Which book has had the biggest impact on you?
This is really difficult. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf, stands out for me as really being the book that woke me up to feminism when I was a teenager. More recently I’ve read lots of books (such as Margo Jefferson’s Negroland) that have revised my sense of what feminism is, and that have helped me to think more intersectionally, but Woolf did fundamentally change how I understood the world.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? Between work and kids, life is busy. I suppose I shouldn’t say I read books, though it is true – I always read a non-work-related book before going to sleep, mainly contemporary fiction. Recent favourites include Milkman, Girl, Woman, Other, and Such a Fun Age. I love all the usual cultural things - the theatre, galleries, museums. I like taking the dog for walks in the meadows. And in lockdown I watched a lot of Netflix – Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place got us through. Before the pandemic, I did love travel and I do miss it.
Describe your ideal day.
I’d be in Venice, surrounded by beauty, with my husband and children. I’d have an amazing breakfast, wander the streets, relax in a gondola, and have a Bellini in Harry’s Bar. At the palazzo, in the heat of the day, we’d sit in the shade and play a complicated board game and read books. Lovely friends would turn up for champagne and dinner.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
I love where I live – Oxford is a great city. But I’d spend January and February in New Zealand, where my husband is from – that’s their summer time, and spending a couple of months every year near an NZ beach would be amazing.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. I always knew I would write – though I thought it would be novels.
Who had the greatest influence on you during your childhood?
I guess my parents did – in many ways I was very rooted in my family. My mum is the kindest and most compassionate person in the world, and a great reader too. My dad is very dedicated to his family and was always very funny and quirky when we were kids. They both believed that I could do anything I set my mind to.
Who were your childhood heroes?
It was authors – I was obsessed with Noel Streatfeild, and later with Austen – I’m so predictable. Oh, I also remember having a Torvill and Dean obsession. And as a teen I adored Robert Smith from The Cure and Morrissey from The Smiths – an obsession that hasn’t aged well.
What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
I had two brilliant English teachers and a fantastic Latin teacher for my A Levels. But the teacher that I remember with the greatest affection was Mrs Sampbell, who taught me when I was about 7. She taught us Roman history and we had to do all our work on scrolls that term that we made ourselves. Primary school teachers are so incredibly important – I’ve seen it with my own kids in recent years and I have so much admiration for the teachers that go the extra mile or ten.
Do you have pets?
We got a puppy during the pandemic, in a lockdown stereotype. He is a cocker spaniel / pug cross – a cocker pug – and his name is Kastor (like Kastor and Pollux, but with the Greek spelling, because it then alliterates with my children’s surname which begins with a K). They wanted Pollux at first, but luckily changed their minds.
Were you popular as a teenager?
Definitely not. Thank goodness for books – and getting older, so one is no longer crippled by what other people might think.
What is your favourite music?
Classical these days – Fauré, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. I love opera. Recently I’ve listened to a lot of choral music.
If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?
Yikes. It would absolutely have to be Chaucer, so he could tell me what I got wrong and right in my biography of him. And Austen because – Austen! Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons in Jamaica, a fantastically strong woman. Helen of Troy, or whoever she was based on, to hear her side of the story. Martin Luther King Jr, to teach us all how to live.
Describe yourself in five words.
I like to read books.
How would your friends describe you?
You’d have to ask them.
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
I like most things. The satisfaction of a good tutorial, where you have a sparkling conversation, something new comes up that you haven’t thought about before, and you know the student learnt a lot and challenged themselves is really hard to beat. And I love writing books, and public engagement – literary festivals and so on. I don’t think anyone likes the endless marking - when you are on exam script number 80 in May it does feel a bit of a slog.
Why are we here?
To read books? To tell stories? To leave things better than we found them?
If you weren’t a member of the English Faculty, what would you be?
A deep sea diver for pearls.