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‘Reading should be chocolate, not broccoli’ – Miranda Sherry chats about her writing life

Published in the Sunday Times

Bone Meal for RosesBone Meal for Roses
•Miranda Sherry (Head of Zeus)

Which book changed your life?

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. I read it as a teenager, and although I’d always been an avid reader, this was the first time I became aware of the mastery of the writer behind the magic. The simplicity of the storytelling belies the complexity and power of the book, and I think it’s responsible for kicking off my own desire to write something truly great, one day.

What music helps you write?

Because it has the power to send me off on a wild tangent, I prefer no music at all when I’m writing.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I recently had to rush someone to the emergency room in the early hours of the morning. To cope with the trauma, I found myself quizzing the nurses on their work and lives. Turns out it was quite a handy way to gather info for a nurse character in the book I’m working on.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax. She’s powerful beyond measure, but never flaunts it. She’s wise, yet utterly fallible and human. Her acerbic brittleness serves to heighten the warmth that lurks behind it.

Words or phrases you overuse?

I’m guilty of over-utilising characters’ stomachs to express emotional states. I tend to talk about guts a lot. Either they’re churning, or dropping, or going ice cold … it’s clearly my “go-to” organ.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Yikes, there are loads! I’ve never read Moby Dick, which is supposed to be one of those seminal works you must read if you want to call yourself a writer.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Barbara Kingsolver, Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel. Although I’d most likely be too awestruck to manage an intelligent conversation with these paragons of literature.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

Any of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. Reading is fun! It should be chocolate, not broccoli. Dahl is the best kind of chocolate: delicious and dark. He’s a great “gateway” drug to literature.

Has a book ever changed your mind about something?

Books probably change my mind all the time. Each book that exposes me to ideas, places or types of people I’ve never encountered before challenges my beliefs about the world and the way it works. Reading allows me to empathise with all sorts of people and once this happens, it’s impossible to keep viewing them as strangers.

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