What books did you read when you were a child?
I read obsessively as a child – everything from the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings to Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice! I was one of those kids who always got in trouble for reading under my desk in school (and under the table at suppertime).
If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
I’d love to be a dragon – huge and powerful and fierce and intelligent. I’ve been fascinated by them ever since my dad first read me The Hobbit!
What is the best thing about reading?
I love the escape that reading provides. Books have got me through some of the most difficult moments of my life, including moments of deep grief and the diagnosis of a serious chronic illness.
What is your all time favourite book?
I can’t choose just one all time favourite book – there are too many that mean too much for me! But a few of my all time favourites are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (all three books combined!), Hilary McKay’s Saffy’s Angel, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
I think that taking the time, when you can, to talk thoughtfully and tell stories with your kids makes such a difference – and it’s important to really listen to their stories, with your eyes fixed on their faces (not on your phone or on any other electronic device), showing them that you’re giving them your full attention and truly absorbing what they’re saying to you. Even if you don’t feel comfortable making up fictional stories yourself, just taking the time, if you can, to tell your kids little true stories from your own day or week or from your childhood, including both the funny bits and the sad bits – and listening carefully and responding enthusiastically when they share their own stories with you – really does help to develop their communication skills.
How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
My parents have always been book-lovers, and they both read to me constantly when I was young (we had reading time together every night until I was twelve!), took me to the library at least once a week, and responded enthusiastically to everything I wrote. I first started reading fantasy because of my dad’s love for the genre, and I discovered a lot of my favourite writers through him. Also, my mum and I share a desperate love for ridiculously expensive fountain pens. ;) Both of them have been a huge support to me all my life.
How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I have two young sons, both of whom love stories – and in fact, as I was writing The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, I told its story every night to my older son, letting him know what was happening every day in the adventure. It was so much fun to share that with him! (He’s also drawn dozens of beautiful alternate covers for it.) I’ve been reading to both of them ever since they were tiny, so they’ve both grown up loving books, even when they didn’t love reading itself. Even reluctant readers generally love being read to, if you can just find the particular kind of story that appeals to them – and there are so many great graphic novels, now, to entice kids into reading for themselves! We all adore Laura Ellen Anderson’s Evil Emperor Penguin series as well as Jamie Smart’s Bunny vs. Monkey series. In terms of text-only books, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sequels, Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series, Amelia Cobb’s Rescue Zoo series and John Dougherty’s Great Kerfuffle series are my older son’s current favourites, while my younger son adores Matty Long’s Super Happy Magic Forest books and Cressida Cowell’s Emily Brown picturebooks.
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