THE CHILDREN of the New Forest by Captain Marryat was my favourite: it revealed to me the possibility of survival by your own hand, growing your own food, making your own things, which I found enormously attractive.

I don't think I fully understood the politics of it, but the fact that they were in the forest under siege and forced to live by their own ingenuity I found irresistible. I first had it read to me at boarding school by the headmaster, who used to read to us for an hour every Sunday, and then read it for myself.

It was never in a 'child-available' or abridged edition; I remember it as a book with quite small print, so it wasn't easy. The capacity of children to concentrate over long periods has been blunted. The patience required to wade through a book like that has been defiled.

I grew up in a house where there was no television and nothing to distract you from reading a book, but today television has shortened the concentration span of children and reduced their patience. They're much more easily frustrated. They live in a 'give it to me now' society, and if they don't get it now, they don't bother. I can't begin to imagine either of my children concentrating on a book for that long.

Jon Snow and his partner, Madeleine Colvin, have two daughters - Freya, 7, and Leila, 10.

(Photograph omitted)