Today I am pleased to welcome Choc Lit author Alison May to the Love of a Good Book.
A big thank to Alison for stopping by.
Alison May was born and raised in North Yorkshire, but now lives in Worcester with one husband, no kids and no pets. There were goldfish once. That ended badly.
Alison has studied History and Creative Writing, and has worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, and a freelance trainer, before settling on ‘making up stories’ as an entirely acceptable grown-up career plan.
Alison is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and won the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy in 2012. She writes contemporary romantic comedies, and short stories.
As a writer you tend to get asked a lot about your writing process. For most of us that can be summarised as – sit down at computer, waste several weeks on facebook, receive slightly tense email from publisher about how the next book’s going, panic, cry, write like a crazy person. To be honest it’s not particularly interesting, so today I’m going to talk about something much more exciting than writing – reading.
I don’t know any writers who didn’t start out by loving reading. I fell in love with reading as soon as the cat sat on the mat, and I never looked back, so here are my Five Authors Who Changed My Life.
1. Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary wrote a series of children’s books about two sisters, Ramona and Beezus. It’s probably not quite true to say that she changed my life – I read them as a child, and being a child is a constant stream of changing and growing, but Beverly Cleary’s books were the first time I remember seeing myself in a character in a story. In my head I was Ramona – the stubborn, wilful, frequently confused by the actions of adults, little girl. That’s one of the most amazing things that a book can do for a reader. It can tell you that it’s not just you; a character in a book living through the same things as you reminds you that you’re never really alone.
2. William Shakespeare
Okay, so it’s a bit of a leap from Ramona and Beezus to Timon of Athens, but bear with me. I properly love Shakespeare. I love the drama and the dexterity of language. I love the characters: silly, sarcastic Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing; lovelorn, put-upon Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; passionate, impetuous Romeo; calculating, scheming Lady MacBeth. Shakespeare could write people like pretty much no writer before or since.
Having said all that this list was supposed to be about reading, and you shouldn’t read a Shakespeare play. You should either perform it or watch it – reading plays off the page kills the sense of drama and urgency. I genuinely blame being made to sit in silence at school and read plays, for the number of people who grow up thinking Shakespeare is dry and boring. Trust me – he’s anything but.
3. The Bronte Sisters (Yes, all of them. Yes, I know there’s three of them, but Eight Writers Who Changed My Life is a much less satisfying title. My blog post – my rules.)
From the passion of Wuthering Heights to the quiet restraint of Jane Eyre to the proto-feminism of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – all three of the Brontes wrote books that I sometimes think are my favourite book, at least until I think of another book and decide that’s definitely my favourite now. Their novels have stayed with me and informed parts of how I think about the world, and there’s something about the idea of those three sisters working away on their masterpieces, squirrelled away from the society of London with only their imaginations to feed their stories. It’s an image worth remembering as a writer if ever someone tells you that you should only write what you know. If you can imagine it, you can write it – the Brontes are proof of that.
4. Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett is probably the author I’ve spent the most time reading over the course of my life, not only because he wrote so many bloody books, but also because a disgustingly high percentage of those books are works of pure genius. Terry Pratchett is the author to read if, as a writer, you ever fear you might be getting too big for your boots. Reading a bit of Pratchett will remind you pretty quickly of all the fantastic, elegant bits of plotting, characterisation and language that are out there and that you would never have been able to pull off in a million years, whereas Sir Terry skipped through them as easily as a, b, c.
The day he died I actually cried a little bit in the street for a man I never met. The literary world is a tiny, but significant, bit less joyful without him.
5. Marian Keyes
Last but by no means least. Marian Keyes did for me as an adult a lot of the same things as Beverly Cleary did for me as a child. She created characters who reassured me that it’s not just me who is fundamentally bluffing at the whole ‘being a grown-up’ game. I read many of her books before I even thought of trying to write a novel myself, and it wasn’t until I started writing that I realised how strong an influence she was. Reading Marian Keyes reminds me that women’s fiction heroines don’t have to be doe-eyed and filled with virtue. They can be foolish and real and messed-up, and their problems can be difficult and unsexy. Essentially they can be human enough to reassure a whole new set of readers that they are also not alone.
So there are five (well, ok, eight) writers who influenced the person, and the writer, I am today. Who are the writers, or what are the books, than changed your life?