I grew up in a household full of books, and attribute some of my literary grounding to the fact that we didn’t have a television until I was fifteen (computers and the internet were of course a long way in the future). I was strongly encouraged to read from an early age, and my love of books stems from a very early period in my life when reading material of any description - National Geographic magazines included - was my main form of entertainment when I was not outdoors.
My father collected antiquarian books and wrote poetry, with a particular interest in the Haiku form; his final academic publication was a scientific and philosophical treatise on Mary Mallon, ‘Typhoid Mary’, published in the Journal of Biological Education in 1998, and my mother’s publications included articles in Nature Biotechnology and an edited book, Manipulation of the Avian Genome (1992). My paternal grandfather was an admirer of Conrad and published short stories and travel articles based on his own lifetime at sea; my other grandfather, who had been born a Victorian and lived into his nineties, wrote his autobiography and several volumes of local history, a very audible process on a manual typewriter that was a constant backdrop to the periods in my childhood when we lived with my grandparents in Herefordshire in England.
My grandfather's uncle Norman Gibbins was a Cambridge maths scholar whose many papers included ‘Chess in three and four dimensions’ in the Mathematical Gazette of 1944 (see my blog on him); another uncle, Horace, was an Oxford classicist whose main work on early Christianity was published as ‘Problems of the liturgical section of the Didache’ in the Journal of Theological Studies in 1935. Their first cousin Henry de Beltgens Gibbins was a leading economic and social historian of the late 19th century, publishing books including Industry in England (1890) and A Shorter Working Day (1892) that became bestsellers and were translated into many languages. My great-great grandfather, Colonel Walter Andrew Gale, who edited volumes on military engineering and the Franco-Prussian War, was an early vice-president of the British Esperanto Society, and published works in Esperanto including a Biblical commentary, Konkordanco al Sentencoj de Salamono (1911).
I owe much of my early interest in Greek and Latin literature to my father for having introducing me to the work of Robert Graves, as well as to the influence of my Latin teacher at school, Anna Pond. While still at school I read extensively among existentialist and modernist authors, from Gide and Camus to Hemingway and Orwell; at university I loved the magical realists such as García Márquez, at a time when I was also being influenced by postmodernism in my thinking as an archaeologist. As a teenager I'd also been a huge fan of Tolkien, and devoured any historical fiction and adventure I could lay my hands on, from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe onwards. I’ve returned to Defoe recently, with an interest in the early development of the English novel and in music of the period, some of which I attempt to play on the piano and the violin, and listen to my daughter play on the harp; I’m particularly enjoying Corelli and J.S. Bach, complementing a long-standing passion for Beethoven and the early 19th century.
As the more recent of my novels show, I have a fascination with adventure and discovery in the Victorian period, but if I were to single out my current favorite setting for historical fiction and general intellectual milieu I’d be hard-pressed to choose between that period and the tail-end of the Age of Enlightenment - from about the time of James Cook to Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle - so brilliantly brought to life in the novels of Patrick O’Brien and in the Peter Weir film Master and Commander.