The book I first fell in love with was The Wind in the Willows. It’s a comfort read, all about home. In some ways it’s in two parts – the parts about Toad, an adventure away from home in which he has to get back and regain his home; and adventure about the Mole finding a new home; and finally those mysterious parts, with Pan, and where the Mole goes back to his old home. But it’s all about home in one form or another. I adored it. My parents got someone to paint me a picture of the Great God Pan which I hung above my bed, so you can guess which parts I liked best.
Perhaps it was Pan who first brought me to myths and legends. My dad worked at OUP for a while, and brought home volumes of books on Czech legends, or Legends of Heath and Moor – if I remember correctly. But the one that really blew me away was Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes, by Barbara Leonne Picard. I loved those Norse gods, with their tricky ways, their oddly comic tales and warped sense of destiny. I still do. They are the true deities of Northern Europe – not like the soppy Greeks with their curly haircuts and haughty distain for all things human.
I love wild life and I love a laugh. When I was a child you could get both from Gerald Durrell, founder of Jersey Zoo, pioneering conservationist, rescuer of the Hawaiian Goose from extinction and, more importantly at the time for me, Man Who Went Round the World collecting animals for zoos. I envied him almost as much as I envy David Attenborough now. You could do worse than start with the The Bafut Beagles, although his most famous work is his account of his childhood in Corfu, My Family and Other Animals.
I was always a big fan of fantasy, but my favourite well away was Mervyn Peake’s Gormanghast. Back in the day, fantasy wasn’t the dragons and wizards stuff you get now. We had people like Angela Carter writing it. Try Gormanghast. You’ll never read anything like it in terms of content, character, or language. You’ll see fantasy in a whole new light after this.
Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Slaughter House Five. Although Goodbye Mr Rosewater is almost as good. No one ever did to sci fi what this man did. Funny, wise and inventive, and utterly in love with the human race, in a sad but amused kind of way. He’s much missed.
George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant. Someone told me recently that this event, which is portrayed as an essay, never happened. Good. It’s a wonderful example of how to talk about politics with such clarity that a child can understand. After Orwell, I knew that if I read something difficult to understand it’s not my fault – it’s the writer’s.
Finally – what am I reading now. Japanese fiction – I love it! Try Natsuo Kirino, Out, or Real World. Have a look at Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara. It’s so refreshing …