Vivian’s agents are Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.


Vivian French

Highters Heath Community School

January 26, 2015

Popular children’s book author Vivian French visited Highters Heath on Monday 26th January 2015.

The children have recently been reading books written by Vivian French and Vivian took time out from her busy schedule to visit the children of Highters Heath and discuss how she became an writer and her inspiration to writing stories. During the session, Vivian also answered many questions asked by the children.

The children had a fasinating time learning all about her and she was also kind enough to sign books for the children and adults at the end of the assembly.

Thank you Vivan French for visiting our school!

My inspiration: Vivian French on her own father – and Rudyard Kipling

The Guardian

January 13, 2015

Who, or what, inspired me? H’m… to be honest, I have a bit of a problem with the word “inspiration.” To me it smacks of unicorns and rainbows and tinkly silver bells, and lady authoresses (is that a word?) draped with gauzy veils gazing out at misty sunsets, and I’m not happy with that. I think of myself as someone who works with words, as against wood and glue and nails; it’s what I do – I’m no different from a carpenter.

I looked “inspiration” up in the dictionary, and one of the suggestions is “an animating influence”, so I’m going to go with that, if that’s ok. I know I was influenced by my father. He wrote dreadful poetry (The Death of a Crab under a Piece of Damp Seaweed) but he was fantastically good at limericks and chirpy doggerel, and was always making up rhymes about anything and everything. When we put our coats on he would push our arms into the sleeves chanting “Moley moley, down the holey”, and tooth brushing was accompanied by songs. “Yellowy teeth make Grandma frown, so swish your toothbrush up and down.”

In a different time my father might have been an actor; he settled for teaching (eventually a much loved headmaster), but he always directed the school plays and was an enthusiastic amateur performer. He wrote a play once; the children howled with laughter, but the adults detected a certain lack of gravitas.

“I’m the sheriff of this town With a star upon my chest

And I’ve got another tattooed on beneath my chilprufe vest…”

He was reined in, and instructed to direct Treasure Island.

Right from when I was tiny and very slow at walking (big head, small feet) he encouraged me along by giving me the first line of a silly poem, then waiting for me to suggest the next line before he went on with the third… and so on. He taught me wildly inaccurate nursery rhymes, including several that he’d made up himself; I gravely recited these at nursery school and, aged four, gained a reputation for eccentricity (and inaccuracy).

He was also wonderful at reading out loud, and particularly loved books that gave him scope to use his acting skills – and it was through our bedtime reading that I met the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and became totally entranced with the English language… just like my father.

My favourite was The Beginning of the Armadillos, but Dad preferred The Elephant’s Child because he so enjoyed doing the voice of the crocodile. We came to a happy compromise. He read me both stories every night for months and months. I think Kipling’s cadences, humour, rhythms and startlingly original use of words sank deep into my bones; even now I read anything I write out loud, just to check that it feels good in the mouth – but I’ve never achieved anything as perfect as “the banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”. If ever I did, I’d have my father to thank … to thank for being my inspiration.

Vivian French will be visiting primary schools in and around Birmingham this month as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour organised by Scottish Book Trust. Vivian has written over 200 children’s books including Oliver’s Vegetables, the hugely popular Tiara Club and Tales from the Five Kingdoms series as well as non-fiction books such as Caterpillar Butterfly. Her latest book is The Snarling of Wolves.

Vivian French: What I’m thinking about … why children don’t read

The Guardian

August 15, 2012

I’m thinking about Ruby, aged nearly eight. It’s her turn to read out loud.
“Duh … Orh … Guh … “

Teacher: “Come along, Ruby. Surely even you can read that?”

Ruby studies the page. There’s a picture. A clue. She smiles. “Squirrel!”

The teacher rolls her eyes at me. “You see? She just doesn’t try.”

I think Ruby IS trying. She’s made a reasonable guess at the badly drawn picture of a dog with a curly tail. It’s the letters she can’t fathom. And I have every sympathy for her. Reading is a strange, curious and indefinable skill – and for some children it can assume the proportions of a nightmare.

I’m not a reading expert in any way, shape or form, but I’ve spent many hours in schools creating participatory stories with groups of children (they give me the ideas; I act as scribe). And what I DO know is that often the brightest and most imaginative contributors are those who struggle with decoding letters on a page. They’re not stupid; far from it. But they’re often made to feel that they are. And that makes me angry, because I was made to feel that way too.

I wouldn’t describe myself as dyslexic, but I did muddle letters and misread words, especially when reading out loud, and in the 1950s/1960s, teachers weren’t slow to comment. There’s far more awareness these days, and some very impressive research – but I still hear that exasperated tone of voice. ‘Surely even YOU can read that?’ And it shocks me every time.

When I meet kids, I always ask, “What do talking, reading and writing have in common?” The answer, of course, is words. So then I ask, “So who’s good at talking?” And they all are. So we practise our words (because practice makes perfect, and some words are far more interesting and evocative than others), and we write a story, and edit it, and illustrate it – and then we read it to the rest of the school. And then we put it in the library, having made sure that all the authors’ names are on the cover. And guess what? My non-reading ducklings have suddenly become swans. They’ve achieved author status.

Obviously this is no quick fix, but I love these sessions because I can demonstrate the vivid imagination and sense of story that can go undiscovered in children who find reading problematic. It also, hopefully, gives them the confidence to go on trying. Confidence is a wonderful thing; believe you can do something, and eventually – it may not be easy – you might well get there. Believe you can’t do it, and you never will.

So – the events I have selected for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival are for Ruby (and others like her) to enjoy. I’ve chosen events that offer story making in all kinds of different forms; ballads, storyboards, pictures, oral storytelling, plays. If it helps Ruby towards believing in herself – that’s wonderful. Job done.

Vivian French is curating a strand of events called “The Power of Words Through Play” at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She talks about The Gift of Dyslexia today (15 August) at 5pm