So after seeing bloggers Simon of Stuck in a Book and Annabel from Annabel’s House of Books take part in having their readers ‘ask them anything’ I thought I would have a go. I honestly thought that I would get about five or six questions so I was thrilled that lots of you asked questions and indeed some of you asked lots of questions. The person who had the most questions, though my co-host of The Readers and blogging buddy Thomas did pretty well, was Magdalena. She didn’t ask one question, she didn’t ask three, she asked twenty and so I thought I would go through hers first and leave the rest of you on tenterhooks for yours later in the week. In the unlikely event that you are kicking yourself for not asking me something, you get your chance at the end as I am feeling jet-lagged and so up for anything…
What are the top 10 words on a cover/in the description/in a review/in the title/etc of a book that would instantly make you want to read it? The top 10 off-putting words?
The ones that would instantly make me want to read it are; Gothic, secrets, murder, sensation, darkly comic, unusual, enthralling (but they all say that), horrors, unknown. The ones that would put me off; horses, boat, romance, navy, creatures, goblins, spaceship, of the year.
Do you have any hidden talents? Favourite party tricks?
I can do some impersonations, however I don’t tend to do them in public unless I have had a bottle of wine in which case they aren’t as good but I often mimic the telly as I watch it. Apparently I do a mean Droopy Dog, Ru Paul and a rubbish Cheryl Cole – who knew. There is a joke in The Beard’s family that when it comes to party tricks mine is the Vanishing Act as I hate group games and all that so invariably simply disappear.
What’s the best reading/bookish advice you’ve ever received?
Both Granny Savidge and her husband, my granddad Bongy (long story) said that you shouldn’t waste your life reading books you actually don’t like or aren’t that bothered about no matter what. I am determined to get better at that.
Did you ever think of/experience something about yourself as a weakness, but then realised it was truly a strength, either in your personal of professional life?
Is this a job interview, ha! I would say that I am very critical of myself which I used to think was a sign of insecurity in myself and fault finding, however I just think now that really it is a way of checking yourself and how you’re doing and acting as a human – which makes me sound bonkers, so let’s move on…
What’s the most valuable or surprising thing you ever discovered or realised about yourself, thanks to a book or some kind of reading related experience/situation/etc?
Oh I think you learn something about the world, let alone yourself, with every book even if you can’t see quite what you have learnt. That is one of the very best things about books. I suppose I have been surprised by how much I enjoy the darkest sides of life, all through the safety of a book. Is that the police at the door?
If The Beard were to plan a date for you both, loosely recreating a scene from a book (or film), what would you like it be, where and why?
Oh I have always wanted to be proposed to in the fountains at Somerset House; I cannot remember what the film that happens in is. In reality I would get really cold and grumpy, I like the idea though I know that isn’t a date. I would really like him to take me out on a drive in a convertable to a foreboding old mansion and have him say ‘This is Manderlay…’ Again, probably not going to happen.
What is the view from your favourite work/blogging space? (Pictures would be fun!)
I haven’t put in pictures as my wardrobes or a white wall wouldn’t make for exciting photos, yet they are the best view as nothing distracts me then. I hate being distracted when I am trying to review or work freelance, even if it someone offering me a cup of tea. If I overlooked the road I would just end up being really nosey and spying on people all the time and there would be no blog. I am the same with reading.
Where is the most oddly memorable place you ever read a book?
Probably on a night train through Africa which was like being in an Agatha Christie mystery, I was only ten so I was on Nancy Drew rather than Miss Marple. I vividly remember all the noses and the motion and indeed the heat.
What’s the most thought-provoking review or discussion you ever read on somebody else’s blog?
I am opting out of this one as it will get me in trouble… again.
What’s your worst or most embarrassing bookish/reading habit?
Probably that if they get tatty I don’t want them as much, I am one of those annoying pristine readers who likes a book to go back onto the bookshelves as it came off them in the shop.
If you were suddenly able to read in a foreign-to-you language, which one would you choose and why? Any particular book?
I wanted to say all of them. I think though if it was any language it would be a tie up between Italian and Spanish just because they are the languages I would most like to learn. I would love to read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon again in its original language.
Name 3 authors/writers who have affected your reading habits or choice of books, how and why.
Enid Blyton made me read as a young child. Arthur Conan Doyle kept me reading more than I might have as a teenager. Daphne Du Maurier rescued me from the land of not reading.
What are the 5 books that you have recommended the most often to others over the years, and why?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood. Armadale by Wilkie Collins. Because they are all bloody marvellous books.
Tell us about a book that you bought/received/found/etc in a really interesting or unusual way?
My copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Happy Christmas came to me in a fairly unusual way. I saw it on my 30th Birthday in a bookshop in Much Wenlock and had forgotten my wallet and didn’t want to ask anyone else to get it as I had been treated enough that day. Went back and the shop was shut. Went back again and the copy had moved. Then the bookshop saw me talking about it on the blog and they had found it, now it lives on my bookshelves. It was meant to be mine. Another one would be Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige which I had wanted for years and discovered when my friend had bought 16 meters of penguins from an Oxfam Warehouse for an art installation. He had too many so asked me to have a rummage and see if I wanted any, I couldn’t speak when I found it I was so amazed.
Based only on your books and bookshelves, what do you think a complete stranger would think or conclude about you as a person, about your life?
The most common question I get when people come round is ‘have you read all these?’ I think a stranger might not think I live much of a life but then I don’t let strangers into my house very often. I think a bookish guest on their first visit would notice I have an eclectic array of authors on my shelves yet all the books I have probably have that line of thrilling yet unsettling darkness running through them in some ways, yes even my Agatha Raisins.
To what extent do you judge people by what they read?
I would love to lie and say I don’t but I do a little bit. I saw a woman buying some utter drivel in the supermarket the other day and was desperate to put some other books in her hands from the selections BUT who am I to judge? I have no right to condone what someone is reading because at least they are reading aren’t they and I would never want to put someone off reading anything.
Draw a quick doodle (2 minutes max!) that represents an amazing reading experience for you.
This is the inside of my head when a book is brilliant…
If you had to answer all your emails and text messages (business ones too!) for a whole day only using lines from a book, which one would you choose and why?
Probably my copy of the entire works of Nancy Mitford. What a day that would make. Barbed witty and probably fired.
If you could pick a book and give it to someone (living or dead, famous or otherwise), and that person would have read it, no matter what — what book, who and why?
Come on you should know me by now, it would have to be Rebecca which I would give to anyone and everyone, as I did on World Book Night a few years ago. I would love to have given Alfred Hitchcock a copy of it and just said ‘Let’s discuss…’ as he loved it too and I think he would be a brilliant person to chat to about it for hours.
What’s the loveliest thing someone ever said about your writing or your blog?
Gran said ‘you’re reviews are getting much better you know’ not long before she died. From her that was the highest form of flattery. I also like it when I hear people say it made them laugh (it has made my mother cry, in hopefully a good way, a few times) and even better when they have gone and borrowd/bought/mugged someone for a copy of a book I have recommended and then read it and loved it.
Do you have any “rituals” or habits that helps you get in the right mood and mindspace for writing/blogging?
I like a coffee beforehand and a cup of tea for during. I do it in stints so that can be repeated upto three or four times per review. Other than that I just like silence and to be left alone, what a miserable sod!
If you have made it this far, well done! Thanks to Magdalena for the marvellous questions, it really put me through my paces. On Wednesday you will get to see the hilarious/ridiculous questions Thomas of My Porch asked me. If you would like to add any questions for the final post on Friday do leave them in the comments below – unless you are Magdalena in which case you have asked me quite enough hahahaha – the more the merrier.