Small Talk: Michael Dobbs

Michael Dobbs, 61, penned his first political thriller, House of Cards (1989), while he was a Conservative politician. After his retirement from politics in 1995, 14 more novels followed, including a series about Sir Winston Churchill. He has also worked in advertising, and as a broadcaster and journalist. Born in Hertfordshire, England, Dobbs studied first at Oxford University and then in the US, where he completed a PhD in nuclear defence studies. He is married, has four sons and lives in Wiltshire.

What was the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

A copy of The Oldie magazine. That wicked man Richard Ingrams was up to it again.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Red to Black by Alex Dryden and a book of Liam O’Flaherty’s short stories. I’ve also got Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man but that may be there for some time.

What book changed your life?

It sounds self-indulgent but it was House of Cards. I wrote it by accident and it took my life in a completely different direction.

What is your daily writing routine?

The kids leave for school at 7.30am and then I spend the morning like Barbara Cartland, writing longhand in bed. In the afternoons I put what I’ve done on to the computer. I work every day of the week.

Who are your literary influences?

I used to aspire to John le Carré and Frederick Forsyth. Now I read more widely to see how other people do it. I’m still learning this craft of writing.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I killed off the Dalai Lama in my book The Buddha of Brewer Street, and to get it right I went to the Himalayas and had two hours with him, talking about death.

How do you relax?

Walking in the Wiltshire countryside. Or watching rubbish TV with my wife and four young boys.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Gospel According to St John. I’m fascinated by Bible stories, not because I’m religious but because it’s a period of history that raises so many questions for me.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’ve always wondered if I’d stuck with politics whether I could have made it as a minister, so I might try that.

What does it mean to be a writer?

I have never been more contented. It’s a world of limitless horizons.

Michael Dobbs’ latest novel is ‘The Reluctant Hero’ (Pocket Books)

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