The Secret Garden – the original Puffin version I’ve had since I was eight!
I was given one of those challenges on Facebook, to list ten books that have really influenced me. The basic version is on my Facebook timeline, but as I’m long-winded, and it’s raining outside, I thought I’d do it properly. Also, I’m procrastinating from all the other things on my “to do” list for today.
This is a rather random list – it goes from classic children’s literature to Young Adult fiction, to graphic novels and music biographies. Think of it as a “mix tape” of books, rather than anything cohesive. If you’ve not read children’s literature before, or at least since you were a child, give it a go. Some people miss out on the most amazing books because they fear being seen as “babyish”. More fool them! And the same goes for graphic novels. I’m not the biggest expert in the world, but the Sandman series opened my eyes to its possibilities.
You’ll probably be able to see the themes that have influenced my own writing in all of these books.
I could go on and on, and I probably will, if people keep giving me challenges. It’s very difficult to choose. God help me if I’m ever on Desert Island Discs!
If you click on the links, it will direct you to the Amazon page for each book.
1. The Secret Garden – Francis Hodgson Burnett. I read this when I was about eight years old – a battered Puffin copy that my mum gave to me. It’s a classic of Victorian Children’s fiction – Wuthering Heights “lite”, I suppose, especially with the way the Yorkshire accents are written, but it gave me a deep love of nature, exploring forgotten places, and gardens.
2. The Didakoi – Rumer Godden. This was another battered paperback that my mum encouraged me to read when I was becoming an independent reader. Her suggestions were always spot-on. This is a moving novel about a half-gypsy girl growing up in a secluded orchard, until the outside world starts crashing in on them. Rumer Godden’s children’s books are always incredibly powerful. If you read the book, I’m sure that Kizzy is a character who will stay with you for life.
3. A Country Child – Alison Uttley. Yet another suggestion from my mum. She’s got a lot to answer for! I can’t remember when I first read this book. It just seems to be part of the fabric of my very being. Alison Uttley grew up on a little farm near Cromford in Derbyshire, not far from where I grew up, and only a short drive from Sheffield, where I live now. This book is a fictionalised version of Uttley’s own rural childhood, with beautiful descriptions of the life on a Victorian farm, and the curious imagination of a solitary little girl. Her description of the long spooky walk to school through the woods is a masterpiece.
I Capture the Castle the beautiful Peacock version that I own – mine’s a bit more battered!
4. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith. Another battered paperback – this time a Peacock, rather than a Puffin. I bought this from a second-hand book sale at university, and only afterwards, did I realise that the writer was also the author of A Hundred and One Dalmatians. This novel is the diary of seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, daughter of a reclusive writer, who has holed himself up in a crumbling castle with his eccentric family. Although I’d never heard of this charming, funny and beautifully written book when I first read it, it’s now widely cited as an influential novel by many writers, including J K Rowling, so I’m in good company!
5. Junk – Melvyn Burgess. Moving onto a Young Adult novel that’s slightly more contemporary, I read this book about fifteen years ago. It’s a hard-hitting story of two suburban teenagers who run away from home and are gradually drawn into heroin addiction. It sounds grim, and it’s an emotionally challenging read at times, but the characters are so well drawn, and the realistic description of the grimy underground world of squats, punk and anarchism in 1980s really influenced my own writing.
6. The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman. When I was in my first year at university, a friend lent me ‘Brief Lives’, a graphic novel in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. It was my “gateway” drug into the dark, magical world of Neil Gaiman. The Endless are seven beings, immortal siblings who rule over different aspects of creation: Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Destiny and Delirium. The Sandman is Dream, who oversees the world of sleep, with a library of dreams in his realm. A tall, over-serious, gloomy gothic character, he gets drawn into the lives of mortals. The series draws on influences as diverse as ancient mythology, Shakespeare, to DC superheroes. The combination of gripping, surreal plots, beautiful artwork, a tapestry of references and engaging characters draws me in every time.
7. Phonogram: Rue Britannia – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. This is an amazing graphic novel that I bought from a specialist comic shop in Nottingham, Page 45. I thoroughly recommend a visit, to the website as well as the bookshop. The Phonogram series is about Phonomancers, magicians who use music to influence other people. This book is about the “death of Britannia” aka Britpop, and explores people’s relationship with nostalgia and the power of music. It’s difficult to explain, but if you were an indie music fan in the 90s, this book is essential reading. There are also lots of Manic Street Preachers references too, which I really appreciate!
8. Hopeless Savages – Jen Van Meter. This is another gem of a comic book that I bought from Page 45 in Nottingham, originally as a birthday present, but I read it, and loved it so much that I had to buy a copy for myself. Dramatic, funny and hugely enjoyable, this is the story of a family who prove that you don’t have to conform to the norm to be happy. Punk legends Dirk Hopeless and Nikki Savage now live in suburban America, with four children. The youngest, the wonderfully named Skank Zero, is now in high school, with her own band, finding her own identity. I love this punk rock family and want to be one of them.
9. Everything (a book about the Manic Street Preachers) – Simon Price. Over the past four years, I’ve become a massive Manics fan. Simon Price’s book told me everything I needed to know about them. It’s simply the most thorough and in-depth music biography I’ve ever read, tackling the really challenging subjects such as Richey Edwards’ self-harm, depression and disappearance with great sensitivity and honesty. At the same time, the book is gently humorous, entertaining and thought-provoking. Sadly out of print, but you can get second-hand copies via Amazon, it’s high time for an updated edition.
10. Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love – John Einarson. I got into Love through 60s garage punk and compilations such as Nuggets and Pebbles. They were a brilliant 60s psychedelic band that should have been as big as the Doors, but drugs, paranoia and perhaps racial segregation in the USA at the time prevented Love from being bigger than a cult band. Their classic album Forever Changes is a psychedelic masterpiece. Unfortunately, I didn’t get into the album until a couple of years after I’d seen Arthur Lee live at Glastonbury. And sadly, Lee died of Leukaemia in 2006, meaning that I will never get the chance to see him again. But this book is the next best thing, a wonderful insight into the world of Arthur Lee and Love, with some extracts from Lee’s unpublished memoirs, it’s an entertaining, moving and enlightening read.
11. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into my world! If you’ve enjoyed my recommendations, here’s another book you might enjoy. A novel about love, betrayal and cider, you might spot some of the influences from the books above in my own first novel, Outside Inside. And wait to see what I’ve soaked up and absorbed in my new novel, which will be out at some point when I’ve stopped procrastinating…