When I was very small, my father tells me that my favourite story was Judith Kerr’s delightful The Tiger Who Came to Tea. As a child, I spent a good deal of time inhabiting Enid Blyton’s ginger-beer soaked idyll (incidentally, she barely mentions ginger beer but I am happy to perpetuate the myth), when I wasn’t hunched over Black Beauty, The Secret Garden or numerous Jacqueline Wilson books. Reading was encouraged at every opportunity, educationally beneficial but with a moral sentiment lurking beneath – like exercise, reading was good for you and absolutely necessary.
In my early teens, I devoured one Stephen King novel after another. Later, I sought out misery (or, should I say, Misery) of a rather different kind in devastating but beautiful texts such as Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. At this point I was yet to discover the 1999 film adaptation – undoubtedly my tiny teenage heart would have been overwhelmed by Ralph Fiennes as the brooding writer protagonist. My obsession with theatre developed after my grandmother accompanied me to a production of As You Like It. I read plays too; as Hamlet grieved in his sable attire, I also experienced, black-clad, the aftermath of parental death.
At university, there was little question of pursuing anything other than a literature course. Once there, Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy had much to say on regicide, and my interest in the literature of the seventeenth-century revolutionary decades soon followed. An undergraduate module on Holocaust texts demonstrated the emotionally excoriating power of literature (and of the graphic novel genre) to me through Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Years later, this led me to Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which punctured the sunshine of a hot July in mesmerising fashion. I’ve also had war poetry pinned to my bedroom walls, fallen asleep at night reading Jane Eyre, and been kept company by Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests under the low ceilings of Frankfurt Airport.