Narrowing down my favourite books was challenging – I have very wide and varied tastes. Some people draw the line at sci-fi or fantasy; others won’t touch the frustratingly labelled chick lit whilst still more have an extreme aversion to classics or ‘literary’ novels.
I draw no such line and as a result, a definitive top ten list was never a possibility. In the end, I decided the best idea would be to list the ten books that made me want to be a writer. So, without further procrastination – which I am startlingly good at - here they are:
I was really young when I read this; Aside from fairy tales, I had never been exposed to some of the older story telling conventions until this point. I loved Jo March; in her, I found someone I could identify strongly with. I completely idolised her and was fortunate to grow up with a literary heroine who defied the perceived limits of gender, had a great deal of talent, fought hard to follow her dreams and still managed to fall in love. I learnt a lot from her and I count myself very lucky. I look at some of the individuals held up as role models for girls today and wonder how I would have fared under their influence. I don't think I'd do terribly well.
The Harry Potter series saw me through an interesting stage in my life. I had always been an avid reader but until these books, it was a harmless hobby. J K Rowling introduced me to reading as an obsession. I would immerse myself in Harry's world for hours, skipping meals and forgoing sleep. These are the kind of books that cause a physical ache when they're no longer in your hand. What I particularly love about the Philosopher's Stone is the way opening it up feels like going home. It's magic every time.
This book is like a treasure trove; every time you return to its pages, you learn something new and it changes your experience of the entire story. At its heart, this is a tale of lost love and regret, all wrapped up in the inner workings and daily complexities of Darlington Hall. It concerns itself with things that didn't happen, words that went unspoken and feelings that were never acknowledged. It's a very honest story and all the more heart breaking for the lack of sugar coating. It taught me a thing or two about endings. In this case, Ishiguro bravely committed to the truth of his characters and their relationship, resisting 'happily ever after' and taking the reader to a place of honest melancholy.
The use of language in this book is beautiful. The author paints such vivid descriptions you can practically taste the Spanish air. I found myself torn between racing ahead to work out how all the strands came together and slowing right down so I could savour every single word. There's a haunting, gothic quality to the story and more than a hint of magic. It’s an intriguing world that Zafon has created and I found myself never wanting to leave.
Speaking of gothic tales, to my mind there is no author more proficient in this style than Daphne Du Maurier. This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you've finished reading. It's a tale of love and obsession centred around a nameless heroine. Some argue the lack of name creates a distance between the reader and the protagonist but I found the opposite to be true. At certain points, I identified with her so closely that in my mind we became one and the same. I can't talk about this book without briefly mentioning the villain of the piece, Mrs Danvers. It’s worth reading on the strength of her character alone. She is truly one of the most terrifying literary creations I have ever encountered.
E M Forster is one of my favourite authors. His stories continue to be relevant even today, with Howards End considered by many to be his finest work. His exploration of relationships and class warfare revolves around three families connected in very different ways. The title refers to the property around which the entire plot is centred. It is almost a character itself, knitting together a complex web of conflict and emotion that is wonderfully written and always reminds me how beautiful the English language can be.
The ultimate in fantasy adventure, I think every writer can learn a thing or two about world building and character development from this epic story. Each page holds new surprises and the spectacular settings send me straight back to my childhood. It’s the kind of world you wish existed, a place where anything is possible and anyone is capable of anything. It's a story to treasure, something timeless that you can return to over and over again.
A slightly more brutal setting than Middle Earth, Westeros is home to several noble families who trade land and thrones like players on a chessboard. Political intrigue is underscored by deception, betrayal and lies. Alliances are made and broken, each man struggles to keep what is rightfully his and children become currency in this battle for power. There are some wonderful characters in this series – wonderful, not necessarily likeable. Cersei is an excellent villainess; I love to hate her. She evokes some kind of primal rage in people that I can completely identify with. It's amazing how invested you become in each character's journey, especially when you note the sheer number of them. The scale of the series is phenomenal; it's a work of art.
This book consists of several different stories all interwoven and connected in unexpected ways. It got me thinking about structure and variation on the traditional three acts. I found it really exciting to be on the verge of some huge revelation only to be pulled from the heart of that story and plonked into the middle of a different one. The worlds are very distinct from one another and as you get used to the style of the book, you start to get a real feel for each place and how it's evolved through each story. It's a very dramatic, very daring method of storytelling and I absolutely love it.
As a female writer, Jane Austen is the absolute pinnacle for me. This is my favourite of her books for two reasons. The first is that I relate alarmingly well to the central relationship between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Being the older sister and having a reputation for being 'the sensible one', a lot of the issues that come up in the story have appeared in my life in some form or other. Second, I identify very closely with Elinor and I always found the idea of her quietly tortured romantic side incredibly appealing. She's a wonderfully complex character, so still and dutiful yet there’s a torrent of emotion beneath the surface. It's so satisfying when she finally gets to feel at the end of the book. The way she gives into her own overwhelming happiness after displaying such dignified composure is the ultimate pay off.