Q&A with editor, reporter and novelist Tom Rachman

‘Who would I most like to sit next to at a dinner party? Boris Johnson, though I fear he’d steal one of my profiteroles’

Tom Rachman was born in London in 1974 and moved to Vancouver aged seven. He studied at the University of Toronto, and at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, before working as an editor and reporter. His first novel, The Imperfectionists (2010), was an international bestseller. He lives in London with his girlfriend.

Who is your perfect reader?

My parents, who have read widely and intelligently – and are genetically predisposed not to pan my work.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Only after selling my first novel, in 2008. For years before, I’d dreamt of becoming a writer, but wouldn’t call myself one till I had something to show.

What is your daily writing routine?

It starts with my morning commute: from bedroom to study. To wake fully, I read, then I write or revise until midday, go out for exercise, eat something that won’t induce a food coma, and resume work until evening. The less internet, the more writing.

Where do you write best?

I sometimes rent flats overseas, choosing a place where I know nobody. I’m most productive when away and isolated.

What do you snack on while you write?

Nuts, and lots of tea: black tea with milk, Japanese green tea, Chinese oolong. Tea is one of my great pleasures.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Years ago, when living in Brooklyn and working an overnight shift, I read Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying and took comfort in the fecklessness of the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, who labours at a lowly job and dreams of writing. Not sure if he resembles me, but I’m fond of him.

Who are your literary influences?

They include Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Graham Greene, Bruce Chatwin.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Boris Johnson would make for a good anecdote, though I fear he’d steal one of my profiteroles.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

A lift repairman.

What are you scared of?

Flying and swimming. I’m a land-based mammal.

When do you feel most free?

When striding through the countryside, or jogging in a beautiful foreign city.

How do you relax?

By day, with exercise. By night, with a glass of wine.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Pursue what interests you, not money or a career.

What would you change about yourself?

I envy those who are implacably confident. Confidence changes the course of one’s life. Though, I suspect that self-doubt has practical worth, too.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Right now it’s a tie: Seville – Plaza del Triunfo between the cathedral and Alcázar – and Siena (on the outskirts, looking at the Tuscan hills, with a plate of pici pasta awaiting me).

What does it mean to be a writer?

To take what was uniquely yours and make it anyone’s; to toil free from interference yet dependent on approval; to start from the imaginary and end with the truthful.

Tom Rachman’s latest novel is ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ (Sceptre)

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