Author of the Quarter
Your past books have focused on the 20th century. What prompted you to write Pompeii? I wanted to write about America - about a global power which feels itself invulnerable, only to have something go wrong. But I couldn't make it work. Then I read a story about new research on the destruction of Pompeii, and I liked the idea of making my story about Romans rather than Americans.
How did you research the book and what surprised you? I visited Pompeii half a dozen times, and drove all around the Bay of Naples. My big breakthrough came on the first trip, when I discovered the existence of the huge aqueduct to which Pompeii was connected. And that was the surprise: the sophistication of their technology. I thought to myself: why not write a Roman techno-thriller?
Which book did you enjoy the most? Selling Hitler, my book about the Hitler Diaries forgery, published in 1986. Both Fatherland and Archangel grew out of that.
Place of work and routine? We live in a former vicarage in Berkshire, and I work in the vicar's old study. I like to be on my own, but at the same time to hear the sounds of other people in the house (there's always plenty of that: we have four children). My aim is to write 1,000 words a day, and I work best in the mornings. My idea of heaven is to have my words finished by noon and then go out to lunch.
If you hadn't been a writer? I have a strong urge to create. If I couldn't have done it in words, I would have liked to have built my own business.
How do you relax? With a glass of champagne or wine, talking with friends and family.
Favourite author? George Orwell.
Which book are you reading at present? The complete works of Cicero - that's a clue to my next project!
Amy Johnson - Queen of the Air
Midge Gillies. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20 ISBN: 0753817705
There can be few stories as extraordinary as the short life of Amy Johnson. The eldest daughter of a fish merchant, she showed little promise as a student, failed to get an honours degree at university, then dropped out as a teacher and headed off to London to work in an office.
However, Amy Johnson was to break through the chauvinistic shackles that surrounded her to become a pioneering aviator who, within a year of her first solo flight, was to break the record for a flight to Australia.
The feat was all the more remarkable given it was in a second-hand Gypsy Moth, strung together with piano wire, and with wings stitched by Geoffrey de Havilland's wife's sewing machine, which had no brakes, lights, fuel gauge or inner heating system.
Incredibly, Johnson, who had never been abroad before, found herself navigating uncharted Himalayan mountain ranges while managing less than a few hours sleep a night.
She died aged 37 in 1941.
A remarkable tale about an extraordinary woman, recounted with clarity and detail, particularly the accounts of Johnson's flying exploits.
In Search of the Tiger - A Golfing Odyssey
Ian Stafford. Ebury Press, £9.99 ISBN: 0091886562
As someone who is an aspiring and somewhat frustrated golfer, I was drawn to a book that recounts one man's attempt to overcome the many hurdles that the game throws at a beginner.
Ian Stafford, a sports journalist, claims that for many years he had no interest in a sport that he perceived as middleaged and middle-class. That was until a certain golfer by the name of Tiger Woods took the game by storm and, in doing so, captured his imagination.
So began his quest to understand the game that Mark Twain once claimed was 'a good walk ruined'.
His accounts of his rounds on some of the finest courses in the world, along with his meetings with some of the greats both past and present, makes excellent reading.
We learn what makes a good golfer - from the reborn swing of Nick Faldo to lessons into the psychology of the game as advocated by the eccentric Belgian Jos Vanstiphout.
It is testament to Stafford's engaging style of writing that one finds oneself urging him on through his numerous trials and tribulations he experiences along the way.
It does, of course, help if the reader has played a few rounds so as to empathise with the author.
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