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Sam Wilson on the importance of reading to your children, the power of words, and the value of storytelling

Nal’bali column No 1, Term 1: Published in the Daily Dispatch, 15 January 2018; Herald, 18 January 2018

By Carla Lever

Scriptwriter, director and Zodiac novelist, Sam Wilson. ©Matthew Brown

 
Your output is amazingly varied – you’ve penned everything from a conceptual thriller to a comic book series commissioned by the Welsh Rugby Union. Your knack for storytelling has spanned different ages, genres and media. What’s the secret ingredient?

Honestly, it’s poor self control. I can’t say ‘no’ to a project if it sounds interesting, no matter what it is or how much I’m already doing. Occasionally it’s a disaster and I won’t sleep, but at least I tried something new.

You have a lot of fun with words, whether it’s for work or play. For instance, there’s your @genrestories Twitter account, where you pepper us with 140-character short stories in wildly varying styles. What is it about stories and language that gets you excited?

Words are incredibly powerful. You can create thoughts and emotions and ideas out of nothing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

You’ve written four children’s stories for the charity Book Dash, volunteering with other writers, editors, illustrators and designers for a day of intense work to create open access stories for children that are also printed and distributed locally. What makes you so passionate about this cause?

Literacy is a huge issue in South Africa. Book Dash creates books that are free online, and can be printed and sold by anyone. It’s an amazing way to give every child in South Africa their own books. And I get to do something I love for a great cause.

What was your most recent 2017 Book Dash experience like?

Every Book Dash is great. A large group of people makes new books in a 12-hour sprint. It’s a highly creative environment, and as you can imagine, the kind of people who would do it are the kind of people worth spending time with. It’s a blast, and this year the quality of the final books was extremely high.

A recent PIRLS global report put literacy in SA at crisis levels – 8 out of 10 grade fours currently cannot read for meaning in any language. Where on earth do we start as regular citizens?

The simple answer is, read to your children. It takes time, but nothing will have a bigger impact on their enthusiasm for reading.

You’ve created several children’s books that are entirely wordless. What inherent value do you feel storytelling has for children and adults everywhere?

Wordless story books teach something more fundamental than reading: That if you look at them in the right way, a bunch of flat pieces of paper can become a world full of emotions and surprises and things worth knowing. If kids don’t understand this then they won’t want to learn the squiggly symbols we call words. But once children love books, they’re hooked.

What value is there to always playing with words and ideas?

Play looks messy, but it’s a great way to understand things on a deep level. And if you get really good at play, it becomes indistinguishable from work. People pay you to do it. It happens in an office. It can be really, really hard, and it can take years. The difference is that it’s fun.

You have a young daughter. Can you tell us a little about how you are introducing her to imaginative worlds through books and storytelling?

Matilda has just turned one, and we read to her every day. As soon as she can talk I’ll make up stories for her. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as I’m looking forward to the stories she’ll be telling me.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at www.nalibali.org to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.

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