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It is increasingly difficult to encourage teenagers to read for pleasure especially with English Literature becoming an option in schools as opposed to a compulsory subject. How would you encourage young adults to try your books?
I think the important thing is to try to get teenagers to realise that reading is, primarily, fun. We have to separate literature from education. I hate the phrase, “Reading is important.” It makes it sound as if reading is like brushing your teeth or eating enough vegetables. Reading is exciting, thrilling, mind-expanding. Books are dangerous, sexy, revolutionary. Yes, readers gain all other sorts of benefits – a good reader tends to do well in other school subjects – but this should be seen as a bonus, not the main reason for reading. I’m all in favour of schools having a reading hour every day, during which students are encourage to read whatever they want, and for it not to be linked to any lessons or essays or examinations. Adult readers read for fun, to escape the daily grind, and we should allow young adults to do this too.
Reality TV, Gaming and YouTube have all replaced reading for today’s youth. Shallow role models such as Kayne West openly discourage reading, how can authors/librarians negate the damage this causes.
I don’t agree that they’ve replaced reading. I think they’ve merely complemented it. As I said above, reading, for me, is entertainment first and foremost, and I see no reason why it should stand apart from other forms of entertainment. I don’t like snobbish readers, who act as if reading is some sort of advanced cultural activity that is superior to other forms of entertainment. I love books as much as I love movies and TV shows and comics and listening to music – but not more than them. I love ebooks, because they allow books to slot in more seamlessly with other, more modern mediums. I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy for a reader to cut themself off from the world, sit in a room all alone, and read in isolation. One device… a period surfing the net… a period playing games… a period listening to some good tunes… a period reading a few chapters of a book. If we want books to continue to thrive, we need to embrace the 21st century, not seek to distance ourselves from it. Other forms of entertainment are not our enemies, and I think our biggest battle, in terms of getting children and teenager to read, is to help them see that books are essentially the same as video games, TV shows and all the rest.
How do you feel about all the job cuts and library closures? Do you think it will have a huge impact on children’s reading for pleasure?
Library closures and job cuts anger me. Librarians are on the front lines, making reading accessible to all, and in my experience they know more about books than just about anyone else I’ve ever met. Sadly, they’re held in low esteem by a lot of people in government, who don’t understand the role they play. I did a talk in a library a few years ago, and a lady Conservative mayor came along, smiling like a Cheshire cat. This was a library that was facing severe cuts, and I couldn’t believe her gall as she wafted around the place and told the head librarian there that the library would be fine, that volunteers would step in and keep it going. It showed the level of ignorance at the highest levels that we’re fighting against, and I fear it’s going to be a long, hard battle, that will rob the country of huge numbers of developing readers.
What books did you read for pleasure as a teenager?
I loved Lord Of The Rings, The Machine Gunners, The Belgariad, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Wilbur Smith, Jonathan Carroll, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, so many others. I read voraciously as a teenager, far more than I read now. If I’d had access to the internet and cheap books, I’d probably have read even more, which is why I’m so in favour of utilising modern technology to make books more accessible than ever.
Which authors do you read for pleasure now?
Stephen King is still my favourite – I try to keep up with everything he releases. I loved His Dark Materials and the Chaos Walking Trilogy. Roddy Doyle, Louis Sachar, J K Rowling, lots more. I try to read at least one or two old classics every year, such as War And Peace and The Count Of Monte Cristo. A mix of books for adults and younger readers. Sometimes I’ll read a book that my fans recommend – the way I see it, if they like my books, they must have great taste in writers…