I’ll let you into a secret, I’m not very good at reading; as much as I love stories, the way I consume them can feel frustrating and disjointed – dyslexia will do that. It’s a bit like spending a couple of days crawling across the hot dessert before stumbling across a cool lake just to be told you can only enjoy it one tiny sip at a time. For a long time this put me off, I didn’t feel like words or books were for me. I didn’t feel clever enough to belong and as for picking up a book, well that dessert looked awfully long and the sun felt awfully hot. But that’s when I discovered something: stories can be just a few sentences long, some books don’t need words sometimes, other don’t even have pages. Let me explain, I remember finding poetry for the first as a child and it changed my life, firstly it was short, not so much a hike across the Sahara as a stroll along beach. Suddenly I felt like I belonged. I loved that poetry can be anything you like, they can be a joke, they can be an idea, a story, something scary, something that makes you cry. For me it was a way in. A brilliant combination of levity and brevity, that allowed me a seat at the table. I was hooked! Comic books were next, stories with no words – who knew that was a thing. it meant I could explore new worlds with out the embarrassment of asking my parents how to pronounce different words, or what things meant. You see for a reluctant reader, all these little moments of anxiety add up and means that you can allow yourself to give up. But once you’re in, you get time and space to explore stuff on your own and when you think about it, that’s the best thing about books, the fact that they allow you to be yourself, to go off the beaten track, to explore the worlds you want to explore. And if I needed help, a guide into another place, then I had audiobooks, someone else to tell the story, so I didn’t have to have to worry about the big words. The point it that all these things are out there, reading poetry lead to writing poetry, flicking through comic books lead to drawing, which set me on my way to becoming an author and all started with a browse in library. From books that you can draw in, to ones that take you by the scruff of your neck and fling you around the universe just using pictures, to having the greatest voices in the world telling you some of the best stories in the world. They are all there for us, and so while I still find reading hard, I have never been more in love with stories.
Having started life as a political cartoonist and then an animator, Tom McLaughlin is now best-known for his picture books, including The Diabolical Mr Tiddles (Simon & Schuster), The Story Machine and The Cloudspotter (both Bloomsbury). His first novel, The Accidental Prime Minister was shortlisted for 12 regional UK prizes.