I stated writing at a very young age, not long after I first started reading and discovered the joys of getting lost in someone else’s world. When I was a child, I wrote hundreds of stories and bound them up together like books, writing my name on the spine and putting them on the bookshelves in my bedroom. I don’t have any of those stories any more. but I wish I did. Maybe I could still get some ideas from them.
At the age of 10, I was in hospital for a week for an operation and my mother gave me a copy of The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis to read. By the time I was recovered I’d read all seven of the Narnia books and fell in love with the idea of adventure stories, particularly ones that included children like me who were in peril and had to use their wits and ingenuity to get out of trouble.
The next book I remember that had a big effect on me was The Silver Sword by Ian Serailler. This tale of four children fleeing Poland during World War II was perhaps the most important book of my childhood, combining my love of heroic adventure stories with my growing interest in history. It forced me to think about what children my own age had gone through during the war and question whether I would have been as brave and strong as they were. Twenty years later it influenced my writing of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as I tried to tell a story about this terrible time in human history with as much integrity and compassion as Serailler had.
When I was a young teenager, I discovered Charles Dickens and his novels have had the greatest effect on me as both a reader and writer. I particularly loved the orphan novels–David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby–books that began with a young boy left alone in the world, with no one or nothing to rely on other than his own resourcefulness. Because so many of Dickens’ novels were originally serialised in magazines, Dickens had a tremendous talent for finishing each chapter with a cliff-hanger, forcing me to leave the light on just a little longer to find out what happened next . . . and next . . . and next.
My life has always been filled with books and I never wanted to be anything but a writer. One of the great thrills over the last year of my life since publishing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the U.K. has been visiting schools and classrooms, talking to young children about the issues raised in the novel, but also discussing reading and writing in general. To my delight there’s a lot of young writers out there with great imaginations and stories to tell. I’ll be looking forward to their own books 20 years from now.