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My Fantasy Bookshelf: Simon Farnaby shares the books which influenced his life and career

The actor and writer shares his most significant reads.

My Fantasy Bookshelf Simon Farnaby
Published: Sunday, 25th April 2021 at 2:01 pm

You will have seen actor and writer Simon Farnaby in a variety of period guises throughout his time in the popular Horrible Histories series, which has covered everyone from “Horrid Henry VIII” to “Bolshy Boudica”.

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A long-term member of The Mighty Boost cast, you'll also spot him in BBC One's Ghosts and the charming live-animation film Paddington 2, which he co-wrote.

Now, Farnaby is releasing his own book for children. The Wizard in My Shed follows an ordinary girl called Rose who finds a banished warlock in her shed, sent to the 21st century in punishment for his bad behaviour.

Below, the author discusses the books which influenced his latest novel and those which have been significant to him throughout his life, and draws up his final Fantasy Bookshelf selection.

Farnaby shares his own favourite read as a child, the book which has taught him the most and the novel which inspired him to study in Dublin.

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If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. It has a bit of everything; robbery, murder, musings on life and death and a policeman who’s half man half bicycle. It’s also the book that’s made me laugh out loud the most.

There’s mad scientist in it, de Selby who believes that night-time is created by tiny volcanic eruptions in the earth that block out the sun during the day. I give a little wink to him in The Wizard in My Shed for the eagle-eyed reader.

What was your favourite book growing up?

I loved Stig of The Dump by Clive King. It’s about a boy who discovers a caveman living in a refuse tip. It just made me really want to be best friends with a caveman.

I loved that type of narrative as a kid. Like when I saw ET I really wanted to be best friends with an alien. It’s not hard to see why I’ve written a book where a kid becomes best friends with a wizard from the dark ages.

As a child, which character from a book would you say you were most like?

I always felt a connection to Danny Champion of the World. I’m not sure why because we didn’t live in a caravan and my mum was very much alive. I think it’s because my dad was a gardener and I was always helping him and getting my hands dirty like Danny, and I thought my dad was the best dad ever. Or maybe I just liked the title!

Which book has taught you the most?

There’s a book called Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps by Allan and Barbara Pease which sounds terrible but gives very persuasive scientific explanations of why we behave like we do.

We humans forget that we were around for millions of years before we bought food from supermarkets and didn’t have to worry about our kids getting eaten by wolves. Our brains are really still wired up to suit that time. Did you know women have 20 per cent more peripheral vision than men (because they had to watch out for said wolves)?

Simon Farnaby The Wizard in My Shed
Simon Farnaby with his new children's book, The Wizard in My Shed.

Which book has had a tangible influence on your life?

The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy is hilarious and bawdy and it’s easy to see why it was banned for years but it's the reason I went to Trinity College, Dublin to study.

If you could star in an adaptation as a character from any book, which would it be?

There’s a lot of talk about a screen adaptation of The Wizard in My Shed and I think Merdyn would probably be in my casting range. He’s a bit like Stupid Death, one of my characters from Horrible Histories. He’s quite high status and gregarious and full of himself but is actually a bit of a softie at heart. Although I often prefer playing villains so it might be Jerabo (Merdyn’s nemesis).

Are there any books or authors which inspired how you wrote The Wizard in My Shed?

I read Don Quixote by Cervantes many years ago and that’s a big touchstone for Merdyn. Quixote believes in hopes and dreams and will take on any battle even though he has zero chance of succeeding.

I have written another book called the Phantom of the Open which is the true story of Maurice Flitcroft who tried to win the British open golf championship despite being a 46 year old crane driver [film version starring Mark Rylance out later this year]. I like characters that overreach themselves.

If you could go back in time and convince the author of a book to change one event in their story, what would it be?

Maybe JD Salinger could give a happy ending to The Catcher in The Rye?

If you could choose one book for every child to read growing up, what would it be?

For younger kids The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton is great. It’s just an imaginative rollercoaster which should inspire kids to create ludicrous characters and worlds themselves

For older kids, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. The film The Iron Giant by Brad Bird who did The Incredibles [films] is based on it and it’s simple, beautiful and heart breaking.

What is the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?

My friend Shane Allen (who commissioned BBC One's Ghosts) recommended Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. It’s about a hopelessly indecisive twenty-something (called Shane) who gets accused of a murder he didn’t commit but is too useless to talk himself out of it.

It’s hard to describe just how or why it’s so funny. I usually hand it to people and say, “just read it” and invariably they later end up telling me it’s the funniest book they’ve ever read.

What was the last book you read and would you read it again?

I just read this book called Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by a writer called Roald Dhal and I won’t read it again it was terrible. I’m joking! It was wonderful and I will be reading it again to my daughter when she’s older.

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The Wizard in my Shed by Simon Farnaby, illustrated by Claire Powell, is publishing in paperback on 29 April by Hodder Children’s Books.

Read Simon Farnaby’s Fantasy Bookshelf

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

Stig of The Dump by Clive King Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps by Allan and Barbara Pease The Wizard in My Shed by Simon Farnaby Don Quixote by Cervantes The Magic Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton The Iron Man by Ted Hughes Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy

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