Courttia Newland: ‘My earliest reading memory is of Jaws’

The book I am currently reading
I’m in between books, having reread James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, and in my opinion the man is a visionary. He is lauded for his fierce activism, but not enough is said about his fiction, which lifts the spirits and burns with honesty in equal measure.

The book that changed my life
I was introduced to The Insult by novelist and screenwriter Stephen Thompson, no relation to Rupert Thomson, its author. This novel made me want to combine realism with the surreal, which Thomson excels at.

The book I wish I’d written
So many! I don’t exactly wish I’d written it but line for line The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr gave me the feeling that I need to up my game.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
To say I’m a fan of Percival Everett is like saying Dave Chappelle is slightly humorous. The one that started it off for me is Erasure, and although many writers have influenced me during the years, this book feeds my writing to this day.

The book I think is most underrated
Sarah Hall’s Haweswater. This pitch-perfect novel deserves a far wider readership and should have been made into a TV series or film ages ago.

The book that changed my mind
I’m awestruck by the sheer audacity of Steven Millhauser’s The Knife Thrower and Other Stories, and it’s definitely a book that shunted me into new possibilities for the short story form.

The last book that made me cry
Without doubt Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen: an absolute masterpiece. Packed with understated emotion, stunning from beginning to end.

The last book that made me laugh
Anything from the Julius Zebra series by Gary Northfield. They actually belong to my son, but I find myself sneaking them from his bookshelf while he’s sleeping. Bad dad.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I really have to get to Moby-Dick one day. It’s on my shelf, waiting.

The book I give as a gift
Waiting for the Barbarians, by JM Coetzee.

My earliest reading memory
I think that’s Peter Benchley’s Jaws, which I was way too young to be reading, actually.

My comfort read
Tracy K Smith’s Life on Mars does it for me every time.

A River Called Time by Courttia Newland is published by Canongate (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.