I suppose I’ve been luckier than most. I’ve had three childhoods, or rather three large chunks of my life when I got to read the most wonderful books written for the smallest people in the house.
Nowadays, when I visit libraries, I amaze the children by showing them how few books for kids were in my library when I was their age – typically about 20% of modern shelf space. By age 10 I had devoured all the classics, plus the Blytons, Buckeridges, and Norman and Henry Bones, necessitating a leap straight into the adult section without the cushion of YA.
My second age came as a father, when I discovered the joy of reading aloud. Bedtimes were truly magical for me, and there are few better sights than a child enraptured by words. It was fascinating to see how children’s literature had leapt forward from the 60s to the 90s, and there was never any shortage of choice in library or bookshop.
As a parent it’s exciting to see your offspring discover new things about the world, and to kindle that interest with a book. I remember my daughter Lucy being entranced by a TV documentary about volcanoes, and finding a Ladybird book on the subject that was perfectly pitched. She was the only five-year-old that year who told teacher she was going to be a vulcanologist – although she’s now a bookseller!
With three children, bedtime stories had to be timetabled, and although the night you set them adrift with their own book was a little sad, it’s also what reading – and parenting – is all about.
The best fun was the ‘lights out story’, which came after reading a chapter or two. That was when we found other worlds – in the case of Lucy a long-running tale of the little girl’s bed that could fly if you twisted the bed-knob a certain way. The moon and India were favoured destinations.
My last ‘lights out story’ was aimed at Billy, a then-hopeless but mad keen footballer who loved sports stories. I told him a story of a hopeless but mad keen footballer who met a ghost in a stadium and, through advice and his own hard work, became a Premier League star.
That story lasted over a year and I would often get home from work at 7pm to find Billy sitting at the bottom of the stairs in his pyjamas, mustard keen for the next instalment.
One night, as the story needed its end, Billy told me “You should write that down dad, it would make a great book.”
So, with a few tweaks and a change of sport, I did. And Billy’s bedtime story spawned a series of seven books and a whole new life direction.
Now I read my own books aloud to children in schools and libraries, and at home still read the most amazing children’s books.
Long ago, a teacher told me that I couldn’t be a writer unless I was a reader. It’s advice I treasure.
GERARD SIGGINS was born in Dublin and has lived almost all his life in the shadow of Lansdowne Road; he’s been attending rugby matches there since he was small enough for his dad to lift him over the turnstiles. He is a sports journalist and worked for the Sunday Tribune for many years. His other books about rugby player Eoin Madden, Rugby Spirit, Rugby Warrior, Rugby Rebel, Rugby Flyer and Rugby Runner are also published by The O’Brien Press. Gerard is also the author of Rugby Roar, Ireland’s 2018 World Book Day book.