For this month’s Writers Ask Writers blog we have decided to write about books that changed us – no small topic! We’re also delighted that Hannah Richell, author of the fabulous Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year, is our very first guest blogger. Thanks for joining us, Hannah!
This list only touches the surface of how books have affected my life, but here’s a short list of books that mean a lot to me for a number of different reasons:
1) A shocking teenage discovery…
I read my way through all the Bronte and Austen novels during my teens, but it was Brother in the Land by Robert Swindell that remains my most memorable read, opening my eyes to the terrible after-effects of a nuclear explosion through the eyes of a young boy called Danny. I can still remember the horror I felt during the scene when a baby is born deformed in the aftermath of the bomb. And to know that these bombs really existed – and had been used on people – was terrifying.
2) The unique talents of Alice Walker
I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me… So begins Celie’s letter to God at the start of Alice Walker’s best-known work, The Colour Purple. Alice Walker is one of my favourite writers because she never shies away from horror and pain, and The Colour Purple is confronting right from the beginning. However, despite Walker’s direct and powerful examination of dark subjects, there is often an irrepressible thread of hope in her stories and poetry.
3) The best kind of soul-searching
In my twenties, at a stage in my life when I desperately needed some support and guidance, I came across a Wayne Dyer book called Wisdom through the Ages. In this collection of essays, Dyer uses sayings, quotations and poetry from notable thinkers in history – from Rumi to e.e. cummings – to begin short examinations of many different, timeless human traits. This book has been invaluable to me, both comforting and empowering.
4) Inspiring, absorbing, twisty fiction…
In this category I’d like to put all books that have inspired me in my writing, or reminded me just how good popular fiction can be. On this list I’d certainly include My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton and Sister by Rosamund Lupton – brilliant books by fine writers who develop intriguing stories with strong characters, and they all have the knack of nailing the unexpected twist. I should give a nod here to Agatha Christie’s books too – I read most of them in my early teens.
5) A brilliant narrative on hope, life and conservation…
One of the best bits about writing Shallow Breath was researching people’s relationships with animals. I’ve picked The Elephant Whisperer out of quite a few inspirational books I read at this time, simply because I got so much from Lawrence Anthony’s balanced reflections on what it is possible for humans to achieve, how we can know so much yet understand so little, and how our blind spots are failing us. Those are the underlying themes of this compelling and honest story of a single herd of elephants who were saved because of Anthony’s eleventh-hour intervention.
So which books do my fellow writers think changed them? I think it’s safe to say that there’s an Enid Blyton fan club going on among our group (I’m absolutely on board with that!). Click on the links to find out which books are being referred to in the teasers below:
Natasha Lester: … her sentences are the kind I dream about writing.
Emma Chapman: … a book that set my imagination on fire …