Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Bethany Straker

Following on from last week’s writing interview, today we have our first set of reading questions with wonderfully talented UK-based illustrator Bethany Straker. Bethany recently released a super fun little book written by Isabel Atherton, Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty. It somehow manages to be both deliciously gruesome and charming – clever work ladies! I loved reading through Bethany’s answers about her reading habits. It still amazes me how reading is such a different and personal thing to each of us. Read on to find out who Bethany’s literary crush is and how she cures a book hangover …



Zombie Cat by Isabel Atherton and Bethany Straker cover

1. When and where is your favourite time and place to read?

On holiday! But more realistically, it’s always at night before I switch off the light. This can sometimes be hard – I go to bed when I’m tired, so keeping my eyes open can be difficult. When I commuted to London I’d get through so many more books than I do at the moment – but it just means that now I’m more picky with what I read.

2. What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started reading ‘A Pleasure and A Calling’ by Phil Hogan, a creepy and unsettling book about an over-familiar estate agent who seems to know a little too much about everyone’s lives. It is described as a ‘darkly comic social satire’, and is shaping up to be quite a good read.

3. You have a book hangover! How do you cure it?

I just had this, actually! I was reading two great books, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The former was a wonderful, gripping book by the author of one of my favourites, ‘The Secret History’, and the latter was a fairly heartbreaking, nostalgic American retelling of the lives of a close group. After reading those, I just didn’t feel like reading anything! I wanted to live inside those stories a little longer. My advice is not the usual course of action, but it worked for me: give reading a break for a while. If I don’t do this after a good book, I read the beginnings of a few books and give up on them, disappointed. This time I waited until I was ready!

4. If you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

Oh dear – my favourite books tend to feature American misfits, depressives and murderers! I am a huge fan of American classics, the darker the better. So here we come up against a problem…I will go back to England and go with George Knightley, my favourite Austen love interest, from ‘Emma’. He is an intelligent, funny character who lets Emma know when she is being cruel, and shows us how deep friendship can be the start of great love.

5. Favourite line from a book?

The last few pages of ‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser affected me a lot, and broke my heart a little. Dreiser captures how it feels to have lost everything through the depiction of poverty and death, but contrasts it with the heroine, having seemingly achieved everything she wanted, but now disillusioned and alone. The last line reads, “In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.”

6. Paper or ebooks?

I’m an illustrator, so paper every time! I love the feel and smell of books, too. Kindles don’t smell so good.

7. As a child, who was your fictional hero/heroine?

When I was little, I would sit and copy Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland with mum. My sister was even named after her. Alice was always so brave to me – she seemed so nonchalant and willing to accept the most ridiculous scenarios. I get nervous all too easily, so I admired this. I used to wish the world was a bit more like her ‘Wonderland’.

8. Which is the most-read book on your shelves?

I don’t think I have ever read a book more than once – apart from at school – it would lose it’s magic, knowing what was to come. Some stories affected me so much that I would like to read them again one day though: ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy, pretty much everything Jane Austen wrote and another look at ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway. Ooh, and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, although I am quite happy with the Hitchcock version!

9. Describe what reading means to you in one word.


10. If you could recommend one book to non-readers, which would it be?

The Great Gatsby. It’s a classic, it’s beautiful and it will make you want to read more.