So here's one of my first: Watership Down.
It was 1975. I was 8 years old, and I lived in the middle of London. I'd never seen a rabbit in real life; I thought they were silly, to be honest, and I certainly didn't care about them. So when my mum gave me a book with a rabbit on the cover, I just laughed. "I'm not reading that!" I said. "Trust me," she replied. "I've read it myself, and it's brilliant. Read the first page. If you don't like it, you can stop, but try one page and see for yourself…"
So I did. And from that first page, I was plunged into the world of those rabbits. And their world was so much darker and scarier than I'd imagined. Because everything in it was bigger than them, and it was all out to get them. Just to survive, those rabbits had to be so much braver and stronger than they ever thought they could be…
Sometimes it was terrifying, sometimes it was sad, sometimes it was funny – but at all times, it was completely compelling. I could not stop reading that book, and as I read it, I remember thinking, "I will never forget this, as long as I live…" And I haven't. This is the very same copy of the book I read all those years ago (click on the picture to see it bigger, and you'll notice the price: 50p!) It remains one of my most treasured possessions, with me through all the changes of my life.
Watership Down meant a lot to many other people too, because it became an instant classic, a bestseller across the world. A few years later, there was an animated film. It was different to the book, but I loved it anyway, for what it was. Then there was a picture book based on the film, full of stills, with little bits of text (and here it is, the very same copy.) Again, it was different: not the book, not the film, but a whole new thing. Richard Adams's story was so strong, it could work in all these different forms.
I got to interview Richard Adams many years later. It was 2002. I'd just finished writing Varjak Paw, but was still working as a journalist, and I was doing an article on Watership Down. So I re-read it, for the first time since I was 8, and was even more amazed. It seemed an even greater achievement, now I had some idea of what it must've taken. And it was stunning to see how deeply that story had shaped my own imagination; how much of Varjak's origins I could see in it.
The interview was fascinating; I got to ask him all the questions I'd ever wanted to ask. (You can read the article I wrote here.) At the end of the interview, I told him how important his work had been to me, and how I'd now written a book of my own. He said he wanted to read it, so I gave him a proof copy of Varjak Paw, thinking he was just being polite. But then, incredibly, he wrote me the loveliest letter, telling me how much he enjoyed it; he actually used the word 'brilliant' about my book! That was one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me. It was like the end of a long, long journey.