Book Chat: Silvia Mazzobel

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Silvia Mazzobel and I met on Twitter after she stumbled upon my novel, The Third Wheel, on The Pigeonhole. Born and raised in Italy, the 37-year-old now lives in Brighton, England with her wife where she works as a translator.

A keen reader and traveller, as well as being fond of “tea, candles, food, art, yoga and cinema”, she powers through books at a rate I’m jealous of. She evidently loves books, as was proven when I asked her a few questions about her favourites and she was eager to tell me all about them. Here is what she said.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve always been someone who couldn’t read more than one book simultaneously, or perhaps simply someone who didn’t want to do that, preferring to sink deep into a novel at a time. However, since discovering two awesome apps, I find myself juggling several at a time now, and not only am I able to separate each one in my head, but I love it! Which brings me to my current reading list: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop, The Forgotten Sister by Caroline Bond and Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid by Giuseppe Catozzella, the latter of which I’m reading in the original Italian.

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

I grew up in Italy and 90% of the books I’ve read during the first two decades of my life were books in translation. At the time I wasn’t thinking of them in terms of translated fiction, but this changed after I began my translation studies and started reading fairly regularly – and now almost exclusively – in English. Despite having great appreciation for the work of translators and their skills, I will normally choose to read a novel in its original version if I speak the language. In my case, this applies to English, Italian and German. For all other languages, I am completely open to reading in translation as I don’t want to restrict my world view. I recommend Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain, translated from the French by Louise Lalaurie. You will be reading in English but breathing in French!

Do you judge a book by its cover?

I do like covers but I don’t decide to buy a book based on that alone. In fact, I would say that the cover plays no significant role in my book-buying behaviour. Of course, I am sometimes drawn by the look of a book and that’s what might inspire me to pick it off a shelf but I am much more drawn to titles. What I do find interesting, however, is how a cover for a specific book might change over time when new editions come out. Ditchling Museum in Sussex celebrated 20 years of Penguin Essentials last year with a display of 100 covers and I loved spotting which covers shared the same title but were completely different. I also enjoy looking at how the covers are changed in foreign editions of books and trying to understand why a specific choice in colour or imagery might work for a country but not for another.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

Anyone who knows me would say without hesitation that I’d choose to meet Virginia Woolf – and they would be right. I adore the woman, her accomplishments and her legacy. However, the strange fact is that I have barely read any of her work. I drank in every word of A Room of One’s Own and thoroughly enjoyed, together with one essay collection, while Orlando made me stumble. I’ve always wondered whether my English at the time was perhaps not ready for such an epic novel, but I’ve been too scared to give it another go. We all need goals though, right?

What were your favourite books growing up?

I wish that I had kept better track of my reading while growing up (where was Goodreads when I needed it most?) but there is no doubt that my favourite books were Agatha Christie’s novels. I would spend entire days immersed in the fictional worlds of Poirot and Miss Marple and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I started collecting a specific edition of her novels (in Italian, at that point in my life), which featured a white spine and a yellow title section on the front cover, this was being phased out by the publisher and I was never able to complete my collection. Another goal for my adult self!

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

Until the end of last year I would have said paperback and hardback all the way, with a preference for paperbacks due to their being lighter to hold. My world was then turned upside down by my discovery of a wonderful app called The Pigeonhole and my wife gifting me a Kindle. Around the same time, another app gave me a newfound appreciation for audiobooks. It’s called BorrowBox and I can’t seem to have enough of it. To give you an idea of how much my habits have changed, consider that all of the books I read in 2017 were either paperbacks or hardbacks. Out of the 76 books I read in 2018, sixteen were eBooks and six were audiobooks. So far, out of the 40 books I’ve read this year, only two were physical books. Quite a change, eh?

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

The award for scariest book ever would definitely have to go to The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup, as skilfully translated from the Danish by Caroline Waight. I’ve never understood how people can find books so scary that they have to keep them in a separate room at night or place them in the freezer, like Joey from Friends used to do with The Shining! Now I know. I participated in the blog tour for this book at the end of last year and – had the translator not agreed to do a Q&A with me – I would have had nothing to say about the book other than the fact that I was struggling with it because I could only read it during daylight hours and, once my work day was over, there were not enough of them left. Terrifying… but also really good.

Can you tell me about a book that made you laugh?

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies. It is quite certainly the funniest book I’ve ever come across but I haven’t finished reading it yet. The crazy thing about it is that – after the first few chapters – I almost chose not to finish it as I thought it was a little too crude for my liking. Not being a fan of giving up, though, I read what was going to be the decisive chapter and I became that annoying person that sits next to you on the sofa, starts giggling (or snorting with laughter if we’re being honest!) and asks you to stop whatever you’re doing because ‘you just have to listen to this one’!

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

I am the person who cries when something bad happens to fictional characters. Or when something good happens to them. Then along came The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech. I did so much ugly crying while reading this that it’s unbelievable. I just got so invested in the lives of all the characters, which were pervaded by this beautiful melancholy and hopeless dreams. I would recommend anyone to have their hearts crushed by this novel!

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

My favourite book is Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. What I mostly found fascinating when I first read it in English is that it is up to the reader to decide the gender of the narrator. Is it a woman? Is it a man? I have recommended it to various friends over the years and it always generates interesting conversations. I am not sure how this has been handled in translation and it is something I have yet to explore but I’m assuming that most translators had to make a choice, which renders it even more fascinating in my eyes.


You can find Silvia on Twitter or at her delightful blog, Book after Book. In March, I had the honour of her interviewing me about my novel, The Third Wheel.

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Book Chat: Stevyn Colgan

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Stevyn Colgan is the perfect man to have to write an introduction about. At 57, he has lived enough lives for several people over. In his time he has been a policeman, public speaker, artist, novelist, and researcher for QI and The Museum of Curiosity. I’ve come to know Stevyn a little recently as we’ve both published our latest novels via Unbound, and he’s genuinely a really lovely chap.

His books include Joined-Up Thinking, a trivia book that theorises (and proves) that all facts are connected, and the utterly hilarious A Murder to Die For. He’s also recently become a podcaster and the first episode of his podcast, We’d Like A Word was released earlier this month. He presents the podcast about words, writing and reading with Paul Waters.

Based in the area of Britain where Midsomer Murders does most of its filming, Stevyn found a moment among the countless demands on his time to answer a few of my questions about his favourite books.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently on a mission to read as many ‘forgotten’ comic novels as I can find. Some real treasures have turned up including Eric Morecambe’s Mister Lonely and W E Bowman’s The Ascent of Rum Doodle.

What genres do you prefer?

I love literary comedy across all genres so will happily read Tom Sharpe, Jonathan Coe, Stella Gibbons, Douglas Adams, Sue Townsend, Terry Pratchett, David Nobbs, George MacDonald Fraser, Helen Fielding, John Niven…

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

The world can be a sad, tragic and miserable place. I want to read things that are uplifting and/or joyful. I want to learn. I want to go “Wow!” I want to feel better after reading. I want to smile and snigger and chuckle.

What were your favourite books growing up?

The Uncle books by J. P. Martin. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ various adventure stories on Mars, Venus or at the Earth’s core. Down with Skool and all the other Molesworth books by Willans and Searle. Asterix the Gaul. Any books with dinosaurs in them.

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

Probably not enough. On the whole it’s been a positive experience from the Asterix the Gaul books (the late Anthea Bell was a genius translator) to Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared. Or should I say, Hundraåringen som klev ut genomfönstret och försvann?

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

I’m lucky that I’ve met most of the authors who influenced me. But top of the list of people I haven’t met and would have most liked to is P. G. Wodehouse.

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

I love the feel and smell of physical books and have a library of over two thousand. But it’s the words that count and I read more than I could ever find storage for, so a Kindle is a godsend too. If it’s a book I love it doesn’t matter what form it takes

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?

Pretty much all of them. I read maybe two or three books per week in the ratio of 2:1 non-fiction to fiction. I’m always learning and always smiling. It’s hard to single out any particular books but Sir Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds was amazing, as was Dubner and Levitt’s Freakonomics, and Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up?

Somewhere quiet, warm, comfy, well-lit, with a big mug of hot black Earl Grey and a thick slab of fruit cake.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

No idea. Maybe Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine. The most perfect blend of humour, travel writing and pathos.


You can find Stevyn all over the Internet: on Twitter, on Unbound and on his podcast’s website.

Book Chat: Tim Clare

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Tim Clare is one of those people with an extraordinary amount of talent who makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. He is responsible for the award-winning memoir We Can’t All Be Astronauts, an abundance of poetry including the collection Pub Stuntman, and The Honours, a novel that deals with a secret society in the British interwar years. Its sequel, The Ice House, is out in May this year.

However, Tim first came to my attention with his excellent podcast Death of 1000 Cuts which is all about writing, and in particular the “Couch to 80K” series of exercises he ran in how to get back into writing when things seem hard or appear to have stalled. Tim’s silly but earnest style is contagious and I’ve really enjoyed doing the series and listening to him chat about the world of writing.

On top of all this, 38-year-old Tim also still finds time to enthuse over board games, swim, and be a doting father. I dragged him away from his prolific creative output for a few minutes to ask some questions about his history with books.

What are you reading at the moment?
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi, a manga about a school for superheroes in a world where 80% of the population has ‘quirks’ – special abilities of some kind. It’s silly and well-trodden territory but tremendous fun – and the action sequences are so great!

What were your favourite books growing up?
I loved Max and Moritz, a German children’s book where two naughty boys execute a series of vicious and cruel ‘pranks’ such as strangling a widow’s chickens and filling the church organist’s pipe with gunpowder. It’s horrible, violent and everyone involved comes out of it badly.

Can you tell me some of the books currently on your “to-read” list?
I don’t have a to-read list. To be honest I just stumble through the day-to-day business of writing and occasionally grab something close to my desk in the swamp of my office. I read a bit like a wild forager. Grab whatever’s on the shelf and open.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?
Is it about something cool? Is it good sentence-by-sentence? Does it tell me something I don’t already know? Has the author put the work in?

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?
Any of the first three, really. I was dead against ebooks till my house started overflowing with books. Not keen on Amazon’s monopoly but for books you don’t really have much affection for – especially non-fiction – or out-of-print classics it’s really handy to just be able to read off a screen.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?
Even The Women Must Fight by Karen Gottschang Turner is a really interesting non-fiction book about the 20th century wars in Vietnam and the women who fought in them. I felt admiration and sadness. It’s no great revelation that war is terrible but amazing the resolve and strength of so many people.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?
I cried reading Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. Don’t know whether I was just tired but the sweep of it and the suffering of everyone involved is pretty gruelling. It’s such a nuanced book that it’s hard to know what you feel, and what you should be feeling. I love books like that.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which would you choose?
Ooh gosh. That’s tricky, isn’t it. I’m trying to think of a story where people aren’t constantly in terrible danger. Maybe one of the Mr Men books. I’ve been reading some of them with my daughter, and they seem like fairly non-lethal environments. And weird. Deeply weird. I’d like it if I could be transformed into my own Mr Man for a day.

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner or drinks with?
Good Lord. Do I know they’re a fictional character in this scenario? Like, do I have knowledge of the book? By what mechanism have they come to life? Do I mention it to them, over dinner? Oh, by the way you’re a fictional character given sentience? Do they return to the book after, or carry on in the world? Like, just the fact of the meeting would utterly melt my understanding of the universe. And either all fictional characters would come to life, or by the act of my choosing this one character was given thought. Either scenario is terrifying – the latter because how could I choose? What a responsibility!

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?
Well, it’s not perfect, but I feel like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is just damn interesting and ambitious and funny. I’m so glad it found a wide audience because it’s not quite like anything else, great on the line, long, weird, nerdy, and with loads of jokes in footnotes and a rich world. It gives me hope that maybe the reading world isn’t full of hidebound pack animals after all.


More about Tim can be found on his website, or on Twitter, and his books and podcast are all available in the usual places.

Book Chat: Lydia Mizon

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As a proud nerd, it can come as no shock to people that I am a fan of TV quizzes, my favourite being the fiendishly challenging Only Connect, which – if you’ve never seen it – involves finding the connections between supposedly unrelated clues, often by use of lateral thinking and having a huge reservoir of general knowledge to call upon. I was thrilled, therefore, when I managed to source not only a mere contestant but a winner of the show. Lydia Mizon was the captain of the Escapologists, the team that won the thirteenth series of the show earlier in 2018. Along with her teammates Frank Paul and Tom Rowell, she stormed to victory, surpassing the twenty-three other teams with her love of puzzles and trivia, as well as the charm and humour exhibited by her and her fellow quizzers.

Lydia, who works in university admissions when not quizzing or honing her skills in an escape room, kindly answered my questions this month on her likes and dislikes. Her hobbies include dog walking and “making Spotify playlists and never listening to them”, but she’s also a keen reader, and it turns out we have a lot of overlapping tastes. Here is what Lydia had to say about the books that have made her who she is.

What are you reading at the moment?
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger. It’s a non-fiction outlining scandals and secrets of Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1950s. One of my favourite podcasts, You Must Remember This is currently running a series fact-checking it, so I thought I’d read along. The stories are fascinating but usually not entirely accurate, and there’s some wonderful pictures of old Hollywood.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up? Where, when and what?
Holidays are when I get a lot of reading done. My best ever reading setup last year, on a poolside sun lounger in a French villa, with a nice glass of wine and my Kindle. I read A Brief History of France by Cecil Jenkins and the first Dirk Gently novel. It was quiet, warm and we all just sat around reading and drinking. Bliss.

What book do you think you’ve read more than any other?
The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky. As a child I was obsessed by facts and lists (which has served me quite well in the end), so many rainy weekends were spent on my parents’ bed reading through this book. I still go back to it occasionally – I have a copy in my house now. It’s very dated but you can just dip in and out.

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner or drinks with?
I’d go for a lot of drinks with Moira, Offred’s best friend, from The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s the kind of friend you’d want on a night out, rebellious and strong willed and loads of fun.

Can you tell me about a book that made you laugh?
Everyone probably says this- but the Adrian Mole series, especially The Cappuccino Years. The first time I read the first novel I was younger than Adrian is supposed to be, and a lot of the jokes went over my head. I went back to it a decade later and realised I probably identified a little too much with him at that age…

Have you ever seen a film that was better than the book it was based on?
The Wizard of Oz. The film is wonderful, like a warm hug. We were read the books as a child and I remember being disappointed- it felt so colourless.

Can you tell me some of the books on your ‘to-read’ list?
CAN I?! Sara Pascoe’s Animal, which I know is amazing but haven’t got round to. Persuasion, which is the only Austen book I haven’t yet read, and Norman Ohler’s Blitzed about the use of drugs in Nazi Germany. Also I think I need to get round to reading some Wodehouse at some point- every time I see any extract of his work I always think it’s brilliant but I’ve never sat down and committed myself to it.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?
Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed really left an impression on me and made me think more critically about the way I use social media. It’s such a destructive environment sometimes, especially Twitter – someone makes a bad joke, it gets retweeted a bunch of times, and someone thousands of miles away calls their boss and gets them fired. Then that stays on the Internet FOREVER.

Also reflecting on it, The Witches really helped teach me about death. The boy gets turned into a mouse, and doesn’t get changed back at the end. He and his elderly grandmother ruminate that they both only have a few more years to live and will die around the same time, and they’re okay with that. It was the first book I ever read where death wasn’t presented as frightening.

Do you judge a book by its cover?
I don’t think so, although it can contribute to the mood of a book. If I read a book, fall in love with it a bit, and then see it somewhere else with a different cover it always feels a little strange- like a friend has had a drastic makeover.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I can’t find enough superlatives to describe how much I love it. From beginning to end, it is perfect.


Lydia can be found on Twitter, Instagram, or navigating her way out of an escape room near you.

Book Chat: Kate Goodbody

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Kate Goodbody is the brain behind the travel blog “More Native Than The Natives”, which explores the world from the points of view of herself and fellow bloggers who have been to the places in question. Several months ago I contributed by pointing out the best places in Brighton to quench your thirst. When not working on this, the 23-year-old travels a lot and is a former resident of Paris. She volunteers in an art gallery and also serves as a tutor for French, English and Maths.

When travelling, there is always time to get a bit of reading in, so Kate always has something on the go. She generously gave up her time to answer my questions about her favourite books.

What are you reading at the moment?

Dear Mr M by Herman Koch. I massively enjoyed The Dinner so thought I’d give this a go and so far it’s proving to be a good read. It uses different narrators to build the suspense and keeps you guessing throughout.

What were your favourite books growing up?

I grew up while the Harry Potter books were still being written and can remember sitting in the playground at school reading them. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a big book for an eight-year-old to lug around! I even sat on the landing late at night so that I could just finish the chapter because my sister wouldn’t let me keep our bedroom light on!

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

I have a confession here. I’m ever so slightly obsessed with James Bond (the novels, not necessarily the films), therefore I’d have to say Ian Fleming. I don’t think we would get on but I wouldn’t say no to a martini on the veranda of his house in Jamaica. I know people see him as a misogynist but the books have a special place in my heart.

Have you ever seen a film that was better than the book it was based on?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy! I’m a big John le Carré fan but this book did drag on a little. The film perfectly captured the atmosphere and Gary Oldman makes a fabulous spymaster. The casting in general was top notch. It isn’t often they get the right actors for the right roles in adaptations but not one of their choices disappointed me.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

If the blurb doesn’t capture my attention then I won’t go near it even if someone has recommended it to me. I’d never read something that would be counted as a book you have to read before you die. You’ll never find War and Peace on my bookcase because life is too short to waste time on books that you don’t enjoy!

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

I studied French at university so have read a fair few as well as having to translate literature for assignments. I have such respect for anyone who can successfully translate anything from another language and still keep the personality of the text alive.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which would you choose?

Would it be cheating if I said The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde? Then, by the nature of the book, I’d be able to jump around all books. Joking aside, I do adore the universe he has come up with and I’m always finding different jokes I didn’t get the first time around. [Not cheating at all; that’s my answer too! – Michael]

Can you tell me some of the books currently on your “to-read” list?

Have you got a spare three hours? The stack next to my bed currently contains Louis Theroux’s Call of the Weird, and The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. I did have a weird moment in Waterstones recently when nothing in the “Buy One Get One Half Price” section didn’t take my fancy. Does anyone know the cure for this affliction?

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner or drinks with?

Arthur Dent seems like he’d be a great guy to sink a few pints with, plus he’ll always have his towel ready to mop up any spillages.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming. It has it all: evil villain, fast cars, and a devilish plan to thwart the British government. I have the audiobook read by David Tennant and it’s just absolute perfection.


For more about Kate, visit her fantastic travel blog More Native Than The Natives, or seek her out on Instagram and Twitter.

Book Chat: Ste Sharp

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Ste Sharp is another one of the myriad authors working with Unbound to get his projects off the ground. Earlier this year, he achieved the funding on his debut novel, Darwin’s Soldiers, the first in a trilogy about rapidly evolving warriors. By day, however, you may not suspect him of writing something like this, being a 41-year-old IT developer for a major publisher. After years working on the technical side of book production, he’s decided it’s time to swap sides for a bit.

A family man, he lives in Suffolk with his wife and two sons, and when not writing or taking care of the family, he still finds him to paint, play guitar and sing in indie band Atlas, as well as being, what he calls, an “avid allotmenteer”. Despite this harrowing schedule which I doubt allows for much sleep, he even manages to get a lot of reading done.

I managed to commandeer a few moments of his time to ask about the books he’s currently reading and what books grab his imagination.

What are you reading at the moment?

Spring Tide: a short story collection by Chris Beckett (author of the Dark Eden trilogy and America City), which is a surprising mix of speculative and contemporary fiction. “The End of Time” blew me away!

What were your favourite books growing up?

Anything by Roald Dahl! The first book I read in one sitting was The BFG – I was totally addicted. On the other hand, I was sick over Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator after a marathon reading session during a long journey in a Talbot Horizon.

Which is your favourite book from the classical canon?

I guess this depends on what you class as classical. I loved the Iliad and the Odyssey, which gave some great inspiration for writing battle scenes. I had no idea how graphically detailed they were! As for more modern classics, The Grapes of Wrath would be high on my list.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up? Where, when and what?

A thought-provoking, fast-paced sci-fi paperback in a hammock in the dappled shade of an apple tree just after lunch, with a pot of coffee, which also how I’d like to pass away – preferably having finished the book first.

What genres do you prefer?

You could argue there’s only one genre – science fiction – and everything else is a sub-genre that fits inside the literally limitless boundaries of SF, but I’m sure many people would disagree. Often, what I read depends what I’m writing at the time, but I gravitate towards sci-fi and fantasy novels (nothing beats how they meld well-crafted characters with intricate plots and mind-bending scenarios) but I like to cleanse the palate with the odd historical novel every now and then (fewer robots).

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

Whatever I read tends to be in the same tense as whatever I’m writing at the time. Last year I wrote a first person crime novel set in Brighton in the nineties, so I only read first person novels for ten months. Now I’m back into third person, which is way less intense and much better for head-hopping from character to character like how George R.R. Martin does in his Song of Ice and Fire novels. More importantly, the book has to entice me and make me want to know what happens next.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?

The Good Immigrant taught me a great deal about the UK today and, on a personal level, how everyone has to deal with how they are perceived or judged by their physical appearance in modern society.

Can you tell me about a book that made you laugh?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was filled with genuinely laugh out loud stuff. The main character reminded me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but Australian, and the story of how he tries to find what he deems as the ‘perfect wife’ is hilarious. Definitely worth a read, along with the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

Do you judge a book by its cover?

Only if it has a so-called celebrity’s name on the front – then I may judge it harshly. Actually, a great deal of pressure is put on book covers, especially these days when many readers just see thumbnails when they’re searching for their next read. The cover for my book, Darwin’s Soldiers, is being designed right now and I have a lot of respect for the designers who manage to attract readers to a book whilst somehow distilling the themes into one image. I know a picture paints a thousand words but cover designers paint a hundred thousand words with one picture. Legends.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Today I’m going to say Cloud Atlas because of the genre switches, range of characters and pleasing structure. But tomorrow, I could easily choose another title… probably something by John Steinbeck.


You can find out more about Ste’s upcoming novel, Darwin’s Soldiers – and pledge your support – by visiting Unbound, or following Ste on Twitter: @SteSharpAuthor.

Book Chat: Damon L. Wakes

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Damon L. Wakes is a fellow writer and crowdfunder of mine, who has recently used Unbound to fund his murder mystery novella Ten Little Astronauts. The story is said to give a science fiction twist to Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None, but it is far from Damon’s first foray into the world of writing.

Aged 27, he has already published seven other works, most of them collections of flash fiction with compelling titles like Robocopout and OCR Is Not The Only Font. He is also a a game designer, with an impressive collection of interactive fiction published online, as well as Spoiler Alert, a game that you can only complete by playing backwards and in 2014 was declared “Most Promising Game in Development” by Indie Prize Amsterdam.

I took the chance to ask him some questions in between his ferocious schedule of writing for himself and convincing others he should write for them too.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe. It’s an odd sort of book: I don’t think I’m far enough through it to say much else, really.

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

It depends what I’m reading, and where. If I really love a book, I like to have a nice copy for my shelf. However, I tend to do most of my reading while travelling, which means eBooks are preferable to cramming hard copies into my already overstuffed backpack. I read most of The Count of Monte Cristo on my phone: I’ve got a Kindle, but carrying it with me means having another gadget to worry about if I’m sleeping in a hostel or likely to get caught out in extreme weather. A trip to Death Valley once cooked my digital camera.

What book do you think you’ve read more than any other?

Lord of the Flies. It was one of the books I had to read for GCSE English, and we seemed to be stuck with it for several eternities. When we had supply teachers we’d frequently go over the same chapter over and over because that was what was in the lesson plan that had been left for them. It was awful. I don’t think I could read that book ever again.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

Douglas Adams. He died shortly after I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and since then my interest in his work has only grown. He was writing witty, engaging interactive fiction way back in the early days of the format. I wonder what he’d make of games now.

What genres do you prefer?

I like speculative fiction in general. It’s interesting to see a well constructed world as well as well rounded characters. I’m about as likely to read non-fiction as I am anything with a real-world setting: both are nice from time to time, but I don’t gravitate towards them in the same way I do to sci-fi or fantasy.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

The most important factors probably have the least to do with what’s actually in the book. I won’t shove a pristine hardback into my bag, so I’m more likely to read anything if my copy is a beaten-up old paperback or saved on my second-hand phone. I try and read things that’ll prove useful in some way or another – things that are likely to inform my own writing – which isn’t too hard since those are typically things I’ll probably enjoy anyway.

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

I’m a big fan of Walter Moers, who writes in German. The translations are by John Brownjohn. Not being able to read German myself, it’s hard to say how much of what I enjoy is the original story and how much is the work of the translator, though I imagine it’s a bit of both. However, I did manage to identify one bit of wordplay that never made it past the language barrier. In The Alchemaster’s Apprentice, there are bat-like creatures called “leather mice.” I’m reasonably confident that in German, “leather mouse” would be “Ledermaus:” a play on “Fledermaus” (bat).

What were your favourite books growing up?

I really enjoyed Brian Jaques’ Redwall series. Each book stood well enough on its own, but what really stood out to me was the way each one added to the world around it. Strangely, what’s stuck with me most are the inconsistencies between the books (particularly between the original Redwall and the later instalments): one character is Portuguese though no real-world countries are mentioned anywhere else, and an army of rats travels in a single horse-drawn cart even though it’s implied that all the other creatures are similar in size. Although that might be seen as a flaw, I like to think that it’s evidence of the world coming together gradually for Jaques as he wrote it, in much the same way that it came together gradually for me as I read it.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

When I was about 10, I read a book following the kid who goes missing on the dinosaur-infested island in Jurassic Park III. I can’t say whether or not it was particularly well written, but looking back it’s kind of a neat story to cover: the film has the kid pop out of nowhere and save Sam Neill like some sort of pre-teen Rambo, but this book made him a much more vulnerable character. At one point he finds a pair of roller blades, only to be ambushed by velociraptors while wearing them. That bit in particular struck me as absolutely terrifying, but having got that far it would have been scarier to stop and not know what happened than to push on and finish the book.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Probably Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. It’s the size of a phone book, set in a bizarre fantasy world of floating cyclops islands and talking dogs with antlers, and yet everything that happens makes perfect sense. Reading it as a reader, it’s a gripping story in its own right, but reading it as a writer it’s particularly impressive how Moers manages to set up all the details the plot later depends on. Also, the plot follows the basic structure of a classical epic, which I think is a nice touch.


You can find out more about Damon’s previous books or play his games on his website, seek out information about his upcoming Ten Little Astronauts at Unbound or follow him on Twitter: @damonwakes.

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