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Tom Mitchell on why the ‘f’ word is so important in reading

You don’t need me to tell you about the importance of reading. You’ve heard it all before. You get the message from all sides – teachers, parents, grandparents, those YouTube videos recommended by adults that look like they might be fun but actually turn out to be manic-eyed ex-librarians desperate for you to pick up a book.

So, instead, let me tell you about how, last night, I rode a camel across the American West.

I know, right?

Well, I didn’t actually ride a camel. And, to be honest, that’s a good thing. It sounded uncomfortable. And hot. I prefer comfort and a reasonable temperature. And I once rode an elephant and couldn’t walk properly for two weeks.

But, last night, the novel I was reading was so convincing, so immersive, that, for a second, I forgot my humdrum existence in the outer suburbs of London and could almost smell the camel poo.

Because  the teachers and parents (me) who bang on about the importance of reading, how it teaches empathy, how it literally improves your brain, risk ignoring, I think, the most important reason to do it:

It’s fun! 

When I was a kid, such a long time ago that Sheffield Wednesday were in the Premier League, I loved reading a book called The Box of Delights. I’d do it every Christmas. Written by John Masefield, noted poet, the novel is full of fun stuff, for example: a box that can shrink you or make you fast, cars that turn into planes, time travel to Ancient Greece, rats that talk, moody demons, a young girl who likes firing pistols. Every subsequent book I read, I think, is an attempt to recapture how I felt back then.

And fun has been the starting point for both of my novels so far. I didn’t start by considering an important social issue I wanted readers to learn about. I wanted to write something entertaining.

Not that long ago, I went on a train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago. And it was proper bonkers. A passenger was thrown off, in the middle of nowhere, for refusing to pay for breakfast. In Albuquerque, during a rest stop, a strange man chased a passenger with a leaf blower.

Inspiration visited: I would write a road trip. And a fun one too!

In THAT TIME I GOT KIDNAPPED, a young boy wins a competition to appear in a superhero movie. However, in Chicago, he misses his connecting flight. And, because teenagers are terrible decision makers, he decides to catch a bus instead. It’s only 2000 miles. On the way, he meets Jennifer, who’s carrying a mysterious package and is chased by a man with a moustache, known only as ‘the Cowboy’.

And, with the help of my amazing editor, every decision I made in writing this story was governed by that all important question: ‘will it be fun to read?’

Hopefully, you’ll think it is.

Because that’s both why I write and why I read too.

The ‘f’ word: Fun.