At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I met my wife and then realised I had always wanted to be a writer.
Was your first book published or is it still lurking in a drawer somewhere?
It was published, but several prior poorer forms of it are, thankfully, hidden away.
What was your favourite childhood book?
The Arabian Nights. Which is not called that in Arabic, of course. Nor can the literal translation of One Thousand and One Nights capture it. Odd book for a child as it has many deeply outrageous goings on that filled me with delight and horror.
What is your ‘if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend’ book?
I’d be a bad friend if I thought that way but, I must admit, it becomes difficult to completely trust an individual who feels nothing reading In Search of Lost Time.
Do you find the process of writing agony or pure pleasure?
Mostly pleasure but rarely a pure one.
Who, in your opinion is the most under-read author?
Probably Proust but I hope I’m wrong.
Who or what have been your most important influences?
The films of Fellini and Antonioni, Bach and Borges and Conrad and Woolfe and Turgenev and Proust, Islamic and early Byzantine architecture, Sienese art, the stories I heard, my childhood, the Libyan sea.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
Probably an architect, but I would hope a sculptor or, if lucky, a filmmaker.
How long did it take you to write the book that is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize?
Forty-two years plus three to jot it down.
Too many, but to keep it simple, let’s say 8 1/2 by Fellini.
At the moment, Sviatoslav Richter playing Prokofiev sonata no 7
These days I am spending a lot of time looking at the work of Giovanni di Paolo.