One Minute With: Stella Tillyard, historian and novelist

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm on the sofa in the sitting-room of my town house in Clerkenwell. Through the window I can a see a horrible yellow rose in bloom.

What are you currently reading?

I have recently finished 'To the End of the Land' by David Grossman – for me, absolutely the novel of 2010. I'm a huge admirer of his work, and of him, and was impressed by the brilliantly visceral quality of this novel.

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

Tolstoy – not the late, grotesque Tolstoy, but the great novelist. I always find that I can get something new out of 'War and Peace', and I've read it five times.

Describe the room where you usually write

I work in two places – here in my big double sitting-room, and in my 1950s flat in Florence. It has two huge windows with views towards Fiesole. The sitting-room here looks over a public garden square. So I look out over green.

What distracts you from writing?

Life; too much life. That turbulence is a necessary ingredient for the work – but also makes it more difficult.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

There is an element of [Byron's] Childe Harold in me – the adolescent wanderer.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

They are questioning, and sometimes corrective. And they come in all shapes and sizes.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Clive Stafford Smith [the lawyer and human-rights campaigner]. I admire him very much. I heard him speak and describe his work with death-row inmates in the US. It was so personal, so carefully thought-out, but without any dogma. He has faced the personal cost that comes when you devote yourself to an unfashionable cause.

Stella Tillyard's first novel, 'Tides of War', is published by Chatto & Windus