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Fifteen Minutes with Matt Haig

As a World Book Day author what is the single most important reason to get children reading?

Nowadays in particular, reading gives you a precious space to get away from the things that are stressful in modern life. All you need to do with a book is just read it. The book doesn’t ask anything of you. It shows you all the things a human being could actually be at a time when reality can be incredibly demanding.


Evie & the Animals is about a girl who can talk to animals, how did she come to be?

I wrote my book about Father Christmas for my son and I promised my daughter Pearl I would write something for her. She was obsessed with animals and what better place to start.


Was the environmental message in the book intentional?

Very much so, although I think children today are so much more engaged with all things eco. I didn’t want it to be an earnest book about climate change, that was really important. I just really wanted to write a funny story that kids enjoyed.

Your collaboration with Emily Gravett was that your idea?

We have always loved Emily’s book Wolves. She can draw animals that are entertaining as well as being realistic. She’s a genius, so she was my number 1 choice.

Favourite book when you were a child?

Noddy when I was little, moving up to Adrian Mole when I was a teenager.


Favourite book to read to your children?

It’s got to be Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea.


Books by your bed.

I like having a few non-fiction books on the go, if it is something by Bill Bryson, or a film biography I enjoy dipping into the book before I go to sleep.


Treasured possession?

I don’t go in for talismans, lucky charm things. But I do always have to hand a tennis ball. It works wonders on writers’ back.


Do you have a Hero?

I can’t think of one particular person, but lately I’ve realised that people I’ve known, leading normal lives are all pretty inspirational. I have been inspired by lots of writers along the years though, Graham Greene and Jeanette Winterson, Roald Dahl but try not to read too much of any one author at a given time otherwise I feel myself copying their style. Like a sort of karaoke version of something that was once much better.


Single piece of advice?

Don’t be scared of writing badly, just keep going. Shakespeare spelt his name 6 different ways, so there’s nothing to worry about.


What drives you mad?

Having a lie-in and the postman knocks on the door and you rush down to open the door and all he has for you is a pile of junk.


Favourite spot in London?

I arrive at Victoria Station most mornings and walk up past Buckingham Palace and through the parks into the West End and I’m always amazed at how much green space there is.


Most surreal moment?

Excuse the boasting, but my Father Christmas book is being filmed and I went up to Primrose Hill the other day to see three whole streets decked out in fake snow and the shops all filled with Christmas stuff and Maggie Smith in the middle of it all and I thought London is pretty special.


You run a lot, do you listen to anything special?

Slightly oddly, I can’t do earphones or earpods or anything, they just don’t seem to fit my ears, I must be the only person in the world. So I have an app on my phone that tells me how far I’ve gone and a fitbit that’s on my wrist, but I’m forever trying to trick it by walking round and round the kitchen table.


Why do you run?

I’m not really massively into sport or fitness but I know that running is the place where things can get shaken about in my mind and I come back feeling that I’m ready to work and think. It’s actually the hour after I’ve run that I do it for, not the run itself. I’m running the Brighton half marathon and I’ve bought so many things that I’m banking on holding my body together, knee braces, thigh supports, foot plasters, midway snacks. I can’t stop myself!


Are you conscious of being careful where you holiday?

We are, like all of us I think, really trying to fly less. There are times when I have to go to America for work, but generally we will drive or take the train where we can. It takes a bit more planning but you can explore to far flung places without taking a plane. It’s more of an adventure if you have to think outside the box to get there.

Matt Haig is a World Book Day 2020 Author and his book Evie in the Jungle is one of the WBD titles.

Evie & the Animals is published by Canongate