I was an early reader and by the age of 10 I had read every book in my local children's lending library in Liverpool, and was given a special dispensation by the head librarian to gain entry to the adult library.
That love of books has stayed with me and sustained me right to the present day, although these days I am just as likely to read my books on my iPad or Kindle as, somewhat obsessively, I have both. I have tried to instill that love of books in my own children and in the 1980s would take my three elder children every Saturday to the local library in Highbury, North London, and would read to them at night as well. It seems to have worked, as they all, including my youngest, love reading.
But my greatest love is fiction and my tastes are wide. From thrillers to romance, from British writers to translations of books by authors from Scandinavia to Japan, I have read them all. What they all have in common is a good story well told.
I would much rather read a book at night in bed than watch TV and it is very rare for me not to read before I go to sleep. As I travel far more around the world these days than I used to, I have to have my current book with me and at least one spare at all times, which is why I am eternally grateful for the convenience of eBooks. Recently I came across one of the those lists - '100 books everyone should read' - and was disappointed to discover I had read only 90 odd of them, so I am now resolved to read the rest.
All of this helps to explain why I love literary prizes and, as an avid reader of the shortlists (even if I often disagree about the merits of the books), I'm living proof of how important the competition is in bringing good writing to a wider audience.
That's of course why the Women's Prize for Fiction came into being, because whether by accident or by design - too many important books by very talented women writers were often overlooked for prizes, not even appearing on the shortlist let alone winning, and were just not getting the publicity they deserved. So many great books have since been showcased through the Women's Prize for Fiction. One of the standout novels for me in recent years was Half of a Yellow Sun, set in the Nigerian-Biafran conflict, and I shall be rooting for Rose Tremain's Restoration to at least make the short list in 2013.
So it was very easy for me to agree to help out when I learnt that the Women's Prize for Fiction needed some assistance to ensure that the 2013 prize went ahead. I am proud to be associated with the group of committed supporters who have stepped into the breach. I was lucky enough to be a judge myself once, for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and I know what hard work it is to get the choices right. I can't wait to attend the event next year and, of course, to read the shortlist!
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