This week author of Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy David Torrance gets Brought to Book.
What is your favourite book?
I’ve always been suspicious of people who point definitively to a favourite book (how can they be so sure?), but my favourite genre is certainly literary biography. Two, if I may, stand out: Nicholas Shakespeare’s near-perfect account of Bruce Chatwin’s eclectic career and Andrew Motion’s biography of Philip Larkin. Oddly enough, I don’t read much fiction or poetry but devour their official lives.
As a child, what was your favourite book?
The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford, which I bought second hand and read several times. No child with an imagination could fail to be charmed by the story and its gentle humour. <!--more-->
What book would you take on holiday this year?
I’m on holiday at the moment so have brought a stack of books. F. S. L. Lyons’ 1977 biography of Charles Stewart Parnell was superb and very pertinent (a politician brought down by a sexual scandal), while two books about North Korea – Bradley K. Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty and Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea were excellent primers for a fascinating week in the DPRK (the books, unlike me, weren’t allowed in).
Do you have a favourite political book/biography?
I still think Jonathan Aitken’s biography of Richard Nixon is one of the finest political books I’ve read, and all the more fascinating in that Aitken failed to learn lessons from his subject when it came to his own political career. The late Bernard Crick’s biography of George Orwell is also an intimidatingly good account of a hugely important figure and his contribution to the related arenas of politics and journalism.
Which book published in the last ten years do you think is the most significant?
Probably Never Had it So Good 1956-63: A History of Britain from Suez to the “Beatles” - Britain in the Sixties by Dominic Sandbrook. Published in 2005, this nudged narrative history in a new direction, combining high politics with everyday life to provide a compelling account of 1950s Britain. Sandbrook also wrote this when he was in his early 30s, which makes me more than a little jealous.
Which literary character would you most like to be and why?
Probably Richard Hannay from the novels of John Buchan. He was a bit of a cad, unlike me.
Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy is available to buy from the Biteback website.