Tuesday, 12 July 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Katie Marsh

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

Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Katie Marsh today.  Katie has written two novels, I have read and reviewed both of them here on Random Things.  I am a huge fan of her writing, she deals with devastating subjects with beautiful words and magical characters.

Her first novel, My Everything, was published by Hodder in August 2015. Her second, A Life Without You is published on Thursday (14th July 2016)

My Life In Books ~ Katie Marsh

I was brought up on a trout farm in a remote Somerset hamlet, and so mum sensibly taught me and my brother to read as early as possible to avoid our enthusiastic attempts to 'help' by feeding the fish Rice Krispies or trying to take the dog to London to meet the Queen.
From then on I was permanently glued to a book, bar small intervals spent trying to find the hamster and attempting to learn how to do a cartwheel.
Here are the ones that have stayed with me.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne  These are the building blocks of my childhood. I love these stories to such a degree that I can still recite huge chunks today, and am currently force-feeding Eeyore, Roo and friends to my daughter. Eeyore taught me all about sarcasm, Pooh about enthusiasm and those final moments in Galleon's Lap taught me about the poignancy of leaving childhood behind. Of course, I didn't realise that's what it was doing when I first read it - I just thought they were going home for tea. But now I know.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome  Listening to the Bernard Cribbins story tape of this ook was a key feature of my family's lengthy and overcrowded journeys to the Lake District in our battered Vauxhall Chevette. We went every summer and stayed on a farm that belonged to our cousins. I think I first read the actual book while adventuring up there, and soon I was eyeing up sailing boats on every lake we went to and busy pretending I was Nancy Blackett (always my favourite character) and drawing skull and crossbones on any available surface. We even named our dog after Nancy. Dad wanted to call her 'Bunker'. Oh dear.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith  I still read this every December without fail - it's as much a part of Christmas for me as decorating the tree or overdosing on mince pies. I love Cassandra's voice  so honest, earnest and true. I adore the humour, the eccentricity and the innocence of the story, and the poignancy of the coming-of-age ending always makes me cry. And I love it when books make me cry.

Persuasion by Jane Austen  I had to have some Jane on this list. I ate up her books as I moved to a new school at the start of my teens and the wit, verve and spirit of her writing transported me through some fairly tricky times. Anne Elliot is my favourite Austen heroine - she feels the most real to me - perhaps all the more so because the rest of her selfish family are verging on the insanely caricatured. Anne is the beating heart of the book, and I love the slow and stilted way that love evolves again between her and Captain Wentworth, which culminates in THAT letter. I think Captain Woodward's scribbled words may be to blame for my tendency to extreme romanticism. Or maybe I should blame 'Dirty Dancing'. Who knows?

Rivals by Jilly Cooper  Jilly Cooper's books were passed around gleefully at school, and were - let's face it - a far more eye-opening and entertaining element of sex education than biology lessons. This one is my absolute favourite - great characters, big hair, telly, endless champagne and an awful lot of misbehaviour. Shy, unconfident Taggie conquers Rupert Campbell-Black. Damaged Cameron wins Patrick. Dogs loll around adorably and everyone reeks of perfume and makes puns. Brilliant.

Beloved by Toni Morrison  A friend lent this to me when I was ill, and I remember having to fake one extra day in bed to finish it. It tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who is driven to extreme violence against her own children when about to be recaptured. The writing is at times poetic and uplifting and at others vividly, horribly violent, but Morrison never stopped making me live every painful moment with the characters, and rooting for Sethe as her story unfolds. The writing is poetic, dreamlike and addictive, and the appearance of a new Toni Morrison book will always be a big event for me.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Other Plays by Tennessee Williams  I studied 'Cat' as one of my English A Level set texts, and somehow it survived this ordeal and is still one of my favourite plays today. I love the muscle and poetry of Williams' language as Brick and Maggie circle each other on a venomously hot night in the deep South. It's a play about hypocrisy and power and the destructive force of love and self-delusion, but it's also witty and charming and it was this combination that captured me and made me think about the kind of writer that I wanted to be. I can't think of a writr who portrays relationships in crisis with more depth, poignancy and honesty.

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth  I start fidgeting if there's no music on in a room, and this novel weaves that look into every single page. I made the mistake of starting it during university finals, and spent my time resenting the endless revision that prevented me from reading it. Uplifting, magnetic and spell-binding - it made my spirit sing.

Wonder by RJ Palacio  This is such a powerful gem of a book. I read it just after becoming a mum - in one of those sleepless nights where it's just you and your baby while the world rests in the darkness around you. It tells the story of a boy called Auggie, who says at the beginning 'I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.'  Whenever he enters a room he stands out in the most challenging of ways, and the book follows him as he starts middle school and has to cope with others' reactions to him as he leaves the bubble of his parents' protection. It is a story about not fitting in, being brave, and about how to trust the world to look after your children. As a new mum it really resonated with me. It is also a reminder of how important it is to be kind, and I think we all need to be reminded of that sometimes.  

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton   Here it is: the book that made me stop and think about what kind of fiction I really wanted to write. I read it in one day, loving its visceral, page-turning storyline and its heart-rending ending. After putting it down I realised that the novel I was writing at the time wasn't the kind of novel I wanted to read, and so I put it away, regrouped and eventually had the idea for 'My Everything', my debut novel.

Katie Marsh ~ July 2016 

Find out more about Katie Marsh and her writing by visiting her website www.katie-marsh.com

Follow her on Twitter @marshisms


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