If you could write ‘THE book’ on something, the definitive how-to guide on any subject, which topic would you choose?
This is also my one true fact to share but I wrote 6,000 words about cinnamon instead of a dissertation for my degree! It wasn’t definitive so I’d quite like to go back and do that someday. (It was a choice between cinnamon or coffee at the time but I didn’t want to end up hating coffee!)
What three books changed your life?
First Test by Tamora Pierce
Where a girl didn’t have to pretend to be a boy to do what she wanted! (Tamora Pierce started in the eighties and is having a revival at the moment) It didn’t so much change my life as shape it from the start because my mum read it to me when I was about six I think.
The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell
(Slightly cheating I know but I only picked it up because it was so thick!) This autobiography melded fact and storytelling the point where I went off and wrote about cinnamon and studied Creative Nonfiction later. It’s been adapted into several television productions each different from the last. It showed me that real life can be as interesting as fiction and imagination can be applied to everything. Even slugs.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
I often give people the impression that I only read longer books or sprawling series, this isn’t entirely true because of this book. The amount of foreign literature in translation on British shelves is minimal – this is criminal. Kitchen is two novellas by a Japanese author that were somehow mainstream enough to be in English at my local library. Novellas are often underrated or undervalued, unfortunately they cost almost the same as much lengthier paperbacks. But some stories should be a certain length. Some stories need a certain style, a certain pace. Some stories are specific and individual and particular. But resonate. I now actively look for shorter fiction and translations.
If you were given the chance to have one superpower from any book/comic character, what would you have?
Walking between worlds. It’s something of a theme in Diana Wynne Jones from her nine-lived enchanters with the title Chrestomanci to Howl of the Moving Castle fame (the film is very different! In the book he’s actually Howell Jenkins from Wales in our world) and in Homeward Bounders while in The Merlin Conspiracy there is confusion with multiple Earths…
The way it can mean so many different things even to one author strikes me as something special. It normally makes the character appreciate the world they come from or find one they prefer! I like the idea of seeing how different societies function and being able to choose for myself, much like a good book…
Who would you invite (and why) to your fantasy literary dinner party?
There’s a saying: “never meet your heroes” and a lot of the best characters can be very obnoxious… I’m actually reading The Immortal Dinner at the moment with Keats and Wordsworth in appearance but Wordsworth sounds like a very difficult guest at times!
Do you invite characters or authors? What would they eat? Does Bob Dylan count, having won the Nobel Prize? If this is a fantasy literary dinner party I would invite my dad and Bob Dylan to talk to each other because my dad would love that, and William Morris; I would invite my mum and Margaret Drabble because she introduced me to her, and Eric Hobsbawm; and I would quietly slip out the back door and ask my parents about it later as an after-party. I don’t know who would be making the food. My parents introduced me to literature for which I can never thank them enough so I think I’d rather they get the opportunity and I know I would have no regrets, facilitation being the better part of valour.