What was the last book that you read that you’d now recommend?
Off the top of my head: When We Were Birds, by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, set on a Caribbean island (which is kind of Trinidad but not), about a woman with unexpected ancestral duties of a mystical nature, and a very attractive young gravedigger. It is lush and fresh and mysterious I loved it.
Have you read any classics lately that you were reading for the first time?
I’m planning to I’ve never read A Christmas Carol, and I think I should But I think that every Christmas, and then I never do.
Do you re-read books And if yes, what was your last re-read?
I do I re-read my boyfriend’s novels when he’s away, and I’m missing him I recommend The Crimson Petal and The White (Michel Faber.)
What are your go-to genres?
Forties and fifties noir: James L Cain, Dorothy Hughes, Raymond Chandler, that kind of thing.
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, book three of the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewi . Sometimes it seems my entire person is based on that bo k. I am every character, and can pretty much recite it by he rt. My great fear as a child was that as we slept with our windows open and had a different kind of underwear to most of the kids at my school, I was in fact Eustace Clarence Sc ubb. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder also form d me. All that instruction on how to make maple syrup straight from the tree, or a balloon out of a pig’s i sides. Plus the phenomenally moving glimpses of Native America seen through a child’s eyes.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
I’m just looking: Novelist As Vocation, by Haruki Murakami; Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef; Lullaby Beach by Stella Duffy; The Colossus of New York by Colston Whitehead; The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste; Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield; Parkers Mail Order Bulb catalog Spring 2023; The Penguin Encyclopedia of Crime by Oliver Cyriax; I Came All This Way To Meet You by Jami Attenberg; My Unwritten Books by George Steiner; and two of my own notebooks.
Do you bookmark or dogear your page in a book?
Depends on t e book. I do have a nice bookmark for borrowed books, old books and beautifu books. Otherwise, I turn down the pages, lie them open on their fronts, stick a sock in there, lose my place when they fall off the bed when I fall asleep, drop them in the bath – I’m not very good eally. I’m always tripping over books I’ve left in the wrong place.
What is your ideal reading setting?
Hammock in the Tuscan sun; slow sound of waves, soft clink of someone bringing me a long icy drink.
Or, long train ride, corner seat by the window, facing forwards.
Or, deep velvet armchair by roaring fire, with sleeping dog and large cup of tea.
Or, hot bath.
Tell us about your favorite indie bookstore?
One of my oldest friends became a literary agent (not mine!) and twenty years ago opened a bookshop about a mile from where I live in West ondon. It’s a perfect distance for a walk, and right by Portobello Market where I can get vegetables and have a nice offee. I like that I can support a friend’s independent business while catching up and getting recommendati s too. It’s called Lutyens & Rubinstein (she’s Rubi tein). Pop in if you’re over this way ever.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Yelling at my big brother and explaining to my parents in great detail exactly how dreadful his sins were.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Not my thing really. The nearest I’ve come was when I interviewed Johnny Cash at his home outside Nashville, and we talked about John Steinbeck and James Baldwin, and I realized I was in saintly company. He kissed me on the cheek, and I definitely took that as a blessing.
Where do you get most of your writing and editing done?
Anywhere. Home, libraries, cafés. I like moving about in search of some magic place, but the magic shifts about.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Ha! Half a dozen maybe that were actually on their way but never got there. Plenty that never really got started.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do. I’m too vain not to. If they’re good bad reviews, I’ll try to learn from the criticism. If they’re bad, bad reviews – ie, personal, or ax-grinding, or jealous, or dishonest, or just plain stupid or insane – and I’ve had all of those – sometimes in the same review! – then I first consider taking out a contract on the reviewer, then think of Michelle Obama, and then Rise Above.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You’re more powerful than you think, babe.
When you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?
Playing with my daughter (she’s 30); writing songs; glaring at the garden; thinking about sailing; listening to music; plotting; ranting about the government; swimming in the sea (OK, getting in the sea and jumping out shrieking 30 seconds later); being nice to young women who are trying to get things done; laughing at my boyfriend; folding sheets; fearing death; cooking, watching TV and films.
What are your three favorite things right now?
My daughter, my best friend, my boyfriend. IE, family, friendship, and love.
Your favorite travel destination and why?
In the words of the country song: ‘She ain’t going nowhere she’s just leaving.’ I don’t have a favorite place. I kind of like everywhere.
What’s your favorite meal and go-to drink order?
Crab linguini and cheap champagne.
What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
James Baldwin, The Virgin Mary, my late husband Robert Lockhart, my boyfriend Michel Faber, my daughter, and my best friend.
If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?
A Muppet Movie, with, obviously, Miss Piggy playing moi. Or a forties black and white rom-com with Katharine Hepburn, and maybe I get to marry Robert Mitchum.
What’s the last TV show or movie you watched that was really good?
An English drama called Happy Valley, by Sally Wainwright. I was trying to watch episode 3 last night, and the wifi kept failing, and I was in a right state. Otherwise, The White Lotus. I love all those evil Europeans giving millionaire tourists a hard time in incredibly beautiful places.
You have to sing karaoke; what song do you pick?
Gotta be Jolene.
If you were being taken to a deserted island and could only bring one book, what would it be?
The Collected Works of somebody brilliant who wrote masses and who I’ve never read. Proust, maybe. Or something enormous and Russian.
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