|photo: Harry Borden
Polly Samson is a writer of fiction and a lyricist. Her words have appeared on four number-one albums, including Pink Floyd's The Division Bell and David Gilmour's On an Island. She has also worked as a journalist and in publishing, including two years as a columnist for the Sunday Times. Samson was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. Her first novel, Out of the Picture, was shortlisted for the Author's Club Award, and many of her stories, including those from her first collection, Lying in Bed, have been read on Radio 4. A second collection of short stories, Perfect Lives, was a Book at Bedtime. Her 2015 novel, The Kindness, was named a Book of the Year by both the Times and the Observer. Her third novel, A Theater for Dreamers (Algonquin, May 11, 2021), follows a proto-commune of poets, painters and musicians on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960.
On your nightstand now:
Currently there's a typescript of Stephanie Gangli's second novel, Carry the Dog, which Algonquin has sent, and I am enjoying so much. There's also a dog-eared old favourite, Three Summers, a classic novel written in 1946 by the Greek writer Margarita Liberaki. I am writing an introduction to a new edition and it is such a pleasure to be transported to the Greek countryside. By complete coincidence, one of the times that I was on Hydra researching my novel A Theatre Dreamers, I stayed in what had been Liberaki's house on the island.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree is the first book that I can remember reading with my mother, and it's a book that has been loved just as much by each of my children. My first memory of devouring pages completely alone is reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Little House in the Big Woods. My grandmother sent it to me--it is the first in the series--and asked for a written review before she sent the next one. It was a brilliant scheme that continued beyond the last of the series and on throughout my childhood.
Your top five authors:
It's impossible to pick five so this will have to be the five from the top of my head at this particular moment: Margaret Atwood, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Martin Amis, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Taylor.
Book you've faked reading:
All instruction manuals. My eyes just slide from the page but I'm afraid I do pretend to have read them on the occasions that I want my husband to work out what has gone wrong with something.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Sigrid Nunez's The Friend. I have given this to so many people. Reading it is like having a really stimulating and enjoyable conversation.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I also collect every edition I can find of Jean Paul Sartre's Intimacy for the covers alone. It's fascinating to see how they have changed over the decades.
Book that changed your life:
In a completely literal sense Charmian Clift's Peel Me a Lotus. It is her memoir of life on the Greek Island of Hydra in the '50s, and I came across it on my first visit to the island in 2014. Reading it was like falling in love.
Favorite line from a book:
I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. (W.B. Yeats, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven).
Five books you'll never part with:
Top of the pile are books by my mother and my son that are signed to me: Charlie Gilmour's Featherhood and Esther Cheo Ying's Black Country to Red China. Then there's a first edition of Peel Me a Lotus by Charmian Clift, Rose Tremain's The Road Home (a masterclass in characterization which I re-read each time I'm about to embark on something of my own) and finally a signed copy of Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel. Rachel is one of the most ambiguous characters in fiction and I still remember the moment I identified a vital clue to her goodness buried in the plot. Daphne du Maurier, like every dog-lover I know, believed her terriers to be expert judges of character. On my first reading of the novel, I noticed that Ambrose's dog is always happy when cousin Rachel enters a room. It was such a happy revelation.
What you read when you're writing:
I start each writing day by reading poetry. It's such a good way to warm up. The poets I read change with each book. In the case of my linked story collection, Perfect Lives (which is set in a seaside town), I always began with Pablo Neruda's sea poems. My last novel, The Kindness, has a narrator who is a Milton scholar, so I read Paradise Lost and when it came to A Theater for Dreamers, I had Leonard Cohen as a character and his poetry and lyrics set me up beautifully.