Where’s your bookcase located and what does it look like?
Behind the cat’s perch: she’s read ‘em all… My den is lined with bookshelves. I’m not showing off, just admitting I’m one of those sad people who hates getting rid of books: they have to be wrested from my white-knuckled grip in the occasional clearout to Oxfam. When we recently discovered there were two copies of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, the ensuing scene as I was ‘persuaded’ to give one up was ugly…
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
Fantasy. Mea culpa, fantasy fans, I just don’t get it: never have. As a child I even viewed the Alice books with deep suspicion because I found their surreal nature unnerving; as an adult I never got on with magic realism. Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to crime – there’s always reality at its heart and it’s able to explore big issues.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of Hausfrau. It’s one of those books that haunts your thoughts long after you put it down. The writing is enviably accomplished and I admire her publishers for the bravery of putting out a debut with a challenging heroine and an unconventional structure.
Where is your favourite place to read?
On a train chuntering through English countryside. No distractions, no ‘there’s some household chore I should be doing’ – unless I’m on deadline, ‘she adds hastily’…
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
The Odessa Files. Found it in my Dad’s bookshelf on the landing – hand-built , formica top, very Seventies… when I was about 12 and devoured it. I had never been so gripped by a novel. Maybe I’m being fanciful, but I think it did instill in me a love of great story and especially thrillers, which I suspect helped to sow the seed of what I write today.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
To the Ends of the Earth (trilogy), William Golding
What book did you give last as a present and to whom?
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. A gripping non-fiction book that traces the author’s intense relationship with the goshawk she is training, which is also partly her way of dealing with her father’s death. Writing about grief is impossibly tough and having lost my own father, I think she brilliantly conveys the sense of rootlessness, of something anchored being wrenched adrift, that bereavement can bring. It’s also a love poem to that shy mistress, the English countryside.
What are you reading now?
Black Run by Antonio Manzini. A new series set in the Italian Alps that puts me in mind of one of my heroes, Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano.
What are your top ten books?
- The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
- The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
- Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler
- For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
- The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
- Black and Blue, Ian Rankin
- The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
- Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
- Middlemarch, George Eliot
- Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
My very battered old Oxford Dictionary, signed by my Dad his parting gift when I went off to journalism college in the Eighties.