Seeing as this blog is about writing etc, and all of the advice regarding being a good writer stems from the phrase ‘go forth and read’ I thought I should probably begin sharing my own recommendations for things to read. After all, I do have several books…
Here we go.
Non-fiction Recommendations: Best books for writers
First of all: Alanna, the First Adventure.
If you’ve spoken to me in the last ten years, about my favorite books Tamora Pierce would have been raved about endlessly as my favorite author. Tamora writes YA fantasy with a breath-taking ease that I can only envy. She has over 20 fantasy novels published and is simply wonderful. Her novels explore contemporary issues of sexuality, race, class, feminism in medieval settings and they begin with Alanna. Start with the pint-sized red-head who wants to be a Knight and you can’t go wrong!
Tamora doesn’t seem to have a UK publisher at the moment though, which I find particularly devastating. However, her books can be bought from amazon.co.uk
- Alanna – The Song of the Lioness in LEGO. (twochicksandatonofbricks.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Alanna: The First Adventure (stealersaga.com)
- Alanna the Lioness (girlpowerstoryhour.wordpress.com)
The 10 books you read growing up that have stuck with you. I was quite surprised by my own choices and memory of the books that have stuck. I was trying to think way back into the origin of my Fairy and Folk-tale obsession and couldn’t find it. I have always loved Disney so perhaps these films are the cause of my fascination?
I’ve tried to put the books in order of how I remember them, so they’re listed as I grew up and they’re an odd mix! But they all had an impact on my life, reading and writing ambition. I was a voracious reader as a child but time and ‘being busy’ has limited my ability to just indulge in a good book.
- Narnia – Horse and his boy – C.S.Lewis
Again this was inspired by a film. We used to watch the animated Lion Witch and Wardrobe over Christmas and on sick days. I absolutely loved it! However I realised that our VHS recording ran out 5 minutes before the end of the film so I saw the Pevensie’s following the white stag and then….well I don’t know what I assumed happened!
But my older brother bought me the box set of the chronicles and I devoured them all. I must have read the whole set about 100 times, but my strongest memories are of the Horse and His boy. I have to admit, that it inspired a few of my early attempts at writing, a protagonist sent away as a baby to protect him from an evil wizard. Excellent work. Talking horses – even better!
The Pevensie’s always struck a particular chord with me in that I have three siblings. Including an older brother (the oldest) and gorgeous older sister. Two son’s of Adam and two daughters of Eve. Narnia, here we come!
So many disappointed attempts to cajole my siblings to climb into a wardrobe…
- Five go on a hike together / Valley of Adventure – Enid Blyton
There was a definitely point in my life when I was Enid Blyton obsessed. I read everything she’d written that I could lay may hands on. I even asked my Mum if I could go to boarding school and was more than a little bit heartbroken when she said no. So I started writing plays about what it would be like, largely based on Blyton, I have to admit! I planned out props, costumes, stage directions. I don’t think the drafts ever developed beyond coloured pencils on scrap paper, but I was determined.
The two books above are ones that I remember most clearly. Five on a hike has the children and Timmy (their dog) trying to recover ‘treasure’ from the bottom of a river. The scenes where lights are flashing over the moors and Julian is diving in freezing water has stayed with me. Including a love of Ginger Beer (Best hangover cure. Ever. I love how things evolve.) I was also beside myself when my family adopted a dog, not quite called Timmy, but Sammy was close enough.
As for the Valley of Adventure this gave me such a vivid image of a exotic jungle location and a secret civilization inside a volcano, that when I read H.Rider Haggard’s She for the first year of my degree, I felt I already knew the landscape and exactly where She resided. Very strange but quite amazing.
- What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge and Heidi from Johanna Spyri
I loved both of these books equally and also feel that mention should be given to Anne of Green Gables as well, for some reason they all a grouped together in my mind. However, Katy and Heidi I always found poignant as my cousin had Cystic Fibrosis. Both Katy and Heidi’s cousin (Claire?) are ill. Katy is bedridden for much of her book after an accident and Claire seems to have a degenerative disease. Heidi definitely brings home the idea of healthy food, fresh air and good simple living. I loved the Grandpa that lived on the hill, and the image of Heidi sleep walking when she stays in the city is still haunting.
Ah just remembered, the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another haunting novel of a young boy kept prisoner by his illness and inept medical professionals who inflict torture in misguided attempts to keep him alive despite being afflicted by ill-health. Fortunately the protagonist is a rule breaker and sneaks him out of his room and again, fresh air and good fun enact something of a cure. That is how I remember it anyway.
- Danny champion of the world – Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl was a wizard of words. This was my favourite though, a boy who lives in the forest and tries to pheasant poach with his Dad. I can’t help but remember what Dahl says about baths in this book, and every time I see a pheasant I wonder how it would taste…
- Machine Gunners – Robert Westall
I found this book accidentally. It was just one that was in a book case at home and I’d never noticed it before. It’s a powerful portrayal of the second world war. A group of children create their own air raid bunker complete with anti-aircraft defence. My strongest images of WW2 on the home front is a mash of Dad’s Army and this text.
- And then there were none – Agatha Cristie
Between the ages of 12 -14 I went through a serious spooky phase and read a lot of Agatha Cristie. The chilling tale of how a group of men and woman are stranded on an island and killed off one by one still gives me nightmares! I think it’s the reason I stopped reading crime. Well a mixture of Cristie and Goosebumps. Too many dark tales. I realised that my imagination didn’t need help coming up with villains.
- Dragons of Autumn Twilight – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
When I bought this battered, slightly mouldy copy for 5 pence from a Village Fete I fell in love. Yes Dragonlance has been criticised for bringing stock ‘Knight, cleric, wizard, barbarian etc’ to life but I loved it. It had dragons, it had a brooding half-elf. It had a beautiful princess who turned into leader of armies. After Narnia I’d entered a period where I needed fantasy in my life. Dragonlance opened up a whole series. And from Dragonlance I found Forgotten Realms, Drizzt Do’Urden, the Harpers and on and on. I was bowled away.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I was a teenager when Harry Potter first emerged. My younger brother insisted that he had to have the first two books after reading the first at school. I don’t think he’s ever asked for a book before or after and so my parents were willing to oblige. I however, was far too cool at 13 to jump on any bandwagon! Then I got bored on the way to my grandparents and they were both in the back of the car. I finished the first and then spent the day sat in the loft of their bungalow devouring the second. I was just in time for the third book which is still the best in my opinion. It had enough of my Blyton boarding school nostalgia and my love of fantasy. It had depth, a mystery to be solved and a wrong to be righted.
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
I was introduced to Jane and Mr Rochester by the school curriculum and I have to admit that the ‘red room’ scene has inspired a similar claustrophobic and hysterical scene in my own manuscript. I just remember feeling young Jane’s heartbreak and fear at being locked in the room. The chapter still makes me cry. Amazing stuff.
10. Tamora Pierce (making a second appearance on this page) – Page, Lady Knight then all of the rest of everything she’s ever written
I was so late to find Tamora Piece. I got a random book out the library called Page because it had a girl who was in training to be a Knight and I so badly wanted to be one to. I had to go back the next day and get out the rest of Tamora’s back collection. It was like finding a soul mate. Here was Alanna, Daine, Keladry. The female protagonist’s I’d spent my childhood searching for. I’d found them at long last! I find it really difficult to express my sheer joy at the discovery. It actually hurt. I might have cried a little bit.
One of my outstanding memories of Tortall is when Kel returns after becoming a traitor. She disobeys direct orders from the King to save refugees that had been under her care, and children who would have been murdered in the name of dark magic. Here is my more artistic representation of the moment Kel returns to Tortall and falls to her knees at the feet of the King. Prepared to face her punishment.
It’s been fascinating remember how important these books have been in my life and the decisions and choices I’ve made. I write because I want to return the feeling of euphoria to my readers. That sense that, as a growing child, a young adult, anything is possible.