WHAT BOOK would children’s author Francesca Simon take to a desert island?
- Francesca Simon is reading Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey
- She would take The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope to a desert island
- American author said Mary Poppins by P L Travers gave her the reading bug
…are you reading now?
I’m finding reading and concentrating difficult during the pandemic, as there is so much to worry about, so I’m restlessly reading more than one book at a time, which is not like me at all.
I’ve recently discovered the Irish novelist Christine Dwyer Hickey and am loving her novel Last Train From Liguria, set in a part of the world I adore and miss: the small coastal towns of the Italian Riviera.
I prefer writing dialogue and find describing things challenging, but Hickey is extraordinary at evoking the sights, sounds and smells of the past. She’s also brilliant at creating vivid characters.
Children’s author Francesca Simon (pictured) would take The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope to a desert island
Her novel explores the ways the past haunts the present through the story of two lonely Irish expats caring for the young Jewish son of an Italian aristocrat as World War II looms. I am also reading a lot more non-fiction and am racing open-mouthed through historian Joanne B Freeman’s astonishingly prescient book, The Field Of Blood: Violence In Congress And The Road To Civil War.
…would you take to a desert island?
I love the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, whose books I can read over and over, so I will choose The Eustace Diamonds, as it features one of his most swashbuckling adventuresses, Lizzie Eustace, plus I can never remember how the book ends, which seems to me an essential requirement of a desert island book.
…first gave you the reading bug?
Mary Poppins by P L Travers. I got a terrible flu when I was seven years old and was bedridden for over two weeks, too weak to walk. During that time, once I was strong enough to hold a book, I read all the Mary Poppins books and from that moment on, once I’d recovered, I read for at least five hours a day. (We didn’t have a TV.)
Shortly afterwards I discovered Andrew Lang’s magnificent fairy tale collections, plus his vivid re-tellings of Greek myths, which ignited my life-long love of mythology. I practically lived in my school library, and sometimes would just choose a shelf and read alphabetically along it. Hence my knowledge of Akhenaten, Daniel Boone, Willa Cather, Francis Drake, Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin . . .
…left you cold?
Much as I adore Victorian novelists, especially my beloved Trollope, I’ve never really enjoyed Dickens (ducking now, while shoes and brickbats are hurled at me). I don’t generally read science fiction or detective novels, but I never say never because I love being surprised, as I have been recently by discovering thriller writer Charles Cumming’s Box 88. I’m trying to get better at stopping a book if I’m not enjoying it, but I still find it hard not to give every book I pick up a fair chance.
Francesca’s new book, Two Terrible Vikings, illustrated by Steve May, is out on February 4 (Faber £6.99).
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