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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

1. What were your favourite childhood stories?
We were always encouraged to read Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl books when we were young, so obviously I really like those books. Especially The Faraway Tree books, the ones where, if you climb up to the top of the tree and walk in to the cloud, you’ll find a new world. I haven’t read them since I was about seven, and I don’t think I want to, because my memory of them is still quite vivid. I’m sure there’s all sorts of rudeness in them, and hidden text and meaning, and probably some great homoeroticism, as there seems to be in all of Blyton’s books. And I’m not even going to pass comment on the fact that two of the children are called “Fanny” and “Dick”.

This site is dedicated to that book, and obviously run by someone who is refusing to give in to the call of adulthood.

My favourite book of all time is The Children Who Lived In A Barn, which was originally published (I’ve just found out) in 1938 and written by Eleanor Graham. It’s about five siblings whose parents are lost in a plane crash. They’re evicted from their home, and forced to go and – you may have seen this coming – live in a barn. The fascinating thing about the book is the fact that all the adults are so incredibly uncaring about their plight, and the children have to band together and battle to make sure they are not split apart by the dreaded District Visitor. Although, I think the extra appeal of the book lay in the intricate and indepth detail that the author put in to describing each and every household chore that the oldest girl Sue (age 13) had to do every day to keep the barn hygienic. Oh, and cooking in the hay box. Everyone who ever reads the book will remember cooking in the hay box.

2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?
I’d force them to read Swallows and Amazons and I am David and every book that Robert Westall and Margaret Mahy wrote. And after that I’d let them go ahead and find authors for themselves. While encouraging them to read Harry Potter, obviously.

3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?
I avoid re-reading books that I’ve got a really strong memories about, because I don’t really want to destroy them. But actually now I’ve got thinking about it again I’d like to read the old Barn story. And I’ve found a beautiful book shop that I might buy it from.

4. How old were you when you first learned to read?
I was two. My mother had just had premature twins, my brother had had a major operation on both his feet and was in a wheelchair, and I was in a corner happily reading. Apparently I taught myself. This is what happens when you neglect your children. Think on that, and learn from it.

5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you?
We smuggled the – in reflection, truly awful – Judy Blume books in to the house because we weren’t allowed to read them, due to the adult nature of some of the content. But to be honest, I didn’t understand most of what she was talking about.

I read all the John Wyndham books at quite an early age, and then started trying to collect all the original editions in their lovely orange Penguin paper backs. I’ve got some really battered copies at home, because from the age of about 13 I couldn’t bear to leave any in a book shop. I’ve got over that now, but they’re still really great books. Never really moved on from that in terms of science fiction, that particular genre has never held my attention for very long.


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