“There are some pretty horrible Hermiones in literature”

Where are you now and what do you see

I’m sitting in my work shed at the back of my garden east of Oxford and I can see wallflowers, a wilted lavender bush, Japanese anemones, late-blooming roses and my clothesline.

What are you reading now?

I read the excellent biography of Anthony Blunt by Miranda Carter. Then the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s brilliant novel on female friendship, Inseparable; Frank Shovlin’s edition of letters from John McGahern, one of my favorite writers; and a remarkable book by Nicholas Grene, Agriculture in modern Irish literature.

Who is your favorite author and why do you admire him?

Too many to list, but the novelists I’ve written about – Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, Edith Wharton, and Penelope Fitzgerald – score very high, for style, depth of sentiment, originality and, often, the comedy.

Describe the room where you usually write …

A square wooden garden shed bordered by books, solidly functional and in no way resembling a shepherd’s hut.

Which fictional character looks like you the most?

In fiction, I’m afraid it’s a mix of Jane Austen’s Emma and Edith Wharton’s Undine Spragg, although I wish it was Anne Elliot from Austen’s Persuasion and Ellen Olenska from Wharton’s. Age of innocence. There are some pretty gruesome Hermiones in literature, including a bossy minor character in Tom Stoppard. Arcadia.

Who is your hero / heroine of outdoor literature?

In no particular order: police writer Phyllis “PD” James, Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, Anton Chekhov, novelist William Trevor and former Labor politician Barbara Castle.

Tom Stoppard: a life by Hermione Lee is out now in paperback (Faber, £ 14.99)

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