‘Lessons are learned through living. Reading reinforces them and helps you make sense of them’

Saskia Sarginson on her writing life and loves

Saskia Sarginson's bestselling debut The Twins was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club last autumn and has been translated into 15 languages. Her second thriller, Without You, is published by Piatkus, £7.99.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

Françoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse – oh the heady, grown-up seduction of it, as a 16-year-old, reading it in the long grass one hot summer.

What was your favourite book as a child?


Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse. I wanted to live in that world. It was a wrench to leave it.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

They change all the time, but two I've enjoyed recently are Sadie Jone's Fallout and Wolves by Simon Ings.

What is your favourite quotation?

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I fell in love with Inmann from Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain for his gravity of purpose and true heart; Harriet in Donna Tartt's The Little Friend was utterly real – flawed and vulnerable and captivating.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

I've read andadmired novels by John Banville and Colm Tóibín recently, but they are most definitely rated. I think that, despite being highly commended in the Forward Prize, poet Joe Duggan is at the moment under-rated. The poems in his book, Fizzbombs, are lyrical, haunting and witty.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?

Definitely print.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

Henri Matisse Contre Vents et Marees, Editions Irus et Vincent Hansma – not just because it's a sumptuous hardback full of Matisse sketches and paintings, but because it was published by my half-brother and has been signed by him inside with a message to me. We met in Paris in 2001. I hadn't known of his existence until a week before. The book is one of the only things I have that connects me to the father I never knew, and a whole family that I was unable to claim.

Where and how do you write?

I write at an old wooden table in the window of my bedroom straight onto a laptop. There are usually a couple of animals lying on the floor or on the bed – I have two dogs and two cats. I write from mid-morning until my son gets home from school, about four days a week. I’ll often write in the evenings and at weekends too; but a lot of the work happens away from the laptop; I never stop thinking about scenes and characters, and will constantly be making notes and mulling things through.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski – it's a book that breaks all the rules and makes up quite a few of its own. I love the bravado of it. It works for me because it's not about being clever for clever's sake, although it might appear so at first. It is inventive, dark, compelling and poetic.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

I've done a bit more research for every book I've written. So the one I'm working on at the moment, The Other Me, has involved the most research. It has a strand set in prewar Germany and the second World War.

What book influenced you the most?

Perhaps Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood – for its huge, emotional impact, and all the delicate, intimate moments contained inside the panorama. I love that change in perspective. The fact that there are sweeping landscapes and tiny portraits found on the same page.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

If This Is A Man by Primo Levi.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

If This Is A Man by Primo Levi.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

To keep writing, keep reading.

What weight do you give reviews?

I hold my breath when I read anything about my book. It’s truly wonderful to get good reviews. But I tend not to look at sites like Amazon, as there’ll invariably be mixed comments. I find anything negative hard to shrug off. When people tweet or send a message on Facebook to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my book it’s just a lovely thing. Hearing someone’s happy reading experience makes my day.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

It’s terribly sad to see small bookshops closing. Obviously the industry is changing. But people will always want and need stories, however they are packaged and sold; I think that will hold true.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

Since writing Without You I've noticed a few other novels about missing children!

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

Lessons are learned through living. Reading reinforces them and helps you make sense of them.

What has being a writer taught you?


Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Oscar Wilde, PG Wodehouse, Ezra Pound, Angela Carter, Dorothy Parker, Carl Jung, Margaret Atwood.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

There's a scene in My Family And Other Animals where the young Gerald Durrell is being tutored by an elderly scholar, and Durrell, needing the lavatory, asks to see his tutor's mother as he's under the misimpression that this is a euphemism for the loo. The whole thing is brilliantly paced. There's a scene in Donna Tartt's The Little Friend when Harriet tips a snake out of a box when she's on a bridge and it falls into a car passing below; for some reason I found that completely hilarious. Almost any scene from the Just William books can make me cry with laughter – in fact my youngest son banned me from reading them to him!

What is your favourite word?


If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?