“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”Roald Dahl – Matilda.
Reading – it’s the best thing you can do with your eyeballs. From the comfort of your chair, you can explore other worlds, meets strange new people and go on wild adventures. Of course, some might argue that the same thing applies to iPads, but do you know what I say to those people? Shut up. That’s what I say.
The best kind of email I get is from young people who tell me that my books got them into reading. It literally makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It also makes me think about the books that did the same thing for me.
I was a voracious reader from an early age and would devour anything I could get my hands on – Meg and Mog, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, the backs of shampoo bottles when I was in the bath.
|Woah! Butylphenyl Methylpropional?! I did NOT see that coming.|
Then, when I was a bit older, like so many people, I discovered Roald Dahl. I know, I know, everyone loves Roald Dahl, but there’s a reason for that – he was a bloody genius. I was thrilled by James and the Giant Peach, delighted by The BFG and scared out of my tiny mind by The Witches. In fact, I still have nightmares about it.
|I had the film adaptation on VHS. Immediately after watching, I took it outside and buried it.|
I think the book that had the biggest impact on me was Matilda. It tells the familiar Dahl-ian tale of a clever kid outsmarting nasty adults, but it stuck with me more than the others, as I think it did all slightly bookish kids. Also, let’s not discount the telekinesis – I mean, how cool would that be? After reading Matilda, I spent hours staring at things and trying to move them with my mind. I think I finally accepted that I didn’t have the gift when a kid went past me on a bike with his arms folded and didn’t fall off.
I rediscovered Dahl as an adult when I picked up his collection of short stories in a charity shop. All the sweet darkness of this children’s books is there, but dialled up to eleven. It remains one of my favourite books to dip into for quick hits of excitement.
In fact, I am such a fan of his that I have already bought my son the Roald Dahl paperback collection, and he hasn’t even been born yet!
After I had read and re-read all of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, I moved on to other authors, most of whom are lost in the mists of time, but a few stand out. I remember enjoying the books of Dick King-Smith, firstly because his brilliant animal tales like the Sheep-Pig and Harry’s Mad gripped me and kept me turning the pages and secondly because, come on, his name is Dick King. To a ten year old boy, that is HILARIOUS. Ah, who am I kidding? It still is.
I would take new books out of the library every weekend, read them during the week, then swap them for new ones. I read a series called Buccaneers by Sheila K. McCullagh, which I loved (it was about pirates, what more do you want?) and would regularly blast through football books – usually about a band of plucky outsiders who overcome the odds against slick baddies to save their team from closure, and you know the rest.
I remember just starting high school and being secretly petrified by Gillian Cross’s The Demon Headmaster - both the book and the TV series which was on at the time. Every time my head teacher removed his glasses during assembly, I would silently freak out.
As a teen, I kind of missed out on YA and seemed to go straight from children’s books to adult with no bridge. The first GCSE book I remember really getting into was Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it is the story of a group of school boys, stranded on a desert island. Rather than getting into all kinds of jolly tropical adventures, they quickly become savages and their ‘civilisation’ descends into anarchy. The basic message behind the book is that boys, and by extension, humanity, is only a flicker away from going full-on insane like a bunch of crazed chimpanzees. Looking back, it probably had something of an influence on my writing, particularly the ‘high school is a jungle’ bit in The Private Blog of Joe Cowley.
I couldn’t have enjoyed all these books if it weren’t for my local library, which is why it is so sad that so many of them are closing or can’t afford to buy new books. It makes me worry about the kids of the future. Where are they going to find the books that make them readers? This is why we as writers must do everything we can to help promote child literacy. YA Shot is doing this and I’m really thrilled to be part of it and I hope it inspires others as much as it has me.
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Ben Davis is an award-nominated writer of funny children's fiction. His Private Blog of Joe Cowley books have been hailed as Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets the Inbetweeners. He also writes for younger children, with the super-villain adventure, Danny Dread hitting the shops in August 2015.
He lives in the Midlands with his wife and his big, wimpy dog.