National Year of Reading 2012

Featured Ambassadors

Feature Week 32: Media focus
Elaine Harris

We are privileged to have the support of many ambassadors from across the full spectrum of media operations. In week 32 of the National Year of Reading, we welcome two Tasmanian ambassadors who represent the media, ABC Radio's Elaine Harris and Jo Palmer from Southern Cross TV.

About Elaine

Born in England, Elaine made her radio debut at just 10 years of age. She was a bookworm, and continued this through to her University studies where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.

She worked as a broadcaster and freelance journalist in the UK for several years and since moving to Australia in 1982 has had an association with the ABC. Elaine has been a presenter and content maker with ABC Radio in Tasmania for many years.

Several of her stories, poems and even a play have been published. She is a regular contributor to a number of printed and online magazines. Elaine has a love for performing, even going so far as to create and perform her own one woman cabaret "Are you sitting comfortably".

She loves reading, buying plants and her Labradorable, Rosie.

Elaine's thoughts on reading and the National Year of Reading

This year has taught me never again to take for granted that which came to me comparatively easily: the ability to read, the gift of words and the joy of both!

I have had the good fortune to interview many authors over the years and, as a fledgling writer, have learned much from many of them. This year, as part of the Statewide "Your Afternoon" team for ABC Local Radio in Tasmania, I have continued and built on this tradition, as well as conducting many a series on literacy teaching, reading skills and the adaptation of books for stage and screen. One of the highlights has been and still is learning about the reading habits of the great, the good and the powerful in a weekly series called 'Reading Matters', as I believe it does. It is amazing what you learn about the private individual behind a public persona simply by discussing their early reading influences, current reading habits and book choices.

Reading Matters Interview with Miriam Margolyes
Reading Matters Interview with Miriam Margolyes

You might be interested in reading and listening to a recent 'Reading Matters' interview with Miriam Margolyes:

High Tea Blog

In May of this year I was honoured to be asked to take part in National Simultaneous Storytime at the Burnie library in Tasmania, reading aloud 'The very cranky bear" by Nick Bland.

Cranky bear reading

As you can hear, the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.

Book Week and National Literacy and Numeracy Week last month were similarly inspiring and throughout the year I have met many fine teachers, adult literacy co-ordinators and tutors along with their courageous students.

I have learned most this year from my husband's growth and experience: Chris battled with dyslexia at school, self-diagnosed in 1987 courtesy of "The Science Show", ran two charitable bodies, worked for ten years in retail sales and training, before graduating last year, Bachelor of Education with Honours. This year he was invited to address a conference on coping with dyslexia and has since been asked to address several more, including the Tasmanian State Adult Literacy conference next year and an event in Melbourne this month. I have learned much from his preparation for and participation in these events, reinforcing my gratitude for my own good fortune and ease of learning.

After December 31st, 2012, I believe the main challenge will be to maintain and build on the successes of The National Year of Reading. The need for literacy and the value of books do not disappear simply because we invest in a new calendar.

Interviewing NYR Ambassador Jackie French
Interviewing NYR Ambassador Jackie French
Mountbatten Brailler
Mountbatten Brailler
Reading Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley
Reading Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley
Teaching of Literacy Interview Andrea Beswick Boat Harbour Primary Tasmania
Teaching of Literacy Interview Andrea Beswick Boat Harbour Primary Tasmania
Writing Competition Award
Writing Competition Award

Elaine's reading habits

  • When do you read? Whenever I can. In the evenings, sometimes in bed before sleep and often in the mornings before getting up; always at weekends and during holidays. I also read aloud to my husband when he is cooking, driving or engaged in some monotonous task.
  • Are you a constant reader? Yes. I read constantly for work purposes and although there are times when I read less for pleasure, (though the two often cross when preparing for an author interview), I never actually stop reading. I'd go mad without it. Necessary times of convalescence, after surgery in recent years, have been made bearable by countless books, even the ones that made me laugh so much they threatened my stitches.
  • Which book is by your bedside at the moment? 'Exodus', by Leon Uris. A novel about the founding of modern Israel. Not new but informative, deeply moving and the stuff of nightmares.

  • Do you remember learning to read? I can remember struggling with a couple of letters when learning the alphabet and being determined to catch up with my friend Natalie; we were five. After that, no, I simply cannot remember being unable to read or ever being without something to read. The thrill of being allowed to join the school library lives with me still.
  • Do you have a favourite genre? No. I am naturally eclectic. Biography and autobiography; contemporary and historical fiction; history, grammar and social comment; fantasy from John Wyndham to Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Tolkien, J. K. Rowling and C. S. Lewis, if you can call some of them fantasy. Classics from Shakespeare to Jane Austen and Dickens, among others. Some poetry but not nearly enough, yet!
  • Do you have lots of books on the go at once? Always. I am usually reading at least three or four at once though if I get hooked on one I will finish it before returning to the others. Himself calls me a "Booksurfer!" I also keep a Book Diary, listing everything I read or re-read, complete with publication details and observations.
  • What was the last book you bought from a bookshop? 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' by Aaron Blabey, to read at a school and community assembly during Book Week.

  • At what point do you give up on a book? Mercifully, it is a rare occurrence; I try not to give up on books but if I find myself repeatedly putting off returning to one then I ask myself if I really want to finish it. I usually check the ending once the decision has been made to abandon it. When I told Tom Keneally during an interview that I couldn't finish 'Schindler's Ark' because it was too good, he accepted it as a compliment. The same applied to Richard Flanagan's "Gould's book of fish".

  • Print books, E-Reader or both? Hard copy Braille and Ebooks on my laptop. The former can be bulky but I love them; the latter fabulous for air travel and gaining access to books not otherwise available.
  • Where's the strangest place you have ever read? It was actually a case of being read to rather than reading. When visiting friends in Kiama, NSW, I suffered a violent allergic reaction to their gentle, fluffy cat. Since I was already taking anti-histamines for hay-fever, the GP put me on a mini adrenalin-drip. The mixture of the drug and my cowardice caused a mild panic and Himself picked up a copy of 'Magilla Gorilla' and read it aloud to calm me down. I must re-read it one day.

Elaine's favourite reads

Ouch! Imposing a limit of three is tough.

  • 'Goodnight Mister Tom' by Michelle Magoian On one level, a good children's story set in the early part of World War II; but can be read on many levels and deals with love, grief, perceptions, friendship, loss, and hypocrisy while offering strong historical research.

  • 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel Thoroughly deserving of the Man Booker prize. The writing is superb, the minute historical detail breathtaking and you will never feel the same about Thomas Cromwell again. I read it to myself, then to my husband, even a passage to a friend over dinner who wrote down the details, resolving to buy it.

  • 'Bleak House' by Charles Dickens Many stories woven in to one. The opening passage is so descriptive, so utterly lyrical it begs to be read aloud. The characters are complex, flawed and real while the use of language is an education in itself.

All three books I own and re-read often but they are not the only ones.

Want to know more?

  • If you are interested in finding out more about Elaine or her programs, go to the ABC website:


  • Take a look at our other featured ambassador this week, Jo Palmer:

    Jo Palmer

  • If you want to see the other National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.

    Click here

  • Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.

    Click here

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