A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

What I Would Say to my Fifteen-Year-Old Self by Rachel Ward

I stopped reading fiction for fun some time in my teens and didn’t start again until I was at university. I’m not sure why I stopped. Maybe I couldn’t find books I related to (in the 1970s there wasn’t very much in between children’s books and adult books). Maybe it was a by-product of depression. Who knows? I listened to the radio instead and read the occasional non-fiction book in a cover-to-cover-over-and-over-obsessive kind of way (ancient sites and artefacts of Peru, the natural history of hedgehogs – I know, I know, I can’t explain it either).

When writers gather together they often talk about the books they loved when they were teens, the ones that made them fall in love with writing, the ones that changed them. In schools, I often get asked ‘What was your favourite book when you were a child?’ And sometimes I feel that I really missed out. I love reading now and I feel a little bit sad for those five or six years. I wonder if reading might have taken me out of myself a little, given me an insight into other people’s lives, created some sort of spark, or just provided comfort during that rather bleak time.

But my fictionless years also give me an empathy with people, young and old, who don’t like reading. My own children have gone through ‘dry spells’ when they haven’t wanted to read a book, and I haven’t panicked. As long as you can read (and it’s vitally important that everyone learns this most basic skill) it’s something that you can go back to. One day a cover will catch your eye, or one of your friends will be talking about a book that they love, and you might give it a try and if it’s the right book for you … you’ll be hooked. I also love it when I get emails from readers who tell me that Numbers (it’s usually Numbers) is the first book they’ve read right through, or the book that started them reading again.

So, if I could go back and talk to my fifteen-year-old self, I’d say, ‘Reading isn’t part of your life now, but in the future you’ll find it a huge inspiration and comfort and joy.’ If my time machine allowed it, I might also take a pile of current UKYA books with me and casually leave them behind, just in case, you know, one of them took Young Me’s eye. If I’d landed on a particularly grey day for Young Me, I’d also give myself a hug and say quietly, but firmly, ‘Keep going. Things change in unpredictable ways. Give life a chance to surprise you.’ It’s not a cure-all, but it’s something I say to teenagers who are finding life hard, and I still say it to myself too. Being a teenager is tricky. Being a grown-up is tough too, sometimes, but at least I’ve got reading to help me through.


Rachel Ward grew up in Bookham, Surrey. After school she studied Geography at Durham University and combined working for a number of local authorities with raising a family. She began writing in her 30’s, starting out with short stories. One of these short stories formed the first chapter of NUMBERS, which has been published in 26 countries and was the winner of several awards including the Flemish Children and Youth Literature Prize 2011, Angus Book Awards 2010 and the Salisbury Schools Book Award 2012, as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2009, the Branford Boase Award 2010 and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis 2011. Continue reading…



This entry was posted on February 25, 2015 by .

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