There are lots of bookshelves in the house but I’ve chosen the bookcase in the sitting room because you can see my prize Fiat 500 cushion. My house is extremely untidy but it’s my proud boast that I can locate any book in seconds, even a forgotten classic like ‘Jill’s Riding Club’ (spare room, third shelf down).
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
It’s very embarrassing that I haven’t discovered him before but I love Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins books. For anyone who is similarly slow off the starting blocks they are wonderful novels about a woman priest who is also the diocesan exorcist. They combine crime and the supernatural in a really satisfying way and they’re often very funny too. I was thrilled to hear that there’s a new Merrily novel on the way soon.
Is there an author who is your guilty pleasure (or any book you’d rather have a brown paper bag over while reading?)
I absolutely love Georgette Heyer though I try to be out and proud about it. I always take at least one Georgette Heyer with me when I travel. I’m a nervous flyer but nothing can go wrong when you’re bowling along the Brighton Road in a curricle driven by a Corinthian. My favourite GH books are The Unknown Ajax and The Corinthian.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island book?
The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse. This book contains what, for me, is one of the best exchanges in English literature.
‘I wonder if I might draw your attention to an observation by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He said: “Does aught befall you? It is good. It is part of the great destiny of the Universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web.”’
I breathed a bit stertorously.
‘He said that, did he?’
‘Well you can tell him from me he’s an ass.’
Is there a book that you lend out and push onto all your friends?
I’m rather mean about lending books but I always encourage people to read Wilkie Collins’ No Name. It’s a wonderful – and very modern – story about two sisters who find out that their parents weren’t married and set out to reclaim their name and their inheritance.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
Fame is the Spur by Howard Spring. I read this book when I was a teenager and it made me want to change the world through radical politics. Oh well…
What are your top ten books?
Difficult but in no particular order…
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Nice Work by David Lodge
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Imaginary Friends by Alison Lurie
The Mating Season by P G Wodehouse
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Dissolution by C J Sansom
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
My old copy of Alice in Wonderland. It was the first book I ever read but, looking at it now, I see that it actually belonged to my sister.