Rising star Samantha Shannon – who secured a major book deal aged just 21 for The Bone Season series – joins the festival in October with her hotly anticipated third release: The Song Rising.
Can you remember the first book you read? What was it?
I’d love to be able to remember that, but my first book has been lost to the mists of time. My mum tells me I started reading very young.
If could get your three favourite authors on at a literary festival – and you can be the interviewer or in the front row – who would you choose?
J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris. Those three in conversation would be electric.
The festival is held not long before Christmas; what books from 2017 (apart from your own) would you give as a present?
Oh, so many. Just a few of my favourite books published in 2017: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, Wing Jones by Katherine Webber, A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke and The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury are all incredible.
Which fictional literary character has made the most lasting impression on you?
Lucy Snowe from Villette by Charlotte Brontë. I love Jane Eyre, but Lucy had much more of an impact on me; I just found her utterly fascinating. I want to re-read Villette this year so I can get to know her again. Another character that left a deep impression was Stephen Gordon from The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall.
You are in charge of Henley Children’s Literary Festival – who would be your first choice of author?
Who played the greatest role in you becoming a writer?
I know everyone from a certain generation says this, but definitely J. K. Rowling. Before I heard of her, I didn’t really understand that people created books; that you could do that for a living. From then on, it was all I wanted to do. Ali Smith was also a huge force in my publishing journey. She came to my college at Oxford in 2012 as Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature and offered students feedback on their writing. I showed her the first chapter of The Bone Season, she told me I should send it to an agent, and the rest is history.
Book festivals are enjoying a boom these days; why do you think that is?
I can only tell you why I personally love them so much, and it’s the atmosphere. Book festivals just fizz with enthusiasm. It’s such a passionate, engaged, welcoming community. When the world seems to be tearing itself apart, there’s nothing more comforting than being in a room full of people who love books just as much as you do.
Is there a book that has made you laugh out loud, or one that has made you cry?
So many books have made me cry, I’ve lost count. I’m quite an emotional reader. It’s a bit harder to get a laugh out of me, even though I do find many books hilarious.
What is the most memorable question you’ve been asked at a festival?
‘Will you sign these boxers?’
Its Desert Island Discs time… what book – apart from the Bible or Complete Works of Shakespeare – would you take to your tropical paradise ?
The Circle by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. It’s big and complex and I love the characters.
What’s the best bit of advice you gave been given about writing?
‘Don’t forget to enjoy yourself.’ – Nick Gaiman
Which young writers should we be reading?
Alice Oseman, Helena Coggan, Lucy Saxon and Taran Matharu are all great.