Ruth Thomas’s novels and short stories are widely acclaimed and frequently broadcast on radio. An Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund, her third novel is published this week. She lives in Edinburgh.

Favourite childhood read?

I loved Joan Aiken’s Arabel’s Raven. There was something wonderful about this great anarchist, in the shape of a raven, coming to disturb the cosy suburban peace. Mortimer was a real punk. I loved his “Nevermore” answer to everything. Arabel was also incredibly cool, mainly because she levelled such clear-eyed, straightforward questions at all these shady, complicated characters.

What was the first book to make an impact on you?

Lorrie Moore’s Like Life. I first read it in my early 20s while living in Buenos Aires, on the 13th floor of a tower block – which felt quite edgy and New York-ish, and therefore a perfect fit for Moore’s angsty, urban stories. Her characters seemed at one remove from ordinary life and relationships, and so conscious of their fragile hold on things. It was the first time I realised you could write very comically about something immensely sad. I also think Lorrie Moore has some of the best one-liners in contemporary writing.

Least favourite genre?

I don’t understand fantasy fiction – immense doorstoppers that come in series and involve made-up terrains and rituals and quests. I can’t relate to what all those characters are striving for, or the geography they’re tackling. Having said that, I can see the appeal of video games based on hobbit-esque landscapes and sets of challenges. I think that’s a better medium for fantasy. My 14-year-old son has shown me how those sorts of narratives unfold on the screen (even though my avatar usually ends up falling down a crevasse after about eight seconds).

Which book do you wish you’d written?

There are so many books I wish I’d written and could never hope to get anywhere near. You can only ever write your own book, of course. But a novel I admire hugely is Jean Rhys’s After Leaving Mr Mackenzie. She was a devastatingly observant writer – so direct, but oddly conversational and very modern-sounding. She also captured loneliness brilliantly, with a poet’s eye. A few paragraphs into that novel, she’s describing the over-complicated wallpaper of the hotel room her heroine lives in – there was “a strange, wingless creature, half-bird, half-lizard, which also had its beak open and its neck outstretched in a belligerent attitude”. She follows this up by saying, “the effect of all this was, oddly enough, not sinister but cheerful and rather stimulating”. I love how she combines pathos and wit, and how she can use something like the look of wallpaper to explain what’s going on in someone’s head.

E-reader or printed book?

I always read printed books, not because I hate technology but because it’s kinder on my eyes. I like the look of print on paper. Also, part of reading, for me, is knowing where I am, physically, within the pages. I feel slightly as if I’m floating in space if I’m told I’m 70% through a book. It’s hard to picture what that really means.

Where do you like to read?

I read on the living room sofa, during the day if I can, when my brain’s operating properly. I also sometimes read in bed at night, but usually end up falling asleep.

Favourite three novels?

A few years ago I came across a first edition of Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary in a church jumble sale. I was drawn to it because it’s this green hardback with lovely thick pages, and the title’s printed in a twirly, rather hippy typeface. But when I began reading, I realised the look of it is secondary to its contents. It’s the story of two slightly oddball characters – William G who works in an antiquarian bookshop, and Naeara H, a children’s writer who lives alone with just a water beetle in an aquarium for company. The story is about their shared obsession with freeing the turtles from London Zoo, and you read the account of this via each character’s “diary” in interspersed, first-person narratives. The whole thing starts with William saying, “I don’t want to go to the Zoo any more” – which immediately made me think, “Why not?” and it just takes off from there. You think it’s going in one direction, but then it veers off in another. Which feels a lot like real life.

There are so many brilliant novels, it’s hard to pick out only two other favourites, but for its delicacy and expressiveness I’d probably choose Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop and for making me laugh I’d go for Norah Ephron’s Heartburn.

Favourite Scottish book?

When I first read The Trick is to Keep Breathing, I think I actually spent quite a lot of it holding my breath. I’d never come across words on the page like that before – the way Janice Galloway uses little marginal sentences and scraps of thought to express what’s going on in her heroine’s mind. It’s an incredible book about breakdown and survival, and is structurally amazing. It’s also funny (which, looking back over my answers, is clearly something I seem to require as a reader – that collision of sadness and wit). I also think Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar is fantastic – Morvern is such an extraordinary, subversive character, telling her story at an exhilarating pace. Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is also brilliant. I don’t think Spark has many equals in her character-assassination skills – like her pithy description of Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”, or Miss Mackay, drearily punctual headmistress of Marcia Blaine school, attempting to intimidate Miss Brodie “with the use of quarter hours”.

Guilty pleasure?

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything with a sense of guilt. I either like something and carry on reading it, or decide I don’t like it, and stop.

How does it feel to hear your stories being read over the airwaves?

I'll be intrigued to hear Sybil, my new novel's heroine, telling her version of events on the radio. It's exciting when your characters begin to lead a life of their own.

Ruth Thomas’s latest novel, The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line, is published by Sandstone Press on January 14, £8.99. It's broadcast as an audiobook on BBC Radio 4 from this Monday (January 11). Read by Ell Potter, it airs every weekday for the next fortnight at 12.04pm and 10.45pm