02 May 2019

Many authors say that they can’t read other novels while they’re writing their own, afraid that the style and tone will rub off on their own work. But I’m the opposite, I read, read, read while I’m writing. Sometimes I read novels for their particular tone and style, others for their content, and of course non-fiction for research. I probably read about 160 books over the two years it took me to write Bitter Orange, some purely for pleasure, but many because they threw a light in some way on the story I was writing. Here are six that were perhaps the most influential, but more importantly they are books that I love and would recommend to anyone.
 

1. No Voice from the Hall by John Harris

This memoir was one of the early inspirations for Bitter Orange. Harris writes about how in the 1940s and ‘50s, he travelled around England visiting and sometimes breaking into decaying country houses. The stories about each house are fascinating and often bizarre including being shown a desiccated dog in a bathtub. But the book also highlights how so much important architecture was lost when many of these buildings were demolished. 
 

2. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

I read this short sad novel around the time I was writing about how Frances, the protagonist in Bitter Orange stays in a seedy hotel in London. In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha returns to Paris and stays in a down-at-heel hotel, and faces a sinister man in the room next door, always wearing a dressing gown. My London scene is a homage, or perhaps a borrowing of this part of Rhys’s story which so moved me. But Frances and Sasha deal with the man in the dressing gown in very different ways. 
 

3. A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield

In 1925, at the age of 15, Jean Lucey Pratt started writing a diary, and she kept writing for the next sixty years. Garfield was given the diaries by Pratt’s niece who had kept them in her attic, and this hefty book is the result. Jean writes about the everyday: her cats, her work, her money worries, her yearnings when it comes to men. This ordinary woman – although who is ever ordinary? – touched me so much that I was bereft when the diaries came to an end, and in fact just writing this makes me want to go back and find her all over again. 
 

4. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

I read a lot of books set in a ‘big house’ in Ireland when I was writing Bitter Orange. Cara, one of the main characters, grows up in a house called Killaspy in county Kilkenny, and I wanted to get a flavour of where she would have lived. I read lots of other William Trevor novels that I loved, as well as Good Behaviour by Molly Keane, but The Story of Lucy Gault was perfect. Lucy is eight, almost nine in 1921, when her father shoots through the shoulder a possible member of the IRA who has come to burn the big house that the Gault family have lived in for generations. These actions - the possible burning, and the shooting - start a chain of events that change the Gault's lives, and the man who is shot, for ever. The story is suffused with a feeling of nostalgia and longing that is beautiful. 
 

5. The Go-Between by J.P. Hartley

I read this late in the process of writing Bitter Orange. It’s a brilliant 20th Century classic about a boy staying in an English country house and getting entangled – disastrously – in the lives of the family he is staying with, by delivering clandestine letters. It’s a hot Norfolk July and I love how the sweltering weather affects everything and makes the whole story shimmer with foreboding. 
 

6. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

I’ve been going on about how much I love this short novel since it was published in 2016. Told over the course of an unseasonably warm Mothering Sunday in 1924, Jean Fairchild, a maid in an English country house meets her aristocrat lover for the last time. The writing has a beautiful lazy tone; dated and sunny, and sad, and the story, told from memory has a beautiful cyclical quality, as memories often do. Then right in the middle it punches you in the stomach. 

 

  • Bitter Orange

  • 'A compulsive page-turner. Fuller creates an atmosphere of simmering menace with all the assurance of a latter-day Daphne du Maurier' The Times

    Frances Jellico is dying. A man who calls himself the vicar visits, hoping to extract a deathbed confession. He wants to know what really happened that fateful summer of 1969, when Frances - tasked with surveying a dilapidated country house - first set eyes on the glamorous bohemian couple, Cara and Peter. She recalls the relationship they forged through sweltering days, lavish dinners and elaborate lies, and the Judas hole through which she would spy on the couple.
    Were the signs there right from the beginning?
    Or was it impossible to avoid the crime that split their lives open like rotten fruit?
    ***
    'Bewitching, otherworldly . . . full of dark foreboding. Claire Fuller is a dazzling storyteller' Scotsman
    'An atmospheric page-turner that speeds us towards a bloody climax of shocks and surprises' Irish Times
    'Sinister and suspenseful, this gothic novel simmers with guilt, lust and envy' Mail on Sunday

    'Multi-layered, lush, twisty and brilliantly clever' Sunday Mirror

  • Buy the book

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