Any writer is a reader before they are a writer so I think my choices of books will say a lot about who I am and why I write stories. Even as a child I made a drama out of a crisis but Enid Blyton stories were my first page turners especially The Secret Island.
I walked half way across Bolton to borrow a copy as I couldn’t wait through the weekend to hear how it ended from our teacher’s serial reading.
The Enchanted Wood gave me hours of pleasure making up my own lands at the top of the Faraway Tree. Alice in Wonderland terrified me and still does.
I came from a family where the Bible and hymn books were always around but no bought books. Post war austerity took its toll on my childhood. The library was our second home and reading was for knowledge and diversion.
Later at school Shakespeare‘s plays caught my imagination. John Donne’s poetry and Thomas Hardy’s novels gripped me with his sense of place and tragic stories.
Compulsory University reading was softened by Daphne Du Maurier, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Goudge, Jean Plaidy, Catherine Cookson, Francoise Sagan but if there was anything racy and romantic, I read it; especially if the sense of time and place was strong.
Bringing up four children, reading time was not so easy to glean but this was when I discovered Wilfred Owen and the war poets, Susan Hill, Margaret Drabble, John Fowles and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I came to Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen and the Brontes late and to children’s literature all of a rush, Alan Garner and Ian Seraillier being some of my favourites.
By this time I had a café to run, classes to organise and training for Relate but the book by the bedside was always there. I am the possessor of three library tickets in two counties. Biographies of authors grip me and second hand bookstalls are compulsive. My shelves are filled with travel books and cookery tomes, self help manuals and local history.
I am heavily into crime fiction, the grittier the better. My favourites are Reginald Hill, Val McDermid, Stephen Booth and Peter Robinson. My favourite American novelists are Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler.
What would I save if the house burned down and there was time to pick a few off the shelves?
‘The Magic Apple Tree” by Susan Hill for sentimental reasons. A signed first edition of Kate Atkinson’s Behind the scenes at the Museum for obvious reasons.
An annotated copy of Wilfred Owen’s Collected Poems and ‘Food in England by Dorothy Hartley, a very useful gift to me and perhaps Helene Wiggin’s In The Heart of the Garden. I know her well.
To write well you have to punch above your weight, reading authors far more skilled than you will ever be. Quality will out and I hope by osmosis some of it will seep through into my own prose. If I ever stop reading for pleasure, escape or instruction, that will be the time to quit writing too.
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