Best short story I ever read
has already picked out three of the best. Can I add Chekhov’s Lady with the Little Dog
? It’s really a novella but it is like visiting nineteenth century Russia each time I read it again. And Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery
— a chilling fantasy more real than real life.
Book I finished reading, but wanted my time back afterwards
Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths— 694 pages. I bought a Folio edition because it was so handsomely produced and illustrated. To read it was like swimming in Brylcreem. I struggled to the end and still didn’t know much more about Greek myths than when I began.
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the Tube
Sadly, I’ve reached an age when no one notices what I'm reading on the tube.
Most overlooked and underappreciated author
Henry Green, author of Living. He wrote a handful of novels using amazing technique and his own syntax. When a Green fan meets another it’s what I imagine a Freemason feels.
Novel that should be on the National Curriculum
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Great value: you’ve got two distinct stories, Anna’s tragic love affaire with Vronsky and Levin’s desire for the simple life. The book pulsates with energy without any gimmicks. My only quibble is that it’s not very funny.
Best 'film of the book' I've seen
The Wizard of Oz is a gorgeous film. I tried reading the book to my kids but it’s a stodgy read. In general, most films of books aren’t as good as the original.
Famous authors I've met who acted like idiots
Authors are not constituted to be celebs. It's not their fault if they occasionally act up… it's probably the hundredth time someone in the audience has asked, "where do you get your ideas from?" or "do you write with a pen?" I’m always expecting famous authors to be gurus and I’m always disappointed when they turn out to be just people. They’re ordinary; it’s their work that’s extraordinary. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind devising a dire punishment for editors, agents and publishers who casually let writers’ work fall into the abyss when all they need do is hit the reply button with a "no thanks." Maybe I'd make them wear wet socks all day long.
My favourite book shop
The Red Lion in Colchester High Street. Donald Donaldson (lovely name that) and his wife Sara have kept going for 25 years in spite of Waterstones opposite and round the corner. They never throw browsers dirty looks and they will display local authors willingly.
Author I'd like to see presented with all kinds of awards
I’d prefer to scrap awards systems and give the money saved to public libraries, which are far more deserving than many award winners.
Deceased author I'd like to...
... meet on the other side would be Charles Lamb. His essay to his dream children (he never had any real ones) has haunted me since I first read it in Essays of Elia at school.
... have lived a bit longer is actually a musician: Mozart. Music is written, isn't it? Suppose he'd lived to my age— what might we not have had in addition? Likewise
Shakespeare. Fifty-odd isn't much of an age.
... be remembered, although she didn't publish anything: My dear daughter, who died leaving only a diary and letters. Had mental illness not claimed her, she would have been a writer.
... talk with: Primo Levi. He wrote several masterpieces, including one (If This Be a Man) in his twenties. He lived through the concentration camps. In middle age, despair probably claimed him. He jumped or fell from a balcony. Why?
All authors are deceased. Once their book is out there, it has been written by a person who no longer exists.