There’s a challenge going around social media just now to post the covers of 7 books you love, with no explanations or reviews, over the course of a week. I was tagged last week by two friends on Twitter and it got me to thinking about the sheer number of books I have loved over the years, but also the ones that have had the biggest impact on me , or influenced my writing.
So I decided to break the rules, (because really who likes to be restricted by rules?), and post a montage of 7 books which were significant to me in some way, together in the one day. This blog post is going to give you an explanation as to why I chose them. I’ve listed them in the order that I read them.
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy (and all the books that followed) – I was probably about seven or eight when my primary school teacher chose this as a book to read to the class; one chapter at the end of every day. I hope that primary teachers still have the time to do this as some of my best memories at school was having this quiet time at the end of a lesson, where we got whisked away to magical worlds. Any book I loved I then of course went home to re-read myself. I still have this book on my shelf, (the purple cover version as above), and I opened it today to see my name neatly written in the top corner (my handwriting was much neater when I was younger!). This book really sparked my imagination – I loved the idea of being a witch in an Academy of Witches and the concept of casting spells and magic still fascinates me to this day. One of my favourite scenes is when hapless Mildred turns the horrible Ethel in to a pig. Something else I love about this book is the fact that it was illustrated by the author. The illustrations helped to bring this story alive. Lots of books during my childhood deserve a mention, (all of Roald Dahls’s for instance), but the fact I held on to this one made it top the list
The Nancy Drew Files – Murder on Ice by Carolyn Keene – I probably started reading The Nancy Drew Files, (a spin-off series of the originals), when I was about nine or ten. I remember stocking up on these during visits to my local library. Nancy Drew always found herself at the centre of mystery and danger. Her life always seemed so exciting and grown-up, and I remember enjoying the fact she was a headstrong character. A massive influence clearly on my present writing where I love placing teenagers at the centre of mysteries that they are determined to solve, no matter what danger they may encounter along the way.
Point Horror – Funhouse by Diane Hoh – I was about ten or eleven when I first started to read the Point Horror books. Funhouse is just one of many stories within this series that I devoured. Around this time I couldn’t get enough American teen fiction (think Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club). What I loved about Point Horror was the darkness and mystery, and again this has clearly influenced my writing. This particular book is set at an amusement park on The Boardwalk in California and it starts with the Devil’s Elbow roller coaster going off its track, which the protagonist soon discovers was no accident. If I picked this up in a bookshop today I would definitely still want to read it!
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes – This was a short novel that we studied in third year English, when I was about fourteen. The story always stayed with me due to its emotional impact, and again shows the importance of teachers taking the time to introduce powerful fiction into the classroom. It’s about an experiment in human intelligence, where Charlie Gordon, (who has an IQ of 68), is turned into a genius. He is the first human subject to take part in the experiment. Algernon is a mouse who underwent the experimental brain surgery, and the book follows both of their progress. What I loved about this was the narrative technique used – the story is told through Charlie’s progress reports which capture his naivety then superior intelligence in an emotional and thought-provoking way. It taught me the power of simplistic story-telling and how writers through their own experimentation can create characters which stay with you for a lifetime
White Oleander by Janet Fitch – In my early twenties my Mum gave me Janet Fitch’s, ‘White Oleander’ to read, and, captivated by her lyrical writing style, I made a promise to myself that one day I would become as good a writer as her. The protagonist Astrid and her manipulative mother are drawn so well, with real depth to Astrid’s journey of self-discovery. It spurred me on to keep writing and to keep learning. Every brilliantly written book I read makes me want to better my craft, but something about the timing of this book made me realise it was time to get serious and send my work out into the world
On the Road by Jack Kerouac – Again I read this in my early twenties. I didn’t choose this one because it’s a particular favourite book of mine, (I don’t always fully engage with Kerouac’s erratic writing style), but it was a time where I was reading a lot of fiction and getting excited when I discovered new styles and stories. Kerouac taught me one important rule: don’t be afraid to break the rules. At this point something freed up in my writing – I stopped over thinking my work, and just wrote. And that’s when I truly started to find that elusive ‘voice’ you sometimes hear author’s talk about. The one which takes your writing to a new level, and keeps pulling you on through the doubts
Lastly I had to mention Douglas Coupland as I devoured his books in my twenties. I chose Girlfriend in a Coma as it was the first of his books I read. I love his observational style, and the comments he makes about society in subtle ways through his characters and plot. Often people ask me who my favourite author is and I struggle, because I like to read vast and wide, and I tend to have favourite books, not authors. But at one point during my twenties I would have a confident answer to that question: DC And I got to meet him one year at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Total fan girl moment.
I spent today taking part in the Kids’ Lit Quiz, at the High School of Glasgow, on the author team with Kirkland Ciconne, Annemarie Allan and Alex Nye. The Kids’ Lit quiz is an annual literature quiz where teams of students (ranging from the age of 10-13) from all across the world, answer literary questions. Quiz master, Wayne, comes up with some pretty hard questions. I took part in this quiz a couple of years back and what struck me again today was how amazing the kids are at answering the questions! They really know their literature and that is brilliant to see. They must be avid readers to know the answers to the very wide-ranging questions.
I was asked a question a few weeks ago if I think kids still enjoy reading these days, with so much focus on computer games and other digital activities. All I know is that I have been lucky enough to visit many schools where kids (of all ages), still show a lot of passion and enthusiasm for books. They might not shout about it, choosing instead to read quietly in a corner.
Writing this post reminded me how big a part books have always played in my life and the power that words can have to transport you and your imagination into worlds you could only ever dream of.