One Minute With: Simon Schama

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm sitting on the back deck of my house in the Hudson Valley, looking into the vegetable garden – and looking out for the woodchuck. The wildlife here, 25 miles from New York City, is amazing: woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks. There was a dead garter snake on the path this morning.

Whar are you currently reading?

'Near to the Wild Heart', the first novel by [Brazilian writer] Clarice Lispector. It's an astonishing debut – a modernist-stream-of- consciousness that sounds like hell but is actually brilliant.

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

Italo Svevo. I return to 'Confessions of Zeno' every few years. It's poignant, clumsy, elegant, funny - and the greatest novel ever written about failing to give up smoking.

Describe the room where you usually write

In the summer, I write outside on this wooden deck. If the sunlight gets too fierce or if we have the titanic thunderstorms we get here, I retreat to the kitchen, and an old scrubbed-pine table.

What distracts you from writing?

Music. Because I can listen to any music, from Bach to The Ramones. And tinkly background music is the worst.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

It has to be [AA Milne's] Tigger.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

It's one of the most wonderful gifts: they are so generous... And they're often shyly confessional – saying perhaps that 'The Power of Art' helped them feel better when they were ill.

Who is your hero/ heropine from outside literature?

[Philosopher and theologian] Martin Buber. Because for him the core of being Jewish is an understanding of other people. "I-Thou": to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

Simon Schama's 'Scribble, Scribble, Scribble' is published by Bodley Head.