Tom Vowler’s Bookshelf

Where’s your bookcase located and what does it look like?

Living in a less-than-spacious cottage books converge in every available recess, on any surface. I made the shelves pictured from some old stairs and so far they’re not crashed to the floor. Most rooms have a bookcase or two in them, leaving little room for guests.

What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?

Whereas I like to keep an open mind, you won’t find much romance or fantasy. Celebrity memoirs are banned, unless you term writers celebrities. Which I don’t.

What author have you discovered and loved recently?

Sarah Hall. Her prize-winning collection of stories, The Beautiful Indifference, is stunning, her sense of control and authority masterful. For me she achieves that rare balance between achingly beautiful prose and the dramatic tension that comes from a compelling narrative. Time to seek out her novels.

Where is your favourite place to read?

In the den at the bottom of the garden, slumped in a big armchair, late afternoon sun slanting across me, birdsong, the river babbling by. A glass of Rioja.

Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?

I hope so. Rarely in that hyperbolical, seismic sense the phrase suggests. But in small, quiet ways books, through their language and characters, touch us most when the author evokes universal truths, the story revealing something the reader didn’t know about themselves. A life-long journey of reading is usually sparked by some remarkable book early on, the search to recreate the experience bestowing a ravenous obsession. And as a writer it was (indeed, still is) this often intangible impression left by a great book, a frisson other art forms struggle to mimic, that drove me to write – something that has certainly changed my life. All of which is a great way of avoiding the question. Just one book? Really? Perhaps Coetzee’s Disgrace.

What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?

Probably a collection of great stories, say Graham Mort’s Touch, or William Trevor’s Cheating at Canasta, both of which bear interminable rereading thanks to their extraordinary prowess.

What book did you give last as a present and to whom?

Peter Hobbs’ In the Orchard, the Swallows, to a friend. He’ll love it.

What are you reading now?

I tend to have three or four books on the go, perhaps a novel, a collection of stories, some non-fiction. Then there are texts for whatever I’m researching with the work-in-progress. Fiction-wise I’m reading Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and Edna O’Brien’s Saints and Sinners.

What are your top ten books?

Ten? That’s more like it.

Engleby – Sebastian Faulks

A Widow for One Year – John Irving

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee

Julius Winsome – Gerard Donovan

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Peregrine – J.A. Baker

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?

Back to one? That’s tough. Probably my signed hardback copy of Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome, a book I read in a couple of sittings, by the fire, oblivious to anything else in the world. It’s one of those quiet masterpieces that stays with you forever. Poetic, intense, devastating.


Tom Vowler lives in south-west England. In 2007 he completed an MA in creative writing, and since then his short stories have appeared widely. Tom is the assistant editor of the literary journal Short Fiction. His debut collection of short stories, The Method & Other Stories won the Scott Prize (2010) and the Edge Hill Award (2011). He is an Associate Lecturer in creative writing at the University of Plymouth.

His first novel, What Lies Within, will be published in April 2013 by Headline.

One thought on “Tom Vowler’s Bookshelf

  1. Dan Powell

    I always enjoy seeing what’s on other people’s bookshelves. Having read and enjoyed The Method it’s great to see something of the writing that engages and inspires you, Tom. Your mention of Widow for One Year had grabbing my copy from the shelf. One of the few John Irving’s that I have not yet re-read. Must fix that. Will be checking out some of the titles on your list I’m not familiar with to see if anything grabs me.