Your perfect cuppa is waiting for you to enjoy. Where would you enjoy it most?
I’m very happy in my study, looking out over the garden, but if I had to be elsewhere, then at the kitchen table downstairs is quite nice too.
Which book would you read while enjoying it?
At the moment I’m reading a pile of disparate things – one of Philip Ardagh’s Grunts books, the Folio Society edition of Cyrano de Bergerac’s Journey to the Sun (with Quentin Blake illustrations), Pullman’s Daemon Voices essay collection – but then it might be whatever comes to hand, the New Scientist or the proofs for whichever book they want me to go over again… I’m not fussy.
Our Festival aims to encourage a love of words… what’s your favourite word? Or phrase?
I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘bumblebee’, a word that is a visual onomatopoeia, by which I mean it sounds like the shape of the thing it describes – these three round shapes, and the slowness and friendliness of the ‘b-b-b’ sounds, making your cheeks take on the roundness – quite in opposition to wasp, which is sharp and fast and ends with that little plosive stab.
And your least favourite?
Oh, there are words of the moment, for example, that are irritating for reasons beyond the wordiness of them, reasons that they themselves shouldn’t be blamed for, but I wouldn’t want to point at them. It’s not their fault, and I’m sure, divorced from the meaning, they’re beautiful to the ear.
What words of wisdom would you pass on to a young person?
Don’t listen to people who tell you they have words of wisdom to pass on. Or listen, but provide your own pinch of salt and common sense.
Is there a phrase from a much loved book that made a special impact / continues to resonate?
In Sylvia Plath’s short story Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams there’s the line: ‘I read through the phone book once, never mind when, and it satisfied a deep need in me to realize how many people aren’t called Smith.’ That’s a good one. And from Richard Adams’ novel The Girl in the Swing there’s a similar statement from the collector narrator that I always remember: ‘I knew, of course, that nothing could be amiss with the collection, yet still I got up and went downstairs; perhaps to prove to myself that there remained something for which I cared enough to walk twenty yards in the middle of the night.’