They invaded my world when I was nine. I’d seen the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds back to back with It Came for Beneath the Sea. I was, and still am, a big Ray Harryhausen fan. I grew up on Sinbad and Ray introduced me to Raquel Welsh and dinosaurs, though at the age of nine it would be a few more years before Raquel had any appeal and I’d fully understood why One Million Years B.C. made a certain age range of writers smile. However, it was The Tripods that showed me the importance of SF, that took it back from the stars and monsters. I was nine, I was in school and the teachers introduced a reading club where you could buy books for 75p. Now, you may be sat there thinking, ‘What’s the big deal, reading clubs are everywhere’. Yes, the are now but in 1984 in a dying industrial town one didn’t admit to reading, let alone stand up as a teacher in front of 41 kids and ask them to go home and ask their parents for money to buy books. One PE teacher at secondary school looked at group of the lads wrong and they buggered his beloved cricket pitch, how? They stole a Ford Capri and did donuts on the pitch. That passed as good etiquette in my home town. How the hell would I buy books and get them home without something happening to them or me? I already spent my childhood in a library and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. I vaguely remember, and my parents were progressive for the 1980s, selling it to them both under the guise that if I bought three I got a third off. That I would use my own spending money (I got 50p a week) and I would keep care of them. I’m forty now. I still have them. I kept that promise. But what I didn’t tell my parents is that I bought them for the covers. I identified with Beanpole, had enemies like Henry and wanted to be Will. I suspect that I am still Beanpole but what the hell, at least I am mysterious and French, which is a big turnaround for a Northern lad. However, I think I may be Beanpole because like him, no one understands me when they first meet me.
Initially the three books were released as they were originally, The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and the Pool of Fire. The covers were from the TV series, yet to be released and a few months later it was on the BBC and by then I had devoured the books. It was always sad that they never made the third book or that to date there has been no sign of a film version. John Christopher still haunts me, the child in me being introduced to an agrarian society that quickly became something far sinister sticks still in my own writing of landscapes that never quite turn out to be what they seem. I went on to devour much of Christopher’s writing and books, like The Death of Grass, a book that stays with me and many writers I know is to me his masterpiece. At nine I didn’t know what New Wave was, and there is an argument that Christopher wasn’t a major figure in the movement, not like Moorcock or Ballard, but John Christopher’s way with words and his ability to engage with young minds long before YA came on the scene, without the patronizing crap that makes up some YA SF today, has opened windows, doors, roof lights and sledge hammered walls down for me. I only suffered one kicking for buying the books and they never prised that weeks book from my fingers.