I’m really looking forward to hearing and getting to know some Arab fiction writers. We translate far too little in the UK and British novelists tend to be kept herded within a predominantly white, Western corral. I can’t wait to break out of there for a while and meet some writers I’ve still not read.
Which book has inspired you the most?
It’s impossible to pick any one book as inspiration as I’m am omnivorous reader with a hopeless memory but I’ve always admired novelists who dare to write “quiet” books whose emotional power is subtle and stealthy. I read everything by Colm Toibin, Ann Tyler, Damon Galgut and am very sad that we’ve just lost William Trevor. I also take inspiration from the writers whose work is nothing like mine, and anything but quiet; I can’t wait to see what emerges next from Neel Mukherjee or to read Ali Smith’s latest.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Feed the cat. My partner is a farmer, so the Today Programme comes out of the bedside radio very early, but it’s usually the cat who wakes me first by licking my elbow which he has worked out is a sure way to madden me out of bed.
What is your life’s motto?
I don’t really have a motto, but my late mother taught me always to count my blessings and to seek out the things to enjoy rather than the sources of complaint. I seem to have inherited her personality of India rubber; I bounce back swiftly from the worst that life throws me.
Our theme for the 2017 Festival is Journeys. Can you tell us which journeys in your life have been most memorable?
I’m still haunted by the journey I took across Canada to research my great grandfather’s intrepid life as a pioneer farmer out there, which was the starting point for my latest novel. But not a day goes by without my reading the news and thinking how lucky I was to have travelled all around Syria before it was torn apart by war.