Vick Hope: 'I didn’t just cry when reading A Little Life, I bawled'

The TV presenter, author and Women’s prize judge on reading To Kill a Mockingbird at nine, the influence of Malorie Blackman and her love for David Almond’s novels

The book I am currently reading
There are 57 of them on the go at the moment as I’m a judge on the Women’s prize for fiction panel this year. It’s a massive honour, though I’ll level with you: three months and 51 books down, I’m slightly delirious!

The book that changed me
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I first read when I was nine years old. Mum gave me her copy from when she was at school, complete with notes in the margins, telling me that life’s greatest lessons couldn’t wait for the GCSE syllabus. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that we are not equal and we should be, that we have more in common than that which divides us, and that we must speak up for what is right.

The book that changed my mind
There was a low point at uni, when I felt as if I’d made a huge mistake applying to read languages and that they’d made a huge mistake accepting me. Studying Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) reminded me why I loved Spanish so much.

The last book that made me cry
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I didn’t just cry, I bawled. Nay, I wailed. In public.

My earliest reading memory
We didn’t have a TV, so story time before bed was really special, and I remember my dad reading Roald Dahl’s The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me to my brothers and I, putting on voices for all the characters. It was so rhythmic, you could almost sing along; in fact it’s so etched in my memory, I still do.

The book I wish I’d written
Mum has told me many stories of growing up during the Nigeria-Biafra war in the late 1960s: stories of running from air raids, of the execution of important local figures, of housing soldiers who were passing through the village, of the siege of the Igbo people, of the shortage of food and being painfully hungry, of coming to the UK, and becoming a part of a culture so unfathomably different ... but as with any childhood memories, there are gaps. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie helped me fill them: Half of a Yellow Sun taught me so much about my heritage and the history of our family’s land. Adichie is an effortlessly graceful, heart-wrenching and mind-blowing writer of whom I am forever in awe.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Exploring themes of racism, oppression, rebellion and political dissidence, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses was a thought-provoking and mobilising read in my early teens, however it was the story of forbidden love at its core that nourished me the most. Having grown up as part of a mixed race family in 90s Newcastle, we didn’t know anyone else who looked like us, and it was in the pages of Noughts & Crosses that for the very first time I heard of an interracial relationship like that of my parents. Where I had previously grappled with questions about my racial and cultural identity, Blackman’s words painted a picture I recognised; I felt as if I could better understand what my parents had suffered, and learned the importance of different perspectives, as she spoke to me of the futility of prejudice. Noughts & Crosses showed me that representation matters and made me want to give a voice to other young people through writing.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
I have Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Michelle Obama’s Becoming sitting side by side on my bookcase and it is frankly ridiculous that I haven’t read them yet. Obamas, I’m sorry.

My comfort read
David Almond’s works: Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness and Heaven Eyes. Almond is from my hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne and at the age of 12 nothing had ever been so exciting for us at our school than the fact that he was coming to visit for a signing. He captured my imagination as he created worlds and characters which were at once magical, but also acutely recognisable. I knew I loved writing and Almond – a local legend – showed that people like me could tell stories for a living.

The book I give as a gift
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy is a beautiful piece of art, that poses the biggest and the smallest questions about love, friendship, kindness, our minds, bodies, souls and hearts.

Shout Out: Use Your Voice, Save the Day by Roman Kemp and Vick Hope is published by Scholastic (£6.99). To order a copy go to delivery charges may apply. The Women’s Prize longlist will be announced on 10 March.

Vick Hope

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