Helena Duggan

What books did you read when you were a child?
I loved books by Roald Dahl especially. I just loved the imagination in his stories. I also really enjoyed Terry Pratchett’s trilogy called Truckers, Diggers and Wings, they were about tiny people living in a department store. I remember how I felt reading those books to this day. As I got a little older I became obsessed with the Harry Potter books. I was well in my twenties and backpacking in Australia when the last one came out. I scoured the bookshops down the east coast until finally finding a copy in Byron Bay. I read it in one sitting, and was so disappointed when the series was over!

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
I think I’d be one of the little people from Terry Pratchett’s Truckers. I don’t remember the characters’ names but I do remember that I really wanted to live under the floorboards and come out at night to play in the shop. Everything would be an adventure if you were only a few centimeters tall!

What is the best thing about reading?
I love getting lost in a book. My favourite thing about reading is finding a story that you really can’t put down. You tell yourself just another page or another chapter, and when you put it away all you do is think about when you’ll sneak a few minutes to pick the story up again. Those kind of books are rare!

What is your all time favourite book?
Probably the Harry Potter books, all of them. I also loved a book about the Irish Famine when I was in primary school called Under the Hawthorn Tree. Another book which hasn’t left me yet is All The Light We Cannot See.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
I’m not an expert yet as my daughter is only four months old, but I believe one of the best things a parent can do for their child outside of introducing them to books is speak to them. I know it sounds simple but in this world we all get lost in our day-to-day sometimes and forget to actually sit down and talk to each other. I hope that I will have many chats with Jo, even if none of them make sense!

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
This question is quite raw as my father passed away recently. I’m not sure how much I can say he encouraged specifically my writing skills, but how much he encouraged me in general was immense. My father would sit down at the kitchen table regularly to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be and it didn’t matter how crazy that thing was. He never faltered once in his belief for any of his three children. He gave us all a confidence in ourselves which I think is necessary if you’re going to pursue any kind of creative field. Dad had a way of knowing things, and he knew Perfect would get published. He told me that many times. It’s hard not to believe it yourself when someone backs you that much.

My mother too was unreal in her encouragement. Mam told me from a very young age, that I’d make a writer. She’s read everything I’ve ever written, even every round of Perfect edits which I have to admit by the end got quite painful, I imagine. When I originally self-published, and was too embarrassed to actually sell my book, my mother visited every bookshop in my local town and sold them copies. She now minds Jo for me as I write Perfect 2 and I know when the book is finished she’ll be the first person I show it to.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
As I mentioned above I have a four-month old daughter Jo, she’s just managed to roll over so I imagine reading is a little off her radar yet! Usborne sent her a lovely set of babies’ first books when she was born and we’re beginning to play with them which is great. When she gets to story age I’ll definitely be rediscovering all my favourites and reading lots of Roald Dahl to her. There are also some beautiful picture books out there now. It’s not a world I’m hugely familiar with yet, but I’m looking forward to stepping into it. Oliver Jeffers’ books look beautiful so I imagine I’ll be flicking through some of those with Jo whether she wants to look at them or not!

Helena Duggan is from Kilkenny, a medieval, haunted city in the south of Ireland, which was the inspiration for A Place Called Perfect. She's also a graphic designer and illustrator. A Place Called Perfect has been selected for the Tom Fletcher Book Club.

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