Questions & Answers
Who were your role models? Which writers have influenced you the most? Which person do you most admire?
Role models? In terms of my writing, I have to say that Jilly Cooper is without a doubt the author whom I have most enjoyed reading and I’m sure that her books have influenced me, although I couldn’t pinpoint in what ways exactly. I must have read Rivals ten times. Whenever things go spectacularly wrong in my life or I am depressed, I find I can pick up Rivals or Riders and lose myself in those worlds again instantly. I read books to escape – they’re so much better and cheaper than therapy! I certainly hope that my books will also help people to escape, to leave behind their problems and open the door into a new, exciting, all-consuming world.
Aside from Jilly Cooper, I have always loved Victorian novels. I read pretty much all of Dickens when I was eleven and twelve and moved onto the Brontës and George Eliot in my teens. I like the big, sweeping landscapes of Victorian novels, and I like the notion of “moral” books. I’m not averse to a bit of Gothic melodrama either, with characters being punished or maimed or burned! Seriously though, I do like authors to have a moral vision of some kind, to get off the fence. Oliver Twist profoundly affected me. The scene where Fagin is awaiting his hanging, terrified in his cell, which I first read aged twelve, made me a lifelong opponent of the death penalty.
I think I was also influenced, perversely, by the very left-wing literary criticism I was taught at Cambridge – Jacques Derrida and all that “death of the author” bollocks. What a load of crap! I have always seen books as a form of timeless communication from one human being (the writer) to another, allowing someone’s personal words and thoughts and imagination to live on through the ages. It’s incredible and wonderful to me that, as a young girl living more than a century later, I could read what Dickens wrote and still be moved by his vision and his compassion. Similarly, if Jilly Cooper hadn’t created the divine Rupert Campbell Black, I would never have been able to escape into that wonderful fantasy world. That was her personal creation, an imaginative gift to me as her reader, and if I ever meet her, I’ll thank her for it.
So, to me, writing is very personal and very human – I think the author is still and will always be very much alive. (For non-literary role models, see my answer to ‘What inspires you?’)