Sophie Hannah is a novelist and poet who lives in Cambridge, England. Her bestselling psychological thrillers are published in more than 20 countries. The Point of Rescue, her third crime novel, was recently adapted for television, and broadcast on ITV1 as Case Sensitive. Her latest thriller, Lasting Damage, is out now in paperback. Sophie is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. She blogs at Sophie Hannah.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Eckhart Tolle, Geoff Dyer, Tim Parks. Also Alice Miller, Dorothy Rowe, Susan Forward, Irving Yalom, Pia Mellody and many, many other writers of insightful psychology books.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Vault by Ruth Rendell, and the current Laura Ashley catalogue – heaven!
Who are your cultural heroes? > Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Tana French, Iris Murdoch, Wendy Cope, Edna St Vincent Millay, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Skipper Shabalala, Edith Piaf, Jane Fielder.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince or Howard Jacobson's Coming From Behind.
What is your favourite poem? > At the moment it's the A.E. Housman poem that begins, 'When first my way to fair I took...'
What is your favourite movie? > Twelve Angry Men.
What is your favourite song? > 'Idiot Wind' by Bob Dylan.
Who is your favourite composer? > Purcell and Schubert.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I used to think ends could justify means. Now I believe that the means must be healthy and positive, or else it/they will contaminate the ends.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Do not mistake a collection of opinions for a person. And its corollary: do not identify too strongly with your own opinions. They are not you; they're an accessory you've chosen to meet your psychological needs.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > 'You're either with me or you're against me' - a philosophy beloved of narcissists everywhere.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. For many reasons, but here are two: it's the most brilliant philosophy book I've ever read, and it contains the line, 'The problems of the mind cannot be solved on the level of the mind'.
Who are your political heroes? > Floating voters.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > I like Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' - a wise approach to choosing what kind of society one would like. I am also a keen believer in 'Maximax' thinking, though not sure who invented that concept – also Rawls? Nozick? Anyway, if you live your life according to a Maximax philosophy, you live in a way that maximizes the best possible best outcome (rather than Maximin, in which you maximize the best possible worst outcome). Maximax practitioners are optimists; Maximin involves much cosmic ordering of worst-case scenarios.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Zero tolerance of litter, and a guilt-free Caesarian offered to every pregnant woman - those would be my two policies.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > Dr Gregory House, assuming it doesn't matter that he's American and fictional. And his cabinet would contain Cuddy, Wilson, Chase, Foreman, Cameron, Thirteen, Taub, Kutner and Cut-throat Bitch.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > The human ego, and unacknowledged emotional/psychological pain – a bad combination.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > The best is yet to come.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Never give unsolicited advice. No one wants it. If they did, they'd ask.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Absolutely. But I couldn't be married to or in a long-term relationship with anyone who would answer 'no' to that.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > A happy presence: i.e. your presence makes others happy.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Like most people, I would lie to spare someone's feelings. But, more importantly, I believe everyone sometimes has to lie in order to protect their sense of self and their freedom. In those circumstances, I don't believe lying is wrong. For example, if I want my husband to give up Morris dancing, and keep nagging him about it, he wouldn't be wrong to lie to me, pretend he's given up, and Morris dance behind my back. When we try to coerce people into ignoring their own needs in order to meet ours, we invite and deserve their lies.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > Yes - against people who have framed studio photos of their family on their walls: the whole family, shoes off, against a white background, grinning, with their arms round each other in a kind of 'look at us all tumbling around' pose. No objection whatsoever to family snaps, I should point out. There's a big difference.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'We do as much harm to ourselves and to others when we take offence as when we give offence.' I'm not sure if it's a proverb or just a piece of wisdom, but it's one of the most helpful things I've ever heard.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Motor-home holidays. Your mode of transport doubles as your holiday accommodation? Er, no thanks.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > I hardly ever worry. Why make something bad happen to yourself when nothing bad is happening? Is there a better definition of madness? The closest I get to worrying is when I obsessively ponder open questions, such as: am I living in the ideal place/house/environment for me, or should I move? I live in the centre of Cambridge, and constantly wonder if I might prefer rural seclusion near Cambridge.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Here, because it has a swimming pool and a tennis court.
What would your ideal holiday be? > Hotel Les Sources Des Alpes in Switzerland in the winter; Hotel Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve for the summer.
What is your most treasured possession? > My house, and my art collection. I'm not including human beings here, by the way.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would buy a secluded holiday home somewhere lovely, with a large and beautiful swimming pool, for when I needed to escape from the city. And I would hire a chef for each of my houses, so that I would never have to think about shopping or cooking. Then I would buy just one more house that would be a secret – only my husband and I would know that we owned it.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and Daphne Du Maurier – but can we meet in a restaurant? I don't think my best pasta and pesto-from-a-jar would impress them!
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