Over the past month I've read two astonishing new books -- one by Mal Peet (Life: An Exploded Diagram) and one by Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls). Neither is out till spring, but both are unmissable. I've also read the first few chapters of about twelve other books. It's tough. Not very good books still take a few days to read, and they make me feel cross. Why is this a bestseller? Why was this published? Why did so and so send me this?

I remember in my twenties thinking that I didn't ever want to write a book if it wasn't going to be as good as Patrick Suskind's Perfume or Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus (my favourites at the time) -- pathetic, really, and one of the main reasons I didn't write a book until I was 47 and desperate.

So when I finally managed to get an agent, and she told me to write the best book I could write, it was both a liberation and a challenge. Try, she was saying. Stop thinking about everyone else. Just TRY.

Five books later, I'm still motivated by fear of failure and a sense of how precarious the whole business is (what if this is the last book I ever write? what if it's awful? what if my good books are all behind me?) -- like most writers, I'm insecure, nervous, competitive, driven, sometimes frustrated, sometimes depressed, frequently listless.

But really really good books just make me feel elated. So elated, that I forget to feel competitive or jealous. I wish I'd written that, I think. And that's quite an exciting thought to have.