Today’s World Book Night will see 25 of the coolest and most timeless reads shortlisted from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Maggie O'Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. WBN will see thousands of people gifting books within their communities (for free!) to bestow their friends with classic tales. We’ve already asked retail guru Mary Portas on the book she’s chosen and why but Grazia Daily caught up with shortlisted author, Maggie O’Farrell, to ask her why reading is so important…
Grazia Daily: Why is it so important to spread a love of reading?
Maggie O’Farrell: When somebody gives you a book they love, it’s the best present you can ever get, it creates a bond between you and the giver and World Book Night is that kind of emotion at large in a way. There’s no question that reading is absolutely crucial to all of us because it’s how we learn so many things.
Grazia Daily: What’s your favourite ever book?
Maggie O’Farrell: That’s really hard! A book that I’ve given to a lot of people is Jane Eyre because it’s one of those books that you can read at different ages. It’s a book that I re-read myself and it takes on different meanings at different stages of your life. I think there are certain books that need to be re-read every couple of years and that’s definitely one of them for me.
Grazia Daily: What book would you have chosen to pass around for World Book Night?
Maggie O’Farrell: It would have to be ‘I Capture the Castle’ actually because that’s a book that I’ve given a lot to other people. It’s a classic and beautiful coming-of-age tale and it’s so touching and so funny as well, or ‘Rebecca’ actually, I would be torn between ‘Rebecca’ and ‘I Capture the Castle’.
Grazia Daily: What do you read to calm down?
Maggie O’Farrell: I think all reading is a little gift to yourself. I read quite a lot of poetry if I feel like my life’s in a bit of turmoil and especially if I’m writing as well as it can be really good escape from life I think. It takes you out of yourself when you read but novels also do the same thing. They’re a kind of alternative life to escape to. When you’re writing a novel though, reading poetry can be really refreshing.
Grazia Daily: What do you read when you want to laugh?
Maggie O’Farrell: I read a really funny William Boyd novel recently called ‘Stars and Bars.’ It’s so funny! I really like Mollie Keane as well. I think she’s very funny and has very black humour! I think being funny is very difficult - I could never do it, it’s a very specific skill and I think writing comically is very difficult to pull off but when people do it, it’s a killer! I like observational comedy and observation is all about characters.
Grazia Daily: What do you read when you want to learn something?
Maggie O’Farrell: I’m of the belief – I suppose I’m a bit biased really – that you can learn anything you want from novels. I do read a bit of non-fiction but mainly my reading diet is fiction. I think you can learn anything at all. If you find a good novelist who’s done their homework, you can end up learning about all kinds of stuff. You can read ‘War and Peace’ and learn a huge amount or you could read a modern like Margaret Atwood or William Boyd and you’re learning something all the time too. I always think the term ‘self-help’ book is a bit abused because actually all books are self-help really.
Grazia Daily: How would you describe your writing pattern?
Maggie O’Farrell: I think starting is the hardest bit so I always deceive myself about starting. I certainly never start at the beginning, I always start a little bit in the middle and trick myself into writing by writing a little bit every day. I also think you shouldn’t go back and re-read what you’ve done at the beginning. You need to press on; I think there’s a great deal of solace to be had from word count.
Grazia Daily: What do you do to get over writer’s block?
Maggie O’Farrell: There are times that are more difficult. I think if you’ve had a really good week, you’re going to pay for it the week after! It’s just not enough petrol in the tank, and you have to wait a bit. I think you need to learn to step back and do something else, I remember seeing hearing that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, you just have to live a bit more and I think that’s very true.
Grazia Daily: What would your tips for a first time writer be?
Maggie O’Farrell: Don’t worry too much about the beginning and don’t worry about throwing stuff out - just write. Give yourself some time when no one’s going to interrupt you. Don’t be too self-critical at first and don’t read back. If at the end of the week, you have 5 sides of A4, it might not be very good but you might just have one paragraph or even one sentence that starts something else.