Books by my bedside: Margaret Drabble

Farhana Gani

Dame Margaret Drabble was awarded the 2011 Golden PEN Award for a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature. Her latest novel, The Dark Flood Rises, is out now. Here, she talks about her reading and writing.

What’s currently on your bedside table?

Polly Samson The Kindness

I always have a whole heap of books on my bedside table, as well as my e-reader.

Currently, I'm reading Polly Samson’s new novel The Kindness because I am doing an event with her next month. Hammer’s Grammar and Usage, was Christmas present from my grandchildren last year because I am learning German.

I'm also reading Fiona Stafford’s beautifully produced The Long, Long Life of Trees because I like her books about the Romantic poets and Ed Balls’s Speaking Out because he is a very interesting politician. I admire his courage and the way he writes about his stammer. I have a stammer too, intermittently, and we met at a British Stammering Association tea party in the House of Lords.

Listen to Ed Balls discussing Speaking Out on our podcast:

 

Which book would you recommend to a friend?

The Tidal Zone

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. I love all her novels, which dwell on the pleasures and fears of parenthood, and this one has a great description of the building of Coventry Cathedral which made me pay it my first ever visit.

She interweaves the past and the present very subtly and skilfully and has a great eye and ear for contemporary life.

 

 

Which book are you planning to take on your next journey?

Night School Lee Child

I will take the collected novels of Trollope on my e-reader because that means I can never run out of reading matter.

I will also find one new print title, to be safe, in case I lose my e-reader. Maybe the new Lee Child will be out in time.

 

Tell us about your latest book?

The Dark Flood Rises

The Dark Flood Rises is about ageing and the different ways in which we deal with it—some stoically, some boldly, some as safely as they can.

Readers tell me it is funny, and I hope it is, though some of the subject matter is quite grim. Black comedy, perhaps. And there’s quite a lot about real floods and climate change in it too.

Read more: The 7 secrets to slowing down ageing

 

Do you discuss a work-in-progress with anyone?

Not much. I don’t show it to anyone until it’s finished. My family always know what I’m writing about, because of the things I talk about and the journeys I make, but I don’t test it out on them until I think it’s finished, or very nearly finished.

I’m amazed at the way in which other writers seem to consult and credit so many friends and advisers—how can they ever get anything written if they are always cross-checking and asking for encouragement?

 

Which book made you want to write?

Doris Lessing

I’ve always been a reader, so it wasn’t any one book that inspired me. But as a child, I did love the obvious classics—Pride and Prejudice, The Mill on the Floss, Wuthering Heights.

When I was at university it was Angus Wilson and Saul Bellow and J.D.Salinger who showed me that novels could still be written about the modern world—three men, and two of them American, surprisingly. Later on, I learned a lot from Doris Lessing.

Read more: Why does the world still care about Jane Eyre?

 

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

I could have been an academic, and have enjoyed adult teaching and literary research and reviewing. I would have liked to have been an actress, but my range was very narrow.

If I’d had a completely different kind of education, I would have liked a career in marine biology, as I’ve always been fascinated by underwater life. In my novel The Sea Lady, I invented a marine biologist, and I loved the research associated with his evolution—visiting aquaria, watching fish, talking to experts. I wish I’d been able to scuba dive. I’d have loved to swim with the fishes, and through the kelp forests.

Jules Verne’s Twenty leagues Under the Sea was one of my favourite books as a child. Also one of my favourite movies. And I also greatly enjoyed Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Expedition.

 

The Dark Flood Rises is published by Canongate Books

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Feature image via The Spectator