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Tom Harper Sixty seconds with Tom Harper...


Tom Harper studied history at Lincoln College, Oxford. He worked for a while in pensions and now lives with his family in New York, writing full time. In 2010-11 he was Chair of the Crime Writers' Association. In addition to writing crime fiction and thrillers, he has also written a series of historical adventures set in the Napoleonic wars under the name Edwin Thomas. Harper's latest book, The Orpheus Descent has just been published by Hodder and Stoughton.
RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

Harper: I’m the guy you’d have felt safe taking your daughter to the prom.

RTE: What's the one record you'd take to a desert island?

Harper: Tristan und Isolde, by Richard Wagner. It’s the most beautiful music in the world. Though listening to all that unconsummated longing on a desert island by myself might break my heart.

RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Harper: An author. I remember being seven or eight years old and telling my teacher I wanted to be a writer. Ten years after my first book was published, I still have to pinch myself that it actually happened.

RTE: Who's your oldest friend?

Harper: His name’s Andrew Lerchen and he lives in Seattle now. We grew up together: sailing, camping, doing summer jobs and occasionally being busted by the police. I haven’t seen him for seven years, but if he walked in my front door tomorrow we’d pick up right where we left off.

RTE: If I ruled the world...

Harper: Someone would make a film of John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. They’ve done such amazing things with the other Smiley books, both the TV series and the recent film: it bugs me that they always ignore the middle part of the trilogy. It’s a bit of a mad book, but that would be the challenge.

RTE: Which book do you wish you'd written?

Harper: The Secret History (by Donna Tartt). It’s such a cold, cerebral and beautiful book. When authors get chatting about the books that they really love, this is one that always comes up (along with Treasure Island).

RTE: What makes you angry?

Harper: Hanging around waiting.

RTE: Name your five dream dinner party guests.

Harper: If you’re allowed to choose from history, I’d take the men I’ve written about to find out if they’re anything like the way I portrayed them: Plato, Gutenberg, Constantine the Great, Chrétien de Troyes and Bohemond of Taranto. Gutenberg could print the invitations, Plato would pour the wine, Chrétien could sing some songs. Bohemond and Constantine would probably start a fight – or a war.

RTE: Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Harper: Don Lerman (the world baked beans-eating champion). Richard Dawkins would be a close second.

RTE: What inspired you to start writing?

Harper: Persistent disappointment with the world as it is.

RTE: Where would you most like to live?

Harper: Near Boston, Massachusetts. I’d ski in winter and sail in summer. I grew up in New England and left when I was 17. It’s my lost Eden.

RTE: Sum up your latest book in no more than 12 words.

Harper: A dark path to ancient wisdom. Only love gets you back.


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