My Favourite Books
Books and reading have always been a huge part of my life. My mum taught me to read and write when I was in nursery, and my older brother used to read to me a lot before I started school. These two things meant that from an early age I had access to the fantastical worlds you find inside the pages of a book.
From the age of about ten, I used to stop off at the library on my way home from school and read stories. I basked in the peace and tranquillity of the library. At home I would read in bed from the light that could come into my bedroom from the corridor. I would devour books by Judy Blume and Jackie Collins (even though I was too young to read Collins’s stories!). I would also read the novels of films in the cinema because I was too young to see them – I remember reading Lethal Weapon and Witness over and over again.
My love of experiencing stories grew into a passionate desire to tell stories, especially when I discovered people as young as me could write books: Jayne Fisher started writing and illustrating her The Garden Gang stories in the late seventies, when she was nine. I remember thinking that if someone my age could write books, then so could I. I wrote my first book, called There’s A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, at 13. I would write a chapter every night then pass it around my convent school classmates the next morning.
Once I had written that story, I didn’t ever stop writing – even though I was in my thirties when I finally signed my first publishing deal. I wrote short stories and novels even though I knew they weren’t going to be published. I couldn’t NOT write. I think writing and reading go hand in hand, and you’re a weaker writer if you don’t read.
I think reading is the most personal, enriching way to experience the world without ever leaving your seat.
These are some of the books that have had a profound influence upon me.
Waiting To Exhale by Terry McMillan
I love this book about Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria and Robin four fabulous female friends who are at different stages in their lives and with their loves. It’s a clever, thoughtful book with a couple of great twists along the way. The film is nowhere near as good, despite having the late Whitney Houston in it.
The Life Of Pi by Yann Martel
“I’m going to tell you a story that will make you believe in God.” So says Pi, a young Indian boy who goes on to recount his amazing tale of how he came to sail across the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a 450-lb Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. I adore this book for how it deals with religion, spirituality and survival against the odds.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I love the surprising complexity of this story of a black man put on trial in America’s Deep South for the rape of a white woman. It is book about injustice that is also cleverly woven with a tale of growing up, the acceptance of “outsiders” and the role of truth in the law. It’s gently told and is always a joy to read, even though I’m always left with a lump in my throat.
You Can’t Afford The Luxury Of A Negative Thought By John-Roger and Peter McWilliams
Despite the title, this isn’t a positive thinking book. It’s about how to look on the bright side of any situation and to stop yourself sliding into negative thinking as a default. It also encourages laughter and doing things that you find uplifting. I try to read this again if I start to fall into negative thinking patterns.
Running Wild by JG Ballard
This novella began my love affair with JG Ballard’s writing. A group of extremely wealthy parents are found murdered in the exclusive, gated housing development where they live. Their children are missing, feared kidnapped or murdered. So the hunt is on for the killers/kidnappers. Ballard is an expert at the twist-in-the-tail element of stories, and this one certainly keeps you hooked. Even if you guess the ending, you can’t help but keep reading to find out if you’re right.
The Family by Buchi Emecheta
This is the tale of a Jamaican family who have immigrated to the UK, told mainly through the eyes of the mother and daughter of the family. Gwendolen, the daughter, has already had a troubled upbringing in Jamaica and her troubles only deepen when she joins her parents. Emecheta’s story is deeply affecting and deals carefully and brilliantly with very serious subjects. The Family encouraged me to have the courage to tackle difficult themes in my writing.