Monday, 15 February 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Rebecca Chance

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

Today, I welcome my fifth guest to My Life In Books, Rebecca Chance. Rebecca writes novels filled with glamour, humour, fashion, glitter and sex!

Her first book, Divas was published in 2009 and her latest novel, Mile High was released last year.

I distinctly remember my parents getting furious with me for choosing Sue Barton, Student Nurse by Helen Dore Boylston as my favourite book when I was 6 or 7 - all the other girls in class had picked much more socially acceptable books but I was determined to be honest, and I was in love with that series! We did presentations up on the walls of the schoolroom, so the fact that I had not, say, picked Jane Austen was very obvious ...... And now it wouldn't be honest not to mention Sue!  I doubt I'd think much of the sexual politics now, of course, but at the time she seemed very dashing. 

As for the rest of these, I can't do a chronology as I read so ferociously in my teens and twenties that it's impossible to chart a progression. There wasn't one. The authors below I found in that time period and revisit constantly to this day.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte made a huge impression on me when I was in my early teens, as did Villette. There's an absolute craziness to Charlotte Bronte's imagination - the drawings in Jane Eyre, the opium trip in Villette - that made a huge impression on me. It was so wonderful to find heroines who acknowledged her inner lunatic side as usually women are so nervous of being judged for that. Those are by far the bits from both books that I remember most vividly. 

In my twenties I read a lot of contemporary lesbian fiction, both mysteries and novels, because lesbian writers had a much more free perspective on what it meant to be a woman, were much less constrained by stereotypes. Katherine V Forrest's and Ellen Hart's mysteries were very gripping, but the writer I loved the most was Jane Rule, whose spare prose and extraordinarily clear perspective on life felt extremely liberating. Of all her books, my favourite is This Is Not For You. It's very sad and dark as the love of the heroine's life, Esther, can't face the fact that she's a lesbian and runs away from her sexuality all the way through. But it's beautiful and haunting and friends of mine who have read it feel just the same.  

I came across the Modesty Blaise series by Peter O'Donnell, around the same time. They were a revelation - other contemporary mysteries featuring straight women were either very dull, with the heroines not having much agency, or trying to act like men. And here was a caper-adventure series written by a man with an incredibly strong heroine who had a sexy male sidekick! I devoured them all and when I found that Peter had also written standalone romantic adventures under the name of Madeleine Brent, I was over the moon. In these, a young woman is always raised in a hostile environment which causes her to be extremely strong, resilient and intrepid and she uses those skills to save herself and others at the climax of the story - often saving the male love interest, a lovely turnabout from the usual women-in-peril stereotype.  

Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber short story collection (a film was made of A Company of Wolves) was revelatory, showing how a feminist perspective can turn fairy stories with traditional gender roles upside down.

I remember the Bluebeard version particularly. And the other writer who pulls this trick off superbly is Tanith Lee below ... 

I wish I had found Tanith Lee's Young Adult science fiction/fantasy novels when I was the right age to read them, but I came across The Birthgrave in my early twenties and was enthralled to discover her as a writer. Over the years, I tracked down almost all of them - I would look in every second-hand bookshop and library. Back then, before the internet, finding out-of-print writers was a real labour of love and every time I came across another book of hers I would be ecstatic. She never got the recognition she deserved for her highly original, feminist and poetic work.  

My guilty pleasure in my twenties was Jilly Cooper's shorter romances - Octavia etc. Not a guilty pleasure because they were romances but because the heroes were so bossy and sexist and treated the heroines sometimes in a way that you simply wouldn't get away with today, while the heroines were pretty much incapable of taking care of themselves at all.

But they were, and are, hugely charming and I do remember them very fondly.  

As a huge crime fan (and writer at the time, as Lauren Henderson) I love the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. It's hard to pick one of her books but the device she uses in Endless Night is remarkably well done and I usually end up citing it as my favourite.

When I was asked to pick a must-read crime novel for the anthology Books To Die For, this was the one. 

And from Dorothy L Sayers, I picked, for the same anthology , Have His Carcase.

It's got a great romance, and a brilliant solution which is right there under the reader's nose all along - but no one sees it!

The last mystery writer I re-read incessantly is Ngaio Marsh - I have absolutely Golden Age tastes in crime novels. I hate the contemporary ones with women in more and more disgustingly imagined peril or torture scenarios. Marsh's politics aren't perfect (neither Christie or Sayers is great with race/class issues, but Marsh is infinitely worse, with a particularly vicious hatred for spinsters!) but her plotting is superbly forensic and Artists In Crime is one of my favourites. I literally re-read a copy to death - it fell apart in my hands. 

Georgette Hayer's Regency romances are of course the best ever written and though it's hard to pick a favourite, The Grand Sophy has a particularly strong-minded and cleverly scheming heroine, who I love. Her detective novels are also wonderful, especially Death In The Stocks. 

And maybe the most-read for last, the woman called Eleanor Burford, who also wrote as Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, Elbur Ford (amazing fictionalised retellings of real-life crimes that ought to be much better known), Kathleen Kellow, Anna Percival, and Ellalice Tate! Her storytelling skills and research are simply wonderful. One of my best friends is a huge fan and has collected almost all of them, even the very rare copies, so I'm lucky enough to be working my way through them all. I have copies of all the Holts myself - I can't really pick a favourite, but the early ones are best and you can't go wrong with Bride of Pendorric! 

Rebecca Chance was born in Hampstead to international art dealer parents and grew up in the exclusive millionaire's row surroundings of London's St John's Wood. Tiring of her cushioned, privileged existence, she ran away to Tuscany to live a wild, bohemian life on a wine-making estate where she lived in a 14th century villa in a Chianti vineyard, partying with artists, learning Italian, and picking grapes. 
But big city life was calling her and after staying in Rome and Porto Ercole, she moved to Manhattan, lured by the glamorous single-girl existence and nonstop nightlife. She spent a decade living the Sex In The City dream in SoHo, equally at home in an uptown penthouse on Fifth Avenue overlooking the Metropolitan Museum, or downtown dancing on the bar of the Coyote Ugly for kicks. Eventually, a handsome American husband in tow, she moved back to London to settle down (as much as she can) and finally fictionalise some of her most exciting and glamorous experiences into her bestselling bonkbuster novels.

Find out more about Rebecca by visiting her website
Check out her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @MsRebeccaChance


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