A huge relief… as prior to this it was ‘gloom and doom’ mood and the need for bells, drums and whistles on school visits. So not only was his ebullience reaffirming but it was also reassuring to be reminded that ‘story’ itself is sufficiently mysterious to make the simple act of reading to children enough to feed their imagination. ‘I’ve got a story to tell…’ is all that’s needed.
One of the debts Frank Cottrell Boyce owes his favourite children's authors is the way they alerted him – at an impressionable age – to various small pleasures. He’s still able to give himself a sense of freedom and carelessness by setting out on a walk with a couple of hard-boiled eggs in his pocket, thanks to reading Milly Molly Mandy as a child.
Tove Jansson writing about the mystery of others in her Moomin family helped him choose his wife. Little My, small and determined with her energy and fiercely independent nature was the person he saw when his future wife rushed into the Library. (where else does a writer find a potential partner?) He said that Jansson showed him, how in a family it’s the small pleasures and idiosyncrasies that keep us together when we start to grow apart, and we can express love merely by sharing a meal, even if everyone's eating something quite different, or making sure the roof isn't leaking.
He finds it uplifting that Jansson could describe so precisely and positively the relationship between a family and one of its members who chooses to live a different life – how this difference somehow enriches the others, how they yearn to go off but know they can't, how they long for her return but need her to keep adventuring.
He urged us not to share writing skills… ‘there are already enough writers’… but to share reading. That true creativity comes from listening and from winnowing. (lovely word) He feels the world is so driven by immediate response that we’re already scanning the sentences as someone speaks to put our own view in place. And that teachers are bound by objectives and outcome... ‘Look out for the Wow words class!’ type of agendas. But that you can’t teach children to love reading, you have to share reading.
What he found reaffirming about working with film-maker and producer Danny Boyle, was that he had ‘a reading corner’ whenever he worked on a film, and everyone busy on the project was encouraged to browse and to leave books.
Books don’t have to be mainstream. They can be voices from the edge. We live by stories and we need all the voices.
Frank Cottrell Boyce had me wondering about the books we as writers must remember vividly from our own childhood, as being the first books that sparked our imagination. Are there stories that are common to us?
For my own part I remember reading Pookie the Rabbit as a child. Coming from an environment of the sea, I was enchanted by the idea of the deep, dark forest where rabbits had wings. The Pookie stories literally took me into the woods of enchantment.
These words spoken by Badger’s in Barry Lopez’s children’s book Crow and Weasel, take on new meaning after listening to Frank Cottrell Boyce:
I would ask you to remember only this one thing. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.