As I turned over very quietly, closed the cover of my Kindle and put it on my bedside table, my alarm clock winked back at me: 2am. I had been reading, intensely caught up in the plot of a book, since 11pm. I remember doing this when I was about 12 or 13, in my tiny box bedroom with dandelion wallpaper, reading endless Point Horror books, my feet, hot from fear, twisting the sheets impossibly, angling my lamp close to the wall in the hopes that my parents wouldn’t see the light under my bedroom door. Now, I try and put my book or Kindle down without waking my gently snoring husband. The people are different, the attempt at reading-stealth is the same.
I have always lived in a world full of books. My dad was a literary agent before he retired, my mum a women’s fiction editor before she lost her sight completely. The house I grew up in had a room that went from the front of the house to the back – we called it, inventively, The Long Room – and had floor to ceiling bookshelves on the walls , where I would go hunting for treasures such as Lady Chatterly’s Lover or gilt-edged copies of Pride and Prejudice. The tiny oriental kitten my Mum and Dad got hid in the shelves, behind a huge tome of Lawrence of Arabia, and so he was named Lawrence.
It was inevitable that I would love books too, and English was always my favourite subject at school. I went on to do an English Literature degree at the University of East Anglia. It’s a university with a strong Creative Writing reputation, a highly regarded MA course, and I discovered, to my horror, that in my first term there was a compulsory creative writing unit: I had no plans to write anything myself, and grumbled my way through the unit before getting back to the important business of reading. The writing bug didn’t hit me until my mid-twenties, when I had the chance to try one term of a creative writing course for free and was instantly hooked, though at that point, the prospect of writing a whole novel and getting it published wasn’t even a vague thought, let alone a desperate dream.
I do get slightly obsessed by my favourite books – except scratch the “slightly.” I fall hard for characters and storylines, I become wholly absorbed, I sit in impossibly awkward positions on the sofa for hours, not noticing until I try to stand up and my limbs protest. Sometimes people remark on how quickly I read, but I don’t: I’m a slow reader – I take everything in, rereading a paragraph if my mind has wandered – I just read a lot. I have the luxury to read more than I used to, and I take full advantage of that.
But the best books don’t let you organise your time wisely. They take hold of you, refuse to let you get away, and you will always, always, reach their most crucial moment – the tense climax to the hunt for a killer, the moment where two characters finally accept their feelings for each other after pages of will-they-won’t-they – when your loved one walks in the door after a day at work, or dinner’s ready, or the taxi’s outside.
I wept silently into my pillow when I finished The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan, stupidly late at night. I covered my copy of The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson in smudges of purple mascara as my tears fell onto the pages. I have tried to read countless bits of Kirsty Greenwood and Jane Costello novels out-loud to David, completely out of context, when he’s asked why I’m laughing so hard I’ve choked on my tea. I will argue fervently – perhaps somewhat overzealously – that you need to start a good crime series at the beginning, not pick a random book from the middle, to get the most out of it. I have written long, gushing emails – and DMs on Twitter – to authors who have captured my heart. I feel like I should always tell a writer if their words have meant a lot to me.
I am the book geek who got lucky; the story lover who one day decided that, yes, she was going to try and write the novel that she wanted to read. It’s still a miracle to me that I get to do this for a living, to see my books on bookshelves and websites, to have readers getting in touch with me to tell me how much they loved my setting, or my hero, or to ask why the bus on the front of The Cornish Cream Tea Bus is a single-decker when the bus inside is clearly a double-decker. (If you want to know the answer then get in touch, I have a ready-made copy and paste response 😬).
My TBR pile, both psychical and ebook, must be close to 1000 books. I dare not count them. And yet I still ask editors for copies of proofs I’m desperate to read, moving them straight to the top of the queue, ignoring the paperbacks that have been languishing on my shelves for years. I am confident that I will get to them all at some point, even though the pile is constantly growing. I am also, possibly, deluded. I get invited to book launches and, instead of acting cool and aloof around my fellow writers, I become a wide-eyed, grinning fangirl. (Though I don’t think I have ever been cool or aloof in my life, around superstar authors or otherwise).
I have never read any Harry Potter, but I can totally understand why some people get tattoos of his face on their bicep. I know what it’s like to get to the end of one book, go straight onto the Home page of my Kindle and buy the next seven in the series. I have, for the New Year, created a little design with my new favourite fictional hero’s name on it, printed it on photo paper and put it up in my office – a tattoo for my noticeboard. (I am actually getting a real, bookish tattoo this year, but it won’t be anything to do with Harry Potter).
So yes, I am an author. I write books and can pretend that I am professional and unmoved when the situation arises. But I will always be a massive book geek at heart: getting over-excited when a jiffy bag or cardboard sleeve thumps onto the doormat; falling seriously hard for a new book hero and, of course, staying awake into the small hours, lit only by the backlight of my beloved Kindle, telling myself I’ll just read one more page and then I’ll go to sleep. Yeah, right.