Do you suffer from Turrets Syndrome?

Posted on October 7, 2010

Rediscovering a favourite book is like rediscovering an old friend. It can take you back to a time and a place in moments, even if that time has long been left behind. It can also explain a lot.

You’ll remember the plastic bag that contained the stunning evidence of my glamorous modeling past? It also held another treasure. A real treasure. A battered, green, copy of Ruth Park’s book Callie’s Castle. As I held it in my hand, I was immediately 11 years old again. It was the year that, after various permutations of sharing with my sisters, I ended up back in my own room. It was the year that I read Storm Boy by Colin Thiele and wept buckets over the death of Mr Percival. It was the year that I learned about ‘being a woman’ thanks to a book called ‘Have you started yet?’ (still, I see, available on Amazon).

Callie is the oldest girl in a family of four children. She has a brother who is sick, a little sister and baby brother who are destructive, a step-dad and no room of her own. A situation exquisitely awful when you are 11. As the book opens, she arrives home to find all her treasures have been taken from ‘her’ drawer and destroyed by her youngest siblings. Even her diary has been drawn in. Shudder.

There are family dramas, a kindly grandfather, squabbles with friends – and by the end of the book, Callie is ensconced in the cupola. Her own space. In a turret, with views as far as Botany Bay. And a tiny spiral staircase.

I can trace my love of turrets back to this book. Not Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty or any of those other princesses. This book. The idea of an unassailable space all of one’s very own. The joy.

When The Builder and I first moved in together, we lived in a little brick semi-detached cottage, at the end of a culdersac, beside a noisy block of flats. The toilet was out the back door, my ‘office’ was a breeding ground for mold. Around the corner from us was a splendid Federation cottage, with a turret. It was called Penzance. I loved it. Every time we walked past, which was often, I’d say to The Builder, “I just love a turret.” Every now and then, we still drive past it. “There’s your turret,” he says. We smile.

On rereading, with the benefit (or not) of 30 years, the book still holds up. Callie’s confusion and bewilderment as puberty beckons is real. Her desire for independence and a room to call her own resonates. It’s a great yarn and, old-fashioned as it is, would make a great gift for any girl around the same age.

If nothing else, it will spark in her a lifelong love of turrets. Even now, I aspire to a turret. A writer, starving in a turret. Much more glamorous than a garret, don’t you think?



  1. Corinne

    Oh I ADORE Callie’s Castle! The house that the book was based on was up the road from the home I grew up in. I used to drive/walk past and dream about it being my house.

    I still drive past now and again and dream…

  2. Bodaciousboomer

    Cute play on words kiddo and great post.

  3. River

    I’m not much into turrets, but I dearly love having my own room.

  4. Posie Patchwork

    Oh see i wasn’t ever a reader (i’m a scientist) & had a big sister to tell me everything, but my eldest is 11 & the eldest of 4 – just for the record, she has an awesome bedroom of her own, lovely daddy & nice friends. She’s a big reader so she might like this book. Thanks for the tip. Love Posie

  5. Chookie

    Came here from Garden Amateur — I also love Callie’s Castle, and just re-read it recently. Did you know there was a sequel, Callie’s Family?

  6. frogpondsrock

    I have been pestering The spouse to build me a turret for years. It is nice to finally meet a kindred spirit.I would be happy with a nice deep bay window but I dont think I am going to get either 🙁

  7. Suzie G

    Wow, you just took me back in time, with ‘Have you started yet?’. Mum got this book for me to read prior to ‘becoming a woman’ (*snort*) and remember being quite embarassed. However, I would sneakily read it when no-one was around 🙂 It is now a hand-me-down to some friend’s daughters.

  8. Lucy

    I too wept buckets over the death of Mr Percival. I still have my copy, and cannot read it to my children without my mouth hurting as I try to stem the sobs.

  9. MultipleMum

    What is not to love about a Turret. I too missed this little gem of a book. I may just have to borrow it 🙂

  10. anjwritesabout.com

    Damn, but you can make any book sounds great…now I want to read that one (maybe get back in touch with my pre-teen self?)!!

    And, again, I have to find out what city suburb that was because I swear I know that same cottage Penzance…

  11. Aging Mommy

    My husband has always wanted a house with an arched gated inner courtyard (forget the correct name for one) that you drive through to your garage. As for me, I don’t want turrets – my dream would be a home that backed down to a creek and woodland with nothing and nobody in view behind us.

  12. Kath

    I would love a turret, too, but that comes from having read about one in I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I haven’t read Callie’s Castle… yet!

  13. deerbaby

    Damn! I guessed it was going to be I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

    I don’t know this one. The death of a Mr Percival – not liking that.

    I’m going to be re-reading some old favourites too. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Ballet Shoes and Thursday’s Child, and The Railway Children. And if they’ve got new beautiful covers, all the better.

  14. BabyMac

    Reading this, a little pissy from a date with my husband, I kept thinking/reading tourettes syndrome. I know. Ashamed!

    Are you there Pink Fibro? It’s me, Beth.

    I recently read an old favourite too and was instantly transported back. All that angst. Still so real. Palpable. that’s the beauty of the written word.

    Tourettes. *snickers*

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