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Byron’s diet

Q&A | 2 minute read
That was the working title of my book – until I learned that bookshops would not know where to shelve it….

Where do you write?

I am a promiscuous collector of libraries. My favourites include the London Library, of course, but also Keats House; Duke Humfrey in the Bodleian; German Historical Institute; British Library; David Sassoon Library (Mumbai); Swiss Cottage Library; Camden Library… Knowing that other people are working in the same space helps me to concentrate.

What’s the last really good book you read? And the best film or theatre production?

Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others was hard going, starting with death from starvation in the first chapter, but totally rewarding. Cheek by Jowl’s staging of The Knight of the Burning Pestle at the Barbican astonished and delighted me.

What book marked you as a child or teenager?

Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. I loved the story and its illustrations, as well as the names: Steerpike, Sepulchrave and Irma Prunesquallor, who ‘misses her footing on the social ladder at least three times a week, only to start climbing again, wriggling her pelvis the while’.

What book inspired you to become a writer?

Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot suggested that facts and speculation could transport the reader just as effectively as fiction. In mute homage I called an early draft of my book Byron’s Diet – until I learned that bookshops would not know where to shelve it….

Pen and paper or laptop?

It has taken me so long to complete this book I feel I started writing on papyrus. Lately, I have been using a laptop augmented by mobile phone for panic-struck notes.

Do you re-read books or is life too short?

I re-read Jane Austen.

Who is the best fictional hero and villain?

The best hero is Byron’s Conrad, the Corsair. The worst villain must be the eponymous Viper of Milan, but I haven’t dared read it, since it haunted my childhood nights. It was written by Marjorie Bowen (when she was 16) and published in 1906.

When did you last visit your local library?

No idea.

What classic have you lied about reading?

I rather wish I moved in circles where you need to lie about reading. But I don’t.

Finally, what’s the elevator pitch for your new book?

Byron often suffered from an (unacknowledged) eating disorder. Why? What did it mean to him?

The Private Life of Lord Byron by Antony Peattie is published by Unbound

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