'With imagination and reading, the world is your oyster': Chris Ryan on encouraging children to enjoy books

Published on: 26 November 2020 Author: Chris Ryan

Growing up, Chris Ryan struggled at school - it was only when he joined the army that things began to change. Here, he tells us why he's now passionate about encouraging children to read...

Chris Ryan and the front cover of his book Hijack, photo © Niall McDiarmid

Photo: Niall McDiarmid

I was brought up in a very poor but loving environment. At junior school, we were given 20 spellings to learn each week, which I never managed - I was lucky if I got a quarter right. I was more interested in going outside after school than doing my homework.

That was until my Mum found out at a parent-teacher meeting exactly how bad I was. She made me learn my spellings and soon I was getting 20 out of 20 - but the teacher accused me of cheating in front of the whole class. 

I was made to sit on my own at the front for each week's test, and I still managed to get 20 out of 20. But these experiences had a long-term effect on me, and consequently I hated school and teachers.

Feeling left behind at school

My schooling changed when I moved up to secondary education. I failed my 11+, but saw fellow students who were less bright but more privileged than me pass and go on to grammar school - I was sent to the secondary school.

Within a year, the local grammar and my secondary school were amalgamated into a comprehensive school. At that point, not only did the pupils not get on, but neither did the staff - it was a bit of them and us. The focus was not on the secondary pupils; often there were fights in the playground and slowly, over time, there was a lack of interest in my progression and education.

I couldn't wait to leave school and join the army, but there was no-one there to encourage me either way - one teacher even said to me that all I'd be capable of was using a brush or shovel. Despite all that, my Mum regularly took me to the local library where I did read many books.

Finding my confidence

My education really started when I joined the army. I was selected to do one of the most demanding courses within the SAS, the German alpine guide course. Not only was it physically arduous, but it was mentally demanding, too. It was a huge honour to be selected to attend - the downside was that I had to speak, read and write German fluently.

So off I went to Beaconsfield to be taught German. My fellow students were all officers of high rank who had served in Germany for many years, so within a day or two it became apparent that I was struggling to keep up with the course.

Thankfully, for the first time in my life, the educational officer took me under his wing and this instilled confidence in me to continue with extra lessons in the evening. I passed the course and spent 18 months with the German army.

On reflection, life could have been a lot easier if had I knuckled down at school, and that's why I feel so strongly about encouraging children to read - it is the basis of any educational subject.

After 10 years in the SAS I embarked on a writing career, which I could never have imagined as a child. My first book The One That Got Away was even a bestseller for 16 weeks and sold millions of copies.

I'm not suggesting anyone goes to war to start a writing career! But with imagination and the background of a wide range of reading material, the world is your oyster.

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