Wednesday, 29 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Peter Swanson @PeterSwanson3





My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life



I am really excited to welcome author Peter Swanson to Random Things today. His second novel, A Kind Worth Killing was one of my Top Reads of 2015, and I was delighted to see my review quoted in the paperback edition. I read and reviewed A Kind Worth Killing here on Random Things in January 2015.
Here's a little snippet from my review:
"Be prepared for a story that has more twists than a theme-park roller coaster, with some screeching hand-brake turns that will leave you wondering what the hell just happened. The author structures this novel so very well, with alternative viewpoints from Ted and Lily, this enables the reader to have a little more information than either of these two characters, but with some unpredictable shocks thrown in."
Peter's third novel, Her Every Fear was published by Faber in January this year. I really enjoyed it, and  read and reviewed it here on Random Things for the Blog Tour in January.



Peter Swanson's debut novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart (2014), was described by Dennis Lehane as a 'twisty, sexy, electric thrill ride' and was nominated for the LA Times book award.
His follow up, The Kind Worth Killing (2015), a Richard and Judy pick, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Silver Dagger, and was named the iBook stores Thriller of the Year and was a top ten paperback bestseller.
He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts

Find out more at www.peter-swanson.com
Follow him on Twitter @PeterSwanson3





My Life In Books ~ Peter Swanson

In order to try and lend some order to the sheer number of books that have been important to me, I thought I’d break down this list into five year increments, and pick just one book from each period of time. Here goes.

Age 1 – 5: Hard to remember, of course, but even at that age I loved creepy things. One of my favorites was Mercer Mayer’s One Monster After Another, even though, or maybe because, it gave me some pretty vivid nightmares. There was one illustration in particular that haunts me to this day. It is the surface of the ocean, and below it are dozens of lurking monsters. Possibly a metaphor for the types of books I love now.


Age 6 – 10: John Bellairs wrote a bunch of books that were kind of the Harry Potter of their day, although not as globally successful. My favorite was The HouseWith a Clock in its Walls, sort of a gothic thriller for pre-teens. An orphan goes to live with his mysterious uncle, and discovers some genuinely creepy secrets. My favorite book from this period not written by Roald Dahl.


Age 11 – 15: The age when I began to seriously dig into adult fiction, discovering Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Stephen King, and Robert Parker (author of the Boston PI series Spenser). But the one book I’ll pick is Robin Cook’s Coma, a disturbing medical thriller that might have been the first adult book I read, picking it up after my mother was finished with it. It opened my eyes to the exciting world of adult fiction.

Age 16 – 20: I veered a little bit away from crime fiction during these years, reading literary fiction, some brilliant, some a little pretentious (like me at the time). Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer was a thriller, but a literary one, and I fell in love with its florid prose and alcoholic protagonist.

Age 21 – 25: Sometime in this five year stretch, I first read Lucky Jim by KingsleyAmis. Not a mystery, but this comic novel is still my favorite book of all time. It’s comforting, funny, and made me feel better about my own bumbling life. Still does.


Age 26 – 30: This was a period when I was serious about becoming a poet, and reading as much poetry as I could get my hands on. Besides the Collected Works of William Shakespeare, if I could have saved one poetry collection from my burning apartment it would have been High Windows by Philip Larkin.


Age 31 – 35: After a few years away, I got interested in crime thrillers again. I went through a period of reading every John D. MacDonald novel ever written (no small task—he wrote nearly a hundred). It’s hard to pick a favorite but I’ll say A Flash of Green, a perfect thriller involving corrupt land speculation in Florida. MacDonald’s story-telling skills and prose style made me want to try my hand at writing a thriller myself.


Age 36 – 40: I began writing my own novels in this period, penning several unpublished thrillers. I continued to read a wide array of mysteries from different countries and different eras, and discovered a crime novel, A Kiss Before Dying, by Ira Levin, that I fell in love with. It provided a blueprint for me on what a crime novel could be; main characters can die, there can be starts and restarts, and it is always good to focus on the criminals.


Age 41 – now: Right before I got my first publishing deal, I went through a rough patch of not believing in myself as a writer. Around this time, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve loved King for years, but this book, half an autobiography, and half a no-nonsense guide for writers, was hugely inspirational to me. It taught me that if I loved to write, I just needed to keep doing it, every day. I still reread this book when I need a little booster shot to get me going again.








Peter Swanson ~ March 2017





Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins @PaulaHWrites @DoubledayUK @alisonbarrow




The addictive new psychological thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train, the runaway Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and global phenomenon.

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.

But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, satisfying read that hinges on the stories we tell about our pasts and their power to destroy the lives we live now.


Into The Water by Paula Hawkins is published in hardback by Doubleday on 2 May 2017 and is the author's second psychological thriller novel. I read and reviewed her first; The Girl on the Train, here on Random Things back in January 2015.

There can't be many people who have not heard of Paula Hawkins and her amazingly successful novel, The Girl on the Train. It has sold millions of copies, it was adapted for film by Hollywood, it has been such a huge hit. Imagine having to come up with a story to equal that? There will be critics, readers, bloggers and reviewers waiting to pounce, to dissect every word and to compare the two.

So, it was with a little anxiety and a touch of nervousness that I took a huge breath and opened up my advance copy of Into The Water. See, I wasn't the hugest fan of The Girl on the Train. Looking back at my review, I see that I loved the writing and the beauty of the detail, but the thriller element didn't really impact on me that much. I've been looking forward to this next book so much.

Into The Water is excellent! My very early teaser review on Goodreads said; 
"I've spent the past two days absolutely transfixed by Into The Water. It is sublime. Dark, creepy and sinister with characters that will eat into your soul."
Jules returns to her home village after the death of her sister Nel, to care for Nel's teenage daughter. Jules and Nel did not speak for years, and returning to the place that holds so many bad memories is not something that Jules is looking forward to.

The police say that Nel jumped into the part of the river known locally as The Drowning Pool, but her daughter Lena is convinced that Nel would not do that. Nel had been obsessed with the history of the river, and had ruffled many feathers in this small community by beginning to write a book about all of the women who had died in the pool.

Water and the river are the constant, central theme to this story, totally enveloping each character and each part of the plot, providing a link that cleverly knits everything together.
Books and stories can be compared to the course of a river, with a flowing plot, and hidden depths, and Paula Hawkins has certainly incorporated all of these into this alluring and quite stunning novel.

Told in the multiple voices of the vast cast of characters, the reader glimpses different angles of the same story and it is this complexity that delighted me the most whilst reading. Multi layered, but finely bound together, the author tantalisingly drip feeds her clues and reveals, whilst gently exposing the characters and their histories.

As I said in my earlier review snippet; this really is a sinister read, the darkness and danger of the water is conveyed perfectly, along with the gripping exploration of past events, tied in with and linked to the current deaths in the village.

So so dark, yet stylish and slick. Into The Water gripped me, twisted me and totally consumed me.
Absorbing, moody and atmospheric.  I loved it.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.





Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. 

Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been published in over forty languages, has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and is now a major motion picture starring Emily Blunt. Into the Water is her second thriller.


Follow her on Twitter @PaulaHWrites
Instagram @paulahawkins2010












Monday, 27 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Nuala Ellwood @NualaWrites #MySistersBones





My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life



I'm delighted to welcome author Nuala Ellwood to Random Things today. Nuala's debut thriller, My Sister's Bones was published in hardback by Penguin in February this year.  I read and reviewed My Sister's Bones here on Random Things in October last year.
Here's just a snippet of what I said about it:
"My Sister's Bones is exceptionally well written. It is brimming with suspense and unease, there are dark dark uneasy themes but the elegant and clever writing lift the story. Compelling and haunting, I'm certain that My Sister's Bones is going to be one of 2017's big sellers."

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead.
She went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at York and was awarded funding from the Arts Council for the research and development of My Sister's Bones, her debut thriller.
Her father and sister are both journalists, and their experiences inspired the events of this novel.

Follow her on Twitter @NualaWrites






My Life In Books ~ Nuala Ellwood


Long before Harry Potter and Hogwarts there was Mildred Hubble struggling to fit in at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. I first discovered this series of books when I was seven years old and felt that I’d found in Mildred a true kindred spirit. Like her, I struggled to fit in at school, particularly when it came to PE and Maths. But though Mildred messed up royally in potion making class and broomstick formation she always managed to come good in the end, though her methods were anything but conventional. I was just the same and to this day I’m still a little bit Mildred Hubble in my approach to life.

I loved this book so much when I was little. It had everything I could wish for in a story: an ancient haunted house surrounded by water, a demon tree and three seventeenth century child ghosts who befriend the main character, ten year old Tolly, when he arrives at Green Knowe to stay with his grandmother. I also fell madly in love with Alexander, one of the young ghosts. At the age of eight, a seventeenth century flute-playing phantom was pretty much my idea of perfection!



Pat Barker’s novels have been a huge inspiration to me over the years. I first read Regeneration when I was thirteen. At that age I didn't really have any idea about war, let alone the horrors of trauma and shell shock. Yet as I read Pat Barker's spare, haunting prose something sparked inside me: an anger, a questioning. I remember reading The Ghost Road in one sitting with tears streaming down my face as Barker described the final moments of Hallet, a young soldier. Before he dies he attempts, several times, to say something, but his injuries make speech almost impossible. Finally, the psychiatrist, Rivers, manages to work out that he is saying 'it's not worth it.' As Hallet takes his final breath the other patients in the ward repeat his words over and over like a mantra. That scene is one of the most powerful reminders of the futility of war and I return to it again and again when I want to remind myself just how good writing can be.


 I read Dubliners when I was seventeen and had never been so drawn into a world, its sounds, smells and voices. It was like shining a spotlight onto a stage and seeing a life unfold in the space of a few moments before the light faded again. Coming from an Irish background I could recognize the inherent Irish melancholy that seeps through each scene. It made me want to write stories, tell stories and explore those hidden worlds beyond the light.



There are some writers that you appreciate, admire, even love, and then there are the ones that become part of your soul and for me, that writer is Virginia Woolf. From the moment I read Mrs Dalloway as a teenager I felt that I’d been re-introduced to an old friend, someone that I had known forever. At each stage of my life there has been a Woolf novel to guide my way.  As a writer I love her use of language and her boldness in creating a whole new literary form. I love the beauty of her sentences and the way she uses words like scattered petals, throwing them up into the air and seeing where they will land. But it is in her diaries that the real Virginia Woolf shines through. It is here that we see all her doubts and insecurities as well as her triumphs, the vital human being behind the cool Bloomsbury façade. Whenever I’m in need of guidance or reassurance I open the diary up at random and the answers I’m seeking, whether emotionally or professionally, will be there.

This novel had such an impact on me when I read it and it has inspired my writing in so many ways. The title is taken from a Henry James line -  ‘never say you know the last word about any human heart’ -  and that quote pretty much sums up what novel writing is all about for me. This book is a beautiful evocation of an ordinary life played out against the pivotal moments of the twentieth century. Written in diary form, the protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, starts the novel as an idealistic 15 year old, determined to make his mark and become a literary star, and ends it as a frail, jaded yet content eighty-five year old man. Along the way, he meets some of the key figures of the twentieth century including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Ian Fleming, men and women who not only shape their times but Logan’s destiny too. But it is the smaller incidents in Logan’s life, the ordinary times, falling in love, becoming a father, dealing with death and loss and ageing, that deliver the most impact. When I finished this book I wanted to go back and start all over again, rather like Logan felt when he reached the end of his remarkable life.

This collection of short stories, written by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, imagines richly different afterlives in order to answer the question of what happens to us after we die. In one afterlife, God is no bigger than a microbe and completely unaware of your existence, in another you are recreated based on your credit card records. But it was the story entitled ‘Prism’ that really affected me. In this afterlife you live alongside yourself at different ages. So the vibrant seventeen year old you, full of dreams and ambition will encounter the jaded, exhausted forty year old you juggling job, kids and house and just about managing; your careworn eighty year old self, all wrinkles and creaky joints will bump into the smooth skinned, energetic eleven year old you while swimming in a lake. And your twenty-eight year old self may break up with a lover in a restaurant and then encounter the thirty-five year old you sitting at the next table wistfully thinking of what could have been. But it was the last line, spoken by an invisible committee of gods, that has stayed with me ever since and made me look at my life in a completely different way: ‘You were all these ages, they concede, and you were none.’


Nuala Ellwood ~ March 2017



Friday, 24 March 2017

Boundary by Andree A Michaud #BlogTour @noexitpress #BoundaryBook




It's the Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Pond, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air.

Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic. 

But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over...












Boundary by Andree A Michaud is published in hardback by No Exit Press on 23 March 2017. It is translated by Donald Winkler.

Boundary is a crime novel, it is also a novel of great beauty, of lyrical and ethereal prose that is often challenging and complex, but gradually draws in the reader as the story unfurls.

Boundary Pond is an all-American holiday park, nestled on the Canadian border and popular with families. The summer of 1967 is warm and the strains of popular music flavour the air, This is a place of idyll and fun, relaxation and games. Until the body of teenage Zaza is discovered, caught in a hunter's trap. Boundary begins to feel darker and more oppressive, with stories from the past revealed. Ghostly obsessions and long-ago passions become a central feature of the story.
Zaza and her friend Sissy are well known within the small Boundary community. Self-centred, haughty, admired, feared, they are the centre of their own worlds, and when Sissy disappears too, residents become overwhelmed with suspicion, grief and fear.






Told from different perspectives, primarily through the investigating police officer and young local girl Andree, the author sows many seeds into the reader's mind. She creates an intimacy that can feel oppressive and quite dark at times, yet it still feels like a thriller.

The atmosphere of the setting is wonderfully done, The expertly described location adds a depth to this story and thrusts the reader right into the heart of that small holiday park, that has big big secrets.

Boundary is a stimulating and elaborate story, sometimes it can be difficult to follow, it certainly takes a little time to settle into. However, it is immensely satifsying and the reader is rewarded with fine writing, elegantly crafted characters and a immersive setting.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.






Andrée A Michaud is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction (Le Ravissement in 2001 and Bondrée in 2014) and the recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award and the Prix Saint-Pacôme for best crime novel forBondrée, as well as the 2006 Prix Ringuet for Mirror Lake (adapted for the big screen in 2013). As she has done since her very first novel, Michaud fashions an eminently personal work that never ceases to garner praise from critics and avid mystery readers alike. In 2010, her thriller Lazy Bird, set to the rhythms of jazz, was published by Les Éditions du Seuil in France, as part of the Point Noir Collection.
Donald Winkler is a Canadian Documentary maker and French-to-English literary translator. He won the Canada's Governor General's Award for French to English translation in 1994, 2011 and 2013.



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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Deadly Game by Matt Johnson @Matt_Johnson_UK @OrendaBooks #BlogTour #MyLifeInBooks




Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. 
Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered. Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all… 
Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy … and a shocking fate.




Deadly Game by Matt Johnson was published in paperback by Orenda Books on 15 March 2017 and is the second in the Robert Finlay series.  I read and reviewed the first, Wicked Game here on Random Things in March last year.

I'm delighted to welcome the author, Matt Johnson, here to Random Things today as part of the Blog Tour for Deadly Game.  Matt is sharing with us the books that have inspired him and left a lasting impression on his life, This is his My Life In Books.




My Life In Books ~ Matt Johnson

When asked to look back at a life reading, it’s surprisingly hard to remember the names of authors and the titles of work that you’ve enjoyed. I read, not simply for pleasure, but to learn, and as I’m now approaching my sixth decade on this earth, I’ve worked my way through quite a few books.

So, I’ve decided to concentrate on those that I really remember, as this must be because they had a sufficiently marked effect to have burned their content into my conscious memory. I have quite eclectic taste, as you will see.


I start with a book I read during my early teens. It’s Mike at Wrykin by the well-known author P.G.Wodehouse.
As a lad, I was very keen at sport and was house-captain for both rugby and cricket. So, a tale set in a school about a boy of my age excelling at sport – and all told with the author’s brilliant wit – was bound to appeal.
It did. And it’s a story I remember with fondness.



As a teenager, I was fascinated by science. Man had just landed on the moon – no, I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories – and the idea of space travel and life on other worlds sparked the imagination of many a writer.
One of the very best exponents of this genre was Frank Herbert.
Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written and needs little by way of introduction. It was described as one of the landmarks of modern science fiction.
Fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ and similar incredible worlds could do well to read this and learn where these ideas first started.


 
Although not a fan of graphic horror films, I do admit a weakness for an imaginative book that can leave the gore to your imagination.
Chiller-fiction, I believe it is called, and James Herbert was the UK’s best exponent, to my view. The Fog was the first of his books to grab my attention but I soon went on the read others such as The Rats and Survivor.
Herbert’s writing has been a huge influence on my own. His twenty-three novels sold more than 54 millions copies worldwide and in many translations. I’m sad that, as he died in 2013, I will never get to meet him to thank him.



One of the masters of the genre I have entered with Wicked Game and Deadly Game has to be Lee Child.
Killing Floor introduced the world to Jack Reacher, a character who has become even better known than his creator.
Reacher has such universal appeal, to readers of all ages, male and female, that he has set the bar, the target to which all other authors in this genre must aspire.
I haven’t read the most recent Reacher books, but the early ones never failed to grip me. Killing Floor, given that was the first time I met the 6’7” military cop, is to my mind the best.


In more recent years, I have tried to broaden my horizons, to read outside my favoured genres and look at the work of fine authors. It was with this in mind that I started Birdsong.
This is one of the very first books that, when I finished the final page I put it to one side and just sat there, stunned. I really enjoyed Birdsong that much.
 Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sebastian Faulks at an event and we enjoyed a good chat about football – a shared passion – about writing and about my first literary events, which were on the horizon. Sebastian was kind enough to share a tip with me, and then to demonstrate it to the audience. He advised me to be careful, and not to spill my wine all over my notes as I started to talk!


When my partner first handed me a copy of Pillars of the Earth, I felt quite daunted by its length. I’m glad I persisted.
This incredible novel kept me occupied for weeks. I found the story drew me in and I really needed to follow as the stories of the characters unfolded.
If you haven’t read it, try it. After all, Ken comes from Wales, which speaks volumes in itself!


Matt Johnson ~ March 2017






Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital.
Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition.
His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game once again draws on Matt's experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor.


Find out more about Matt Johnson at www.mattjohnsonauthor.com
Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Johnson_UK







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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Ali Land @byAliLand #MyLifeInBooks





My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life


I'm really thrilled to welcome author Ali Land to Random Things today. Ali's debut novel, Good Me, Bad Me was published by Penguin on 12 January 2017. I read and reviewed it here on Random Things back in December last year. It's an amazing read, here's a snippet from my review:

"Original, intelligent and so very tense. Good Me, Bad Me is a psychological thriller that will leave the reader wondering, and questioning every character. 
Ali Land is a talented, imaginative author, this is certainly going to be one of THE books of 2017."


After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali Land spent a
decade working as a Child and Adolescent 
Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia.

Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in West London

Follow her on Twitter @byAliLand





My Life In Books ~ Ali Land


I longed to be in Jo, Bessie and Fanny’s gang. They had an enchanted forest, a gigantic magical tree and a colourful group of extraordinary friends with names like Moonface and Dame Washalot. Blyton’s writing lit so much magic in me as a child and even now as an adult, I love reading her books and when I share them with little people I know, I can see her stories working their magic all over again.  


It wasn’t just the horror of this story – the abuse, the betrayal, the violence – that kept me turning the pages, it was the intensity of the sibling relationships that resonated with me. I was twelve when I read this and I’d been at boarding school since I was nine. As one of the youngest at my school I’d experienced being ‘parented’ by other children, and as I got older, I too became a ‘parent’ to the younger ones. Cathy and Chris turning the attic into an imaginary garden for their siblings made so much sense to me, and the strength of the bonds they formed, their bravery, their sadness and the love they felt for each other was comforting and familiar.


My English teacher gave this to me to ‘stretch my curious mind,’ and boy did it ever. Philosophical in nature, and set in medieval times on a Mediterranean island, Walsh tackles the notion of whether the knowledge of god is innate. Reading it made me question why we believe the things we do, and highlighted the cruelties that happen in the name of religion. I felt outrage and sadness and love, especially for Amara, a feral child raised by wolves that the church use in an experiment. It was this book that piqued my interest in how children survive extraordinary circumstances.


One of my favourite books of all time. I remember reading it and looking at my classmates and wondering what would happen if it was us that were stranded on an island. What would I be capable of? What would they? It led me to think about forgiveness. Could a child be forgiven for doing something dreadful if it was in an attempt to survive their circumstances? This notion went on to become one of the central themes in my debut novel, and Golding inspires me to be provocative and bold in what I explore in my writing.


The first book to truly terrify yet absolutely thrill me. I used to read passages out to my dorm mates, cue faux-hysteria and screaming! FBI agent Clarice Starling fast became one of my heroes. The relationship between her and serial killer Lecter, and the conversations they have is pure genius. In Lecter, Harris constructs a character hair-raisingly dangerous, yet one that’s almost impossible not to admire for his twisted intellectual finesse. The tension never lets up, and clearly my predilection for the darker read began at a very young age, because even though I feared for Clarice’s safety and sanity, and perhaps even my own while reading it, I couldn’t help but read on.


The opening line to Lolita, that’s all it took for me to fall madly, deeply in love with this book. Granted, it took me years after university to unpick the genius in it, the wordplay, the literary allusions, the phonetics, the double consonants, the references to Edgar Alan Poe and so on. Nabokov’s glee at alchemising language shines throughout and I suppose, part of the appeal also, was that the subject matter was so taboo and shocking. I felt almost criminal reading it, and it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I met other people who had not only read it but loved it like I did.


I was twenty-six and had just bought a one way ticket to Australia and this was the book I took in my hand luggage. Cassandra was the most welcome and magical travelling companion. Her sweet and astute commentary on her chaotic, bohemian family nudged its way into my heart. There are so many layers of love and hope in this story, and it left me feeling brave and excited for the new life I was embarking on.


At Sydney Children’s Hospital, where I worked as a nurse, there is a group of very special ladies who volunteer as Ward Grannies. They spend hours cuddling and reading to the children whose families can’t always be there, and it was through them that I discovered The Velveteen Rabbit. It tells the story of a toy rabbit who wishes he could become real. He has a wise and kind mentor called Skin Horse and a magical fairy who kisses him and grants his wish. It’s such a beautiful love story that every time I read it, it reminds me that books can often be the best medicine.


When I signed with my agent, Juliet Mushens, she said, ‘I think I know a book you’d really like.’ Well, she was right. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is now, and always will be, in my top five books. I have such admiration for Jackson’s writing, the perfect restraint she executes, slowly lifting the curtain on the bizarre daily routine Merricat, her sister Constance and their uncle share. The narrative is peppered with magical thinking and superstitions which gives the overriding sense they’re content in this strange existence and because of this, the insanity drips off the pages. Jackson is one of the best examples of an author who leaves as much ‘unsaid’ as possible and I aspire to do the same in my writing.


Poetry and me have only recently become friends, but what an intense friendship it has been over the past year, so much so that I would choose this collection of poems as my Desert Island book. There’s a beautiful devastation in the way Sexton writes, the language, whilst often simple is arranged in such a way it feels like an arrow to the heart. I feel changed when I read her work, as if I understand things better, like my insides have somehow shifted. Opened. I feel myself drift when I read poetry and I love being able to dip in and out, it’s like a shot of tequila for me, I don’t want it all the time but when I have it, I’m like ‘oh yeh, that’s the one.’ 






Ali Land ~ March 2017 




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