Eleanor Updale

Eleanor Updale has won awards for many books, including the Montmorency series, and Johnny Swanson. Before becoming a writer, she was a radio and TV producer for the BBC. Her new book, The Last Minute, is a second-by-second account of the build-up to a major disaster.

Q: What books did you read when you were a child
A: I loved everything by Enid Blyton, and anything about tiny people such as 'The Borrowers' sand 'The Little Grey Men'.

Q: If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
A: I would be Molesworth in How to Be Topp - cheerfully getting everything wrong, but seeing straight through the pomposity and silliness of adults. I would llike to be a character who made people laugh.

Q: What is the best thing about reading?
A: Seeing inside other people's lives, and being given the chance to take risks without danger.

Q: What is your all time favourite book?
A: It's a a very bad idea to have one. Let yourself change your mind from one day to the next, and read as widely as you can.

Q: Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
A: Talk, talk, talk. And listen to your children. This is just as important as reading – probably more so.
One way to help get fluency in reading, writing and speaking is to listen to (well-read) audiobooks. Children these days rarely get the chance to hear English spoken at length, or to hear a case cogently argued. It's important to get the 'music' of the English language into children's heads, so that they can compose their own sentences, paragraphs, and perhaps - one day - books. As with reading printed books, listening to audiobooks must not become a chore. It's also a good idea to have Radio 4 on in the background of family life, as another way of getting the cadences of our language to become second nature for children. Both the radio and audiobooks can enable your children to get to grips with ideas and stories which are beyond their reading ability. Of course, you have to supervise what goes on, to make sure that they are not encountering material you consider to be inappropriate.

Q: How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
A: They were crucial. My mother read to us at bedtime, and I benefitted from being the third child, so I got to hear books I could not have had the skill to read myself. They never made us do anything, but they took an interest in stories we wrote at home. We were very lucky, because in those days primary school children did not do homework, so there was plenty of time for talking, playing and working together: learning without realising what was happening, and without the inhibitions born of the thought that what we were doing would be graded or assessed.

The best thing about my parents is that they did not push us. I don't think that was a deliberate policy. They just assumed that the boring stuff could be done in school time, and that family life (which is, of course, just as educational) was something different. They did make us speak 'properly', which probably improved my writing.

Q: How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
A: My children are grown up now. One thing I learned while encouraging them to read is that they are all individuals. Despite growing up in the same household, they have very different reading styles and habits. There is no one way of learning to read, nor one way of reading.

It's important not to peddle the idea that all books are good. It's simply not true, and children are very quick to spot untruthfulness in adults, and to respond by rejecting the message adults are trying to project. Encouraging children to read widely, so that they can find which books appeal to them is very important. It doesn't really matter if a child prefers 'bad' books. They will probably move on to something else eventually. But if they are not allowed to read the books they like, they might lose the reading stamina necessary to go onto other things.

The worst thing you can do is to force children to read books they don't like, or books that are too difficult for them. That can kill the love of reading forever. Most children like to aspire, but it has to come from them. There is no such thing as a book that is 'too easy' or 'too young' for anyone. It's perfectly OK for a child (or an adult) to revert to old favourites. That's the essence of a love of books.

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