Georgia Byng

What books did you read when you were a child?
When I was a child my favourite authors were Roald Dahl, because he is wicked, inventive and very funny - and Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose moving stories felt very real. I also loved a series called The Bobbsey Twins, which was quite old-fashioned but full of adventure. I didn’t read all 72 of the books though!

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
The girl in Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger. She has a powerful, magic finger that, when pointed at a people, can turn them into animals. She turns her teacher into a cat and some hunters into ducks. As her, I would set off on a mission to turn all the worst most dangerous people into bunnies. So there’d soon be a big pink rabbit called Donald Rabbit in The White House, one in Putin’s Palace and a bunny would be hopping about President Assad’s office too. All they’d be greedy for would be carrots. 

What is the best thing about reading?
Reading takes you out of yourself, teaches you about the world and about human beings and how we tick. It shows us the past and possible futures. It takes us away from ourselves and refreshes us so that when we come back we are more informed and re-energised. I like it best when reading shows us the funny side of life and reminds us not to take things too seriously. 

What is your all time favourite book?
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Siddhartha means ‘he who has found the meaning of existence.’ In it the hero goes on a quest to find out how to live. He spends time as a religious priest, then, not finding a satisfying answer there, becomes a very successful businessman, but then not finding that this is the right way to live he changes again. He meets the ferryman. And becomes a ferryman too. He sticks with this. The book is about how the best way to be is to be a helper of other people. I like the message and the way the story is told.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Parents should talk with their children. That means listening and talking, and best is talking about what the children are interested in, rather than lecturing the children. When kids are with other adults or other children, parents can encourage everyone to talk to each other - at mealtimes, for instance - having big proper mealtimes helps. Everyone tells stories, funny or serious, says what they think, discussions start. And everyone listens. This will build up everyone’s communication skills. 

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
In school holidays I remember always being encouraged by my mother to be creative, whether with a paintbrush or glue and nails or with words. We wrote poetry, lyrics to songs, short plays and short stories. We made up jokes and wrote loads of letters. We were encouraged to write things down even if they weren’t read by anyone, and to write anything we liked. That was great freedom. I used to interview the people who lived in the nearby lane and write down what they said. My mum showed us that writing is fun. 

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
Some children don’t like reading because they see it as an isolating thing. They don’t like being alone with a book. So it’s a good idea to make reading a shared thing. My children always liked, and still do like shared reading - perhaps me reading aloud or perhaps them reading aloud. We share the experience of the story and its characters, share the tension or the funny parts or whatever, together. Shared reading is a real pleasure, and helps children catch the reading bug. 

Georgia Byng grew up outside Winchester, England, near the river Itchen. The nearby country lane with its many cottages was where Georgia Byng first found out about characters, for it was teeming with them, and she used to interview them.

Georgia now lives in a house in London full of old and new art, as her husband is the conceptual artist Marc Quinn. Marc keeps all sorts of strange things in the fridge—once he had to keep a Canadian frog in there as it was hibernating and had to be kept cold. They and their family—Tiger, Lucas, and Sky—love to travel, and their favorite destination is India.

Georgia’s latest book, The Girl With No Nose, is out now.

Read more author interviews here.

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