What was your favourite childhood book and why?
Ah, it’s a difficult question, because there are so many! I didn’t just read books as a child, I lived and breathed them. But if I had to pick one book, then it would be THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and if I had to pick one page of that book it would be the one when Lucy walks through the wardrobe in Narnia for the very first time. That moment blew my mind. I believed in Narnia completely and absolutely, and I think the whole series raised the reading bar for me because it expanded my idea of what was possible. Previous reading had already shown me children pitched against a grown-up world, but Narnia took the fight to an epic, even cosmic level. The books set my moral compass, I think, and made me believe then as now – and frankly, often against common sense – that light and love and all that is good will prevail.
Which of your own books is your favourite and why?
Again, it’s hard to pick. It’s usually the last book I’ve written, so right now that would be THE RESCUE OF RAVENWOOD! But I will always have a particularly soft spot for AFTER IRIS. It’s a book about a family dealing with a bereavement, and I wrote it as my daughter was coming out of a long illness. I didn’t realise it at the time but there was a connection between the two, and writing it was a very healing experience on many levels. An added joyful dimension was that she was photographed for the front cover of the original edition.
Why do you choose to read?
The immediate, honest answer is that I can’t not read. Reading, like breathing, is just what I do. My idea of absolute heaven is a good book and hours ahead of me without interruption, perhaps with added tea/biscuits/chocolate on hand. I recently had a long train journey, through England, France, Belgium and Germany. I read the whole way, and I didn’t see any of those countries because for the entire journey I was actually in Italy (the book was STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman). But if you must have reasons to read for pleasure – bald facts, as Anne Shirley might say – they are these. Reading allows me to live multiple lives (as demonstrated by the abovementioned train journey). As a teenager, sent away on interminable language exchanges, I combatted homesickness with PG Wodehouse. As an adult, when the real world feels too bleak, I read Eva Ibbotson (any book will do, though THE SECRET COUNTESS is a perennial favourite).
So, I read for fun, for comfort, for escape, for education. And something bigger than this, I think. There is an order to books which the real world often lacks. Reading helps me navigate my way through the chaos. At a time of increasing instability, books are my rock, the harbour I return to for strength and courage. Stories give me the armour to take on the world. To quote Neil Gaiman, paraphrasing: “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” Perhaps that is the most important reason of all.