Tom Percival

What books did you read when you were a child?
I read ALL books—pretty much any book that came my way via the mobile library that drove around the remote area that I lived in. I have very fond memories of walking down the lane to the van, with my pink library ticket holder, and then spending then next half an hour sitting in that carpet-lined space, working out which books I would take home with me.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
When I was a child I absolutely loved The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I really, really wanted to be Will Stanton waking up on that magical, mysterious snowy morning. So probably him, because then I would get to go on that adventure.

What is the best thing about reading?
The best thing about reading is that even though I never did actually wake up on a magical, mysterious snowy morning to discover that my house was silent and somehow transported back hundreds of years, I really felt as though I had done. You can take any number of journeys to any number of different places, all without leaving your chair/bed/hammock/bus seat/park bench.

What is your all-time favourite book?
Tricky! I’ve had various favourite books at different times of my life that have all been a great source of comfort and enjoyment. I used to love choose your own adventure books and spent a long time being able to quote pretty much all of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Dark is Rising series is probably the one set of books that has had the most lasting impact on me. In terms of adult books, then The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter is one that I’ve gone back to a good few times. Basically anything that infuses everyday reality with a sense of magic and wonder is going to get me on board.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
By using interesting words in everyday speech. I enjoy playing with language, largely because my parents both enjoyed doing that while I was growing up. My mum’s main expression of annoyance was ‘fiddlesticks’ or sometimes, ‘fiddlesticks and fish-fur’, which always made me smile—I’m sure she used other expressions when I wasn’t in the room though!

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
When I was a child I was ALL about the drawing. I enjoyed writing to a degree and would occasionally sit down and come up with story ideas, but my main passion was art. Drawing probably accounted for about 90% of my free time and was fully supported and encouraged by my parents. I didn’t really start exploring the idea of writing stories for fun until I was in my mid-twenties because I got waylaid by a lot of other interests—illustration, animation, graphic design, music etc. What I find now is that all of those passions and interests link up and feed into each other. Skills that I learnt whilst working on animations are directly applicable to planning a story, or producing a song. After all, a clear narrative flow is at the heart of any communication.

How do you encourage your children to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
We have a lot of books in our house, and both myself and Liz will sit down and read in the living room so the kids see us reading. We also restrict screen time to a couple of hours a week, so there isn’t that constant distraction of ‘easy’ entertainment. I grew up without a TV so it just never became part of my life. I feel sure that not having access to a TV is what led me to create my own entertainment. But they do get a couple of hours a week of Sponge Bob Square Pants (or whatever they happen to be into that particular week!) so it’s not completely draconian.

In terms of reading with them, we usually spend 10-20 minutes a day just before bedtime reading something aloud, and tend to mix it up a bit. So we might read a Mr. Gum book for a week or so, and then go onto a classic like The Secret Garden. As with most things in life, I think a varied diet is the best way forward!

Tom Percival is the illustrator of the striking Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. As well as illustrating fiction covers, Tom has also written and illustrated Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book, A Home for Mr Tipps, Jack’s Amazing Shadow, and the Little Legends series. His latest book, Perfectly Norman, is out now.

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