When Frances Whiting was nine, her mum told her a secret that has left her rarely lonely in life.
When Frances Whiting was nine, her mum told her a secret that has left her rarely lonely in life.

Frances Whiting: The beautiful secret my mum shared with me

WHEN I was quite small, my mother let me into a secret.

It wasn't much of a secret, given that millions of people around the world also knew it, but at the time it felt like something just between us.

I'll never forget it.

One day, when I was about nine, she took me in her arms, stared deeply into my eyes and said: "Blue and green should never be seen without a colour in between."

Wait, no that wasn't it. It was: "If you are a reader, you will never be lonely".

And it's true. I am rarely lonely and that is because I am often in extremely good company, spending hours with Eleanor Oliphant, chortling with Jeeves, getting lost with Oskar Schell and generally finding myself very much at home in other worlds when I find my own lacking.

Books have served me well my whole life, and when I was a little girl they also provided me with my very own girl squad.

Let's see, in my squad there was Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls, Lucy Pevensie and Sara Crewe. Look, I didn't say it was a cool girl squad, I just said it was a girl squad.

There was also my very best friend, Madicken.

An illustration by Jonathan Bentley.
An illustration by Jonathan Bentley.

I loved Madicken, the star of a series of books by the wonderful Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren, and as a little girl, I could relate to Madicken entirely.

This was because she lived in rural Sweden during World War One, and I was a little girl living in suburban Brisbane during the 1970s in 40-degree heat; honestly the two of us were like little peas in a pod.

And that's the beauty of power of books, isn't it? The way they can transport you to other worlds, entirely foreign to your own, and yet you can entirely imagine yourself inhabiting them.

As for Madicken, she transported me to the Toowong library every fortnight where I would line up at the borrowing desk, hand over my Madicken copy to be renewed - again - and the librarian would stamp the card on the inside and I'd take it home one more.

I did this because I am very old and can remember when librarians stamped your books, and also because I couldn't bear to let Madicken go.

One day, taking Madicken out from the library - again_ I handed it over to the librarian who handed it back to me, sighed, and said "That's okay Frances, we've decided to just give it to you".

That's my first memory of a book really getting under my skin.

Authors Frances Whiting and Matthew Condon.
Authors Frances Whiting and Matthew Condon.

If you would like to hear some other writers sharing the stories they love, from childhood favourites to books that made them want to write, then please join me, Melissa Ashley, Matthew Condon, Trent Dalton, Nick Earls, Anita Heists, Melissa Lucashenko, Krissy Kneen, Kristina Olsson, Sally Piper and Rebecca Sparrow for a very special evening.

We're getting together to raise some funds for those affected by the fires, and we'll each be sharing the stories behind our favourite stories.

It's on at Brisbane's City Hall on March 13. Tickets on sale from www.avidreader.com.au



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