Writers Ask Writers: What Books Changed You?

ImageThis month’s Writers Ask Writers blog welcomes a special guest, Hannah Richell, whose first novel Secrets of the Tides was a mammoth bestseller here and in the UK and whose second book, The Shadow Year, has recently been published. We’ll be having special guests join us every month and we’re so pleased that Hannah agreed to be our very first one!

We are tackling a huge topic: books that changed me. It’s a huge topic because so many books have changed me in different ways and I have had a really hard time whittling down the list. So I’ve decided to break it down into books that changed me at different points in my life. These are not necessarily my favourite books, rather they are books that stand out in my mind as being particularly relevant to whatever path my life was taking at that time.

As a Young Child

Enid Blyton: Enid Blyton. Enid Blyton. No particular book, just all of them. We went to the library every week and I always came back with a couple of Blytons. I loved them so much that my Mum kept a special exercise book in which she wrote out the titles of all the books in each of the series, such as The Famous Five, Malory Towers etc so I could tick off the titles as I read them and make sure I didn’t miss any of them. We didn’t own a lot of books which meant that I re-read the ones I had over and over, and I always knew that an Enid Blyton was a reliable source of mystery, adventure and escape.

As a Medium Sized Child

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Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth were like the friends I wanted to have. I wanted to be Amy, I wanted to marry Laurie, I wanted to have 3 sisters. This book inspired me so much that it kickstarted the idea for the book I’m currently working on and I was very lucky to visit Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord just last week.

As a Slightly Older Child

Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: Well hello adult world. The mysteries of periods, boys and teenagerhood explained by a girl who was just like me, the titular Margaret. I read this book when I was in Year 7 at primary school and I remember going over sections of it again and again, just to be sure I had fully understood the secrets of the world I was soon to inhabit. The only thing I didn’t understand was the whole belt-with-a-sanitary-pad-thing until I worked out that adhesive technology had made my life just a little bit easier than Margaret’s.

Also, A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry: I remember borrowing this book from the library dozens of times. It was about a girl whose sister woke up at night with unexplained nose-bleeds, was diagnosed with leukaemia and who died by the end of the book. There was also a fairly graphic – or so it seemed at the time, perhaps it was simply descriptive – birth scene. The book made me cry. It also explained to me some of the mysteries of birth and death that no one spoke about with children. I loved this book for using a story to help shed some light on the big questions of life.

As a Teenager

Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews: This was the first book I read that seemed really grown up. When I was in Year 9 everybody was reading Flowers, as well as the other Virginia Andrews books in the series. I don’t know why, looking back; they were a bit sordid and dark but oddly compelling and with their black covers they felt so adult, which was very important to a 13 year old girl.

Also Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I was 13 when I read this and it kickstarted my love of the classics. Jane and Rochester’s story was, to me (and still is) pure romance, a love story to yearn for. It still inspires me today and has made me want to write a love story, which I’m hoping to do in the book I’m currently working on.

As an Adult

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: This is the book that made me want to be a writer. It’s perfection and I can re-read this and love it just as much every time. It sat on my desk as I wrote my first book, as if Atwood’s powers would seep, via osmosis, into my computer. It didn’t happen but it felt good to have it there a a companion.

Also Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion: This is the book that made me want to write perfect sentences. Didion’s style is unique and particular to her and she has never written a bad sentence; in fact her sentences are the kind I dream about writing. She influences me every time I sit down to write.

I’ve left out so many! Maybe we’ll have to do a Part Two of this series. Please stop by and share with me the books that changed you, and let me know how you felt about the books on my list, or the books on the other writers’ lists.

PWFC author collageThe other writers’ lists

Speaking of those lists, our special guest Hannah Richell reminded me that I also had a particular love of Greek myths and bible stories and the like when I was in primary school; take a look at the wonderful book her grandmother bought for her, and which she has treasured all these years.

Emma Chapman and I have a couple of crossovers, with Enid Blyton and Jane Eyre on both of our lists, along with one book I’ve always wanted to read but have never got around to.

Conversely, I have read none of the books on Annabel Smith’s list, which means that my reading pile just grew even larger.

I was very excited when I read that Amanda Curtin also found Amy the more interesting of the March girls in Little Women; most people seem to be fans of Jo, who is wonderful, but I love Amanda’s description of Amy as the flawed artist.

I’m so glad Dawn Barker included We Need to Talk About Kevin on her list because I ran out of room on mine and I’m thrilled it got at least one vote. And there’s at least one other book on her list that I could have added …

Finally, Sara Foster mentions Maggie O’Farrell, an author Sara put me onto, and whose books I have since devoured. Which means that, if the rest of Sara’s choices are as good as her Maggie O’Farrell recommendation, my reading pile has just toppled over!

10 comments

  1. Wow. It was almost eerie reading through this list…because it reflects mine completely. I adore Enid Blyton. Adore. So much so that I have written several posts about her, her books, and the effect she has had on my life. Little Women. Good Wives. Little Men. Read them, many many times. Own them. Love them. I found the Flowers in the Attic series in my nanas house when I was around 14, and promptly stole the lot. Twisted and frightening, nonetheless I have read them copious amounts of times. Jane Eyre and the Blind Assassin. I can see both of those books from where I’m sitting right now.

    • Hi Jayde-Ashe, so nice to hear that someone else has the same reading tastes as me! I too devoured Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys and still have copies of all of them on my bookshelf. And writing this post has made me try to work out what was so compelling about the Flowers in the Attic series – I’m not really sure, but I do think it had to do with being a sudden shift to a book that just felt more grownup, for me anyway.

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  4. Natasha, My childhood favourites are virtually the same. I lived vicariously through Blyton’s ‘The Naughtiest Girl in the School’, came of age with Judy Blume, and lost my innocence with ‘Flowers in the Attic’. I devoured every single Virginia Andrews book I could find during my early teens. I believe it was my grandmother’s fault; she worked at a Book Exchange and encouraged my habit. In recent years, many friends of mine (readers of high brow and low brow fiction both) have confessed their early obsession with Flowers in the Attic (somewhat guiltily I might add!).

    I also loved Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew and the Narnia Chronicles.

    And ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’… :p

    • I was also a huge Nancy Drew fan, although I never quite got into Trixie. I loved Narnia too. My 7 year old discovered the Naughtiest Girl books a few months ago and has been making her way through them all; they’ve released a whole lot more in the series, written by somebody else but published with Blyton’s name on the cover but they are definitely not as good. Some things just can’t be recreated!

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