Lynne Reid Banks believes in the value of imagination. She says that children’s books are more important than those for adults “because for society’s sake our children must be able to imagine the consequences of their actions. They must be able to empathize with the situations of others. A healthy imagination is a powerful tool.”
This philosophy underpins much of Banks’ fiction for children. She is a best-selling author for children, teenagers and adults. Her classic children’s novel “The Indian in the Cupboard,” which became the first in a series, began as bedtime stories for her own sons. The novel has sold over 10 million copies worldwide, and was made into a feature film.
Born in London in 1929, Banks was the only child of a Scottish doctor father and an Irish actress mother. From childhood the little girl liked writing, “shaping truth to make a better story,” she said. She decided, though, that she would follow her mother and become an actress.
During the war she was evacuated from England to Canada. After her return to England, she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she studied acting, singing, dancing and stagecraft, and spent five postgraduate years as an actress. She also worked as a journalist, and was one of the first women news reporters on a British television station.
In 1960, Banks published her first book for adults. “The L-shaped Room” was acclaimed as a “ground-breaking, postwar feminist novel.” It was made into a film starring Leslie Caron.
Eager for further firsthand experience, Banks emigrated to Israel and a new life. She lived on a kibbutz, the kind of collective community that Israel made famous. She became a teacher of English to children who spoke only Hebrew. In front of her first class and to bridge the language gap, she called upon the skills she had learned in acting school: mime, movement, voice projection, audience control, and drama. Her acting and her imagination made her a successful teacher. “My previous careers proved useful to me,” she said.
In the kibbutz Banks met a sculptor from England. She became his wife, and mother of their three sons. “Those years in Galilee were perhaps the most fulfilling of my life,” she said. In 1971, the family moved to London. There Banks became a full-time writer of books and plays, short stories and articles, and volumes of Jewish history. Banks and her husband, now that their sons are independent, have their base in the countryside of southwest England.
Banks compares the two major careers of her life. She said, “There is a great difference between writing a character and acting one. The writer of a character in a play has done a lot of work for the actor. What the actor is doing is not creating, but interpreting. While you’re acting it, you have to be that person.
“In writing character, you do the same sort of work, but instead of doing it with your body on stage you’re doing it in your head. What makes writing much more complicated than acting is that you’ve got to do it for a lot of different people. It’s like acting all the parts in the play yourself, and without a script, like being in a play not yet written, a kind of improvisation. . . . It’s complicated. It’s interesting.”
Banks travels, without allowing her writing output to suffer. She often takes advantage of “video conferencing,” whereby she gives lectures, reads from her books to several different classes at once, and, by video link, takes questions from the students. “It really is the next best thing to live visits,” she said.
This month Banks is visiting Japan. She is giving presentations and readings at several venues: on Nov. 7 at Aoyama Gakuin University, Nov. 9 at Nishimachi International School and the Montessori School of Tokyo, on Nov. 14 at Ferris University. On Nov. 11 she is a participant in International Children’s Literature Day at Tokyo Women’s Plaza, and will be the evening keynote speaker on “The Story behind the Stories.”