Thursday, 15 September 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Iona Grey

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

I'm so happy to welcome Iona Grey to Random Things today. Iona is the author of Letters To The Lost which I read and reviewed here in March 2015.
Here's a little snippet of my review:
"Letters to the Lost is a book that can be described in terms that are often overused and often felt to be clichéd, please forgive me when I tell you that this novel really is a book that you will struggle to put down, a book that is a complete and utter pager-turner and a book that the reader will lose themselves in completely. It is a story that spans sixty years, and is over 500 pages long, but the pages fly by so quickly as the story captivates the reader, you will become totally engrossed."
Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. 
She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.
Follow her on Twitter @Iona_Grey

My Life in Books ~ Iona Grey

Cold Christmas by Nina Beachcroft. I remember being spellbound by this book when I was about six or seven, and reading it so often that the pages came loose. That original paperback may have disintegrated but the story never left me, and when I had children of my own I tracked down a copy and read it to them at Christmas (always sobbing through the last couple of pages.) It’s a ghost story and a mystery, as convincing as it is compelling, and written with beautiful sensitivity.  It’s sadly out of print now, but if you can find a copy, grab it for perfect, shivery festive reading.

Imogen by Jilly Cooper. This was my first venture into the world of adult fiction, after a childhood of fairy tales, boarding schools and ponies. I stumbled across my stepmother’s copy one long, hot afternoon on holiday in France, when I’d worked my way through all the books I’d brought with me. What a revelation! Here was a heroine (also on holiday in France), who worried about being fatter and less attractive than the other girls, who struggled to appear sophisticated, who wore the wrong clothes and said the wrong thing and was shy and awkward and ordinary. I’d had the experience of aspiring to be the characters I read about, but I’d never come across one I could relate to so closely. I loved her, I loved Jilly Cooper for creating her, and I’ve devoured everything she’s written since. (Mount coming very soon – hurrah!!)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  (I think this is a ‘My Life In Books’ staple!) I picked it up when I was in the top class at primary school, only because we had an old leather-bound copy at home which looked romantic and clever and serious, and that was an image I was weirdly keen to cultivate. I planned to languish on the sofa with it when my brother had friends round, and I had no intention of actually reading it, or weeping copiously over Helen’s death, or being fascinated to know more about the madwoman in the attic, or falling hopelessly in love with Mr Rochester. Well. Who knew that old serious-looking leather-bound books could contain such incredible stories?

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher This came out while I was at university, and I binge-read it over a couple of January days when I should have been writing an essay on Beowulf. I felt completely bereft when I’d finished it, and went into Sherratt and Hughes in Manchester and begged for their enormous display poster, which was blu-tacked to the walls of various rented rooms over the next few years. Over a quarter of a century later (eek!) I’m still ignorant (and unenthusiastic) about Old English poetry, but this remains one of my favourite books and my most treasured reading memories. Receiving a cover quote from Rosamunde Pilcher for Letters to the Lost was an unimaginable dream come true.

The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate. I can’t remember how I first came across this novel, or whether I read it before or after I watched the film (which I also love.) To me, it’s pretty perfect: a pure, clear distillation of all the fiction that deals with the massive social upheaval brought about by the First World War.  It’s relatively short at under 200 pages, and the action takes place over the course of a single weekend, but somehow the author manages to give a vivid overview of the whole glittering pre-war era, looking at it through a retrospective framing device which is simple but devastatingly effective.  It’s a beautiful elegy to the English countryside in autumn, and that sense of the year fading and closing in is poignantly offset against the great tragedy looming on the horizon. Succinctness is absolutely not my strong point as a writer, and I’d give my last KitKat to write something as that feels as complete and spare and luminous as this. Definitely one for an October Sunday afternoon by the fire. (Tea and crumpets essential.)

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. Kate Atkinson’s wonderful books seem to appear in my life at significant moments to inspire and encourage. I read her first novel when the youngest of my three daughters was maybe about two, and the haze of sleepless nights and round-the-clock feeding was beginning to recede enough for me to think about writing (and to think, full stop, which was quite a novelty).  I had no idea what I wanted to write, but KA’s blend of past and present, her irreverent, funny, poignant perspective on history really caught my imagination, and her ability to make it all seem so effortless was the push that I needed to switch on the computer and type ‘Chapter One’ for the very first time. That particular literary effort will never see the light of day, but I’ll always be grateful to her for getting me started!

Iona Grey ~ September 2016



  1. I sometimes think I'm the only person in the history of the universe to have no time for the Brontës - to be fair, I'd chose Charlotte over Emily, but I just find every book of theirs I've read dreary! Totally agree on Kate Atkinson though - love everything she writes!

  2. I totally get where you're coming from Claire. After my early success with Jane Eyre I was keen to think of myself as a fan of the Brontes and tried Vilette, Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights; I liked the latter, but didn't get beyond a few pages of the other two. I think the thing that made Jane Eyre special for me was how unexpectedly readable it was, and how accessible to someone of my age at the time, probably because the early part of the book is about Jane as a child. It really did open my eyes to a different kind of reading.
    My biggest literary 'don't get it' is Dickens. Long, rambling sentences, caricatures instead of characters... It makes my brain itch. ��