Five books

Five books that influenced Francesca Segal

Costa Award-winning author Francesca Segal recently published her second book, The Awkward Age. She shares the five books that influenced her writing

My bookshelves are religiously ordered: fiction, non-fiction and poetry, each section alphabetised. When I need to find a book it is usually with a sense of urgency – I’m stuck in my writing, or I'm half-way through a thought, or I’ve half-remembered a line and wish I could recall it in full. So I keep my books in their places to ensure I always know where to find them. But then there are the magic books – the talismans, and the ones I turn to so often that they never leave my desk.

 

Funny Girl

Nick Hornby

Hornby is never anything but brilliant but I treasure Funny Girl in particular for several reasons: comic actress Sophie Straw and her newly-built London life of variously eccentric radio writers is just perfect – reading the novel I longed just as Sophie does to be part of it, to be friends with her friends and to sit in that writers’ room, creating gentle, treasured British comedy in the golden age of radio. Basically, I wanted to be Sophie. It’s also a pure, rare joy to read about a funny woman.

Look at Me

Jennifer Egan

This novel was eerily prescient in almost all its preoccupations but it stands up now – clever, sprawling social satire with characters both totally absurd and completely believable. I love her – I cannot wait for Manhattan Beach.

 

Fugitive Pieces  

Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces is achingly beautiful, and a novel in which one never forgets – and I mean this in the best way possible – that each sentence was written by a poet. It is rich and deep and all-consuming, and the relationship between Jakob and Athos is sublime, and built with the lightest, deftest touch. I’m waiting until it’s the right time to read it again.

 

Still Life

A. S. Byatt

Still Life, like Fugitive Pieces, requires a total submission of the senses. Whether Frederica is sunburned and awkward in the south of France or in a passionate argument about the nature of metaphor in her first term at Cambridge, she is always vivid, convincing, ferocious, impassioned and painfully touching. Still Life never leaves my desk. I pick it up and read a page every now and again and it makes me sit up straighter. I’m on my second – maybe even my third – paperback.

The Patrick Melrose novels

Edward St Aubyn

I’ve cheated slightly by including a quintet of novels, but I read them together in a single crazed binge. After the closing pages of Bad News I staggered into my local Daunts just before closing time to demand Some Hope. I felt like the addict about whom I was reading. There was a copy in Marylebone, I was told, they were closing up down there but could have it up in Hampstead for me in the morning. I must have looked stricken because she hesitated and then added, "but one of our booksellers there lives near here if you are really desperate…" God bless independent booksellers – I had it within half an hour. I think St Aubyn is a genius – savage and acerbic and brilliant.

More about the author

The Innocents

Francesca Segal

WINNER OF THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2012

LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2013

WINNER OF THE BETTY TRASK AWARD 2013

WINNER OF THE SAMI ROHR PRIZE FOR JEWISH LITERATURE 2013



What if everything you’d ever wanted was no longer enough?

Adam and Rachel are getting married at last. Childhood sweethearts whose lives and families have been intertwined for years; theirs is set to be the wedding of the year.

But then Rachel’s cousin Ellie makes an unexpected return to the family fold. Beautiful, reckless and troubled, Ellie represents everything that Adam has tried all his life to avoid – and everything that is missing from his world. As the long-awaited wedding approaches, Adam is torn between duty and temptation, security and freedom, and must make a choice that will break either one heart, or many.

'Wonderful...witty…an astonishingly accomplished debut which will draw comparisons between Segal and Zadie Smith and Monica Ali' Stylist

The Awkward Age

Francesca Segal

'Francesa Segal is precise and funny, and The Awkward Age is brimming with keen observations of the highest order--the clever, the sore, and the sublime.' Emma Straub

In a Victorian terraced house, in north-west London, two families unite in imperfect harmony. After five years of widowhood, Julia is deeply, unexpectedly in love. If only her beloved daughter, Gwen, didn’t hate James so much. At the very least, she could be civil to his son, Nathan. Bringing together two households was never going to be easy, but Gwen’s struggle for independence, and the teenagers’ unexpected actions, will threaten Julia’s new happiness.

The Awkward Age is about the blended family; about starting over and the attempt to build something beautiful amid the mess and complexity of what came before. It is a story about standing by the ones we love, even while they hurt us. We would do anything to make our children happy, wouldn’t we?

Related features