Tell us about yourself?
Having spent many years working as a journalist, I started writing fiction a few years ago. I have completed several novels now and submitted a couple of them - unsuccessfully - before finding a home for my latest, A Thousand Tiny Disappointments, which will be published on 21st September by Bloodhound Books. It tells the story of Martha, whose mother dies unexpectedly and leaves her home to a stranger. Martha is left facing the ultimate moral dilemma: should she carry out her mother’s final wishes, or destroy the evidence so no one will ever know?
Are you working on something new?
While A Thousand Tiny Disappointments was out on submission, I wrote another book called Last Orders at the Old Red Lion. It’s about a group of neighbours who join together to save their village pub from the clutches of a ruthless property developer. It’s very different to anything else I’ve written –more light-hearted, a romcom with bite. I have really enjoyed writing it and am looking forward to finding a home for it at some stage.
Which six books will you take to the Island?
Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
A very dear friend signed me over her copy of this book about twenty years ago and told me I’d treasure it. She wasn’t wrong and I’ve since bought many more copies to pass on to others. It follows the lives of an oddball family, the Berrys, and is a huge novel, taking place over decades. The story is told by John, one of Win and Mary Berry’s sons, and at times the plot seems unrealistic and almost ridiculous. But it works and I was captivated by it. Irving creates extraordinary characters and his writing is funny, beautiful and lyrical.
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
To be honest, I could pick almost any book by Anne Tyler, I have them all lined up on my bookshelves and the woman is a genius. She’s such a reliable writer: you pick up one of her novels and you know what you’re getting, yet each has its own unique cleverness. There are rarely big dramas, but ordinary people do slightly less than ordinary things, and the way she develops her characters and helps us understand them is masterful. Ladder of Years is about a woman, Delia Grinstead, who spontaneously walks out on her family on a beach holiday. It’s a simple premise, but works so well. But I also want to recommend Breathing Lessons and Saint Maybe. Oh yes, and The Accidental Tourist and Digging to America. The Clock Winder. A Slipping-Down Life. All of them. Any of them. Please just read Anne Tyler.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a book in which you can’t help but lose yourself. Beautifully written, with a sense of place that will stay with you long after you’ve come to the end, it builds towards the bombing of the German-occupied French town of St Malo in 1944. There are two separate strands to the story: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, is evacuated from Paris to her uncle’s house in St Malo and becomes part of the French resistance, broadcasting secretly to the Allies. Werner, a skilled young German electronics expert is pressed into military service and becomes part of a team assigned with the mission of locating and destroying anti-German radio broadcasts. The book is full of so much fascinating detail and description, as a writer – and a reader – I was left in awe of its author
Capital by John Lanchester
Set before and during the 2008 financial crash, this follows a year in the lives of the occupants of a street in south London and the people who go to work for them. The guaranteed wealth of those who have been lucky enough to own houses in the street - where property prices have risen dramatically - is contrasted with the struggles of those who keep the lives of the homeowners on track: the Polish builder, the Hungarian nanny, the Kamal family who run the shop at the end of the road. A moral fable about money, which tells a great story and is also very witty.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
There has been much controversy surrounding this book, but if you take it purely as a work of fiction, it is riveting and powerful. Lydia and her son, Luca, are forced to flee their comfortable middle-class life in Acapulco to escape contract killers and the boss of a drugs cartel. They join other migrants on a tortuous journey riding on the roof of la Bestia, a freight train heading north towards the USA. This was a story that educated me, scared me and enthralled me.
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
I read McEwan’s first novel years ago, while living in a flat in London, and his clean, uncluttered writing style created a sense of apocalyptic isolation within a city. The narrator is 14-year-old Jack, who retreats from the world with his three siblings, following the death of his parents. This book won’t be to everyone’s taste – it has been likened to Lord of the Flies meets Flowers in the Attic - and at times it is bizarre and macabre. But it’s short, so you’ll whizz through it. And you certainly won’t forget it in a hurry.
Which disc will you take?
Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.
I have loved this song for so long, it’s part of my chemistry. Just hearing the first few notes makes my heart leap – it fills me with hope and excitement and positivity and makes me glad to be alive. Every time I hear it, I sing along to it loudly and tunelessly. My children sigh and roll their eyes...