Jessica Duchen is a novelist and classical music journalist based in London. She writes for The Independent and is the author of four novels, including the internationally acclaimed Hungarian Dances, as well as biographies of the composers Gabriel Fauré and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. She has devised and performed several stage works combining words and music, among them a concert version of Hungarian Dances. Her play A Walk through the End of Time, concerning Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time', will be performed by Henry Goodman and Penelope Wilton in the International Wimbledon Music Festival on 18 November. Jessica blogs at JDCMB – her Classical Music and Ballet Blog.
Why do you blog? > I started my blog by accident. It was 2004 and I'd heard about these things called blogs where you could write anything you liked and a second later a stranger could be reading it in Bolivia. Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of human communication. I thought it must be difficult to set up, but after five minutes of experimenting I found I had my own blog. I decided to use it and see what happened. Eight years on, I'm still hooked.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Probably the time I broke the story of the Joyce Hatto hoax in 2007. That was my first taste of a storm in comments boxes, complete with frothing trolls and conspiracy theorists. Terrifying because it threatened to lose touch with reality – especially given the rather pathetic nature of the story itself.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Keep a sense of perspective and don't get addicted.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > The late Derrick Puffett, who was among my teachers at Cambridge, was one of the most brilliant musical minds I have ever encountered. He maintained that brilliance despite suffering severe muscular dystrophy that confined him to a wheelchair and eventually led to his death in 1996, aged 49. In musical analysis classes, he could be ferocious, but I adored him, owe him a great deal and feel privileged to have studied with him.
What are you reading at the moment? > Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. I'm ashamed never to have got round to it before.
Who are your cultural heroes? > Shakespeare, Beethoven and Angela Carter.
What is the best novel you’ve ever read? > Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. Other contenders: George Eliot's Middlemarch and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
What is your favourite movie? > Les enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné, 1946).
What is your favourite song? > The Beatles, 'Here, There and Everywhere'. Call me soppy. I am.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I used to think the UK was a country that embraced freedom of speech and thought. Unfortunately, I've had to change my mind about this.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Think for yourself. See for yourself. Always assess matters on the basis of fact, not received opinion or your own fantasies. Never assume you've been fed the correct information.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Fundamentalism of every kind.
Who are your political heroes? > John Maynard Keynes, Nye Bevan, Nelson Mandela. Otherwise, the words 'political' and 'hero' don't appear to go together very well.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Providing a solid, all-round, non-segregated, well-disciplined and free education, including music, art and sport, for everybody regardless of background, wealth or faith, and leading to 100 per cent literacy.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > Daniel Opoku, the South West Trains station master at Mortlake. I know of nobody who is better at the job he does, or takes more pride in it, or who is better loved by all who know him.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Hatred of 'the other'. Water, or lack of it, will soon run this a close second.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Laughter is both the best medicine and the strongest weapon.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Empathy.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Arrogance.
What is your favourite proverb? > Never give up. (Sir Georg Solti)
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Imagine how much we could do with our regained time if we remembered where the TV's OFF switch was.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Everything, all the time. That's the nature of working freelance!
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Somewhere warm, with mountains, wonderful air and great food and wine.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > I love a good long walk, cooking for friends or visiting a gallery. I sometimes venture to ballet classes. I should play the piano more.
What talent would you most like to have? > Singing.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I'd like to be a psychotherapist. I'd love to have done something that is beneficial and healing, and I enjoy finding out what makes people tick. There's nothing more fascinating than the workings of the human mind.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Woody Allen.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I'd become a philanthropist. I'd buy a big house and create a wonderful space for house concerts, receptions and fundraising events, and I'd sponsor some wonderful young musicians. And I'd buy expensive bubble bath.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Felix Mendelssohn. I'd do the cooking, then just sit back and listen to the sparkle.
[A list of all the normblog profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]