They say if you want to write, read. Read, read, read. And write, of course. So, having read Candy Gourlay’s blogpost about the Seven Books from the Last Decade that made her an Author, I started to ponder which books had particularly moved or influenced me. I’m not sure I want to particularly stick to just seven books, or confine them to the last decade because every book I read impacts in some way and there are books that I read as a child that told me that if I could do something like that, well, my life would be a good one.
So deviating slightly from the structure of Candy’s post (and Kathryn Evans, Vanessa Harbour and Dave Cousins - who've done similar posts) here’s my list of influential books, in no particular order (other than the first two):
Linnets and Valerians - Elizabeth Goudge
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll have seen this one come up time and again. For me it is a classic case of magic and realism brought together beautifully and I suppose, no matter how “dated” the story may seem to a modern child, it is that deftness of touch and lyricism of words that always resounds for me.
The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge
I read this story as a 10 year old, having borrowed it from a friend. Over the years I forgot its title but I never forgot the story - the magic had totally captivated me. Much to my delight, I found it had been reprinted earlier this decade – after JK Rowling had said it had been one of the books which had most inspired her journey to becoming a published author.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
Of all the Harry Potter books this one stood out for me – it further developed the Potteresque world, was better written and combined, as Goudge had done, magic, myth and reality in a classic fantasy. The series per se, no matter what you think of the quality of the writing, opened up the world of reading to many non-reading children - and, in doing so it opened the market for writers and authors.
The Pure Dead series - Debi Gliori
OMG! This woman can make me laugh out loud, she gets humour so bang on and her imagination is a riot. I take my hat off to anyone who writes children’s humour with such insight and ability to tickle the funny bone. Although I don’t write humour, I am well aware of how difficult it is to do and get right, and, moreover, I think every book, irrespective of genre, benefits from having even just a couple of lines which make the reader chuckle.
How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
I wasn’t sure how I was going to like How I Live Now and I wasn’t sure I felt about it even when I’d finished reading the book. Meg Rosoff broke all sorts of barriers when she wrote this book and I soon came to realise that was exactly the reason why the book resonated for me - and resonated more the longer I thought about it. It’s a book that’s tough, it’s real and it’s powerful, and it’s written by an author unafraid to do things differently and tell the story in a way she has to tell it. Meg has gone on to become one of my favourite authors.
Lucas – Kevin Brooks
I list Lucas as it was the first Kevin Brooks book I read. Frankly, I’d happily list the lot (Road of the Dead, Killing God, Candy, they’re all up there amongst my top books). I love this man’s writing. He’s unafraid to tackle difficult subjects (in Lucas he deals with love, hatred, prejudice and jealousy), and he writes in a way that may be defined as both art and craft. He’s good, really good, and if I get to write anywhere near as well as him, tackling tough subjects head on and yet with insight, sensitivity and power, I’ll be happy.
(You can read my interview with Kevin Brooks here.)
Wicked Lovely – Melissa Marr
This is a book that brings me back almost full circle – it’s urban fantasy, myth and lore colliding head on with reality. It’s faeries and humans and all the confusion and hopes of being a young adult in-between. There’s romance, there’s grit, there’s magic – it’s the sort of mix that I would have loved to read as a 16 year old. It’s got everything that has timeless appeal to older teen girls.
Crossing the Line – Gillian Philip
This was the first of Gillian’s books which I read and I knew immediately I was in the hands (or between the pages) of an author who was going places. Like Kevin Brooks, Gillian is unafraid to tackle tough subjects – and to do so with tremendous insight - and deft touches of humour – take it from me, it’s not an easy balance to get right. Gillian’s honesty and her fearlessness really struck and resonated with me.
(You can read my interview with Gillian Philip here.)
Tall Story – Candy Gourlay
Candy is a writer whom one cannot help but admire and respect. I have watched her journey through the slushpile over the years. Her sheer determination to work at and hone her craft and achieve publication are credit to her, and the arrival of Tall Story on the shelves earlier this year proves that working at it and persevering are worth it. Tall Story is a triumph and in so many ways. It’s a story that blends magic, humour, reality and it makes you laugh and cry. Moreover, it’s a book that is superbly crafted and deserves every award for which it is being nominated. Of course, I am biased – Candy is my pal and critique partner and I’m kind of hopeful that some process of osmosis will occur…
(You can read my interview with Candy Gourlay here.)
City of Thieves – Ellen Renner
Now here’s another author (and pal and critique partner) who has honed her craft. For me, Ellen Renner’s characterization and her ability to “show not tell”, stands out from the crowd. She is also unafraid to tackle big subjects in a way which is accessible to younger children. If you want to learn about crafting a story, and enjoy a jolly good adventure which challenges your thinking at the same time, you couldn’t do better than reading this book.
(You can read my interview with Ellen Renner here and my review of City of Thieves here.)
Forbidden – Tabitha Suzuma
I’ll be honest, I struggled with Forbidden – and yet I couldn’t put it down. For me, what stands out is Tabitha’s ability to tackle the grittiest, the most challenging of subjects - and to do it bravely, honestly and without pandering to niceties and sensitivities. Forbidden is a story which challenges not only the reader and his/her perceptions, but, I suspect, heartily challenges the publishing industry as to what is acceptable reading for young adults. Yet Forbidden is also a book which is beautifully crafted and sensitively told. All credit to Tabitha for her courage in writing Forbidden.
(You can read my interview with Tabitha Suzuma here.)
You’ll probably have noticed that most of the books that stand out for me are written for teens or young adults – and that’s because I’m blown away by the quality and variety of writing for this age group and wish that books like these had been around when I was 16. I guess it also becomes pretty apparent that similar things constantly inspire and inform me – from craft to honesty, from perseverance to genre – and frequently the blending of realism with “magic” or the supernatural. But above all, I think it is the courage of each writer to boldly and deftly tell the stories they simply have to tell. With each book I read, with each aspect that stands out for me and which I take on board, I know my own writing grows stronger as does my confidence in telling the stories I know I too have to tell.