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‘All writers have to be readers first'

20 January 2014

‘All writers have to be readers first. When I was eight I got encephalitis and was seriously ill; I spent a year-and-a-half in bed recuperating. I ended up reading what was on my bookshelf from one end to the other, and when I finished, I went back and read them all again: I must have read the Pippi Longstocking books, The Secret Garden and the Moomin books more than 30 times, and when I knew them backwards I was able to make the judgements on bits that I liked, areas where I thought the dialogue was good and why - and I still use those skills...

My husband is my harshest critic. He's my first reader; writers need someone to tell you what you've done wrong. Though we had a few frosty days once when I showed him an early draft of a book and he told me I should rewrite half of it. It goes both ways though: he (the novelist William Sutcliffe) once showed me two alternative opening chapters of a novel and said, "Which should I choose?" and I said, "Neither; you've got to rewrite it!"'

Maggie O'Farrell, author of Instructions for a Heatwave in the Independent on Sunday