Monday, 21 March 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Vanessa Lafaye

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 books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

Please join me in welcoming Vanessa Lafaye to Random Things today. Vanessa is the author of Summertime which I read and reviewed in December 2014, prior to the UK publication in January 2015.  Summertime was one of my favourite books of that year.

Please do follow the link above to read my full review, here's a taster:

"This is an incredibly powerful story, with deep and very detailed characters. The terrifying and powerful storm is described so well, with details that are both violent and heartbreaking.
A novel of small town America, of racial divide, of the strength of nature, and ultimately a love story. Summertime is an exquisite piece of writing, rich, satisfying and beautiful." 

My Life In Books ~ Vanessa Lafaye

The Secret Garden by E Hodgson Burnett    This is the first book that I remember reading over and over again. It created the first fictional world that I didn't want to leave, and much of my reading afterwards was really a search for something similar. 

Decades later, I still feel drawn back to Misselthwaite Manor. In fact, I'm off to read it again now .....

Kurt Vonnegut   It's hard for me to define his importance in a single book. We studied 'Slaughterhouse 5' in school, but I went on to read every one of his books. During my awkward teenage years, they helped me feel that it was OK to be different, they were a refuge, a place where the expansion of my mind could take precedence over worrying about what the popular girls were wearing. I filled countless notebooks with his quotes. 

His books got me through adolescence, and I'll never stop appreciating his genius. 

Tourist Season by Carl Hiassen  Hiassen is known in the US as the wittiest, most acerbic commentator on my home state of Florida. This is the first book of his that I read, a wildly funny, violent story that also communicates Hiassen's passionate opposition to the destruction of Florida's natural resources. 

Long before I ever wrote about Florida, he was one of my personal heroes.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie  I love stories which include aspects of the 'extra normal', and Rushdie's book introduced me to the magic of India, at a time when there were few books of this kind about it.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris   I read everything he writes, and have been to see him live, but this was the first book of his that I read. I can still remember laughing until it felt like I was having an asthma attack, and I don't have asthma.  

As a student, I lived in Paris, as did David. I wrote to him with my impressions of the city, and received a very kind, polite letter, produced on a typewriter. I'd read his shopping list. It would be hilarious. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston  This is a classic of African-American literature, first published in 1937, which I didn't discover until I was researching 'Summertime'. 

Thurston was a trailblazer in so many ways, at a time when black women had no voice. This novel, set in Florida, is a gripping, visceral story of life in the segregated South, which includes a dramatic hurricane sequence. 

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks   This is, without doubt, the book which has most affected my life and writing. As a newcomer to Britain in 1985, I was ignorant of the history of World War One, because the war has disappeared from American consciousness. Faulk's book was like a firework going off inside my head, and inspired me to read the majority of the canon on the conflict. 

Without it, I wouldn't have been so compelled to dramatise the story of the American World War One veterans in 'Summertime'.

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund   I love fiction that plucks an unknown from history to build a fascinating tale around them.

This story is so beautifully written and captivating, and an excellent example of how many intriguing nuggets still lie buried, waiting to be discovered.

It inspires me to go and find them.

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks   This is my kind of historical fiction: based on real events, which informs as well as entertains, and it's set in the medieval period, which I love.

It portrays the experiences of a young mother when the plague comes to a Derbyshire village in 1666.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch  This is the heartbreaking account of computer science professor Randy Pausch, who was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer in his 30s, when he had a young family. He decided to capture his thoughts and wishes for his children and students in one final 'Last Lecture'. 
He had the opportunity to record this and turn it into a book before he died. I read it years before my first experience of cancer, but its lesson stays with me still. If you decide to read it, you'll need two boxes of tissues.

Vanessa Lafaye was born and raised in Florida, but moved to Britain in 1985, after studying Zoology at Duke University.
She worked for many nearly 30 years in academic publishing in Oxford, before becoming a full-time writer after publication of her debut novel, 'Summertime', which was a Richard & Judy Summer Collection selection.

She lives in Marlborough in Wiltshire with her husband and three cats, where she is working on her second novel and leading the local community choir.

Find her Author page on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter @VanessaLafaye


1 comment:

  1. Loved Summertime. And what a great selection of books to inspire! Thanks for the interview both!