In the second of our new series, we pose ten questions to local authors, asking them all about the books they love and their reading habits. On the books is the award-winning Irish writer and poet Gerry McCullough.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading through Simon Brett’s mystery novels for the umpteenth time. I have all the Charles Paris ones, and all the Fethering Mysteries except the most recent, The Liar in the Library, which is only just out and still in hardback. When it comes out in paperback, I’ll be grabbing it straightaway. I love Simon Brett. His stories are exciting, clever and very witty. And unlike too many mystery writers, he doesn’t need to describe murders in gruesome detail to make his books gripping.
A book you loved reading as a child.
So many: I’ll choose The House of Arden by E Nesbit. Not so well known as some of her others like The Railway Children or Five Children and It, my own personal favourite, possibly because it was the first of hers I read. I found it in the Children’s Library when I was around eight or nine. The concept of the characters travelling back into history thrilled me then, and still does. C S Lewis was an E Nesbit fan, and it’s easy to see her influence on the Narnia books, by the way, especially in The Magician’s Nephew; I should add that I love the Narnia books, too.
A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.
I suppose Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would be the book I’ve recommended most often. Mind you, now he’s become so famous, I seldom need to recommend it any more! (Oh, and my own books, of course!)
The first and last books on your bookcase.
Vanity Fair by Thackeray, and The Image Men by J B Priestley – but that’s only one of my bookcases (the one in the office behind me as I type this.)
A novel you have read more than once.
I read any book that I’ve enjoyed more than once, so this gives me a wide choice. I’ll pick Stella Gibson’s Cold Comfort Farm, a warm, witty, uniquely satisfying book which I could go on reading forever.
A book that you started but never finished.
Life is too short to read something you aren’t enjoying, so I developed the habit, some years ago, of stopping reading a book I wasn’t liking. Of the many, the one which stands out, because I’ve tried it several times, is Crime and Punishment. People keep telling me that I should give it another chance, and believe me I have. I don’t doubt that Dostoyevsky is a great writer, but I found this particular book depressing, boring and whatever the opposite is of ‘unputdownable.’ (Also, any book by James Patterson that I’ve ever tried – my least favourite writer.)
Your favourite anthology.
Probably still the Faber Book of Modern Verse, which has a lot of my best loved poems in it, although I have many favourite poets whose individual collections I love.
A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.
Robert Goddard’s The Wide World Trilogy is something I greatly enjoyed, and in March 2018 the fourth book in this series about James Maxted is due to be released. If it’s anything like as good as the first three, I’m in for a treat.
A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.
Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle is a brilliant book, and although Pym was rediscovered in the seventies, after sixteen years in the wilderness when no one would publish her books, and was praised as one of the most undervalued writers of the twentieth century, I think her position has slipped back quite a bit since then. I particularly like her earlier books – the last few suffer, for me, from the need she felt to be more serious, to give the publisher what he thought the public wanted. It’s as if someone had told Jane Austin that she had to tackle more important subjects – thank goodness no one did. Some Tame Gazelle begins with the line, ‘The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down.’ An opening line on a par with Jane Austin’s much more famous, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
A book with personal resonance.
CS Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress. This is a book which I keep coming back to. It tells Lewis’s own story, as does Surprised by Joy, but in the form of a fictional allegory, with much in common with the Narnia books, but aimed at adults. It also has some of Lewis’s best poems in it, and although he isn’t as much admired as a poet as I think he should be, I defy anyone not to like some of the poems in this book.