I don’t know how it is for other authors, but my love of writing stems from my love of reading. I devour books, like a greedy child grabbing for second and third helpings, and like a child, I have little self-control and no concept of satiety. In fact, it has been many years since I finished a book and thought, ah, that’s enough! That’s not to say that books have not gripped me and moved me – these are the books I long for. I long to be lost in their depths.
But this blog is not about the new reads, this is about those books that you love so much you read time and time again. There is no greater pleasure than to feel the call of an old, familiar and much-loved friend, and to open its faded pages and battered cover and feel the pleasure of old acquaintance.
People ask me what my favourite book is, and it is difficult to say. My feelings about the best books on my shelves vary from day to day, relating to my mood and my current state of mind. I have some ‘core favourites’ that will always be in my top five – the Lord of the Rings, The Fifth Sacred Thing, the Handmaids Tale, Little Women, Jane Eyre . . . but then there are others which also blow my mind. I love classic children’s books like What Katie Did, and new classics like A Tale for the Time Being and The Fault in Our Stars. These books have affected me profoundly, and I return to them like returning home to visit family – a family that loves me unconditionally and will always be there when I need them. Other books that have moved me have taken me away from the most difficult times of my life – from grief and loss, from relationship breakdown, having a teenager in the house, struggling with work. I am never far away from my favourites, but they all mean something different.
I have been obsessed with books for so long that I don’t know any more if anyone else lives and loves through books in the way that I do. Way back in my younger years, I discovered that I could learn as much through fiction as I could through non-fiction. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books taught me about family, and a lot of practical survival skills, whilst science fiction taught me to dream beyond the boundaries of the world. Pagan and magical novels taught me a lot about the history of ritual magic and Wicca, and other novels taught me about relationships, people, other places in the world, honour and valour and determination and how to be the person that I’m supposed to be. Oh, how I longed to write a book that would have the same effect on other people! How I longed to affect people the way in which these authors affected me!
And it seems that my life goes in phases, day to day, week to week – from reading only new books, to suddenly seeking solace in my old friends. I can reach for the book on the self and find myself back in the familiar arms of a comforting embrace.
How has this affected me as a writer? I think it has taught me a lot about what stories work for me, and the kinds of characters I prefer to engage with. I think that loving books this much has had many benefits, including an innate belief in the capability of the author to engage and absorb the reader. That’s all I ever wanted, I guess, from my own work. I wanted people to engage, to feel something, to not be able to put the book down. I wanted to write something that people would fall in love with, and would have to re-read. But when I am writing, I’m not thinking like that. I don’t think about engaging the reader until I’ve finished the first few drafts. I’m more obsessed with finishing the story and feeling satisfied with it myself.
When writing Inshallah, I wanted to give voice to my love of immersion in the world of someone else. I wanted to give voice to the character who emerged during the development of the narrative. When I read the final draft, I thought, did I write that? I had found a voice, and written a book that seized my imagination. And so far, I have only had one bad response to it. Most readers are caught up in the plot, in the urgency, and understand that Amanda’s character is a challenging one. Most understand the unique personal perspective which means that seeing everything through Amanda’s lens does not allow for any other view of the other characters. Most understand that a limited and flawed character is often fundamental to a plot that involves a journey of self-discovery. But it is only in retrospect that I can see my work in these terms. I have become the reader and that is how I understand my own writing.
Inshallah is available from www.honno.co.uk or from Amazon