Ten Books that Shaped Me
On 7 August 2018 my next novel, “The Pupil’, will be published and I am waiting with bated breath, nerves and trepidation to hear my readers’ reactions. It is a funny period, these few weeks before publication. A time when I’m hoping that “The Pupil” will be as well received as my debut, “The Accident”, and that all the hard work, sweat and tears were worth it in pursuit of positive reviews.
I imagine all authors, whether new or established, suffer from similar misgivings and anxieties prior to publication. Books are subjective by their very nature and what one person loves, another will not bother to read past the first chapter. As an avid reader, I am one of those that will not persevere with a book that hasn’t grabbed me from the start because my TBR pile is always toppling over.
Pondering all of this led me to compile a list of the ten books that have shaped me as a writer and reader. Not an easy task, I have to say, but the ten I have settled on have all had a bearing on what I enjoy reading and ultimately what I enjoy writing.
1. “It” – Stephen King
My first foray into the world of King was as a 13 year old. My older brother lent the book to me in the hope that it would scare the hell out of me and instead King became my all-time favourite author – and still is. It is the first book I remember not wanting to put down, taking it with me to the dinner table, in the car, on the toilet… I still read everything and anything by King.
2. “Frankenstein” - Mary Shelley
I read this in my first year at university when I was studying English Literature and I have read it many times since because, as my first taste of gothic tragedy, I fell in love with its darkness. This genre become a firm favourite of mine and I still read anything that gives me chills, makes me wonder what’s around the corner and leaves me a little bit frightened.
3. “To Kill a Mockingbird” – Harper Lee
My love for this book stems predominantly from the fact that this was the first time I felt such resonant injustice on behalf of a character. I wanted to see justice served and I think this was the first book to go beyond just entertainment for me. I was also fascinated with the use of dialect as narrative tool and how it can shape a reader’s perception of a character.
4. “Wuthering Heights” – Emily Bronte
This is another extension of my love affair with all things dark and gothic, but more than that, it sparked my love of a flawed character. These were not characters who I aspired to be in any way and for that reason I found them fascinating. How could I dislike them and yet still root for them as a reader? The same could be said for many of the characters in Gillian Flynn’s books, which I love, and I find myself drawn to a flawed character over an idealised hero any day.
5. Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling
All of the Harry Potter books are firm favourites of mine. I was in my twenties with a career that saw me commute into London when I read them and they kept me company on my journey every day. I have since read them all again a few times and I am still struck at how the tiny details of one person’s imagination weaved themselves into a whole new world that got a whole generation of children believing in magic again.
6. “Sister” – Rosamund Lupton
The reason this – and “Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold – is memorable to me is because I love the idea of discovering that the picture you have in your head of the narrator can be turned upside down. In my own books, I play around with the idea of an unreliable narrator too because this to me is the ultimate plot twist. And we all love a plot twist.
7. “In Bloom” – Matthew Crow
I have read this book a few times because it is honest, clean, open and brings me to tears every single time I do. Sometimes we all need a tearjerker to put our own lives into perspective.
8. “Room” – Emma Donaghue
This was a book that I didn’t want to keep reading, but I couldn’t face putting it down. The subject matter and raw way in which it is written made me ache and it got inside my head, but I had to keep reading to find out if it would all be ok. There have been a few books of a similar vein since then, but this one struck a nerve with me.
9. “Little Fires Everywhere” – Celeste Ng
I read this recently and I was in love with it from the first word, the way Ng weaves the stories of her characters together effortlessly and with such depth and colour. It is a masterclass in characterisation.
10. “On Writing” – Stephen King
I have read this more times than I care to admit and still dip into it before I start writing every new book. It has shown me that even the greats like King doubt themselves and don’t always get it right – and that there is no right or wrong way to getting the words on the page, just as long as you do, because your Constant Reader is waiting with anticipation for your next book.