short story competition - win pounds 2,000

In the second week of our competition, Jenny Gilbert talks to the actor Simon Russell-Beale and his nephew Ben, aged 434, about the stories they enjoy together
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The Independent Culture
Simon I remember reading the Ladybird history books when I was a child. I have to confess I don't remember much else. It's a different world now. This thing of having an encyclopaedia on CD- Rom... Ben gets very excited about it and always asks what I'd like to know about so he can look it up. Last time, I said Saint Augustine and Laurence Olivier. Then we looked up Macbeth. It gives you the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech read by an actor, so I started telling him the story of Macbeth and how if you ever mention the name in a theatre you have to go outside and turn round three times. He'll probably forget the rest but that's the kind of thing that sticks.

I love the idea that he's got such an expansive mind. Children of that age can absorb absolutely any information. They don't see the difficulty. Ben's father is an engineer and reads him the most extraordinary books about cars and planes. When I see Ben, it's usually at my parents' house, so I'll pick up whatever's there, or make something up. We've done some biblical stories, and some Greek myths. The trouble with making it up is that you launch into a story like Prometheus, and get halfway through before you remember there's that bit about him having his liver ripped out every morning by a bird. I can't remember how we got on to the story of Lot's wife, but you can hardly say why Sodom and Gomorrah were such dreadful places.

I was at boarding school from the age of seven, and on Sunday evenings the headmaster used to read to us. It was CS Forrester - the Hornblower series. He was a very imposing, authoritarian figure, but when he sat us down to listen he'd give us boiled sweets. It's a wonderful thing to be read to. Very comforting. I think it's the most beautiful thing you can do for somebody.

Ben Simon reads to me in the morning and at bedtime. I do get other people to read - my dad, my mum, my grandma. Simon does it best, because he's an actor and he can do lots of different voices and he can do a twisting walk. I can act as well, but not really without other people. I need someone to read a story while I'm acting. Sometimes he tries to look as if he's got no teeth.

Mostly he reads things that happened in the olden days. He reads whole books out of his head, about gods and things. I like the one where the people were in a bad town and she walked to a good town and looked around and God turned her into a big pile of salt. And the man walked there without the lady because she was piled up in salt. He reads me lots of hard books, so many I can't remember. He read me about Alexander the Great. I think he was some sort of king, and there were lots of rats in the town.

At home, I've got a book of Pooh Bear. I've got the tape and the video as well. I think I prefer the video. And I've got Knee High Nigel. He's a giant but he's really tiny. The big ones say he doesn't do any work, but he does do drawing and he does really small writing. He's about as small as a mouse. Simon's read me that. It's my best book. I think it's by Sainsbury's

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