At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
At the age of 4, when my sister taught me to read and I imagined that reading created the story (or the world) each time we turned the page.
Was your first book published or is it still lurking in a drawer somewhere?
It was published, a collection called Simple Recipes, and is still lurking quietly in the world.
What was your favourite childhood book?
When I was very small, I had a book and accompanying cassette tape that I listened to repeatedly, and it was Dumbo.
What is your ‘if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend’ book?
Friends are such a solace in this world, and I love their subjectivities. I love that we might end up in very different corners of the library.
Maybe, too, reading is very personal and unpredictable. How do chance things meet? Why is it we can (physically, emotionally, temporally) hear some things but not others? The reading mind is a very tempestuous thing.
Do you find the process of writing agony or pure pleasure?
Pure imaginative, emotional and intellectual movement.
Who, in your opinion is the most under-read author?
Ah, lovely question. But difficult to answer. Of the writers I love and whose work I wish was more readily available, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Shen Congwen, Bao Ninh, Cees Nooteboom. Also, the great writer Ma Jian, one of the writers I most admire and turn to. He is under-read for a very specific reason, which is that his novels and works cannot be published in China.
What is the ideal number of readers? It probably depends on the life of the writer, and the conditions that best allow them to create and take risks.
Who or what have been your most important influences?
My mother. She showed me how to difficult it is to live freely, and how necessary.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I think that, whichever job or vocation or life I had, I would also be reading. Thank goodness for libraries.
And if only I had the talent: choreographer, musician, painter, neurologist, cabinet maker, mathematician.
How long did it take you to write the book that is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize?
Five years of writing and many more years of thinking.
Favourite film, album, and artist?
I’m so pitiful at this kind of thing. It’s like trying to hang on to the ocean when all you have is a colander. Everything is moving all the time. The Remains of the Day. All the films of Jia Zhangke and Wang Bing. Everything recorded by Glenn Gould or Leonard Cohen. All the paintings of Barnett Newman and the pencil work of Vija Celmins. The photojournalism of Don McCullin.