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Literacy Learnings
Léargais Litearthachta


Author name: Sam Thompson
Title of shortlisted book: Wolfstongue

1. What was your earliest memory of reading/being read to?
The two very early reading experiences that made big impressions on me were Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are and Jan Pienkowski's Haunted House. Both books are beautiful objects, full of mystery and menace, and their opening lines still echo in my mind: 'The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…'; 'Come in, Doctor. Yes, it is a quaint old place. Chilly, though…'

2. When did you first begin to write for an audience?
I have two brothers, and as children we were one another's audience for games, drawings, comics, stories -- so in a way the audience came long before the writing. When I'm writing a book I have a vague feeling of the imaginary reader to whom I'm trying to tell the story, who is partly me and partly someone else -- but I sometimes think that writing and publishing books is an imperfect, roundabout attempt to get back to that shared childhood experience of imaginative play.

3. What book inspired you most as a young writer? Why?
I remember being very inspired when I was small by classic science fiction like Isaac Asimov's robot stories, and some Arthur C. Clarke novels like The City and the Stars, Childhood's End and Rendezvous with Rama. I think they were my first taste of how radically books can enlarge and transform your perspective. Another important one for me was Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, which did the same thing in a completely different way, by giving me a new way of thinking about language and how it makes the world.

4. What is the best thing about writing for a contemporary audience?
I've never thought much about the idea of a 'contemporary' audience -- actually, part of the magic of reading or writing a book is that it lets you step outside normal timelines, and offers the possibility of making contact with fellow beings who are long dead or not yet born. I'd love to think that a book of mine could open the way for a reader into that space where contemporaneity doesn't matter.

5. What is the most challenging thing about writing for a contemporary audience?
Maybe it's the suspicion that nowadays books aren't important in the way they used to be -- that being a novelist means working in a perversely obscure, niche art-form that has no relevance to the way the world goes. But writers have probably always felt this in their more negative moments, and I don't really believe it's the case. Books don't have to be important or relevant, or indeed contemporary -- they just have to connect with their reader, whoever that is.

6. What inspired you to write Wolfstongue?
Any story comes from a whole churning mass of ingredients, but in the case of Wolfstongue the major inspiration came from my son when he was around six years old. He was dealing with some speech difficulties at the time, and he was also really into wolves -- thinking about these two things side-by-side, I realised I had a story to tell about talking animals and the challenges, power and danger of words.

7. What have you learned from the process of writing this book?
When I started Wolfstongue, I thought it would be a short, stand-alone story, but in the process of writing it I learned that there was much more to say about language, and animals, and how human beings tell stories about the non-human world. So I went on and wrote a second book, The Fox's Tower, and I've now finished the third in the sequence, which is called The Forest Yet To Come.

8. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
There is no right way to 'be a writer' -- there are countless different ways in which writing can play an important part in your life. It probably won't pay enough to live on, so plan accordingly. There are no secret methods. Write habitually and finish the things you start. When you can't move forward with the work, leave the desk. When you have finished a draft, rest it for as long as you can, then print it out and read it with a pencil in your hand. Revise your work ruthlessly. Write your book not once but many times. Remember the reader creates the story in the end. Remember you are the reader. Focus on the verb, not the noun: what matters is not whether anyone thinks of you as a writer, but whether you have spent some time writing today.

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