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Bigger Thomas, the anguished anti-hero in Richard Wright’s Native Son, never fails to make me seethe and squirm with discomfort. Although obviously not fictional, Maya Angelou was so engaging I followed her spirit right through her seven autobiographies.

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I’m a big supporter of digital publishing: it makes writing more accessible in a global context. I edited a collection called Writing Black, which is available on iBooks. This allows the American audience, which I particularly wanted to engage with while I spent some time in the United States promoting the black&write! project, to download it easily.

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I’ve just finished a book about my mother’s life. She was typical of her times in some ways, remarkable and even eccentric in others. When she died ten years ago she left a mass of bits and pieces of memoir. I’ve used them to try to tell the story of a working-class woman riding the waves of change through the twentieth century.

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My hero is Jakob von Gunten, star of, well, Jakob von Gunten, Robert Walser’s singular novel about a school for servants. I love the quality of Jakob’s subversion in that lovely, strange, tiny place. And my heroine: Theodora Goodman, the eponymous aunt of Patrick White’s The Aunt’s Story, who is glorious and difficult and bewildering and kind.

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This is not the age of criticism. Theory killed criticism. This is the age of reviewing and commentary.

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It’s always dangerous, I believe, to have heroes, but I do admire the author who gave us the wonders of Anna Karenina, say, and to come back to Conrad, how about this first paragraph of Lord Jim? ‘He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop to the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a barging bull’. I am in awe of Jim, with his ‘ability in the abstract’.

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I seem to dream more awake than I do asleep. As a child, I often acted out imaginary scenarios, speaking the various parts aloud. Every so often I’ll catch myself doing it again.

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I love pop music that makes me want to dance and fills my heart with joy. Michael Jackson used to be my man. My current favourite song is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. I’m living in Brooklyn at the moment and the song has been bursting out of the window of every second car all summer long. But if we’re talking desert island albums, I’d be taking some Miles Davis with me. Kind of Blue maybe, or fast forward a few decades to Bitches Brew.

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I don’t understand happiness – it always feels coercive – and because of this I don’t understand why the promotion of products that bring happiness holds such wide appeal. I associate consciousness with anxiety: whatever takes you out of yourself brings a kind of relief from this. This can include writing, but also dreaming.

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I have broad tastes: Jimmy Little, Sufjan Stevens, Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, P.J. Harvey, Lorde, Gurrumul, Powder-finger, Karma County, Sex Pistols, Paris Combo … I’d like to be able to drop some more highbrow names into the mix, but honestly I never listen to Mozart or Bach.

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