Q: What books did you read when you were a child?
A: I caught the Enid Blyton virus at a very early age, and have never shaken it off. Page turning plots and a lovely mix of characters…books that aren’t too long, and - best of all – there were seemingly hundreds of them. She wrote one book a fortnight, apparently.
Q: If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
A: I think I’d be Draco Malfoy in the first Harry Potter book. I’d have booted little Harry off the Hogwarts Express – and the whole series would have been about me.
Q: What is the best thing about reading?
A: Curling up…coffee by your side, woodburner blazing…having adventures and risking your life in absolute safety.
Q: What is your all time favourite book?
A: It changes. My favourite children’s book is ‘Marianne Dreams’, by Catherine Storr, about a child who draws surreal pictures of an isolated house. Every night she goes there in her dreams, which soon become nightmares. It was the first book that genuinely scared me, and many of the images and events continue to haunt me. Rocks with eyes, that watch you and blink. A scribble of bars over the window because Marianne got cross, and went mad with the pencil. Whenever she wakes up, mummy is there to comfort her – but mummy never understands just how terrifying the child’s dreams have become.
Q: Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
A: I don’t know – I don’t have any children. I suppose one could teach a child sign language. Oh – and talk! Yes…talking is a very good thing. But I would urge parents to let the child talk back. Some parents just keep babbling at their kids, and you see the poor things strapped in pushchairs, forced to listen. Do make sure you let your child respond sometimes.
Q: How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
A: Huge. They told me that what I was writing was good (even though it wasn’t). They also told me wonderful stories and bought me books. Ours wasn’t a bookish house, but everyone read for fun.
Q: How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
A: When I was teaching I got asked this question, and the answer seemed obvious to me. You find them books that stretch and dazzle, and you whet their appetites with good, strong, dangerous stories – real-life, fantasy, thriller…whatever turns them on. I don’t worry too much about ‘suitability of content’ and ‘what age group is this aimed at?’ issues. I remember a book by Warren Fellows, called ‘The Damage Done,’ sweeping through my class of fourteen year olds. It’s a true story, about a fool who attempts to smuggle heroin out of Bangkok, and ends up in a Thai jail. The reader endures everything: the terrifying interrogation, the loneliness, the remorse, the false hope, the rats in the toilet. It was so much better than some of those dire ‘issue’ books publishers push at children. For three hundred pages we felt what it was like to live with the consequences of the most stupid decision…to survive humiliation and heart-stopping fear. It was like looking over a precipice. I think children will read if the book’s powerful enough. I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love a good story and that sense of dodginess, too – why is ‘The Lovely Bones’ such a popular children’s book? Because it’s ploughing that dark furrow that fascinates so many of us.