Childhood Stories

As Yet Untitled is about more than one person. It is about every single artist and writers we collaborate with. In the second part of our series on the books and stories that inspire us poet Zelda Chappel discusses her favourites:

Some of my earliest childhood memories involve books. From bedtime stories as a very small child – my sister and I both loved the Mr Men series in particular – to going to school for the first time and having access to lots of books to take home and read and swap.

As an slightly older child, I was a avid reader. I would devour books. Enid Blyton was a firm favourite. Stories like the Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair really captivated me – I liked the way they constructed different worlds, with different rules and different creatures, but also that these adventures were temporary, fleeting. Never once (to my recollection) did they climb to the top of the Faraway tree and find the same world twice. And I liked that.

Later on, I had a few books that let you play around with the narrative and, again, that was really exciting for me. As a small child I had several books that were stories that you could choose what happened at the end of every page – the 'If you want to go to the castle, turn to page 10. If you want to go to the woods, turn to page 6' sort of format. And later, I had a couple of editions of Famous Five stories – which I was obsessed by – that played out like a game with dice and a backpack that you had to choose how to equip at the beginning of the story. Realising that a story isn't necessarily the same every time, and that it doesn't always follow the same linear progression was really exciting. And being in control of the story was a brilliant place to be as a reader.

Other big books in my life were titles by Roald Dahl; particularly The BFG (which was first read to me by my Dad at bedtime), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George's Marvellous Medicine. I got fascinated by the chemistry in these books, the descriptions of creating these weird and wonderful concoctions. All three of those titles are really about creators of things, and I knew that I wanted to be a creator of things too. I should also mention The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster here too, because I read it around the same time, and it was a life changing book for me. It's not well-known in the UK, but I would urge you to seek it out. It's a clever, funny and thoughtful book about how words and numbers live side by side in the world. And if you can find the 70s video of it, with it's slightly trippy soundtrack, it's worth checking out!

I fell out of love with books (but not storytelling) a bit once I got to secondary school, mainly because we had to read set texts so fast so I never enjoyed them, often missed the nuances of them, and hated having to analyse the life out of them. But I did have some incredible book moments despite that. I fell in love with A Midsummer Night's Dream at the age of 11 and never fell out of love with it. The storytelling and the wit and the multiple layers of narrative are just brilliant. And I love the idea that really we are all stumbling around, in and out of each other's stories, sometimes clumsily but beautifully nonetheless.

Other big books for me were To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Catcher in the Rye (J D Sallinger) and Cannery Row (John Steinbeck). I ended up reading a lot of American literature, particularly Steinbeck, because I just found them so much more exciting and so much more real than other stories.

I should say that for me, poetry came later in my life. But what excited me about poetry when I discovered it, was the ability to capture a narrative, albeit a somewhat abstract one at times, in such a short space. Poetry is life distilled. And the format of poetry means that you can tell your story, your truth, in exciting non-linear sorts of ways that traditional storytelling doesn't really allow for. Poets can be abstract and play around with time and tense, we can play around with line breaks and where we put words on a page to add extra dimensions and layers to our storytelling. Novels can't do that in the same way, at least not in their traditional formats.

So that's stories. And stories come in books (sometimes). And books are exciting. I'm a regular in charity shops and secondhand book shops looking for interesting looking books, with no regard for genre. I love paper. And good print. And book plates. And brilliant illustrations. And I love ways that books, as objects, can contribute to the storytelling process; whether that's just in how you feel about engaging with the story in the first place, or whether it's about how the book itself interplays with the narrative. In this next stage of As Yet Untitled we'll get to bring you great narratives in all sorts of interesting ways, in all sorts of different and new formats. We'll get to look at books as a holistic process, creating the right book for the right story. And we're so looking forward to it! Thank you for helping us to make it happen.