SIX times world-champion speed reader Anne Jones was tripped on to a career path like no other by a simple question.

“Why don’t you have a go at something, Miss?’ a student asked her at the Mind Sports Olympiad she’d taken a group to in London.

Having encouraged her students to try their hand at playing chess with some of the grand masters there, she felt yes, she ought to have a go at something, and speed reading looked like the most accessible challenge.

Twenty-two years on, she’s about to publish a book that distils the best in training, experience and advice she can pass on to others who would like to learn the art of speedy learning too.

The journey had begun, in truth, a few months previously when she first happened across the then new skill of mind mapping, developed by author and educational consultant Tony Buzan. He said at the time he had been inspired by techniques used by Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.

Anne sharp recognised that this diagrammatic and very visual of means of organising information would help students at the Leicester sixth form college where she worked.

“I was a section 11 teacher which, at the time, meant promoting the educational activities of ethnic minority students who, actually, were in the majority at that college,” said Anne.

“I knew it would be a very useful skill for them, because it not only shows how pieces of information relate to each other, but also involves speed reading and memory techniques.”

After completing her own training course, she decided to introduce the whole of the college to the subject by getting the students to make the world’s largest mind map, something they took to with enthusiasm.

“My tutor group became the organising committee,” she said.

“We approached the Leicester Mercury for the ends of their newsprint rolls and within a short space of time, the kids had covered the whole of the school hall.”

The next stop was that Mind Sports Olympiad at the Royal Festival Hall, where Anne won the speed reading tournament she’d had a go at. “Nobody was more surprised than me!”

“It’s not just a matter of reading quickly. You have an unpublished book to read and then they take it from you and ask you 30 questions about the content.”

Anne was hooked. “You are presented with this gold medal and you become a bit like Gollum in Lord of the Rings. ‘It’s my precious,’” she laughed.

She’d ‘only’ achieved a reading speed of just under 1500 words a minute, which she’d have to top if she was going to win again the following year, she decided. After all, the then world record holder, one Sean Adam, took the title doing a cool 3,800 words a minute.

She knuckled down to training, just as anybody entering an endurance event does, and ended up winning seven of the annual speed reading championships in a row, six of them classed officially as world championships.

To demonstrate how far she’s come, at one recent book launch she read at 4,250 words a minute.

Suddenly she found she had clients who wanted to learn her secret. “It’s usually people who have to consume huge volumes of information, in the legal and banking professions for example,” she said. “I had one wealthy individual who even flew me out to his house in Palm Beach.”

She was hired by one rich London family to teach their son “in the biggest house I have ever seen”, and on another occasion by a mother with cancer who wanted to do what she could for her young son, a genius, while she could.

“He got to more than 3,000 words a minute speed reading that day,” said Anne.

And then there was the lad with bipolar disorder she was commissioned to teach via Skype. “He was in a jogging outfit and said ‘I might move around a bit, I’m on a treadmill’. I was trying to teach him speed reading while his head was bobbing around.”

The televised speed readings she has done for the BBC and Sky upon the publication of big books such as the Harry Potters and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman certainly caught the public eye.

She finished the latter in just 25 minutes and read The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling, in 42 minutes.

Now Anne hopes her own book, How To Be a Speedy Reader: Your Guide to Excellence will generate similar interest.

Vanda North, author of Mind Chi: Rewire Your Brain in 8 Minutes a Day, wrote the foreword. ‘What difference would it make to your life if you knew that you could select from a range of reading/information-intake speeds?’ she asks.

‘You will be able to select your appropriate speed, from one word per minute for falling wonderfully asleep, to over 1000 words per minute for that study book, shelf of unread books, management tome or backlog of work reports.

‘Power! More time! Confidence! All are outcomes of discovering How To Be a Speedy Reader.’

Anne plans to self-publish on Amazon Books (by the end of February), but she also plans to print some hard copies, which will be available from Forum Books in Corbridge and at the next Hexham Book Festival.