Twenty years ago, when I was struggling to write my first novel, I invented a little rule: I would read nothing but other first novels until I’d finished mine.
When the books were wonderful, it was an inspiration. But when they were mediocre, it was equally heartening: if this is publishable, then why not mine?!
Alice Hoffman’s astounding debut, Property Of (Vintage, £8.99), written when she was just 22, falls into the former category. Set in a sensuous New York night world of street gangs, Chevys and narcotics, it’s a master class in authorial intensity: romantic, terrifying and convincingly seedy all at the same time.
Most of all, though, it released something in my own writing, and made me take risks. Novels that make you feel that anything is possible are gold dust for a writer.
Even now, with more than a dozen books behind me, I make sure it’s never far from my desk.
Julie Myerson’s latest novel The Stopped Heart is published by Jonathan Cape, £12.99