Born in the US to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Russell Hoban, 85, served in the army during the second world war. He then worked as an illustrator and an advertising copywriter before publishing his first children’s book What Does it Do and How Does it Work? Eighteen novels and three children’s books followed, including The Mouse and His Child (1967), Turtle Diary (1975) and Riddley Walker (1980). Hoban is married and has lived in London since 1969.
What book changed your life?
A collection of Oscar Wilde’s short stories called A House of Pomegranates, which I read when I was eight or nine years old. The sumptuousness of the language blew me away.
What books are on your bedside table?
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and a biography of Mahler.
What’s your daily writing routine?
I get up around 8.30-9am, have breakfast and work until lunchtime. After lunch I have a two-hour nap and then work until suppertime. Then I might work until about 2am if good ideas are flowing. I usually get to bed at about 3am.
Where do you write best?
In my study at home. I’m pretty well housebound now. I lead a sedentary life.
Do you listen to music while you write?
Constantly. Lately I’ve been listening to Mozart piano concertos and Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Also [the blues musicians] Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
What do you snack on while you write?
I don’t. I often drink beer though.
Which literary character most resembles you?
Huckleberry Finn. He was always true to himself. He knew he was helping a fugitive in Jim the runaway slave, and could burn in hell for it, but he wanted to stick by him. I would stick by Jim.
Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?
Edith Wharton. She had a great understanding of the human heart. She really gets to me.
What are you scared of?
I’m scared of not living long enough to finish what I’m working on. I have set great store by a book I have coming out in 2012 and I want to see it published and read the reviews.
When do you feel most free?
When the flow of ideas gives me a big surge of energy that I can fly with. There’s no other feeling like it.
What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
Not a novel but a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales. The Goose Girl is one of my favourites.
What does it mean to be a writer?
It’s the highest form of living I can think of.
Russell Hoban’s latest novel is ‘Angelica Lost and Found’ (Bloomsbury)