My top 10 books are:
- THUNDERHEAD by Mary O’Hara. The second in her brilliant trilogy written ostensibly for children, which begins with MY FRIEND FLICKA and ends with THE GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING. Thunderhead is the extremely ugly white foal born to boy hero Ken’s mare, Flicka. Thunderhead’s fight to the death with his stallion father, in the wilds of the mountains, is quite literally awesome.
- THE LORD OF THE RINGS by JRR Tolkien. I read this through two days and a night after Tripos Part 1 at Cambridge. It is the most intense reading experience I have ever had and I dreamt every night in the language of Middle Earth for weeks after.
- GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell. It is easy to forget that she was hailed as the new Stendhal, when GWTW first came out. It was one of my father’s favourite novels, too and he used to say that when he finished it he felt every time as though good friends had died, so real were Mammy, Rhett, Scarlett etc to him.
- OTHER MEN'S FLOWERS by Field Marshal Wavell. The most wonderful anthology of poetry ever - the more remarkable because he knew every poem or fragment of poem in it by heart.
- THE NORTHERN LIGHTS by Philip Pullman. And the rest of the trilogy. A world I never wanted to leave.
- EMMA by Jane Austen. I love them all and probably read them once a year - leaving it just long enough to forget the odd detail. But this is my favourite.
- REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier. It is no accident that I have daughters called Emma and Rebecca. A heartbreakingly beautiful house in Cornwall, a glamorous dead first wife, an enigmatic hero, an evil housekeeper... how could anyone resist?
- THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE. A. E. Housman said that certain lines of poetry made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There is hardly a line of Shakespeare which does not do that for me.
- KING OF THE WIND by Marguerite Henry. Horses again! A novel written for children about how the Godolphin Arabian became one of the foundation sires of the modern Thoroughbred. Sent as a present by the Sultan of Turkey to the King of France, he had a white spot on his heel, a sign that he would be able to run like the wind - and the ‘wheat ear’ whorl on his chest, which Arabs thought was a sign of bad luck. Think BLACK BEAUTY vicissitudes, but with a triumphant ending.
- COTILLION by Georgette Heyer. The headmistress of my horrid boarding school in Malvern told me sniffily in 1963 that Georgette Heyer would never last. Well, she has and A. S. Byatt wrote the most brilliant essay on why Heyer has eternal appeal. This particular novel is utter deliciousness.
I have just begun reading THE CONDUCTOR by Sarah Quigley and am enthralled. Fantastic setting, mesmerising period in history and huge characters. Love it!