The greatest compliment I have received about my debut novel, The Seven Letters, was a reader who said she found some were paragraphs so beautiful she re-read them to enjoy them twice. I don’t think I could ask for a greater compliment for my writing because that is precisely how my favourite books have affected me.
These are seven books that have influenced my own writing with an explanation of how they have shaped my debut novel.
Daphne du Maurier
The novel with a twist long before it became a mainstream requirement! I read this book when I was thirteen and became obsessed with the characters, the plot and mystery. Then I discovered the Hitchcock movie of the same name, one of the finest film interpretations of its type, they make a perfect combination. Du Maurier is misunderstood and often dismissed too quickly as a romantic writer. She isn’t. She is always pulling back layer upon layer in her books to reveal a dark side of humanity and none of her characters are ever free of flaws. She is a master storyteller. The Seven Letters should not be dismissed as a romantic novel either it also reveals a darker side of humanity that still, sadly, exists today.
Notes From An Exhibition
How many authors can grip you page on one and tell you something bad will happen, then give you the firm impression that the bad thing is going to take place in every chapter, keeping you on the edge of your seat, until the very end? That is what Patrick Gale did for me in Notes From An Exhibition. The slow, teasing build up of this novel and continuous overarching threat was agonising. Indeed, I found myself holding my breath at times. This is what I tried to create with my book, a sense of horror in the prologue that pitches you forward searching for answers until the very last page.
Titania de Rosnay
Some novels break your heart, pure and simple. This one deeply distressed me, from the terrible events at the Vélodrome d’Hiver to the dreadfully sad climax. The pace is brisk, but the writing style demands your attention. You need to slow down your reading to absorb the words whilst desperately needing to find out what happens next. In the Seven Letters I used description to slow the pace even when I knew the reader was desperate to move on. Enforced slow reading can be a good thing even if the reader doesn’t agree at the time!
A Gathering Light
I finished this novel on holiday in Italy and, in order to assimilate it, I had to take myself away from my family and sit on my own for quite a while. I’ll admit I cried too. It had a big affect on me and I literally felt drained. I didn’t want to start a new book either, I felt I would betray this one if I did. That, for me, sums up a powerful book and I could only hope that the novel I would one day write would do the same for my readers. That is why this review meant so much to me: ‘You're shocked in parts, deeply moved in others; this is a book that really engages your emotions. I felt bereft when I got to the last page.’
The History of Love
If a reader picks up a novel that is not linear the author has to play fair and thread the various time lines and themes together in some way. In this book, my favourite contemporary novel by a country mile, Nicole Krauss confuses and cross wires the reader. It takes a chess like mind to put together all the elements in one reading. I’ve read it three times and I still wonder if I’ve missed something! Readers have said to me that they will be reading The Seven Letters again because it is multi-layered and, particularly after hearing me talk at book groups, some of my readers have realised that there are more themes in it than they first thought.
The Light Between Oceans.
I read this book in one, okay two, sittings on holiday (the second was on the plane). It’s a breathless read. I found myself so deeply involved I was with the characters experiencing their emotions and the dreadful heartache they felt. It was a joy to see the film last year and to find it was the most perfect adaptation. I can only hope The Seven Letters could affect its readers in this way, so when one reviewer wrote: ‘I finished this book a couple of days ago, and I still feel drawn back to the lives of the characters in this book,’ I felt very pleased.
The House at Riverton
Some authors are extremely gifted and Kate Morton is one. Her innate ability to weave a tale that twists and turns organically, dropping clues and red herrings at strategic points, whilst continuing competently to a satisfactory ending is hard to equal. Yet, like all the afore-mentioned, she never compromises on the style and beauty of her writing. The strongest influence yet on my own book, I owe Kate for the lesson in masterful story-telling, I hope I was a good student.
The Seven Letters is available on kindle, ibooks, kobo and in paperback on all platforms. Buy the ebook here: https://goo.gl/oYoeqS