Welcome to the dining room. It’s such a lovely day, we’ve decided to throw open the french doors into the garden and we’re going to eat out there, on the terrace, under the shade of an umbrella. There’s a wonderful view of the garden, framed by the rose arch. Don’t worry, neither wasps nor mozzies like humans in this world. There’s a free seat over there. Grab yourself a glass of water or wine or whatever you fancy. On the menu today is a warm salad of spinach, chestnut mushrooms, avocado, walnuts and blue cheese dressed with lemon juice, with a choice of grilled salmon, chicken or haloumi (or a bit of each), and a puy lentil and shreaded beetroot salad – plus fresh, crusty bread. Pudding is greek yoghurt with honey and blueberries or fresh fruit.

Tuck in!

What was your favourite book as a child? Why? How did it influence your reading and writing?

Some people can reel of a list of childhood favourites, and it’s fantastic when children have developed a reading habit early on.

But what if you didn’t?

In these circumstances, questions like these, asked in all innocence as an icebreaker in writing groups the length and breadth of the country, can send the late-starter into a palm sweating downward spin of embarrassment with a big dose of imposter syndrome.

So let’s hear your thoughts on the subject!

Were you an avid reader as a child, a modest bookworm or did you eschew reading altogether. Maybe dyslexia played a part, or maybe an older sibling got to choose the books. Maybe you were that older sibling! Maybe your parents didn’t read and there were no books in the house. We all have our own story.

To kick things off, I was (and still am) a slow reader. I loved being told stories as a child and I’ve carried my slow reading habit into adulthood because I read as if I’m telling myself a story, in real time. At least that’s the feeling. I relish the sound of the words ringing around in my head and I enjoy it so much, why rush? As a child, for a long time my favourite book was Timber, The Story of a Horse, and then Boffy and the Teacher Eater. I never stopped enjoying fairy tales and I possess collections from various editors, with supernatural, feminist or some other slant. My slow reading habit didn’t do me any harm. I loved writing from an early age, making up stories and poems and keeping a diary. I can read proper hard books too, like obscure contemporary philosophy. The point I’m making is that we shouldn’t feel too bad about a slow reading habit. I think if a child is taking a while to show an interest in books, read to them, read difficult books, not just easy readers for their age group. Fill their ready minds with the music of language. Don’t make them wrong, rather, show them what’s to love, what’s right about reading and writing. Make up stories with them and tell them to each other.


3 Responses

  1. Thank you for setting this up.

    I fall into the avid reader category. My love of reading started very early, around three years old, I think. Mum left school at 13 – being one of a family of eight and needing to work – so was never the greatest reader or writer. But she did love stories. Although not especially religious, I remember Mum reading to me from a children’s book of bible stories. These shaped the person I am today – eg the story about the woman who has nothing and donates her last penny and therefore being of greater worth than the rich man who gives but a fraction of his wealth. Probably why I’m always broke. She’d make up stories too – usually about animals (‘we’re all God’s creatures and everything has a right to life’ – another of my guiding principles) or my toys, which, of course, came alive at night.

    Despite Mum raising me on her own in a damp, mouldy Council flat, she managed to buy me plenty of books. All the classics; the Ladybird tales, Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, The Mr Men, The Chronicles of Narnia. I’d read them over and over. I’d read them to my toys.

    Two books stand out as especial favourites: Jenny, by Paul Gallico, and Watership Down by Richard Adams. The first (less well known, I’m guessing) is a story of a young boy who becomes a cat after being hit by a car. Why did I love it so much? Perhaps because that was the world in which I wanted to live – where animals could talk to us, where we could become other animals, where magic was real. I still have a great affection for that book. Watership Down; I loved for oh-so-many reasons. Such a thrilling, engrossing story of survival, of life and death – meeting hope, peril, adversity and adventure along the way. I think I liked it for its darkness. Even at a young age I knew the world could be cruel, and yet Hazel perservered, no matter what befell him and those he loved. Frith’s speech became a mantra for an introverted child who often (and still does, to be honest) felt alone in the world: “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

    Mum died at the end of 2015. I have so much to thank her for.

    • Thank you Sherry for your wonderful, evocative reflections on reading and how it shaped you as a person. It sounds like there’s some potential life writing in there too! Thank you for contributing. ~ Fi

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