At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Seventeen or eighteen – but it was an ambition I then gave up, and only crept my way back to in the second half of my twenties.
Was your first book published or is it still lurking in a drawer somewhere?
‘Book’ is too strong a word, but there’s a hand-written, unfinished, novella-sized thing in a filing cabinet. It’s staying there.
What was your favourite childhood book?
Favourite for what? The Narnia books were the constant pole-star of my childhood. I was enough of an obsessive reader, though, that I had umpteen different other favourites for different moods.
What is your ‘if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend’ book?
I hope I haven’t got one. But I would need to reason at length with anyone who failed to see the splendour in Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.
Do you find the process of writing agony or pure pleasure?
Agony till it’s going, then no sensation at all when it does go, because I’m gone too, dissolved into concentrating.
Who, in your opinion, is the most under-read author?
James Buchan, whose book about money Frozen Desire contains the single most perfectly weighted paragraph I’ve ever read.
Who or what have been your most important influences?
The return of story to literary fiction since the 1980s. The way that science fiction builds worlds. The crumbling of the walls between fictional genres, and even between fiction itself and non-fiction.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
Publishing or teaching. I teach anyway, at Goldsmiths College.
How long did it take you to write the book that is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize?