Irish authors share their words on reading, the 30th MS Readathon and Roald Dahl who launched the first ever MS Readathon in 1988:
On the 30th MS Readathon: “MS Readathon has been so influential in encouraging children to read over the past thirty years. Reading is so important because it broadens our imaginations, and imagination is so important because it give us the opportunity to envision new possibilities, charges our creativity, and enhances our life. It helps us to ask two very important words…what if? If we’re always asking then we’re always thinking in new ways”.
On Roald Dahl: I actually don’t think there is a Dahl book that I don’t like but Matilda has always been my favourite. I can remember reading and re-reading my tattered yellow copy so many times growing up.
Everyone knows that Roald Dahl is very funny but sometimes we forget how much he can excite the reader and even frighten us. Matilda is a perfect example of this. It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish – (especially Matilda’s horrid family) – but it’s also thrilling. The part near the end with the message on the blackboard still gives me chills just thinking about it.
(P.S. – I love Matilda so much that I even have a Matilda-inspired tattoo!)
On reading and characters in stories: I don’t have a clear answer for this if I’m honest. I know writers who work on the storyline first and I know writers who start with the characters and make the rest up as they go along. It’s really whatever works best for you. All writers are trying to tell a story so if it’s easier for you to develop the characters first, then do that. But if you want to work out the plot first, then do that. Or do them both at the same time!
Most of the time, I work on my storyline first. I like to know exactly where I’m going before I start. I like to have the ending in sight. But the plot is nothing without good characters. And good characters have a way of changing the story without you realising it!
For me, the storyline gets me interested in writing it but the characters are what make me sit down every day and actually do the work.
On Roald Dahl: I love them all, they’re all classics (and I mourn every day that I didn’t write them) but The Twits get my top vote because they’re such delightfully twisted and horrible characters, and the story just keeps getting better and better as they get worse and worse.
On reading and characters in stories: For me it’s all about the characters. When I start writing a book I begin by creating a main character, and everything else – other characters, storyline – spins off him or her. I think once you get your characters right the story will come naturally through them, so I spend a lot of time working on the central character. Of course some authors are plot-driven rather than character-driven but for me, character always comes first.
On the 30th MS Readathon: What’s not to love about MS Readathon? Children get to experience the pleasure of reading, the MS society benefits too. Seeing a child read a book makes my heart happy. I tell stories in my local library and it’s a joy to see the interest that young children naturally have in books and stories – I have yet to meet a small child who’s not a sucker for a good story. I constantly tell parents that a love of books is the best gift they can give to their children. Happy 30th anniversary to MS Readathon, and may there be at least 300 more.
On Roald Dahl: Matilda is still my favorite Roald Dahl book. The wonder of reading runs throughout the story and he sums up that incredible magic with the fabulous quote “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”
On reading and characters in stories: It depends on the book. Every book is different. Often they appear in tandem and develop by each dragging the other along. The story can’t exist without the characters and the characters have nothing to do without the story. They inform each other. Sometimes one has to wait for the other to catch up. You need both but don’t be afraid if you have to wait for one of them to arrive. It will come.
On the 30th MS Readathon: MS Readathon works like story and character – encouraging people to read and at the same time raising funds for those living with MS. Both incredibly important and offering so much. I’m very happy to be a supportor of MS Readathon.
On Roald Dahl: Matilda – Even though I was an adult when I first read it I liked and identified with Matilda who was such a bookworm.
On reading and characters in stories: You can have a wonderful plot but if the characters are underdeveloped it will be a flat read. It’s important to readers that the characters are real people they can believe in, no matter what twists amd turns the plot takes. So when I write I have a vague outline of the plot and it’s the characters themselves that move it forward.
On the 30th MS Readathon: The Readathon is a wonderful event which has two great outcomes – raising money for an excellent cause and bringing the joy of reading to children. I wholeheartedly support it and wish the Readathon and the children participating in it every success in its 30th year.
We appreciate you taking the time to read this and for your positive involvement over the years. We strongly believe that support from authors like yourself, contributes greatly to the success of this campaign and motivates the young readers who participate in MS Readathon.
On Roald Dhal: Now, don’t hate me but I’ve never read Roald Dahl – I don’t know why, though I could take a guess. Someone must have bought me an Enid Blyton book for either Christmas or my birthday and once I read it (whichever one it was), I was hooked. So, for years I only ever read Enid Blyton,.I was fascinated by the boarding school novels and the mystery stories and talking toys and secret clubs. She wrote so many different types of stories that I didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere until the nun who ran the library in Presentation Primary School, Terenure, urged me quite sternly – she never smiled much, to be honest – to try other writers. And she did me a favour because then I discovered the likes of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘The Little Princess’. But I should go and buy myself some Roald Dahl books, I have been promising myself that for years. So, I’ll go do that tomorrow.
On reading and characters in stories: Because I write historical novels, the story is sort of there already whether it’s the Battle of the Boyne, the Siege of Derry, World War II or the sinking of the Titanic. So, I do my research and, as much as I can, I try to find actual people who were there at the time. I rarely make up characters as I prefer to read a few lines about a real Titanic passenger or a young soldier who actually fought at the Battle of the Boyne and, from there, I work at bringing them alive on the page by imagining what they went through. This way, the history feels more immediate to me and helps me to establish a connection to the past. The story – or the history – is important to me, as a subject, but it is the character who leads me backwards in time to 1912, 1690 or 1941.
On the 30th MS Readathon: I honestly cannot imagine my life without my love for reading. I can’t imagine ever leaving the house without checking that I have my book in my bag with a backup book too, just in case. I can’t imagine going on holidays and not bringing at least six books with me. I can’t imagine getting up tomorrow morning, Saturday, and not sitting in our tiny kitchen, to read for an hour or so before I start my day. There was no MS Readathon when I was in school so I thank God for the likes of that stern nun and whichever relative bought me that first Enid Blyton Book. Thanks also to my mother, who was not a booklover, buying me books when she could and enrolling me in the local library in Tallaght. I’m 48 now and can say that reading has been the greatest gift given to me – and it began in childhood, needing other people to get me started. The writer I am today is down to them and the other writers that I read along the way. For thirty years the MS Readathon has encouraged children to engage with books, involving thousands of children and thousands of books. A lot of children I meet today might not have much access to books so something like the Readathon is of immense importance. It is simply an incredible achievement, to give a child a love of reading that will hopefully remain with them for the rest of their lives, enriching them book by book. I always tell children that you are never lonely when you have a book in your hands. Well done, MS Readathon, and here’s to the next thirty years!
On Roald Dahl: I know some people have an issue with it because they say it demonises women. But I like The Witches, because of the close relationship between the boy at the heart of the story and his convention-defying grandmother. Also, it teaches children how appearances can be deceptive, and that a beautiful exterior is no guarantee of a kind interior.
On reading and characters in stories: For me, a story always begins with character. What is the protagonist’s journey? Does he or she learn anything during the course of it? And what does the reader learn, in turn, about life and how to negotiate it?
Hope this helps, Jamie. Keep up the good work.
On the 30th MS Readathon: The MS Readathon encourages people to read, and reading matters because we learn to empathise with others by reading about their experiences: a story is uniquely positioned to place us inside someone’s head.
On Roald Dahl: I’ve always loved James and the Giant Peach – the aunts are so evil, and the joy of watching James escape is exhilarating. For me it’s the ultimate feel-good book.
On reading and characters in stories: I’m not sure if one is more important than the other – I guess it depends on the book. My books are very much character-driven, though, so I always start with the characters.
On Roald Dahl: Danny the Champion of the World is my favourite as it’s full of compassion and wisdom. Like all his books, it’s also funny. And I love the relationship between Danny and his father.
On reading and characters in stories: I think both are important but for me character comes first. I tend to get an idea first – which can be as vague as a setting or an interesting fact from history – then I think and think and think and scribble in a notebook. Once I have my main character I start writing and see where it all takes me.
On the 30th MS Readathon: The MS Readathon is a great way of encouraging children to read for fun (and prizes). I’ve supported it for a long time now and will continue to do so in the future. Roald Dahl is one of my all time favourite writers and it’s wonderful to think of him launching it all those years ago.
On Roald Dahl: I think mine has to be James and The Giant Peach because (and hold your breath here) I never read any Dahl when I was a kid and this one was the first I read to my own children…
On the 30th MS Readathon: MS Readathon is always one of the most worthy and worthwhile fundraising event in the year. As well as generating much needed funds for the charity it encourages kids to read as much as they can in a month. What more could you ask for as a parent?
On Roald Dahl: I have so many favourite Roald Dahl books, but the one that sticks with me is ‘Danny the Champion of the World’. It was the first book that I read as a child that showed me that adults could be imperfect too! I loved the relationship between Danny and his father, and of course, it is always satisfying to see the good guys win.
On reading and characters in stories: I think this might be different for every writer (and reader!), but for me, it is always the characters that keep me writing a story. I can have a good storyline idea, but I can’t start writing it until I have a character to tell it. My best writing comes when the character is so real in my head that when I start to type, unexpected words and thoughts pour out, and I no longer know what will come next. I know that sounds weird, but hey, authors are strange creatures!
On Roald Dahl: I like Danny, the champion of the world. Like many Roald Dahl stories, it completely upends normal ideas of authority. The good guys are the people with warmth and heart, but the mean and the foolish are in charge. Dahl teaches children that rules mean nothing if they go against kindness and decency.
On reading and characters in stories: A good story and strong characters are important, but if we don’t care what happens to the protagonists neither will work. Writing taught me that the relationship between the characters trumps every other aspect. If they care what happens to each other (whether for good or ill), the reader should be gripped by the story.
On the 30th MS Readathon: What a great initiative! Two positive ideas combined.