The nation's most loved children's author reveals the three books that shaped his life and literary career
The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling
My mother used to read this to me. She was an actress and read so beautifully—and was very beautiful, as all mothers are. She would come to my brother and me at night and for 20 minutes she would read to us, somehow becoming the animals in the story. It’s one of those wonderful stories, very funny, with a marvellous trail of words, like the “great grey-green greasy Limpopo river”, it’s full of musical language which is very fun. I used to love it, it made me giggle. It was the first story I ever loved and began my life with a love of stories.
Poetry In The Making by Ted Hughes
I had heard on the radio the wonderful poet, Ted Hughes, reading this book. I listened to it because I was trying to encourage my children to enjoy books. When I found myself longing to be a writer I would read it to myself, not just the children, and it was the most wonderful invitation to writing. He wasn’t trying to instruct you on how to write which is a ridiculous thing to do, but he was trying to put you in touch with your inner self and the world around you, because that is where our stories and our poems come from.
The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono
This is one I wish I’d written myself. I first read it in my twenties and it’s a very beautiful book, it’s also an exceedingly important one which becomes more important by the day. Written in the 1930s, it’s a glorious story about age. It also shows why we have to plant trees and renew the earth we’ve destroyed before there’s nothing left. It’s very short but extremely beautifully written. And of all the books I’ve ever read, it’s the one I most wish I’d written—so I’m quite cross with Jean Giono that he wrote it before me.
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