What was the last book you read?
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. I’m working my way through Atkinson’s books. She’s amazing, her Jackson Brodie crime thrillers by turns delightfully funny and devastating.
What’s next on your reading list?
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, recommended by my wife.
Which writer would you have loved to have met and why?
David Whitaker, who was pivotal to the earliest days of Doctor Who on TV and wrote the first Doctor Who novelisation. I have a long list of very nerdy questions…
You are stranded on a desert island. What three books would you want with you?
I suspect you’re asking for books I’ve already read and that mean something to me personally, but I’d rather take stuff I haven’t read yet. So: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, which won half of the Booker prize last year and looks good. This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone has been recommended by pretty much everyone I know in the sci-fi world. And then Paul Auster’s 4321. I went through a phase of reading everything by Auster as it came out, his work deceptively simple and yet beautiful, strange and observant. It’s been a while, and this one has been on my list since I saw the good reviews.
Which is your favourite bookshop or e-bookstore and why?
Twenty years ago, on my first date with the nice lady who is now my wife, we ended up in Halcyon Books (then in Greenwich, now in Hither Green) and both completely lost track of time. That was a good day. These days, my shop of choice is Kirkdale Books in Sydenham – though I try to ration my visits for fear I’ll buy up the whole, wondrous second-hand section downstairs.
Go on, let us know your musical guilty pleasure.
I don’t feel any guilt, just embarrassment when I’m caught singing along to the soundtrack from Frozen. It makes my daughter furious.
And your one from the world of
I adored Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction stories when I was in my teens but last year I read Alec Nevala-Lee’s brilliant biography, Astounding, and was appalled to learn of Asimov’s attitudes about and behaviour towards women. I still think a lot of Asimov’s writing is good – his non-fiction book The Kite That Won The Revolution is extraordinary – but his actions cast a shadow, so I’m conflicted.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in publishing?
I always wanted to be a writer, but in the same way I wanted to be a pop star or an astronaut, without really thinking it was ever possible. Then, when I was 15, I read an interview with Paul Cornell where he explained how he got to write Doctor Who novels and what the publisher was looking for – back in the days when there was no Doctor Who on TV. That was a revelation: suddenly writing was something I could aim for as a job. I’ve got to know Paul since then as a good friend, and he was instrumental in some of my early breaks.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
Which great novel have you tried to read but failed?
I loved the delicious anarchy of Roald Dahl’s children’s books and his screenplays such as You Only Live Twice, but find his grown-up stuff impenetrably mean-spirited.
What was your first job?
The first thing I got paid for was being an alter-server at weddings.
What is the silliest thing you have on your desk?
A statue of a baboon bought by my wife because the ancient Egyptian god of writers was the baboon Thoth. At least, I think that was her reason.
Tell us about a passion you have outside the business.
I do my hobby for a living and don’t have much time left outside typing and childcare. But the two things I’m really interested in and would like to explore more are astronomy and the work of 19th century artist Daumier.
Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
I’ve a very supportive and patient wife, without whom I
couldn’t be a writer.
What distracts you from writing?
What was the first book that made you cry?
I can’t remember.
What are the most common traps for
Anything that isn’t actually doing the writing and trying to make the writing better. But that’s true for established writers, too.
If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t wait for permission or waste time; get on with it.
What was your favourite childhood book?
Death to the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
If you could bring a fictional book character to life for one day to hang out with, whom would it be?
The wizard Gandalf. We’d go on a mind-blowing pub-crawl tour of London.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Idle around, letting my subconscious sort out all my writing problems.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Get as much done in the gaps between childcare. Try not to distract myself too much with tea and biscuits. Distract myself too much with tea and biscuits. Try and do some exercise at some point so I’m not always hunched over a keyboard. Try not to be a grump to my family.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The best advice I’ve ever had was from my wife: you could do anything else and probably make more money, so if you’re going to write, enjoy it.
Do you have a favourite book adaptation you would recommend? I’ve not yet seen the new David Copperfield, so The Muppet’s Christmas Carol remains the perfect adaptation of a Dickens novel: the characters daft and funny, the emotions played straight. I mean, there’s a scene where Kermit and Miss Piggy mourn the death of their son. It’s completely ridiculous, and utterly heart-breaking.