I’m very happy to welcome Rebecca Stonehill, with an interesting and thought provoking guest post recalling five books that have most influenced her. So without further ado, over to you, Rebecca…..
I’d be surprised to hear of a writer who isn’t first and foremost a reader. For writers, words are our lifeblood, both a joy and an addiction, whether in written or read form.
So I’d like to share with you five books that have, over the years, affected me deeply in some way.
THE BOOK THAT MADE ME OBSERVE ~ Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I must have been around eight or nine when I first read this book and it literally transformed my life. I was astonished to discover that in some places this book was banned as it apparently encouraged children to lie, swear and spy. I don’t know about the lying and swearing, but it certainly turned me into a spy, and that’s all good as far as I’m concerned!
After reading Harriet the Spy, I crawled beneath beds, shimmied up into the branches of trees and folded myself into cupboards with my trusty notebook and pencil. In short, I learned how to observe. I wasn’t a particularly talkative child, but I watched everyone and everything and, by noting down my observations, honed my skills as a young writer without even realising I was doing that.
THE BOOK THAT INTRODUCED ME TO THE BEAUTY OF WORDS ~ Great Expectations
I read Great Expectations in my early teens very, very slowly. Looking back on it now, there was a significant amount I didn’t understand, but that didn’t matter. I was spellbound, by Miss Haversham and her crumbling mansion; by Estella and her haughty beauty; by Pip and his wide-eyed insecurities and by the mysterious benefactor who underpins the tale. But even more than the story itself, this was the book that helped me to truly fall in love with language for the first time, and the power it can hold over the reader.
On a quiet, subliminal level, the beauty of Dickens’ prose slipped inside, winding around my heart and setting in motion what has become a lifelong passion for the potency of words.
THE BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY ~ The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
I picked up a battered second hand copy of this in a bookshop in Pokhara, Nepal whilst backpacking in my early twenties. I had read A Suitable Boy by the same author and really enjoyed it, so thought I’d give it a go. I was rather unnerved, however, when I opened it only discover that the novel was written not in prose but in verse. I was fairly sure I wouldn’t make it past the third page, but since I’d spent money on it, I decided I should give it a go.
I don’t think I put it down over the next few days. Not only did I not put the book down at page 3, but I also stopped being aware at that point that I was reading a novel in verse. It flowed beautifully, masterfully, and I became fully immersed in the lives of this group of twenty-somethings from 1980’s California. By the end, I was so moved that I was sobbing.
It is the single book that I re-read each and every year and although I know the story intimately, it still makes me cry.
THE BOOK THAT MADE ME WRITE MY DEBUT ~ House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
This was my first Isabel Allende book I read and certainly not my last, but by far my favourite. As Esteban Trueba’s colourful family marched through its pages, I was introduced to Magic Realism and Allende’s deft hand and subtle humour. But for me, it was the magic that wove itself into her story that stayed with me. I wanted to write a saga with a magic realism flavour and I already knew where my book would be set, a city I had once lived in and fallen in love with: Granada.
The first draft of my debut novel, The Poet’s Wife (at the time called In the Shade of the Orange Tree) was more than a little influenced by House of the Spirits. It gave me the confidence to experiment and to start crafting plot and characters into my first full-length novel. Whilst the initial magic realism-inspired drafts eventually gave way to more realism, the magic of my first book, I hope, remained.
THE BOOK THAT MADE ME ANGRY ~ Beloved by Toni Morrison
After I had finished reading Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, I woke in the night, thrashing about in my bed and shaking uncontrollably. This book gave me nightmares. Why on earth, one may well ask, is it a good thing to be given nightmares by reading a book? Well, in itself, this isn’t a positive quality. But Beloved made me angry. Really, really angry. Most people dedicate a book they write to a friend, a mentor, a partner. Toni Morrison dedicated her book to ‘Sixty million more’, referring to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the slave trade.
Reading Beloved made me think: Why is that over the centuries, fair skin has been prized more highly than black? What if it were the other way round and white-skinned humans were subjugated because of the colour of their skin? I’d argue that we certainly deserve to be.
Anger can be a force for tremendous change if channeled effectively. I don’t know where my writing will take me in the years to come, but I do know this: that anger will play a role, and my writing will be stronger for it.
Rebecca’s third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, is due to be published on the 11th November.
1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.
Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.