Five Questions with Jane Sullivan

Our authors are the heart of Ventura - without them we wouldn’t have the books we do! But what makes them tick? What lies behind their passion for literature? To answer these sought after questions, we’re bringing you the Five Questions With series to give you a little more insight into who lies behind the words you’re reading.



August is for celebrating all things wonderful about childhood books. In Storytime, author and literary journalist Jane Sullivan takes us on a journey of self discovery, enchantment and wonder as she explores her favourite childhood stories (and even some she hated). As she re-reads the books so important to her as a child, Jane makes some surprising and emotional insights into how books have shaped the woman she is today.

jane sullivan photograph by Peter Derrett-1619.jpeg
  1. What do you love about writing and literature?

I love how both reading and writing books, and perhaps particularly fiction, can transport me into an entirely different world which is yet somehow very similar to my own world. This double vision of the world is vitally important to me, it’s how I get my perspective. It’s been that way for me ever since I was a child, even though I didn’t understand why at the time – I just felt I had to get my nose into a book as often as I could.

2. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind your latest work.

Storytime came out of a desire to explore why it was that although I’d spent a lifetime in love with reading, no book I’d ever come across had the same deep impact and resonance as those I read when I was a child. Why did Enid Blyton trump Tolstoy or George Eliot? I decided to go back and reread some childhood favourites to find out. And my discoveries were so surprising and far-reaching, they turned themselves into a book.

3. What are you currently reading?

At any one time I’ve probably got two or three books on the go, plus others I skim for my column. One I’ve read recently that particularly struck me is Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys, a story of two African-American youngsters in a brutal correction centre (sadly, based on a real institution). Also Rick Morton’s memoir 100 Years of Dirt, another story of overcoming poverty, disadvantage and violence, this time in the Australian bush. Currently there seems to be a huge wave of these stories; you don’t always want to pick them up because you might get compassion fatigue, but the best of them are both shattering and inspiring.

4. Tell us about the book that has impacted you the most.

I can’t really get that answer down to one book, so many have had so much impact at different stages of my life – but when I was rereading my favourite children’s books, the one that delighted me still and delighted me the most was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. It is a surprisingly daring and masterful tale that marries very different styles and perceptions into what at first seems a simple jolly story about talking animals. It made me feel both happy and queasy, which a good book should.

5. What is the value of books in the fast-paced, digital world that we live in?

Words on the page open up vivid spaces in my head that can’t be reached through film, TV, computer screens and smartphones. Reading a book is a different kind of addiction to the social media habit: it’s not about the fear of missing out, it’s more about the fun of getting out. It’s a gentle, meditative, highly enjoyable immersion that slows the frantic speed of superficial day-to-day contact and encourages the intellect and the imagination to go exploring. But reading isn’t always gentle: it can also knock your socks off.

Read more about Jane, and her latest book Storytime, or head to our events page to see how you can be involved in the launch.