What are you most looking forward to at the 2016 Festival?
This will be my third Emirates Airline Festival and the programming is always superb but what I love most is the time we get to chat with readers in a relaxed atmosphere, in between the sessions. The Festival is unique in that the writers have a lot more time than for other festivals, so we get to properly be there for readers. It’s important for writers and readers to meet on an equal basis, not to always be split onto two levels by the presence of the stage. Meeting readers is fun and it also means that the next time I sit down to write, I have some friendly faces in mind that I’m writing for – so as an artist I’m grateful to people who take the time to come up and chat. I hope I’m always open and approachable, so please don’t be shy about coming up and saying hello.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
That’s like asking “When did you first realise you were affected by gravity?” I think I was a writer before I learned the name for it. My view is that it’s a rare personality type – a wild and occasionally quite a disabling one – that a person can’t either opt in or out of. Luckily I enjoy writing, although sometimes I’m scared of it, because it is an unbiddable force. I try to control it by writing in a way that does no harm and brings people pleasure.
What book do you find yourself re-reading most often?
I almost never re-read books. I think it’s a mistake, like going back to a partner. In my family life I enjoy faithful monogamy, but in my reading life I am faithless and helplessly addicted to that incandescent rush of first love. It’s one of the best features of books that they ask no questions and never expect you to stay with them or spend holidays with their relatives.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Dead, I should think. I’m 42 now, and I don’t think anyone makes it that far without tuning in to their own basic frequency.
And finally, we have a number of aspiring writers attending the Festival. What one piece of advice would you give them?
Just drop the word “aspiring”. It’s not as if there’s an exam to pass. Call yourself a straight-up writer, write every day, improve every day, and fight like a wounded beast to get your work published in the places that honestly match the level you’ve achieved so far. Just look at some of the rubbish that becomes a huge international bestseller. Honestly, your work is probably no worse than that and it might well be a lot better. There’s no global conspiracy to publish those inferior writers – they’ve simply had a flexible approach, unfailing determination and a bit of good timing. You can have those things too.