My life in books

LittleprinceMy favourite book as a child wasThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  When I was little I was fascinated by the pictures (snakes swallowing elephants, monstrous trees, tiny sheep…) but every time I re-read it now I understand something different from it about philosophy and faith.  I have to read it at least once a year and I always give it to babies when they’re born.  It feels appropriate!

Jane EyreMy favourite book as a teenager wasJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  It’s haunting and beautiful and definitely not just a boy meets girl story.  I always wanted a Mr Rochester rather than a Mr Darcy, but when I discovered Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea it was a revelation to me that characters – and people in real life – could have multiple lives.  Re-reading Jane Eyre now, I can’t help but be swayed by Rhys’ evocation of Caribbean lushness and a woman so condemned to being ‘other’ that there’s nothing left for her but madness.

P_s_cell_2The best beach read isProspero’s Cell by Laurence Durrell.  Especially if read on a beach in Corfu, followed by a hike to find the cliffs and cell in question!  Durrell argues very convincingly that the island in The Tempest must be either Malta or Corfu, and that Corfu is the more likely.  There’s an amazing little hermit’s cell near Kaminaki, perched on the cliffs above enormous rocks, and all the vegetation around it is knotty pines like the one Arial was trapped in.   You can easily imagine a shipwreck, a monster and a magician appearing before you.   Then, in the evening, after your hike, the best book to wind down with is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Laurence’s brother.  It’s aimed at children but it’s hilarious, and makes it harder to take ‘Larry’ seriously.

why-study-the-bibleThe book I always have by my bed is…The Bible.  I’ve always meant to read it cover to cover, but I tend to get half way through Exodus and give up.  It’s fascinating to me, both as a spiritual and a historical text.

Mr-Pip-3.0-600x311The book that changed my life isMister Pip by Lloyd Jones.  It’s about a girl embroiled in a civil war which threatens to destroy her family and her island.  A man on the island decides that the only way to rescue the children is to educate them, but he only has one copy of one book, which is Great Expectations.  Ultimately, Matilda learns the same lessons as Pip, but in a very modern context.  It’s the only book which has ever made me burst into tears in public, when I was reading it on a train!  I also love it because it’s about teaching, and about how literature can be a salve for all of us when times are tough.  When I’ve had a long day at work it’s a brilliant reminder of what books can do for the human race, and makes me feel lucky to be able to talk about them all day.

_69322860_dictionaryMy favourite non-fiction book is…the Dictionary!

richardii460My favourite play is…Richard II by Shakespeare.  From John of Gaunt’s beautiful speech as a ‘prophet new inspir’d’ about ‘This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars’ that is the England which forms the prize and the battleground of all the History plays, to Richard’s heart-rending goodbye to his Queen before he is murdered, this is a play which looks at the character of the King and of kingship in such detail that the audience can’t help but empathise with him, even as they cheer on Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV.

421px-blake_ancient_of_daysMy favourite poet is…John Milton, for everything he ever wrote but especially Paradise Lost.  When I taught Book 9 for the first time I realised how powerful poetry can be.  If it’s possible to sympathise so whole-heartedly with Satan ‘involv’d in rising mist’, what can’t poetry do?

ulysses-james-joyce-1988-robert-motherwellThe book I was supposed to like but didn’t wasUlysses by James Joyce.  I love A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners but Ulysses was just…boring.

ShakespeareIf I could only read one book for the rest of my life it would be…The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I know it’s a cheat!


Why I love books – an entirely incomplete list.

  1. They’re a chance to make use of someone else’s imagination for a little while.
  2. They smell nice.
  3. They’re an escape from normality.
  4. Other people write much more beautiful prose than that which I use for thinking.
  5. They’re a useful ‘leave me alone’ sign on public transport.
  6. I can make (semi) informed judgements about other people based on what they’re reading on public transport and then play a game whereby I imagine a name, job and amusing life for them.
  7. They fit in my handbag.  (It’s possible that I only buy handbags big enough to hold a book.  Or two.)
  8. Old favourites never get old.
  9. They’re a good icebreaker when not used as ‘leave me alone’ signs.  It’s all in the tilt.
  10. They’re links through time to other readers.
  11. They contain words and images I’d never have thought of.
  12. Some of them contain poems, some contain plays, some contain fiction and some contain non fiction.  Endless possibilities.
  13. It is pretty much impossible to run out of reading material.
  14. Films are often disappointing when compared to the book but books are never disappointing when compared to the film.
  15. Libraries are places where scrunching down into a sofa and not moving for three hours is positively encouraged.
  16. They make me a better writer.
  17. They make me a better reader.
  18. They educate me.
  19. They inspire me.
  20. As long as I’ve got one, I’m never bored.

acbc5b1a7d9c957e6b0257a4eb2ce56e Oh yes.  Books galore.

Haikus rise at dawn

Haikus rise at dawnhaiku
through the dreamer’s protesting
yawns and make her sing.

Creative writing has long been part of the GCSE English syllabus in some form or another and some A level options allow students to write creatively too, but lots of adults shelve their creativity and inwardly decide that they weren’t ever very good anyway, so there’s no point in carrying on writing now they’ve got jobs and children and inlaws to contend with.  If you, like me, have exercise books full of slightly angsty teenage poems tucked away in the attic, make some time to dust them off and start writing again – you may be surprised at what’s tucked away between their cardboard covers and within your mind!

What do you gain from writing creatively?

  • Peace and quiet to do it (tell the kids that Mummy’s got to do her homework)
  • An outlet for your feelings
  • An excuse to use beautiful stationery
  • Space to explore your imagination
  • A chance to question yourself about your ideas and emotions
  • A new way to look at yourself

Put simply, creative writing, even the most fantastical of it, in some way reflects life.  Tell a story and you understand a little more of yourself and of the world around you.  It’s worth investing in.

I’ll be running creative writing workshops for adults very soon – get in touch for more details.