My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing 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 really thrilled to welcome author Ali Land to Random Things today. Ali's debut novel, Good Me, Bad Me was published by Penguin on 12 January 2017. I read and reviewed it here on Random Things back in December last year. It's an amazing read, here's a snippet from my review:
"Original, intelligent and so very tense. Good Me, Bad Me is a psychological thriller that will leave the reader wondering, and questioning every character.
Ali Land is a talented, imaginative author, this is certainly going to be one of THE books of 2017."
After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali Land spent a
decade working as a Child and Adolescent
Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia.
Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in West London
Follow her on Twitter @byAliLand
My Life In Books ~ Ali Land
I longed to be in Jo, Bessie and Fanny’s gang. They had an enchanted forest, a gigantic magical tree and a colourful group of extraordinary friends with names like Moonface and Dame Washalot. Blyton’s writing lit so much magic in me as a child and even now as an adult, I love reading her books and when I share them with little people I know, I can see her stories working their magic all over again.
It wasn’t just the horror of this story – the abuse, the betrayal, the violence – that kept me turning the pages, it was the intensity of the sibling relationships that resonated with me. I was twelve when I read this and I’d been at boarding school since I was nine. As one of the youngest at my school I’d experienced being ‘parented’ by other children, and as I got older, I too became a ‘parent’ to the younger ones. Cathy and Chris turning the attic into an imaginary garden for their siblings made so much sense to me, and the strength of the bonds they formed, their bravery, their sadness and the love they felt for each other was comforting and familiar.
My English teacher gave this to me to ‘stretch my curious mind,’ and boy did it ever. Philosophical in nature, and set in medieval times on a Mediterranean island, Walsh tackles the notion of whether the knowledge of god is innate. Reading it made me question why we believe the things we do, and highlighted the cruelties that happen in the name of religion. I felt outrage and sadness and love, especially for Amara, a feral child raised by wolves that the church use in an experiment. It was this book that piqued my interest in how children survive extraordinary circumstances.
One of my favourite books of all time. I remember reading it and looking at my classmates and wondering what would happen if it was us that were stranded on an island. What would I be capable of? What would they? It led me to think about forgiveness. Could a child be forgiven for doing something dreadful if it was in an attempt to survive their circumstances? This notion went on to become one of the central themes in my debut novel, and Golding inspires me to be provocative and bold in what I explore in my writing.
The first book to truly terrify yet absolutely thrill me. I used to read passages out to my dorm mates, cue faux-hysteria and screaming! FBI agent Clarice Starling fast became one of my heroes. The relationship between her and serial killer Lecter, and the conversations they have is pure genius. In Lecter, Harris constructs a character hair-raisingly dangerous, yet one that’s almost impossible not to admire for his twisted intellectual finesse. The tension never lets up, and clearly my predilection for the darker read began at a very young age, because even though I feared for Clarice’s safety and sanity, and perhaps even my own while reading it, I couldn’t help but read on.
The opening line to Lolita, that’s all it took for me to fall madly, deeply in love with this book. Granted, it took me years after university to unpick the genius in it, the wordplay, the literary allusions, the phonetics, the double consonants, the references to Edgar Alan Poe and so on. Nabokov’s glee at alchemising language shines throughout and I suppose, part of the appeal also, was that the subject matter was so taboo and shocking. I felt almost criminal reading it, and it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I met other people who had not only read it but loved it like I did.
I was twenty-six and had just bought a one way ticket to Australia and this was the book I took in my hand luggage. Cassandra was the most welcome and magical travelling companion. Her sweet and astute commentary on her chaotic, bohemian family nudged its way into my heart. There are so many layers of love and hope in this story, and it left me feeling brave and excited for the new life I was embarking on.
At Sydney Children’s Hospital, where I worked as a nurse, there is a group of very special ladies who volunteer as Ward Grannies. They spend hours cuddling and reading to the children whose families can’t always be there, and it was through them that I discovered The Velveteen Rabbit. It tells the story of a toy rabbit who wishes he could become real. He has a wise and kind mentor called Skin Horse and a magical fairy who kisses him and grants his wish. It’s such a beautiful love story that every time I read it, it reminds me that books can often be the best medicine.
When I signed with my agent, Juliet Mushens, she said, ‘I think I know a book you’d really like.’ Well, she was right. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is now, and always will be, in my top five books. I have such admiration for Jackson’s writing, the perfect restraint she executes, slowly lifting the curtain on the bizarre daily routine Merricat, her sister Constance and their uncle share. The narrative is peppered with magical thinking and superstitions which gives the overriding sense they’re content in this strange existence and because of this, the insanity drips off the pages. Jackson is one of the best examples of an author who leaves as much ‘unsaid’ as possible and I aspire to do the same in my writing.
Poetry and me have only recently become friends, but what an intense friendship it has been over the past year, so much so that I would choose this collection of poems as my Desert Island book. There’s a beautiful devastation in the way Sexton writes, the language, whilst often simple is arranged in such a way it feels like an arrow to the heart. I feel changed when I read her work, as if I understand things better, like my insides have somehow shifted. Opened. I feel myself drift when I read poetry and I love being able to dip in and out, it’s like a shot of tequila for me, I don’t want it all the time but when I have it, I’m like ‘oh yeh, that’s the one.’
Ali Land ~ March 2017