Where’s your bookcase located and what does it look like?
I’m going to start with a confession. I have four bookcases, all in my study, but they are so messy I can’t bear to let you see them. I’m fond of the way my children decorate every available surface with art installations and school projects and various papers, but there’s something quite private about this. Here’s another confession: in one of the bookcases, some of my favourite fabrics fight for space with novels.
The two shelves I have photographed are edited in so far as I have removed the clutter, but the books themselves are as they always are. That’s because they are the books that I like to have closest to me when I’m writing and working – they are literally right behind where I sit. Some of my most precious books are on those shelves.
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
There isn’t anything I won’t read, if it’s powerfully written and draws me in.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
I mostly read novels. But two books that I have especially loved recently are both non-fiction. One is Do No Harm by Henry Marsh and the other is Late Fragments by Kate Gross.
Where is your favourite place to read?
Easiest and most clear cut question ever! In bed.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
Books absolutely can change lives. I’ve seen it happen many times over. Over the last year or so, one of my children, who struggles with friendships, has been able to disappear into the imaginative worlds of novels; but also to learn from them, and sometimes use them as support when things are difficult. She is so much happier now that she is a passionate reader. And I have watched so many students change – as people, as thinkers, as writers – as they have learned to take themselves seriously as readers. It’s a great privilege to see this happen.
In my own case, so many books have changed and formed me – many in ways I’m not even aware of. So it is misleading to choose just one. When I was a little girl, I was so obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels that I used to have wish fulfillment dreams that someone had discovered a long-lost Little House book – I so wanted for there to be more. But if I had to choose one book which changed my life, I would say it’s Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
Clarissa. Without question. There’s nothing even close to knocking it from its place at the top of my list.
What book did you give last as a present and to whom?
I gave one of my twins the most recent Holly Smale Geek Girl novel (she’s a huge fan). I gave the other twin The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig. I can’t give a present to just one of them, so the answer to this one had to come in a pair.
What are you reading now?
The Fire Sermon. I started it to make sure it would be okay for a child who loves dystopian fiction (she’s a great admirer of The Hunger Games, as am I). But I got addicted to The Fire Sermon myself, so I’m reading it all the way through. She and I are having a lot of fun talking about The Fire Sermon as we go, but we are both scrupulously careful to avoid spoilers.
What are your top ten books?
This is another of those really impossible questions. Other than Clarissa’s uncontested place at the top, they are in no particular order. And I can only name these books with the proviso that I would make a different list if you asked me the same question next month.
- Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
- Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath
- Collected Poems by Ted Hughes
- The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
- Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (Can’t Choose!)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
- Emma by Jane Austen
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
- Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
There are two, treasured for very personal reasons. The person who made them was truly brilliant and deeply beautiful. Both are picture books, some of the earliest work by the botanical artist Catharine Nicholson, which she wrote and illustrated. She published them as Catharine Gardam: The Animals’ Christmas (the very first edition, with her own art work) and Good Morning, Birds.