My Literary Top 10:
Best short story I’ve ever read
It’s impossible to pick one, there are so many. Among my all-time favourites though I’d have to include Raymond Carver’s ‘A Small, Good Thing,’ Alasdair Gray’s ‘The Grumbler,’ AL Kennedy’s ‘Sweet Memory Will Die,’ Robert Coover’s ‘The Babysitter,’ Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Button,’ Ben Okri’s ‘A Prayer for the Living,’ Sandie Craigie’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ and more recently, the brilliant A Igoni Barrett’s story, ‘The Phoenix’ which won the 2005 BBC World Service short story competiion.
Book that should be on the national curriculum
Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedrals’ is possibly the best short story collection I’ve ever read and I’d hope that reading it would have the same effect on anyone else that it had on me, in that it ignited a life-long passion for short stories and made me want to experiment with trying to write my own.
Best ‘film of the book’
Stanley Kubrick could adapt books for film like no other director I can think of – ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Lolita’ I think set a pretty high benchmark that few since have come close to. I enjoyed Pawel Pawlikowski’s recent adaptation of Helen Cross’s My Summer of Love, but probably my all-time favourite film of the book is ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.’ Both Muriel Spark’s original novella and the film are gems and were way ahead of their time.
In this age of computers, what would you do to encourage children to read more?
I think creative writing should be part of the English curriculum. It currently only plays a very small part and is mostly based on reflective, personal writing. I think this is a dreadful pity as having run a number of workshops with school kids over the last few years, I see some incredible talent out there.
My favourite opening line of a novel
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, Lo-lee-ta; the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
My favourite children’s novel that no one else seems to have heard of
Julia Bell’s Massive, about a girl with an eating disorder is a cracking book which I felt didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Another book I found interesting was Panton di Villa’s Doctor Mooze which purports to be the true story of the final 19 days of the 10 year old author’s life. Whether this is true or a rather clever marketing ploy, it’s a fascinating and bold book which I think would be a huge hit with teenagers if its publisher, Bluechrome, were bigger and were able to publicise it more.
The story I’d most like to reread, if I could find it again
With the internet we are pretty lucky in that most books can be traced with relative ease these days. The story I would most like to reread is one mentioned above, Sandie Craigie’s ‘Children of the Revolution.’ I’m not ever sure it was actually ever published but I was lucky enough to hear Sandie, who died tragically last year, read it at a couple of events and it has stayed with me since. If anyone has a copy of it I’d appreciate it if they could let me have a copy.
My favourite bookshop
Love browsing round Leakey’s second-hand bookshop in Inverness. Word Power in Edinburgh also. It’s one of the only independent bookshops still left in the city and Elaine, who runs it, deserves a medal for all her work over the years in promoting independent literature, literary magazines and running writing events.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for literature
Deceased author I’d most like to attend an Arvon Foundation course run by
Would have to be Patricia Highsmith. She didn’t sound like the easiest woman in the world to get on with but I find her absolutely fascinating. When I was in my twenties I dramatised her novel The Cry of the Owl and wrote to her agent to ask what rights were still available. Highsmith responded personally and I cherish the letter to this day, written on an old typewriter. I chickened out of taking the project further at that point though as the idea of sending her, as she’d requested, my pitiful effort of a screenplay was too much to bear. I think Andrew Wilson’s ‘Beautiful Shadow’ is one of the best biographies of a writer I’ve ever read. She was wonderfully complex and I would love to have asked her about a thousand questions about her life and writing.