Reading Confessions: Diana Hendry

Diana Hendry
Category: Reading

Poet, short story writer, children's book author and young adult novelist Diana Hendry is undoubtedly prolific (she's published over 40 books!) but still finds time to settle down with a good book. So, how does this SCBA-nominated author handle bad reviews, what reading habit makes her skin crawl and which award-winning work was returned to the shelf after only 20 pages? Read on to find out!

Do you ever mentally edit someone else’s work while you read?

Yes – probably always. But that doesn’t mean I do it critically. Just as often I might be trying to learn something. There are so many different ways of reading and if you’re reading as a writer you’re always trying to discover ways of improving your own work. There’s a novel I greatly admire by the Israeli writer, Amos Oz – Panther in the Basement. I’ve done more than ‘mentally edit’ it. I’ve taken it apart chapter by chapter to analyse how Oz moves the story about in time, how he develops a theme, how he uses dialogue.

Of course there are times when I’m simply very critical and skip whole chunks of a book.

How do you react to bad reviews?

Ach! I’m wounded. I’m pleased to say I’ve only had a couple and they weren’t entirely bad. I went to find them this morning in my file of cuttings. One of them described a poem of mine as ‘twee as candy floss’ (ouch!). I didn’t look any further. Why punish myself? Alas that criticism sticks in the mind far longer than praise.

Where do you stand on spinebreaking?

If I see someone else doing it, it gives me that kind of eeehk you get when a knife’s scraped on a plate or chalk screeched on a board. There are books that are so poorly produced that the spine isn’t very strong. And recently I was sent a book to review which came as a spineless hardback. (A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki). You could see the stitching where the spine should have been. A curious gimmick I suppose. It looked ugly on the shelf and went off to Oxfam.

Sometimes I feel angry for loving a book. And then I might – just now and again – turn down the corner of a page.

Which author or fictional character would you most like to party with?

Well, if you were to ask me who I would like to have dinner with, I might answer Seamus Heaney. But as it’s a party ....I like to dance. So I’d choose Len Goodman from Strictly Come Dancing. (I think he’s published his autobiography, Better Late than Never: From Barrow Boy to Ballroom, so he ‘counts’ as an author!)

Has a mutual like or differing opinions on books ever ruined or cemented a relationship?

When I came to live in Edinburgh I sent a group of poems to Hamish Whyte of Mariscat Press. He liked them and we arranged to meet and discuss them at The Elephant House. We talked poems and punctuation! Hamish set fire to the edge of my poems. We’ve been living together for twelve years.

How do you arrange your bookshelf?

I have a lot of books and a lot of shelves. They’re arranged in categories – poetry, fiction, lit crit, art, biography, children’s books. The most interesting and difficult shelf is the one we call the Books-to-be-Read-Shelf. New books land on this, and books we’ve borrowed and books we intend to read. Another name for this shelf could be The Shelf of Illusions or The Shelf of Good Intentions. There’s room on this shelf for about twenty books. I reckon about three out of twenty get read then I have to clear the rest away before a new batch appears. Books breed.

Do you ever turn to the back of a book and read the end first?

Maybe not first, but I’ve been known to have a quick shuffti at the end of book – either because I’m exasperated or because the suspense is unbearable. I’m reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth at the moment and confess that I’ve sneaked a look not at the very end, but just at the last chapter.

Have you ever borrowed a book from a friend and ‘forgotten’ to give it back on purpose?

When I was 8 my primary school teacher, the beautiful Rosemary Armstrong, lent me A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I loved it so much I never gave it back. It has Miss Armstrong’s name, address and telephone number in it and I still have it. Not long ago, still feeling guilty, I wrote her a letter poem as an apology. But I rather think it’s all too late and that she died some years ago.

Is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written?

Oh lots! Among children’s books I’d be very pleased to have written The Wind in the Willows, or Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden. All books from my own childhood.

Is there a book you’ve never been able to finish?

I’m afraid it’s Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I know people rave about it but somehow I can’t get used to the idea of history being written in the present tense. So I haven’t got past the first twenty or so pages. Perhaps I should persist. But it’s so big! And now she’s written a sequel, Bring up the Bodies, and it’s almost as big.

Diana's book, The Seeing, has been nominated for a 2013 Scottish Children's Book Award in the Older Readers category. Click here to learn more about the awards and to hear the authors read excerpts from the shortlisted titles!

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