I was eight years old when I first realised I enjoyed reading. My parents were embroiled in what seemed to be a never-ending divorce, and custody battles, maintenance payments, and visitation rights were often the topic of conversation among the adults in the house. I was left to sit in the background. I was an extra in my own life.
In Sheffield City Centre, there was a book shop that sold books by weight. The thicker the book, the more they cost. I loved this shop. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. By the age of eight, I’d read everything Roald Dahl had written and wanted something else, something more worldly. I saw a book by Charles Dickens called Bleak House. As I was living in a very bleak house at the time, I thought this was appropriate. Unfortunately, it was a very thick book and I didn’t have enough pocket money left for what it would cost. Next to Bleak House was Great Expectations. I had many of those so I picked it up. This was the book for me.
Oh, poor Pip. His parents were dead, his sister was horrible, he was incredibly poor, had no friends and wanted something better out of his life. I was Pip. When Jaggers visited the house and told Joe and Mrs Joe that a mystery benefactor was paying for Pip to move to London, to get an education and become a man of great expectations, I smiled. Pip was getting what he dreamed of. His life was changing. Every knock on the door after that part, I prayed was my Mr Jaggers with a lifeline for me, to take me from Sheffield and show me a future I only pictured while I was sleeping. Unfortunately, that knock never came.
As I read on, caught up in Pip’s new life, his studies, his new friends, his love for Estelle, I felt the emotions he went through. He was living the life I wanted.
It wasn’t just Pip’s journey I was enraptured by; the book was beautifully written. The use of language, the prose, made the story run along at a brilliant pace, and every character was richly painted. I hated Estelle and wanted her to love Pip in return. I hated Miss Havisham but warmed to her in the end and found myself sympathising with her. I hated Mrs Joe, but knew why she behaved like she did. I liked Joe and Biddy and Herbert Pocket and enjoyed every thrilling chapter with these wonderful characters.
I went on to study Great Expectations during my English GCSE studies (my first A) and I have read it every year since. Each time I do, I’m transported back to when I was an eight-year-old. Life may not have been great, but I was at my happiest when I was in my bedroom reading.
There have been many screen adaptations of Great Expectations, and I haven’t seen them all, but I have my favourite – Ioan Gruffudd portrayed Pip in a 1999 BBC adaptation. He gave the role a tortured vulnerability. It’s a drama I watch as regularly as I read the book.
I have read many novels by Charles Dickens and as much as I love Bleak House (I finally bought a copy), Oliver Twist and Our Mutual Friend, for me, none of them can hold a candle to Great Expectations.
My love for literature started then, and continued to grow. I read, on average, one hundred books a year, and probably buy a hundred more. Now I write books and am living the life I always wanted to live as a child. And I owe it all to Pip.
Michael Wood is a former journalist and proofreader living in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where his crime fiction novels are set. His first to feature DCI Matilda Darke, For Reasons Unknown, was published by Harper Collins in 2015, and was followed by Outside Looking In and A Room Full of Killers. Find him on Twitter @michaelhwood