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    Rachel Billington was born in Oxford in 1942 and worked in television in London and New York before taking up full-time writing in 1968. Her parents were Frank and Elizabeth Pakenham, who later became the Earl and Countess of Longford. Rachel was educated at day school convents in London and Sussex and is a BA in English Literature from London University. She has written nineteen adult novels, four childrens' novels, five religious books for children and three non-fiction books including The Great Umbilical, about mothers and daughters. Rachel's latest book is Lies and Loyalties.

    Rachel says:

    Novels are my real passion -- that's why I write them. Sometimes I like reading old favourites -- over and over again in the case of Anna Karenina. Other times I go for a book that takes me right outside my world so I've picked several of those. Also a biography that I've particularly enjoyed -- about one of my favourite novelists.

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    The most searing love story ever written, combining great romanticism with social realism, an extremely difficult feat.

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the 1920s -- the Jazz Age as Fitzgerald dubbed it -- the mysterious character of Gatsby dominates this story of riches, ambition and love.

    The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

    Isabel Archer is one of the great heroines of literature. Confident and courageous, the archetype of the American abroad, she is ensnared by wily Europeans.

    The Bell by Iris Murdoch

    A brilliant novel, published in the 1050s, carrying lightly the weight of philosopher Murdoch's understanding of human nature as she personifies the fight between sex and religion.

    Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

    A great read... and now it has been televised. Apposite for its witty and savage commentary on the greed of mercantile society.

    Emma by Jane Austen

    Everyone's favourite -- especially mine since I wrote a sequel of it called Perfect Happiness. I disliked Emma when I started and loved her by the end.

    Animal's People by Indra Sinha

    2007 Booker shortlisted. Takes us to an Indian town (standing in for Bhopal) and the terrifying fall-out after a chemical works explodes. Seen through the eyes of a man so disabled as to seem like an animal. Surprisingly upbeat and enjoyable.

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

    A US Pulitzer winner. Cuts between New York and the Domenican republic. Life is difficult in the city and terrifying in the republic, particularly when the grossly overweight Oscar Wao falls for a ganster's girlfriend. Horror and humour fairly well balanced.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Afghanistan produces its own brand of death and destruction for Laila and Mariam but also a story of love and hope. By the author of The Kite Runner.

    Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin

    I live in Dorset, mainly because I love Hardy's take on the melodrama of human lives and his passionate descriptions of the countryside. One merges into the other.

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