Malcolm McNeill

What books did you read when you were a child?
I grew up in the 80s. The Scandinavians were stand out favourites for me, so Astrid Lindgren (especially The Brothers Lionheart and Karlsson on the Roof), Alf Prøysen, and Roald Dahl (Welsh really, but still...). Also the greats, so Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, Swallows and AmazonsThe Chronicles of Narnia. And Ruth Manning-Sanders fairy tales. I think I read Lord of the Rings over and over until it fell apart. John Masefield... Susan Cooper...

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
Badger from Wind in the Willows. Actually some people think I am Badger from Wind in the Willows. I can't think why. I'm not furry.

What is the best thing about reading?
Apart from pleasure - reading is fun! I think reading does something that nothing else at all can do, which is bring us into close contact with the thoughts and way of life of other people. There are many more thoughts, feelings and ideas out there than I could possibly experience or come up with on my own. Books are like treasure chests full of rubies and skulls and coins - go get em!

What is your all-time favourite book?
I'd like to say I don't have one, but the creases on its spine tell me otherwise: The Brothers Karamazov. Favourite children's book? I remember reading CS Lewis and experiencing those books, the Narnia ones, very differently to others. There was something very particular and not general about Lewis's imagination. Maybe it was the mysticism of them, you can smell it even if you don't understand it. I don't mean that in a bad way.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Well, as a writer I'm no expert on this, neither am I a parent! Speaking as a teacher, most fundamentally kids have to see that the act of communication actually works, which means they need to be listened to. They have to see that communication is an effective tool for making something change about their immediate environment - physical, emotional or social. If they get the sense that communication is always rebuffed, they'll give up on it as a tool. (This goes for their interactions with friends as well, obviously.)

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
By the time I started writing seriously I was in my early twenties - before that I was more into acting and the theatre. They did the best thing, as in they supported me but weren't really in my face about it. Support can easily become overbearing, just another version of "this is what you have to do." There's a difference between cheering from the side of the racetrack, and being the jockey flogging the poor horse.

Lastly, can you tell us about The Beginning Woods?
It's quite an old book. It should have been written and published in the 19th century. (I was reading a lot of 19th century fiction at the time.) Anyone could read it, adults included, but I think it's quite a good book for children who are looking for something a bit more challenging, a bit more of a bridge between children's literature and adult literature. It doesn't really "follow the rules" of what they might be expecting when they see the words "fantasy" and "children's literature".

Malcolm McNeill was born in England in 1976 and grew up in Scotland. Since then he has travelled widely in the world, but recently decided it would be best to return to his roots. The Beginning Woods is his debut novel.

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