My earliest reading memory
The first coherent sentence I read was a newspaper headline: “Manchester closes down.” I learned to read aged three, by eavesdropping on my mother going over my older brother’s primary-school lessons, and I practised off the back of my father’s paper at the breakfast table (the Manchester Guardian, as it happened). I knew about shops and factories closing down, but I couldn’t understand a whole city suffering that fate. It turned out to mean that share prices on the Manchester stock exchange had declined the day before.
My favourite book growing up
I remember books, plural, as series, in retrospect all of them orphan fantasies involving independence and agency for children, as antidotes to my own repressed and restricted family situation: Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Richmal Crompton’s Just William, and so on. I also loved Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter books – incomprehensibly, since their world was a million miles from mine.
The book that changed me as a teenager
Technically I was a preteen, aged 11, and it was Anne Frank’s diary. The last line in my edition was: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” In context I found that bitterly ludicrous, and it accelerated my personal transition from a sunny and happy infant to a cynical and disappointed adult.
The writer who changed my mind
Margaret Atwood, with The Handmaid’s Tale. I was 31, married, the father of a daughter, and I thought I had it all figured out. But Atwood laced that narrative with micro-traps for people like me. Time after time I thought my reactions were right on, only to discover a line or a page later I was part of the problem. That book changed me profoundly, hopefully for the better.
The book that made me want to be a writer
The Lonely Silver Rain by John D MacDonald, the 21st and last in the Travis McGee series, but the first I read. An excellent thriller, but at 35, after 32 years of voracious reading, I truly sensed for the very first time what the author was doing, and how, and when, and why … and what an absolute blast it must be to do those things.
The book I came back to
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. As a teenager and into my 30s I found it arch, odd, artificial and generally unsatisfying, but on about my fifth try I suddenly found it wonderful. Now the intimate, through-the-proscenium narration made sense, and I felt the pain and the passion. Only 150 years late, but hey.
The book I reread
I don’t reread much (too anxious for the next great thing) but the leading candidate would be The Last Frontier by Alistair MacLean – at first glance a conventional cold-war pulp thriller, but remarkably astute about character, and very perceptive about the eastern bloc. I read it every 10 years or so, and always find something new and resonant as times change – especially now.
The book I could never read again
Probably The White Rajah by Nicholas Monserrat. Pirates, adventure, a good brother and a bad brother, the first real OMG plot moment I remember. I loved it as a kid, but the baked-in racism and acceptance of colonialism would repel me now.
The book I am currently reading
I read a lot of pre-publication books, and right now it’s Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor, out next January. It’s an epic crime-family saga set in India, and it’s magnificent. I’ll try to help it with a cover quote.
My comfort read
Shakespeare generally, often The Tempest or Romeo and Juliet, for the sheer incandescent joy of seeing magic invented before my eyes. I have felt intense euphoria after writing a great line maybe six times in my career – Shakespeare must have felt it six times an hour, or more.
• Better Off Dead by Lee Child and Andrew Child is published by Bantam Press (£20); to support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
• Andrew Child appears at CrimeFest in Bristol, 12-15 May.