Annabel Abbs is a writer who grew up in Wales and Sussex.  Her degree in English from the University of East Anglia, and her Masters in Marketing from the University of Kingston have helped Annabel throughout her career.  Before being an author, Annabel Abbs ran her own consultancy. The Joyce Girl was Annabel’s debut novel, and it was met with a positive reception and a collection awards including the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2015 Bath Novel Award.  Annabel Abbs has also contributed her short stories and journalism to publications such as The GuardianThe Daily TelegraphThe Huffington Post and many more.  An exciting new author, I was extremely excited to learn more about Annabel’s reading habits.  Please enjoy my interview with Annabel Abbs…

When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?

I’m a writer – and mum of four, dog walker, cook, blogger and errand girl.

the last painting of sara de vosWhat are you reading at the moment?

I always have several books on the go.  Right now, they are: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith, The Interview by Patricia O’Reilly and Girl in Profile by Zillah Bethell.

When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?

Hundreds – I am built from books! Favourites included The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and everything by Penelope Lively.

Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Something to do with a prince and princess getting married and living happily ever after. Entirely unoriginal and rippling with gender bias!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An investigative journalist.

What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?

She’d be both perplexed and horrified at how much laundry and cleaning I’ve done in the last decade (as am I!).  She would berate me for being such a late bloomer.

can any mother help meIf you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?

Can Any Mother Help Me by Jenna Bailey.  My book group recently voted this the best book we’ve read in our twelve years of reading and discussing.

Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?

I read a book every night, for about an hour before I go to sleep.  I listen to audio books every day – for at least an hour.  I don’t sleep very well so I usually read for a couple of hours during the night as well, either on a kindle or listening to an audio.

Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far?

Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Bryan and Mary Talbot.  This graphic novel changed my life, introducing me to the character of Lucia Joyce (daughter of James Joyce) who became the protagonist of my first novel, The Joyce Girl, which is now being translated and published across the world.

What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?

Read – all the time. Read very carefully so that you understand how a story has been constructed, composed, choreographed. Pick away at the words to find the bones underneath.  Always carry a note book and pen – use them to write down everything you’ve loved in your reading – characters, phrases, words, narrative structures, settings. In this way you’ll find your own voice.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

There’s not a single book.  Recently I’ve been recommending Byron’s Women by Alexander Larman and, for my artist friends, Let Me Tell you about a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

I love both and read equally from both genres.

Do you think reading is important?

I think it’s of the utmost importance. I believe reading, and the arts in general, can build a more empathetic, diverse, and humane world. Sadly, fewer people are reading and people are reading less. Perhaps we’re already seeing the results of this decline?

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?

I was very moved by The Lonely City by Olivia Laing and The Wacky Man by Lyn Farrell.

Do you prefer real books or digital books?

I definitely prefer real books.

Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.

I don’t think anyone should be forced to read anything. But children should definitely be encouraged to read.  I’ve found a diet of Tintin, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton to be very effective in persuading children to read more.

dotter of her father's eyesWhat is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?

As before, Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Bryan and Mary Talbot.  If I hadn’t stumbled across this, I’d still be trying to make it as a (not very good) photographer!

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is the earliest example of a man successfully slipping inside the skin of a woman and writing through her eyes.  Am I allowed to mention my teenage daughter’s novel, Chasing Cecilia? She’s been writing on Wattpad for two years and, although she’s just 16, her novels are regularly ranked number one in historical fiction. She’s going to go far!

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

I’m writing about an artist at the moment so I’m reading a lot of books on art – both fiction and non-fiction. All recommendations welcome.

If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?

Take your Time or…Look Back in Wonder.

If you’d like to learn more about Annabel Abbs, you can find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter.