Terry Deary: Books that changed my life

Reader's Digest Editors 18 May 2021

Best-loved chridren's author Terry Deary, the mastermind behind Horrible Histories, has written over 200 books. He told us the books that changed his life 

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by GK Chesterton.

 My school texts like the Thomas Hardy we were forced to read were so dull. When I came across this Chesterton book at the age of around 17 then I realised books could be exciting and create colourful new worlds. I understood that books don’t have to be serious and filled with miserable heroes like Tess of the D’Urbervilles or the Mayor of Casterbridge. They can lead to a meeting with fantastical people. Chesterton made me a writer.

A Walk Along The Wall by Hunter Davies.

If school literature was boring then school history was torture. When I picked up Hunter Davies’s account of a journey along Hadrian’s Wall it opened my eyes to how History can be a living subject and not dead people and dusty dates. I lived 20 miles south of the wall and this made book me want to visit it. At the age of 65 I even ran the length of it for charity. Dull history books can give facts; heritage sites can generate understanding. Hunter Davies made me an historian. 

The Empty Space by Peter Brook.

As a theatre student I read Brook’s book and the opening sentence informs every one of the 50 or so plays I’ve written. “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” Unforgettable. That “someone else watching” is the key. The audience is an equal part of a theatre experience with the actor. Peter Brook made me a playwright.

Horrible Histories: The Secret Diary of Henry VIII by Terry Deary is out in paperback (Scholastic).

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