Well, that went even better than I’d hoped! Thanks so much for your questions, there was a wonderful mix, including some which had me lying awake at night trying to work out my answers. Anyway, here are all my answers – I have grouped the questions vaguely into, erm, groups… I’ve given the name of the person who asked, using the username which appears in the comment box.
Do link in the comments if you are doing your own Q&A!
Reading and Books
Heavenali asks… If you had a literary time machine which literary world would you transport yourself to?
If I could just be a fly on the wall, and wouldn’t have to interact, it would be the Bloomsbury Group as they gathered at Charleston – so I could see how great, bohemian writers and artists interacted on a minute-by-minute basis. Surely life couldn’t all be grand realisations about art and culture?
Thomas asks… Which novel that is least like your life/personal frame of reference/state of grace did you like the most?
I don’t seem to read any books that are particularly like my life – and I tend to feel most at home in those that are about women in a different period and different class from me… so I’ll go with the bit about a character who would appal me in real life, and pick Ned Beauman’s Boxer, Beetle.
Claire asks… If you were to start your own publishing house, what would its focus be?
I’d love to have a slightly quirkier version of Persephone Books. Nicola Beauman and I have chatted about this – that my taste wanders off into the surreal more than hers does (and that’s the basis of my DPhil). So, I’d love to see books like Miss Hargreaves, Lady Into Fox, Lolly Willowes, and their ilk under the same imprint.
Claire asks… What are five out-of-print books you think are most deserving of a reprint?
Fun! The best question to be asked. Well, it’s criminal that Ivy Compton-Burnett isn’t in print, and my favourite of hers (so far) is More Women Than Men. A.A. Milne’s Mr. Pim Passes By (the novel rather than the play) is hilarious and should be made easily available, as should his brilliant autobiography It’s Too Late Now – and I know you agree, Claire! E.M. Delafield’s collection of sketches As Others Hear Us is delicious – and now she’s out of copyright, someone should get onto it. Barbara Comyns’ The Skin Chairs will finish off my list – so there are the first five books for my publishing house(!)
Tina asks… How many books have you got in total and of these how many are not read?
According to LibraryThing I have 2341 books, and have tagged 908 of them as read… which leaves 1433 unread, but that does include a fair few reference books etc. But still… I’m unlikely to run out of things to read any time soon. Might have to do Project 24 again next year…
Tina asks… How many are in your house and how many with your parents?
Now I’ll have to guess. Probably about 500 in Oxford and the rest in Somerset?
Thomas asks… Would you ever go for a whole month where you only read books that were published this century?
Yeah, I reckon I’d give it a go. I’d find that easier than any century earlier than the 20th.
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings asks… Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet.have met?
I think it’s going to be Jane Austen. I don’t know how long we’d be able to chat for, because our lives are so different, but simply for the honour, it would be she.
Annabel asks… Which authors, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party?
I puzzled over this one for a while. Because it’s not the same answer as Kaggsy’s question – I wouldn’t want anybody I’d be too in awe of, and there are plenty of writers I love who would dislike me for my class, faith, or age. So I settled on Monica Dickens, Herbert Jenkins, and Denis Mackail – all of whom seem like they’d be good fun. Although I have picked three authors I don’t know much about.
Annabel asks… Assuming you lived somewhere with other houses close by, which authors do you think would make good neighbours?
Interesting… I’m not sure what I look for in neighbours. Quiet people, who’d be dependable in an emergency, perhaps, and wouldn’t be too noisy. Richmal Crompton strikes me as someone of that sort.
Thomas asks… Which Trollope do you prefer? Anthony or Joanna?
Well, I’ve not read anything by Joanna Trollope, and I love the one book I’ve read by Anthony Trollope (The Warden), so… there’s your answer!
Mike Walmer asks… I remember you blogging at some point that you’ve got all of Barbara Comyns’ books. Since Birds in Tiny Cages is one of the rarest books in the universe, I’d like to know where you found your copy.
What I should have said is that I’ve got or have read all of her novels. This one, as you say, is basically impossible to buy – but I did manage to track down a copy via Interlibrary Loan. It’s not very good…
Thomas asks… List one living author that everyone in book blogging circles loves that you have no desire to read.
Vintage Reading asks… Which is your favourite Austen novel?
Always a tussle between Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility – I think the former wins, although I find the latter more amusing. Persuasion is at the bottom of the pile, but I’ve only read it once, when I was 17, so should revisit.
Thomas asks… If you had to limit yourself to only reading one novelist for the rest of your life, who would it be?
E.M. Delafield, because she does humour and melancholy both so wonderfully, which would give me some variety. Plus I’d happily read Diary of a Provincial Lady over and over forever.
Thomas asks… Have you read May Sarton yet? Why not?
But I have, sir, and years ago! I’ve read As We Are Now and thought it was quite good – but I’m afraid that’s all the impression it made on me.
Dark Puss asks… Why haven’t you read anything by Colette yet?
Haha! The same reason I haven’t read books by any number of authors whom I’m sure I’d find interesting… time, the number of books around, and being in the right mood. But I do have quite a few of her books, so I certainly will… one day…
Tina asks… Can you review Elizabeth Cambridge’s Susan and Joanna?
I still haven’t read it, Tina! One day, one day…
Epsie asks… I would be really grateful if you could answer that eternally puzzling question – Shakespeare: was he a woman?
You pose an excellent question, madam! For everyone else… this was our standard undergraduate essay question suggestion, when we couldn’t think of anything else to write. It works for any author… in this case, I’m going to say… probs.
Life and Work
Diana asks… How do you do it all? (And she elaborates beautifully!)
You suspect right that I don’t sleep enough – my mother jumped in and said that I sleep a lot, but that’s because when she sees me in Somerset I’m usually in a state of collapse! But, honestly, I always feel like I don’t do very much in my days, so it must be an illusion…
Claire asks… What do you hope your life looks like 5 years from now?
I’m the worst person at life-planning – I just amble along and see what happens. My one big plan – hopefully before five years is up – is to live in the countryside again.
Susan T. Case asks… Are you a lark or an owl?
Sort of both, in that I feel quite alert in mornings and evenings, but afternoons are anathema to me… England needs to bring in the siesta tradition. I’m always semi-comatose in the afternoon – and during my first year at university my tutorials were always at 2pm, which must have given my tutor a terrible impression of me.
Susan T. Case asks… Are you a fussy or messy housekeeper?
Nearer messy than fussy… I like to think I’m not a total slob, but my room is often a bit, erm, disordered.
Thomas asks… If you had to get a DPhil in some other subject, what would it be?
I’d be utterly hopeless at any other subject, but I do have an amateur interest in psychology/neuroscience.
Harriet asks… If you had the chance to write one book, guaranteed publication, what would it be?
It would definitely be a novel of some variety, and I have a vague idea of writing a novelisation of (part of) A.A. Milne’s life. If I could do that well, I’d choose that, as I owe AAM so much in my reading life.
Donna asks… Do you use a fountain pen or a biro? Are you a Parker, caran d’ache, or Mont Blanc sort of guy?
I used to use a fountain pen (Parker!) all the time, but seem to retreat to biros more often now. But you have encouraged me to go back to my fountain pen – my writing is much more legible when I’m using it, and it makes me feel more like Virginia Woolf, which is all I want in life.
Susan T. Case asks… Favourite dinner? Which real and fictional people would you invite?
My favourite food is the ‘umble cheese sandwich (cheddar cheese; the best crusty white loaf money can buy) but that’s not really dinner food, is it? I love roast potatoes but vegetarians don’t have the best range of things to accompany them. The real people I’d most like to invite are my brother and parents – I’m always at my happiest when they’re with me. And fictional people? I’d love to have dinner with John Ames from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, as he is about the wisest character I’ve read, or perhaps Betty Macdonald’s persona in The Egg and I, as that would be a laugh – so long as we didn’t have to cook it at her ranch. For humour, it would be almost any collection of characters from PG Wodehouse… so long as I could duck under the table when things inevitably went wrong.
Thomas asks… Which TV show are you most embarrassed to admit that you watch?
I make a point of being gently self-mocking – getting in there before anyone else does – so I’m more likely to make a joke of one of these than be embarrassed by it. At the same time, I felt a bit ashamed by being beguiled by Gogglebox. Look it up…
Susan T. Case asks… Favourite guilty pleasure TV viewing and snack?
This is subtly different… my favourite is probably the soap opera Neighbours, which I love and ridicule in equal measures, but wholeheartedly love. It’s no coincidence that I my two best friends both watched Neighbours through university – I think we bonded through our lunch and Neighbours meet-ups. As for snack – I am currently a bit obsessed with popcorn, which is dangerous.
Claire asks… Sweater vests or cardigans? Do you see your preference changing as you age?
Oh, definitely cardies! I don’t see myself changing, as the spectre of Chandler and his sweater vests (or pullovers, as we call them!) would prevent me.
Thomas asks… What job would be so fabulous that it could induce you to live in a big city (e.g., London)? And don’t just say there isn’t one, which would come closest?