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Mystery writer Sophie Hannah on the books that have defined her

Mystery writer Sophie, 48, is the author of 31 books, which have sold more than 4m copies globally

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Author Sophie Hannah
Author Sophie Hannah grew up in Manchester on a diet of mystery novels and poetry Credit: Getty

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appI grew up in a red-brick semi on a little cul-de-sac in Manchester and was an only child until I was six, when my sister was born. I had desperately wanted a sibling, and told everyone in my class that my mum was expecting twins. I thought if no one was going to give me a sibling, I’m going to invent my own. I read books constantly – mainly mystery stories like Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven – and also wrote poetry. My writing gave me a way to express myself.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIn my teenage years, I developed a very rebellious spirit. Reading took a back seat as my social life became the priority. When I turned 18, I said to my parents: ‘I don’t have to listen to what you say ever again,’ and I moved out three days later to live with my now-husband, Dan. He and I met at a family party when I was 13. Years later, we bumped into one another on the street by chance.

At Manchester University, I didn’t have a typical student life. I was never into staying out until 3am. I participated a lot in class discussions, but I did the bare minimum of work. After graduating in 1994, I got a brilliantly boring and easy secretarial job at the Portico Library in the city. I could get all of my work done in two hours and would spend the rest of the day using the library’s computer and printer to do my own writing.

I wrote ,2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app my fourth book, shortly after my first child, Phoebe, was born. I was in hospital for four days trying to persuade her to come out, so when she finally emerged I was exhausted. The midwife offered to look after her so I could get some rest. But when I tried to take the baby back later, the midwife said, ‘What are you doing? That’s not your daughter!’ and pointed to a cot that contained Phoebe. It got me thinking about how odd it is that you can be someone’s closest relative and yet not be familiar with their face. That gave me the opening scene for my novel.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAs someone who loves to do the opposite of what I’m supposed to be doing, having writing as my day job now is psychologically challenging. In some ways, I preferred it when it was my lovely escape from school or office work. Nowadays, I chat to my mum [children’s author Adèle Geras] about writing in a gossipy kind of way. The best advice she has given me is, ‘Do less work. Work less hard.’

Sophie's life in books

Well Done, Secret Seven by Enid Blyton

This book got me hooked on mysteries. There’s some very clever wordplay and use of clues in this story – it made me a crime-fiction fan for life.

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appWhen I started at university,  I was doing the wrong subject and I hated it. Ruth Rendell  kept me happy.

Coming From Behind by Howard Jacobson

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThis novel seemed written for me. It’s about an academic who goes from the wonders of Cambridge to a grim poly in the West Midlands, and cannot handle it at all. Comic genius.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

This was bought for me from a second-hand book fair by my dad. I spent the next two years devouring Christie’s novels, they made me determined to become a crime writer.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope

When I discovered Wendy Cope’s moving, musical poems, I realised that poetry didn’t have to be heavy and stodgy. I took my own poetry writing more seriously afterwards.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This ‘guide to enlightenment’ changed my life, and made me look at everything differently.  It made me passionate about self-help, therapy, coaching and all such things. 

As told to Anna Clarke

Mystery writer Sophie Hannah on the books that have defined her