The author on reading Peter Rabbit in Egypt, the allure of Lawrence Durrell – and the humour of Stella Gibbons

My earliest reading memory
Beatrix Potter, of course. That wonderful, uncompromising prose: “The dinner was of eight courses; not much of anything, but truly elegant”, “the lettuces had been so soporific”, “the dignity and repose of the tea party”. I was in the house where I grew up, outside Cairo, in Egypt. I had never been to England, so Potter’s verdant backdrop of gardens and cottages, in those incomparable illustrations, was exotic and alluring, so unlike my own humdrum world of palm trees, donkeys and camels.

My favourite book growing up
Andrew Lang’s Tales of Troy and Greece. I was hooked on that late Victorian retelling of the Homeric myth. And there was a personal relevance: I was right in there – Penelope – though unfortunately with the wrong part. Penelope is described as wise and good, qualities that did not appeal, whereas Helen is beautiful.

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