Bury St Edmunds ‘reading champion’ Philip Daws gives his top tips

Reading champion Philip Daws, who has 'influenced the reading habits of a generation', at King Edwar

Reading champion Philip Daws, who has 'influenced the reading habits of a generation', at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds earlier this year with Louisa Ungureanu - Credit: Gregg Brown

A man once sworn at by Brian Clough is a Children’s Short Story Competition judge!

With just over two weeks to go before the closing date, STEVEN RUSSELL gets some writing tips from one of the Suffolk Children’s Short Story Competition judges: Philip Daws

It’s quite something to be hailed as a “legendary bookseller” who has “influenced the reading habits of a generation”. Meet Philip Daws – one of the judges in the children’s short story competition we’re running with BBC Radio Suffolk.

He spent 16 years in Bury St Edmunds with Waterstones (the branch started out as Ottakar’s) – most of it in charge of the children’s section – and is now the “reading champion” for 20 schools in the area.

Actually, Philip undoubtedly has a good tale or two to tell himself – and he wouldn’t have to make it up. Years ago, working as a journalist, he landed his plum job: reporting on his beloved Nottingham Forest Football Club. And there he had to endure being sworn at by Brian Clough, the legendary manager who led the team to great heights but fought his own losing battle with alcohol.


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For now, though, we want to pick Philip’s brain and get some tips for young writers working on their competition entries or thinking about sending in a story. (The deadline is December 11.)

“Because I used to be a journalist, I would say that being concise is good,” Philip advises. “Never use two words when one will do. Try to come to the point as quickly as you can.

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“As a reader, I get quite frustrated if I read a book and it’s a bit longer than I think it should be.

“Be quite punchy. The reader needs to be grabbed. If you have a powerful first line, or title, that’s really good.”

By the way, all those nice words about him shaping the reading habits of a generation came from Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds. Early this year he gave Philip the role of helping improve pupils’ reading skills in the 20 schools within the Bury Schools Partnership.

When Philip was at Waterstones, Geoff was one of the customers who would come in seeking advice on books to buy for youngsters.

Reading often, and widely, is of course vital for anyone who wants to write compelling stories. The former bookseller (he left Waterstones last year) says books have certainly shaped his life. Can he suggest some a young person might enjoy? He certainly can.

“Remembrance, by Theresa Breslin, about the First World War. Absolutely wonderful – a little bit like a teenage version of Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks.

“It’s a fantastic book about five young people growing up in a village in Scotland in 1915. Each of them has a story to tell. It’s just the most beautiful book – quite sad in places. I sold so many copies of that book in the shop (including about 1,500 hardback editions) and Theresa has been down to Bury several times.

“Another is Wonder, by an American lady called RJ Palacio.” It’s about a boy called Auggie Pullman who is born with a facial deformity that initially prevents him going to a mainstream school. And then he switches to one.

“That is an extraordinary book. She calls it a ‘facial difference’. At Waterstones, I developed a bit of a spiel about it, which I can get through in about 30 seconds. By which time people had tended to give in and buy the book!”

Michael “War Horse” Morpurgo “is my favourite author of all. He writes about quite tricky grown-up things, but he makes them very accessible. He is Mr Concise, but his books are just brilliant”.

Daws details

Philip Daws is from Nottingham

Went to university in Birmingham

Then did a post-graduate journalism course in London

Worked on newspaper in Exeter, then for an agency in Leicester

Wrote about Nottingham Forest

Was sworn at by legendary but abrasive manager Brian Clough ‘quite a few times. He was rather on the bottle by then, unfortunately. But it was a fascinating experience to be in the middle of all that’

Worked in Devon, as a sports reporter for the BBC

Met wife-to-be while on holiday on the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel

Margaret lived in Thetford, ‘so I had rather a dramatic geographical change of direction!’

Philip got job in 1998 at Ottaker’s bookshop in Bury St Edmunds. It later became Waterstones

Margaret died of cancer in 2009

Second wife-to-be Annie had written some stories about a mischievous border terrier called Wilf. ‘She started pestering to come in and do a signing!’ They met and that was that

Philip left Waterstones in 2014

Suffolk Children’s Short Story Competition

We’ve teamed up with BBC Radio Suffolk to run the first Suffolk short story competition for children aged 5-11 ? and there are £50 book vouchers for the winners!

We are looking for an original piece of fiction, no more than 500 words long.

The winning stories will be published in the East Anglian Daily Times and on our website. The winning tales will also be read on air on Lesley Dolphin’s afternoon show by one of the judges, and the writers will be interviewed by Lesley on BBC Radio Suffolk.

There are two age groups: five- to seven-year-olds and eight- to 11-year-olds (the age you were on October 3, 2015).

There is a prize of £50 of book tokens for each age group. All stories must be the writer’s own original work and submitted by an adult.

They can be submitted via http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/write-now or emailed to liz.nice@archant.co.uk or lesley.dolphin@bbc.co.uk

Closing date for entries is 5pm on Friday, December 11, 2015.

Details can also be found on http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/write-now

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