Writers are the sum of what they have seen, heard and, above all, read, and none of them can write in complete isolation.
The list below are a few of the writers and campaigners who inform, amuse and inspire me from day to day.
AA Milne. It’s where I started, and where I still go back.
George Orwell. Animal Farm is still, for me, the perfect novel. Not a word wasted, not one excessive sentiment. I have read it every year of my life since I was 12.
Robert Macfarlane. England’s finest current writer on nature, countryside, the land and cultural environmentalism. I first became aware of his work via his ‘Mountains of the Mind: The History of a Fascination’, (2003) and have followed him ever since. He puts up regular Instagram posts with great natural images, and tweets a series on new or rarely used words.
Horatio Clare. Another lyrical writer on nature and travel. If you want to read about the reality of a drug-ruined childhood, check out his book Truant. He specialises in short travel books on specific themes- curlews, migrating swallows, container ships, for example. His account of a trip on a Finnish Ice Breaker (Icebreaker- A Voyage Far North) is a beautifully written piece on where global warming is taking us.
Marcus Rashford. He has trodden the tightrope for a young celebrity of using his fame, and his back story, to bring to the national conscience something incredibly important: hungry children who shame us in their hunger.
Mary Colwell. An ex BBC film maker who wrote a book about curlews (Curlew Moon) which I read in one sitting, and which changed my life. I got in touch with her (she is now a good friend) and we have been working together since at our new charity, Curlew Action.
Dylan Thomas. Because sometimes we just need the poetry of a flawed genius in our lives. And I just love that he spent so much time in his local pub (Brown’s Hotel) that he used to give out its telephone number as his own.
David Attenborough. When he finally bows out, he will leave an unthinkably big gap in our national life. If we let him, he taught us to mind about our planet.
PG Wodehouse. Because he could do things with the English language which makes the experience of reading, or listening to it, almost sensual.
Herge. There is so much that is wrong, and unacceptable even, in the Tintin books, but if you avoid the temptation to judge them by our own era, they are quite brilliant pieces of story telling.
Giles Coren. Son of Alan Coren, who made me chuckle when I was in my teens and twenties, Giles Coren does two things I would love to do myself. He writes the best restaurant critic’s column that I know (in The Times), and he writes a column in the same paper that manages to be both gentle and savage simultaneously. I want his job if he goes off to set up a hotel of his own!
AA Gill. Another one who could turn his hand to anything, and wrote like an angel was holding his pen. The secret of his writing was not to worry what others might think about it. The anthology of his journalism has two notable columns- one on migrants and one on directing a porno film in California. His polemic book Angry Island(2005) has a magnificent piece savaging Prince Charles’ Poundbury project (which I still read for fun); his last book Pour Me(2015) describes his ascent out of alcoholism.
Michael Pollen. An American author and food activist, whose book Food Ruleschanged the way I look at what we eat. Pollen bangs a drum for keeping things simple, and not letting the corporations dictate what you should put down your family’s throats. He also manages to be both engaging and funny.
Greta Thunberg. 16 year old Swedish climate activist who is currently making the elite’s life very uncomfortable with her mix of strike action and international inspiration. I disagree with much of what she says, but sometimes, you just have to stop dawdling in the middle of the road, and she was the one who pushed Caroline and I firmly into the ‘doing something’ camp. Her speech to the COPB 24 Climate Change summit in December 2018 is worth watching.
John Betjeman Because you can’t be serious all the time, and poetry really doesn’t have to be dire. I love that his will included instructions for his coffin to be carried by fellow golfers the entire 457 yard length of the 10that St Enedoc, in the pouring rain.
William Shakespeare. He started it.