As for the second source, my older cousin was pretty big on D&D. I remember him running a game for me when I was too young to really comprehend what was happening (I suspect under 2e rules), possibly allowing me a seat in one of his group's games. One thing I do remember, however, was the Monster Manual.
As I said earlier, I soaked up sci-fi and fantasy like a sponge. I especially loved monsters - one of my most treasured possessions for many years was Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, which I got at a car boot sale for about 50p and read 'till the hardback covering fell right off. And, having eagerly read my way through it, I was looking for more.
So, I flicked through my cousin's Monster Manuals. Judging by what little I remember of the artwork, it was one of those 2e Folios. Looking back on it now, I have no idea how I would have understood any of it - between Hit Dice, THACO, and a million other factors. But reading about the physiology, ecology and weird and wonderful special abilities of these creatures filled me with the same wonder I felt holding that precious field guide to the wonders of space.
Sadly, it wouldn't be until I was in my late teens that I began gaming in earnest. I fiddled about with 3.5, running a few spotty games for friends.
And so began my misadventures I chronicle here...