a key part of my life.  It was as if my future self had swirled back through time to ensure that this child-me was made aware of the importance of this subject and wouldn’t allow me to forget it.

English: 14-year-old girl with autism. Svenska...

The faces of those children, cowering, screaming and shaking wildly stayed with me.  They became dream companions; at once filling me with cold dread and coaxing me to move closer, to find them and understand; to help the rest of the world to do likewise, so that no one would believe the cold, damning words of that documentary.

Now, half a century later, I can look back (and forward) at my work and contact with children and young adults on the autistic spectrum.  So many have drifted into, out of and through my life.  Some of my experiences and encounters, along with what I have learned, are detailed in a previous post.

Always – ever since that moment in my childhood – I’ve clung to the hope that, no matter how difficult, ways can and will be found for people with autistic spectrum perception to share their experience with the rest of us.  My own encounters have allowed me to glimpse what is possible.

And now, thanks to the translation undertaken by author David Mitchell and his wife, we all have access to the words of 13-year-old Naoki Higashida, a Japanese boy who found a way to explain, from deep within the autistic spectrum, how it feels to be there and to attempt to interact with the neuro-typical population.

The Reason I Jump is a spellbinding book – eloquent and sensitive, with an honesty and simplicity that belies the young author’s deep insights into the differences and similarities between the two communities.

Nothing in the book surprises me.  Every word strikes true and helps me to recognise and recall aspects of the wonderful young ASP people I have known and worked with.  Certainly, as Naoki often comments, their lives can be stressful, difficult and almost impossible to comprehend, even for themselves.  Friends, carers and family struggle to understand and meet their needs and he acknowledges this with compassion and regret.  Despite all that, though, his is a message of hope.

Naoki’s book is currently no.3 in the Amazon UK bestseller list.  Time has spiralled round this week, to remind me of my first encounter with autistic spectrum perception and to show me how, in the most curious manner, I and countless others are learning to bridge the gap between the two populations.

"A child with autism (three years old) po...