14 December 2016

I've always spent most of my spare time reading. Actually, that's not true - I've always spent most of my time reading, spare or not. If I have a good book on the go, it annoys me greatly when life gets in the way. I always knew I wanted to write. What I wanted to write was the question. I must have made hundreds of false starts. Novels that were abandoned after a couple of chapters because they sounded forced' screenplays about subjects that other people had far more interesting insights into. It took me years to find a style that felt like me.

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote

With this, it’s the conversational thing. The way the writing draws you in and relaxes you (which might sound like an odd thing to say given the subject matter – a quadruple murder in a small Kansas town). Capote manages to make the most mundane everyday details fascinating and, by doing that, makes the crime appear even more shocking. It’s a beautiful and compelling piece of writing.

Tim and Charlotte

Edward Ardizzone 

This is the book that kickstarted my love of reading. Apparently, when I was 2 or 3 and before I could read myself, I used to follow my mother around (not caring that she had 4 other children to look after and a very taxing job) waving the already battered hardback and saying ‘Read, read, read’ over and over again, like an angry duck. When she gave in I would wait until she’d finished, then start again. Quack, quack, quack. I can still remember the vivid illustrations and my connection to the boy and the girl in the story. Later, as a shy, socially awkward child who found it hard to make friends (no change there, then) reading was my saviour. That and the fact that I was, by some miracle, good at sports and could sprint faster than all the boys, so I always got picked first for teams regardless of my lack of social skills.

Praxis

Fay Weldon

When I was about 16 I found this on one of my older sister’s bookshelves. Up to that point, since I’d outgrown Noel Streatfield and Enid Blyton, I’d been mainly reading the classics and looking around for a genre of modern literature that really connected with me. I was blown away. I don't think I'd ever realised books could be so conversational, so contemporary.  I’d always written, but my writing then was uncomfortably stiff and didn’t sound like me at all. Reading Weldon’s books freed me up to just write as if I was telling a friend a story. They allowed me to think I might be able to fulfil my dream of becoming a novelist.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Anne Brontë

I’ve always loved a strong heroine and the Brontë’s have plenty of those between them. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’s Helen Huntingdon must have been a shocking character at the time – fiercely independent, forging a life for herself away from her abusive husband. It was said that Helen slamming the bedroom door on her husband ‘reverberated throughout Victorian England’. It’s hard to imagine the reaction that must have followed its publication. I’ve never been a fan of books where the heroine is preoccupied with finding ‘the one’. Those women would bore me in real life, so why would I want to spend time with them in a book? Even though I disapprove of a lot of my heroines' actions, I try to make them interesting, feisty women who I could imagine being good company. Because if I don’t find them entertaining, why would anyone else?

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