Brought to book: Chris Pavone

What writing trends have struck you lately? Pornography! I’m astounded at how many women want to read explicit descriptions of sex.

Chris Pavone follows the success of his first novel, The Expats, a Kindle number one bestseller and a Sunday Times top 10 bestseller, with The Accident, the story of a manuscript which lands on the desk of Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and influential literary agents in New York. Inside the printed pages are shocking revelations about one of the most powerful figures in the country. As the manuscript changes hands and ignites interest, lives are soon lost and the anonymous author watches from afar.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?
My mother's girlhood set of encyclopedias. Everything there was to know about everything! Remarkable.

What was your favourite book as a child?
I really don't remember, and it's occurring to me that I should just make up something, but I can't quite summon the requisite dishonesty. But I will say that I've loved reading Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat aloud to my children; for a few years I could recite it by heart.

And what is your favourite book or books now?
I have a new favourite almost every time I finish a book. (If I don't love a book, I tend to not finish it. I was a book editor for a long time, which trained me to give up on books at any point – page 2, page 50, even page 411 of a 416-pager –if I was no longer benefitting from the experience. Life is short, and there's a lot to read, so I don't expend my time on the obligation to finish books.) But in any case, I can't rank favourite books. In fact, I can't rank favourites of most things. My children are constantly asking – favourite colour? favourite dog breed? favourite continent? – and I'm constantly disappointing them.


What is your favourite quotation?
See above.

Who is your favourite fictional character?
This is one of the rare favourites questions that I'm willing to answer: Captain Yossarian in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 .

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
I am completely – 100 per cent – ignorant of the rating levels of Irish authors.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
I don't prefer one to the other; they co-exist peaceably in my reading habits. I use an e-reader when I'm traveling: I love carrying dozens of books on a small lightweight device, and I'm still amazed every time I purchase and immediately start reading a new title without leaving my hotel room – in another country! At home, I tend to read print, and most of the time that means recently released hardcover novels. I enjoy the feel of paper and board, I like turning pages, dog-earing my spot, jotting notes in the back.

What is the most beautiful book you own?
The Balthazar Cookbook, from the well-known restaurant in downtown New York, a book that I edited a dozen years ago, which afforded me the irrelevant but enjoyable opportunity to have a smoky boozy dinner with the restaurant's owner Keith McNally and his charming friend Helena Bonham Carter.

Where and how do you write?
As a rule, I leave home at 8.40am to bring my kids to school, then I continue on foot to a members club, where I arrive at 9 sharp – 9.01 if I just miss the long traffic light at Eighth Avenue. I write until I get hungry or run out of ideas, but in no case sooner than 11.30.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?
John Grisham's A Time to Kill, which introduced me to the idea that top-of-the-bestseller-list popular fiction can also be meaningful. That seems obvious now, but it wasn't when I was in my early twenties.

What is the most research you have done for a book?
I was an expat in Luxembourg for a year and a half, then I wrote a novel called The Expats , so that whole experience was research. And I worked in book publishing for nearly 20 years, then set The Accident in book publishing. So basically my entire adult life has been research for these two novels.

What book influenced you the most?
I really don't know how to go about answering this, and I'd be inclined to distrust anyone who could.

What book would you give to a friend's child on their 18th birthday?
Strunk and White's slim, elegant, indispensible primer on writing, The Elements of Style. I'm concerned, as I guess all middle-aged people are, about the younger generations' level of literacy.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which is a sensational book about being young. But it wasn't published until I was already 45.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Books are for readers, and chances are fairly high that they don't care about you, even a tiny bit. They want to be entertained or educated or seduced or terrified or blown away by the beauty of a spectacular sentence, and their desires are probably not going to be satisfied with 115,000 words about your teenage angst.

What weight do you give reviews?
I give tremendous weight to my positive reviews, and none whatsoever to my negative ones. As for reviews of other people's books, I think they can be of huge value. But of course a review is written by a person, whose tastes and prejudices and resentments and agendas and favorite quotations may not mesh with mine. A book review is a subjective assessment, not an objective fact.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?
I'm afraid the business is tending more than ever toward a winner-take-all environment, where a tiny number of books sell tremendously well, while everything else is unprofitable. I hope I'm wrong.

What writing trends have struck you lately?
Pornography! I'm astounded at how many women want to read explicit descriptions of sex.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
I think the most important lesson has been subjectivity: with the exception of maths, pretty much everything else is subjective.

What has being a writer taught you?
To have a thicker skin.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, with a lot of liquor.

What is the funniest scene you've read?
In David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, the students play a fictional game called Eschaton whose grand finale made me laugh so hard I thought might need a physician.

What is your favourite word?
Again, see above. But these days, I have to admit I'm partial to ludicrous.

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
The 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. A fascinating man at a pivotal point in modern history.

The Accident by Chris Pavone is out now, priced £12.99 (Faber & Faber)