One Minute With: Shirley Williams, politician

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm in my office at Westminster. It's not in the House of Lords, but across College Green: I can see large numbers of the tops of trees.

What are you currently reading?

Always much less than I would like. I have three books at the moment: Anatole Kaletsky's 'Capitalism 4:0'; Edward Pearce's 'Pitt the Elder: Man of War'; and – very slowly, over the whole summer – Dostoyevsky's 'The Brothers Karamazov'. That is absolutely marvellous – he's such a subtle writer.

Choose a favourite author and say why you like him/her

The pressures of political life mean I read a lot of poetry. My favourite now is Seamus Heaney. He has such extraordinary insight into events – including political events – but is also, profoundly, a poet.

Describe the room where you usually write

Wherever I happen to be: it's determined by time rather than place. My preferred location would be at home in Hertfordshire, in the country. In the autumn, I can look out in the evening and see martins and swallows.

What distracts you from writing?

The whole of the rest of my life. Politics!

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I don't have an answer to that, but my parents did. They named me after Charlotte Brontë's 'Shirley' – although I find her rather self-righteous and tedious!

What are your readers like when you meet them?

A disproportionate number do tend to be Liberal Democrat voters. There's a great difference between literary and political events. At literary events, almost everyone is polite, agreeable and kind. Political events are controversial, and people are either totally supportive – or totally opposed.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

It has to be Nelson Mandela. When you think of the amount of bitterness he overcame, after 27 years in prison – it's phenomenal.

Shirley Williams's autobiography, 'Climbing the Bookshelves', is published in paperback by Virago this week