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Books: Inspirations Novelist

The place

Right now, Santa Anita Racetrack, Pasadena. There are mountains behind the track that you look out on while you watch the horses. There are lots of topiary bushes in the shape of horses and foals, and it's painted in peach and green. It is the essence of southern California.

The play

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I saw it when I was 18 and it came as a revelation to me that you could fiddle with the classics.

The artwork

I may never see them again, but the medieval mosaics at Ravenna, Italy. When I saw them in 1971 they had just been cleaned. It was like walking into an astonishing universe of colour - revisiting a vivid past in gold and deep cerulean blue.

The film

Ashes and Diamonds by Andrzej Wajda. I've seen it seven times. It's very subtle in its approach to political partisanship, showing how difficult it is, no matter what your convictions, to turn away from or hurt those you feel connected to. It's the tragedy of politics.

The music

Mozart's string quintet number 3 in C major. All of it is wonderful. It fills you up with a deeply satisfying harmonic feeling, but has great energy and dynamism.

Jane Smiley's new novel ``The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" is published by Flamingo