When I was a girl one of my best friends went on a trip to Scotland. We were both bookish and when she returned home she brought me a green leather bookmark printed with a short biography of Mary Queen of Scots. I remember how enthralled I was with it, the deep colour of the leather, its distinct smell and the supple suede of the unprinted side. The bookmark was special for these features and because it had been a gift from a dear friend. But, as someone who had yet to travel outside my native country, it also represented the intrigue of a far-off land, somewhere almost as magical as the fantasy realms in my favourite novels. For months it was the only bookmark I would use. Years later, and without warning, it disappeared. To this day I don’t know where it went.
When I travelled to the UK in 2006, I was delighted to discover that many of the major sights sold commemorative leather bookmarks reminiscent of the one I had lost. At Holy Trinity Church, the burial place of Shakespeare, I bought one in every available colour, knowing that, like my Mary Queen of Scots before them, at least a few of these were likely to go missing over the years to come. Although these bookmarks remind me of the excitement of my first big overseas trip, they remain more a touchstone to that first leather bookmark, and to the idea that even a real place, if unvisited, remains a land of fantasy.
The irony of my leather bookmark collection is how often I end up using random scraps to mark my place instead. My most common choices are bus tickets and empty cafe sugar packets, but I’ve lately found that old boarding passes make some of the best improvised bookmarks. These scraps (even the boarding passes) don’t capture my imagination the way my leather bookmarks do, but neither do the memories associated with them distract from the contents of the book in which they are nestled. Looking at my leather bookmarks it is all too easy to find myself back in the church of the bard, surrounded by stone, confronting both the mortality and immortality of the man buried within. Or, more often still, to find myself a girl again, already knowing how powerful the written word can be, how it can make me feel I am in another place, am another person; Bastian in the school attic, Atreyu on the back of the luck dragon.