My Literary Top 10:
Best short story I’ve ever read
Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. I could almost live off its final paragraph. After that, I start to hyperventilate. Alice Munro’s ‘Meneseteung’. Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’. Tobias Hill’s ‘Losing Track’. Patrick McGrath’s ‘The Smell’. Alistair MacLeod’s ‘The Lost Salt Gift of Blood’. Amy Bloom’s ‘Silver Water’ and ‘Love is Not a Pie’. Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Janice Galloway’s ‘Blood’. AM Homes’ ‘Chunky in Heat’ and ‘Esther in the Night’.
Book that should be on the national curriculum
The Wave Theory of Angels. Oops – sorry. That’s mine. (A girl can but brazenly try.) I’d go for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, giving it to teenagers with excerpts from Lawrence’s sharp-eyed essays (‘A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, ‘Introduction to His Paintings – 1929’ and ‘Pornography and Obscenity’). I read LCL at the age of 15 before I’d much heard words like ‘cock’ and ‘cunt’ in their usual aggressive contexts. Lawrence gives these words back their wider meaning; that sense of the body’s big nature. Sure, too many women in his stories ‘dissolve’ into the apparently dominant being of their male lover. Personally, I don’t hold that against him.
Favourite words about the short story
Nadine Gordimer gets it right: ‘A short story occurs, in the imaginative sense. To write one is to express from a situation in the exterior or interior world the life-giving drop – sweat, tear, semen, saliva – that will spread an intensity on the page; burn a hole in it.’
Favourite opening lines of novels
‘124 was spiteful.’ Toni Morrison, Beloved
‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
George Orwell, 1984
‘1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.’
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
I don’t blush easily, and the truth is, my super-ego is too much of a bully to let me read drivel (though my musical taste is another story).
Favourite books on the creative process
The Blackwinged Night: creativity in nature and mind by F David Peat.
The Gift: imagination and the erotic life of property by Lewis Hyde.
Negotiating With the Dead: a writer on writing by Margaret Atwood.
The Wayward Mind: an intimate history of the unconscious by Guy Claxton.
Night: night life, night language, sleep and dreams by A Alvarez.
My favourite writer that no-one else seems to have heard of
If they’ve heard of her, they’ve rarely read her. Mary Webb’s two novels Gone to Earth (1916) and Precious Bane (1924) are both set against the landscapes of Shropshire. Her writing is lyrical, earthy, urgent, poignant. (Why use one adjective when four will do?) It’s Hardyesque but there’s something even more elemental going on.
My favourite bookshop
City Books. An institution in Brighton and richly deserving of their success. Kemptown Bookshop, also in Brighton, is special too – small but tantalising. Like all good independent booksellers, they’re passionate about books and know what they’re talking about. Essential. And, sadly, more and more rare these days.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for Literature
Mostly, I’m fickle. I tend to be faithful to individual books rather than to individual writers.
Deceased authors I’d most like to have a go at the Ouija Board with
Ted and Sylvia, naturally.