My top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures

The nicest thing that a reader can say to me is that she read my book in a day and couldn’t put it down. That, since a wake-up call when I was 18, is what I’ve aspired to achieve as a writer. Sure, it would be great to be Meg Rosoff, but if I had to choose between literary fabulousness and sheer unputdownability, which I probably do, I’d go for the latter every time. As a reader, it’s got me through broken love-affairs, tricky times at the office and long summers of teenage boredom. Sometimes there is nothing to beat an unputdownable book.

Summer is here (not that you’d know, looking out of the window today, but that’s beside the point; it has, in recent memory, been hot). For your delectation and delight, these are some of the writers who aren’t necessarily known for their towering literary virtuosity, but whom I’ve adored, and who are sitting on my bookshelves, and at the back of my mind as I write. If you’ve read Threads, bet you didn’t guess number five.

Jilly Cooper

Not the doorstoppers. The sweet romances she wrote before those: Imogen, Harriet, Prudence and the short stories of Lisa & Co. Her pre-equal rights girls were plump and sexy, knew how to make an omelette and were relieved to settle down with the right millionaire or racing driver and make him happy in a house in the country, with dogs. They also knew how to melt with sheer pleasure when said racing driver did that thing with his hands up and down their spines. Nothing wrong with that.

Jackie Collins

If you are reading this and you are under 16, don’t read Jackie Collins, OK? (I remind myself of the librarian nun at school – before my time – who had kindly written ‘Please do not read page 137 of this book’ in the fly pages. Needless to say, the book in question was pristine, apart from page 137, which wasn’t, in either sense.) If you are over 16 and you want to see what the Mel Gibson saga sounds like when made into a novel, she’s your girl. One of the Hollywood Wives books had a stalker theme to it that gripped me from beginning to end. And one of my favourite bits was when the heroine opened the door to the hero ungroomed, unwaxed, in a man’s shirt and with her mind entirely on something else she was doing. He found her irresistible. A good lesson, I thought.

Jeffrey Archer

I’m not kidding. Again, I’m not a fan of the doorstoppers, but Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less is one of my favourite stories. I loved the hero, with his drive and quick-thinking, combined with not really knowing what he was doing. I loved the intertwining storylines and the way the love interest worked. A Quiver Full of Arrows was another great set of short stories. I’ll probably get shot for this, but some of them reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl. No Comebacks was brilliant: great concept, nicely done.

Dan Brown

Every line of The Da Vinci Code makes me want to weep. Reading through each sentence is like treading on a beach of sharp stones. And the names! Sir Leigh Teabing? Has the man never been to the UK? Sir Leigh – or was that Sir Teabing? – was plainly the villain (spoiler alert) from the second he was introduced. The whole thing is so ripe for parody it hurts, as The Asti Spumante Code brilliantly proved. But, Reader, I read that book in two sittings. The plotting, though obvious and implausible, was irresistible. A chase, some sketchy art criticism AND code-breaking? And being made to feel more intelligent than the author? Sheer genius. A worthy bestseller. Thank you, Mr Brown.

Thomas Harris

I am not very often a reader in the bath. Books get wet. Pages fall out. Water gets cold. It all gets very messy. But I’d got to that bit in The Silence of the Lambs where Clarice is being chased through caves of dead women by the creepy loony in the night-vision goggles and even though it made me feel nauseous, I couldn’t stop. Sometimes, I had to for a moment, so I could stop feeling sick. Then back to the plot again. The pages got wet. The bath water got cold. Clarice eventually got the better of the creepy loony and the cavalry arrived just too late to save her, so thank goodness she did. That is a good book.

Tristram Shandy is good too, I admit. So is Middlemarch. So are Pride and Prejudice, Tales of the City and Right Ho, Jeeves. However, none of these, much as I adore and admire them, suffers from water damage. Mind you, if Bertie Wooster had been chased through a house-party of charming but inappropriate chorus girls by a creepy loony in night-vision goggles with a cow creamer – that would have been a different story …


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