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The Hidden Roads, By Kevin Crossley-Holland

Knowing now what we didn't then

Authors find the oddest places to practise their craft. The award-winning children's writer and poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland, describes in this lyrical memoir of childhood how, when there are too many interruptions at his north Norfolk home, he parks his car in a by-road and decamps to the back seat with pens and paper. This habit first developed when, as a nine-year-old, he used to accompany his mother as she conducted interviews for a social survey. While she was busy knocking on doors, he would sit in the family Morris, hard at work on the manuscript of his planned History of the World.

Crossley-Holland finds in his post-war upbringing in the Chiltern Hills many other clues to what he has now become. The Hidden Roads is in part a celebration of that childhood. There is his hard-to-pin-down but compelling composer father, playing the Welsh harp and recounting the fairy tales that Crossley-Holland would make his name retelling in print. A loyal younger sister, Sally, races to keep up with her adored brother.

Those who know Crossley-Holland's poetry and prose about the marshes and coast of East Anglia will already admire his gift for bringing a landscape alive. The Hidden Roads sees that extraordinary talent applied to the chalk hills of Buckinghamshire. On these slopes, the young boy realises his place in a human chain that extends not only outward to the far horizon but also back through the ages.

There is a loving recreation of the middle-class 1950s world, but this memoir also reveals a darker reality. The young Crossley-Holland walks in on his mother as she weeps alone over the embers, but only as an adult does he see the signs that his parents' marriage was failing.

There is a breathless sense that episodes are tumbling out as they come back to him, one memory sparking off another. But Crossley-Holland intersperses this flow with events from his life now, which cast light on the lasting consequences of how we are raised.

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