Author questions

1. Who are your favourite writers?
I have so many, but the ones that immediately come to mind are Charlotte Brontë, Thomas Hardy and Philip Pullman, as well as Chekhov and Shakespeare. Poetry-wise, I love John Keats, Lord Byron, Dylan Thomas and Emily Brontë.

2. Who were your favourite writers when you were a teenager? Which of them do you still like?
I particularly loved nineteenth-century writers as a teenager: the Brontës, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell. I still love those writers, I just love even more writers now. I first discovered Terry Pratchett as a teen, and I remember especially loving his books. I also really liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I read a lot of John Galsworthy after The Forsyte Saga was shown on TV.

3. Which writers have most influenced you?
See question 1 – The writers I love tend to be the ones that influence me most. A while back I wrote a blog post about the individual books that influenced me.

4. Which writers do you wish had not influenced you?
None.

5. Which writers are you embarrassed you used to like?
None, because I don’t believe in being embarrassed by the writers I used to like. It’s all part of growing up and learning.

6. Which writers did you not expect to like, but did?
Andrzej Sapkowski was a surprise. His Witcher Saga inspired a video game, so my brother, who loves games, asked for the first book for Christmas, but ended up with two copies. I took one, willing to try anything once, and ended up loving it. The series draws on fairytales and folklore for its inspiration, and it is complex and often very funny.

7. Which writers do you think you will still read, and like, for the rest of your life?
It’s hard to predict, I can’t really imagine growing tired of any of them.

8. Who are your favourite prose stylists? Or your favourite writers on the sentence level?
Lawrence Durrell for rich, complex prose. Henry James is hard to read, but worth the effort. Raymond Chandler and P. G. Wodehouse for the most glorious sentences. Examples:
“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” (Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep)
“He sat looking at it with his eyes protruding in the manner popularized by snails, looking like something stuffed by a taxidermist who had learned his job from a correspondence course and had only got as far as lesson three.” (P.G. Wodehouse, Plum Pie)

9. Who are your favourite writers of characters?
J.K. Rowling for the vivid, complex characters she writes as part of the Harry Potter series. I think the characters are the key to the popularity of the series – The plots are exciting, but once you know what happens it’s still worth revisiting the books because of the characters.

10. Which writers, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?
Lord Byron and Dylan Thomas, though possibly not at the same time. I think Agatha Christie would be fascinating.

11. Which writers, alive or dead, would you like to know personally? And think you could be friends with?
Charlotte Brontë, as I think we’re quite similar – though maybe too similar? Neil Gaiman would be interesting to know, he always comes across so well on Twitter.

12. Do you personally know any published author?
Louise Rushton! She writes and illustrates children’s books about a dinosaur called Momo.

13. Which writers do you like/admire but generally avoid, for some reason?
I’m struggling to think of one. Generally if I like an author I’ll want to read more of their work.

14. Which writers do you like as critics/ essayists but not as novelists?
Charles Dickens – I’m really not a fan of his novels, but I love A Christmas Carol, his ghost stories, and his account of the time he spent in America. I also admire him for how outspoken he was against poverty.

15. Which writers have changed you as a reader?
Stieg Larsson springs to mind – I read his Millennium Trilogy and it kickstarted my love of Scandinavian crime fiction.

16. Who do you think are overrated?
It’s an obvious one, but Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James. Although I did kind of enjoy the Fifty Shades trilogy because it was hilarious.

17. Who do you think are underrated and should be more widely read?
I think Daphne Du Maurier is well known but she’s too often seen as a romance writer – some of her books are really dark and unsettling.

18. Who do you think are the best living writers?
This is a tough one. Margaret Atwood is one, but other than that I don’t read enough contemporary fiction to really say.

19. Which writers do you go to for comfort?
Enid Blyton, or Alexander McCall Smith.

20. Which writers do you go to for mere amusement?
I don’t like that word ‘mere’ – amusement is very important! P.G. Wodehouse definitely belongs in this category. I would also like to mention William McGonagall, who wrote poetry so bad that it’s good.

21. Who are the greatest writers that you don’t personally like/that you just don’t warm to?
James Joyce – I find most of his work pretty much incomprehensible.

22. Which writers do you hate/ strongly dislike?
Thomas Pynchon. I’m trying to read the Guardian’s 1000 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Three of his books are on there. I’ve read two of them, and let’s just say I’m not looking forward to the third.

23. Which writers are you prejudiced against?
None that I can think of.

24. Which writers do you feel you should have read by now?
Again, none that I can think of.

25. Which writers from your country would you recommend to a foreigner?
There are so many writers from Britain that I can think of and I honestly don’t know who I’d specifically recommend. It would depend on what kind of books the person was interested in.

26. Which writers do you recommend to everyone? Every serious reader?
Shakespeare!

27. Which writers do you wish you could write like?
It depends on my mood.

28. What is your favourite language to read in?
English because it’s the only one I know well enough.

29. Which foreign-language writers make you wish to learn their language in order to read them in the original?
Most Russian writers, but particularly Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov and Tolstoy. Every so often I try to get back into learning Russian, but it usually doesn’t last long.

30. Who is the best writer you’ve just discovered recently?
Shirley Jackson, an amazing American horror writer from the mid-20th century.

Questions taken from thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.co.uk

What I read over Christmas

books I read at Christmas
The books I read this Christmas

For me, Christmas is a time to get lots of reading done: in bed, on the bus, or sitting on the sofa with my family. This year was no exception and I managed to read this lovely selection. From bottom left as seen in the above picture:

1. The Dark Is Rising – Susan Cooper
A children’s book that I never got around to reading as a child, I was inspired to read this by Twitter, where a Christmas read-along is happening using the hashtag #TheDarkIsReading. I haven’t actually checked out the hash tag much, but I’ve enjoyed the book, which begins on Midwinter’s Eve and comes to an end on Twelfth Night.

2. Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters – Paul Hawkins
I’ve really got into Christmas history and folklore in recent years and this book is a fascinating look at some of the darker traditions and characters from years gone by, as well as thoroughly exploring the difference between Santa Claus and Father Christmas. My favourite creature is probably Krampus, but I also have a fondness for Iceland’s Christmas cat, who eats any children who do not get clothes for Christmas.

3. Murder on Christmas Eve: Classic Mysteries for the Festive Season – ed. Cecily Gayford
This selection of festive crime stories is great at creating an atmosphere, and I read it on Christmas Eve itself, which added to the magic.

4. The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and Other Stories from the North – ed. Sjón
This was the only book I was a bit disappointed by. I love Nordic noir and I thought this collection of short stories might include crime tales, or else horror or folklore stories. However, with the exception of one story by Per Olov Enquist I found the collection to be slightly dull, with many of the stories too opaque for me.

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Other Stories – Lewis Carroll
I got this as a Christmas present several years ago, but never got round to reading the whole thing. I’m familiar with the Alice stories and I love them, and The Hunting of the Snark is quite good fun. However, Sylvie and Bruno is very confusing and the two titular characters are supremely irritating – Sylvie is a typical Victorian angelic little girl, while Bruno speaks in an infuriatingly childish manner which I think is supposed to be cute but comes across as rather annoying. Much of Lewis Carroll’s work was written for his scholarly contemporaries, and has little interest for me, though there was a section on letter-writing full of good advice which I think I would do well to take.

6. Harry Potter: A History of Magic
I got this book for Christmas – a beautiful hardback published to coincide with the British Library Harry Potter exhibition.

7. Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales – P.D. James
I haven’t read much P.D. James, but these short stories make me want to read more of her work. Along with the collection The Mistletoe Murder, which I read earlier in December, it shows that James was the master of the short story form, and the tales are clever, atmospheric, unexpected and sometimes very funny.

What did you read over Christmas?

An evening in conversation with Arne Dahl – North Finchley Library

Just a quick note on an event I went to at North Finchley Library – a talk by Swedish author Arne Dahl (real name Jan Arnald). I love a bit of Nordic noir and I’ve enjoyed several of Dahl’s books as well as the TV series they are based on.

Dahl spoke a bit about his most popular series, the Intercrime books, as well as his upcoming work. At the end there was a question and answer session, which I didn’t contribute to (I never do, to be honest). It was definitely worth the trek to North London after work, though.

My Top 10 Books – and my colleagues’ – as of May 2016

Recently at work I suggested that we all write down our top 10 books, share them, and read each others’ favourites. We all took this idea pretty seriously, and soon emails full of book lists started flying around*. Coming up with a ‘Top 10’ was incredibly tricky, but I eventually managed to narrow down mine. Obviously, this list is subject to change.

My Top 10 Books

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

Antarctic Navigation – Elizabeth Arthur

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

The Seagull – Anton Chekhov

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll

Villette – Charlotte Brontë

The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

My colleagues have some interesting favourites, some of which I’ve read and others which I’ve either always been meaning to read, or else never come across before. I’ve highlighted the ones I’ve read.

S’s List

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

The Giggler Treatment – Roddy Doyle

Just Kids – Patti Smith

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Virgin Suicides – Jeffery Eugenides

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

The Princess Bride – William Goldman

G’s List

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Our Ancestors (The Cloven Viscount, The Baron in the Trees, The Nonexistent Knight) – Italo Calvino

Orkneyinga Saga (The History of the Earls of Orkney)

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

Two Hussars – Lev Tolstoy

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

Ghosts – Henrik Ibsen

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands – Jorge Amado

K’s List

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Wave – Todd Strasser

Head Count – Ingrid Noll

The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

Perfume – Patrick Süskind

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories – Tim Burton

V’s List

The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories – Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands – Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin

Persuasion – Jane Austen

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver Everett

 

I’m excited to read some of these!

 

*We unanimously decided not to include Harry Potter on any of our lists, as we’ve all read them, all loved them, and didn’t want to bother with trying to choose just one of the seven books to fit on our lists.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book a friend recommended

20151230_145756

My final book of the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge was S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, which my friend Janine recommended to me months ago. It’s highly unusual, as it is not just a straightforward story: the notes written in the margins are a crucial part of the novel, too. Definitely recommended.

Festive reads

20151221_074623

I’m about to finish work and head home for Christmas and I am SO excited. It’s going to be really strange having Christmas in a house that isn’t the one I grew up in, but my parents’ new house has enough space for TWO Christmas trees, so there are certainly some advantages.

I have a three-hour train journey ahead of me, so naturally I have gathered together some books to keep me occupied.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell – I adore penguins (I’m incredibly excited about the BBC’s new show Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale, which is on tomorrow) and when I saw this book mentioned online somewhere I was determined to read it. Apparently a true story, it is the tale of Michell’s life in South America with a penguin he rescued.

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – My friend recommended this book to me ages ago (it’s going to be the final book in my 2015 Reading Challenge) and the premise is incredibly intriguing. It’s a book within a book: a story called Ship of Theseus and the tale of two of its readers, whose annotations add an extra layer to the story. It contains so many bits and pieces that I haven’t dared try and read it on my commute, so I’m glad to have the chance to really get into it this Christmas.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards – I’ve read several British Library Crime Classics (early 20th century crime stories republished) in recent years, and one of their publications – Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon – was my train read last December. I love a good festive mystery and I’m looking forward to sampling this selection of short stories.

What are you reading these Christmas holidays? Are you hoping to find any books under the tree?

2015 Reading Challenge – A book set in the future

20151215_005239

I’m not usually a fan of sci-fi, so left this one pretty late; but when I got around to reading 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke I actually really enjoyed it. There wasn’t too much scientific detail to get bogged down in, and the story was great.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book with antonyms in the title

20151211_212009

Antonyms are common enough, right? Yet when I came to this part of the reading challenge, I had a real struggle finding a book featuring them in the title. In the end I chose Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby, having already read and enjoyed her South Riding.