Helen Bate

What books did you read when you were a child?
As a young child in the 1960s, I would read anything I could get my hands on including Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia, Richmal Crompton’s William books, Rupert and Bunty annuals, my Mum’s old 1930’s boarding school stories, and Enid Blyton. By the age of 13 I had given up on children’s books, and was reading books like John Hersey’s Hiroshima. I was fascinated by the way he used fictional storytelling techniques to write about real events.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
I quite fancy being the Grandma from Grandma Bird by Benji Davies. She’s independent and happy on her own little island.

What is the best thing about reading?
Reading can offer new experiences, excitement and drama, without having to leave your comfiest armchair.

What is your all time favourite book?
Can I have two? High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes is one of my favourite books for its startling and vivid depiction of childhood. The other would have to be the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Preake, for its rich, grotesque, and complete and utter craziness.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Parents should limit ‘electronic device time’ and keep surprising their children, talking to them about anything and everything, the wackier the better. Just don’t talk down to them, or be overly protective.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
Although we always had a variety of books in the house, in those days before the internet we were pretty well left to amuse ourselves, so there was plenty of time to be bored, to read, and to develop our imagination… but it was my rather progressive 1960’s primary school that first encouraged me to write.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I’ve always tried to provide a big variety of books for my three children and seven grandchildren to read (or not). Just having good books around is usually enough to spark an interest. I like reading anything by Christopher Wormell with my young grandchildren, and as an old 1970s feminist, I always relish an opportunity to read (even if it’s just to myself), I want to be a Cowgirl by Jean Willis and Tony Ross.

Helen Bate grew up in a working class suburb of post-war Coventry. Encouraged by her father and teachers to ignore conventional female expectations, she trained and worked as an architect whilst also bringing up a family. At the age of 50 she abandoned architecture to retrain as a children’s illustrator and also to set up Pictures to Share C.I.C. a social enterprise publishing company creating books for people with dementia. Now in her sixties, Helen has illustrated a number of children’s books, as well as more recently, both writing and illustrating three titles including Peter in Peril, (published by Otter Barry Books), a true story about the experiences of a young Jewish Boy in war-torn Hungary.

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