Every night over the next two weeks, Anne Robinson will be chatting to famous faces about the books they love in My Life in Books (6:30pm, BBC2/BBC HD). The RadioTimes.com team nominate their favourite works below - and we want to hear which books have struck a chord with you. Fact or fiction, from sci-fi to romance, share your literary loves in our comments section...
I was 14 when I discovered Raymond Chandler – and The Big Sleep made a big impression. It opened a doorway to a dark, thrilling world of dames, gats and gams, as intoxicating as a teenager’s first taste of alcohol. The dialogue was so hard-boiled it’d break your teeth. Philip Marlowe was then and is now my biggest hero, and no amount of rival Dashiell Hammett fans calling him a softie will change my mind. Sticking to your own code of honour, doing what’s right even when it’s not easy and choosing solitude over compromise remain my guiding principles. (Though I decided to give the alcoholism and womanising a miss.) Numerous other crime writers have emulated Chandler’s laconic style – I dream of one day doing so myself - but he remains the master of convoluted plots and bone-dry repartee.
I read this as a small boy with a big flu, wrapped up on the couch by the fire. Even now I can remember feeling delirious from being ill but also raging, really raging at the betrayal the novel’s hero, Daniel Boone Davis, goes through. It’s the novel that got me interested in time – not as in time travel, but rather in how time gives you the distance and perspective to see things differently. And how it’s this great lens showing you all your mistakes, yet it’s also a prison, keeping you from ever being able to go back and correct them.
Dan does manage to go back in time and there is a cathartic rush to that, a deeply satisfying feel of injustice being corrected. But what it left me with is the awareness that it’s remarkably easy to do things that we then can’t live with – yet which we have no choice but to bear for the rest of our lives.
I’ve reread it as an adult and all the science-fiction elements are now charmingly dated, but the themes and the regret are still vibrantly strong. Enough so that I can even see a direct and unconscious line from The Door into Summer to the Doctor Who audio plays I’ve written for Big Finish. William Gallagher
The Liar by Stephen Fry
I was 13 in 1991 when Stephen Fry wrote The Liar. In so doing, he basically handed me a personality. In the intervening years I have passed off every one of the book’s 367 laugh-out-loud jokes as my own - a fitting reaction to the story of Fry surrogate Adrian Healey, whose ability to fluently co-opt other people’s insight leads him into a dangerous game of scientific espionage. It’s a book about the fear of being found out, about the excitement and the shame of getting by on plausible wit rather than hard work, about how knowing what to say can mask not knowing what to feel. The section where Healey’s fake lost Dickens manuscript fools the British cultural establishment gave me a lifelong love of telling people ridiculous things straight-faced and seeing if they buy them.
Healey ends up as an academic, a failure, teaching the literary works of others rather than creating his own. I make plausible remarks about other people’s television programmes in a style inspired by Clive James, Kenneth Tynan and Anthony Lane, although I’m never close enough for you to even tell. The Liar is my battered, funny, destructive best friend. Jack Seale
A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie
It's said that books shouldn't be judged by their covers. But as a slightly morbid primary-school-age child, I remember doing exactly that thanks to the lurid artwork on an edition of this Miss Marple mystery from the publisher Fontana. It had on its front a black, skeleton-shaped cake, lit around its perimeter with candles that illuminated blood-red jammy eyes and mouth.
It was a sinister sight indeed and one thankfully matched by the story inside. I remember being completely floored by Christie's sleight of hand and her ability to hoodwink the reader. I was also very taken by her ability to find menace in everyday events - in fact, so impressed was I by the scene in which Miss Murgatroyd is killed that I read it out to my class at our weekly "share your book" session. Following someone's extract from Malory Towers with my chosen passage about a poor woman being strangled to death with a bedsheet as she pegged out the washing was, in retrospect, too bold a juxtaposition. Told you I was morbid. David Brown
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
If we’re really talking inspiration – I mean a book that has actually influenced my behaviour – then I have to choose My Side of the Mountain, first read when I was around eight years old and revisited, and enjoyed just as much, 30 years later.
It’s the tale of a boy who leaves his crowded family apartment in New York to go and live in the mountains. He makes his home in the hollow trunk of a giant oak, collects mussels from the river, makes pancakes from acorn flower, and jam from blueberries, and trains a fledgeling falcon to hunt for him and to be his companion.
It's impossibly simplistic, but I find the ideas of self-sufficiency and solitude - while feeling part of nature - hugely appealing (despite my disproportionately strong feelings for my 46-inch flatscreen TV and my memory foam mattress).
So how has My Side of the Mountain influenced me? Well, last year, after reading it for the first time as an adult, I began to go foraging. I picked elderflowers, and discovered the indescribable pleasure of a glass of home-made cordial on a summer’s evening. I spent hours in bramble bushes and up crab apple trees, returning home stained and scratched to make jam that was almost without exception a failure. But I hardly cared. For those few hours, out in the urban wilderness, I was Sam Gribley, wild boy, living in an oak tree on my side of the mountain. Paul Jones