Tuesday 31 May 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Fionnuala Kearney

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 special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm so pleased to welcome Fionnuala Kearney to Random Things today.  I read and reviewed her first novel, You, Me and Other People in June 2015. 

Fionnuala's second novel, The Day I Lost You will be published in the UK in September - I'm really looking forward to reading it.

My Life in Books ~ Fionnuala Kearney

After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell   I'm a fan of anything by this author but After You'd Gone is a gem. It's one of those books that at first glance, because of different perspectives and narratives, you almost think, 'Uh-oh,' but within minutes, you're in the grip of an emotional roller-coaster. Maggie O'Farrell has a knack of making you walk in her character's shoes and Alice's story is sad, tender and beautifully written. My copy is tear stained, dog-eared and loved.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini  I didn't think he could better The Kite Runner but, for me, he did just that with this book. The story centres on the bond between two women, Mariam and Layla. Set against the background of war-torn Afghanistan, It's ultimately about how love and the human spirit can triumph in the most awful circumstances. I'm in awe of how male Hosseini manages to write from two different female points of view in such an engaging and sympathetic way, making us see the world very differently through their eyes.

One Day by David Nicholls  I love the easy manner in which Emma's and disastrous, but loveable, Dexter's lives unfold over twenty years, their story unravelling on the same date each year. Nicholls writes authentic,  real-life dialogue - you know - the sort you often hear on the bus; making shy Emma and arrogant Dexter scream their many layers from the page. Oh, this is one I so wish I'd written!

Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwell  Occasionally, I really like to lose myself in a pacy thriller and though I've been a Kay Scarpetta fan for many years, I think the first in the series, Post Mortem, is still my favourite. Even after twenty-one other novels, this one, if you'll forgive the pun, is a killer. It's medical examiner versus serial killer and if you like the occasional leap from your seat, it's a tense, suspenseful, gritty, read.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak  I'll steer away from spoilers but will say that this book has my favourite ever last line. It's just so powerful ....  The story is about nine year old Liesel, living with her foster parents during the rise of Nazi Germany. Most unusually, it's narrated by 'Death' and though it often tackles the cruel elements of human nature, the tale is surprisingly warm and up-lifting too. It's a tome at 554 pages, but so worth it.  DO NOT read the last line first!

Tender Is The Night by F Scott Fitzgerald  Recently, I've started walking early in the morning and am a relative newcomer to audiobooks. I downloaded this classic and though I've yet to finish it (need to walk more!) I'm loving both the book and the medium. The setting, so far in the south of France and Paris, is perfect and I can't wait to find out what secrets the glamorous Dick and Nicole Divers hide and how they'll affect young Hollywood actress Rosemary Hoyt who's infatuated with them both. I just know this book is going to throw so much more at me on my morning walks.

Fionnuala Kearney ~ May 2016 

Fionnuala Kearney lives in Ascot with her husband, they have two grown-up daughters.

One of seven children, Fionnuala likes to write about the nuances and the subtle layers of human relationships, peeling them away to see what's really going on beneath.

For more information about Fionnuala and her writing, visit her website www.fionnualakearney.com

Follow her on Twitter @fionnualatweets


Saturday 28 May 2016

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you'd least expect to find one.
Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.
As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile - like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.
Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name Is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how - just when we least expect it - we manage to find our way home. 

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is published by Viking (Penguin) in Hardback, Audio book and E Book on 2 June 2016 and is the author's first novel.

Kit de Waal has packed so much into this beautiful novel. It's just over 250 pages long and has such an emotional impact. I fell in love with Leon on the very first page, just as Leon himself was falling in love with his new-born baby brother Jake.

It is the never wavering, total immersive love that Leon feels for Jake that screams out from this story the most. Life is not easy for Leon, his dad left some time ago, his mum either goes out and leave him alone, or takes to her bed for long periods. Loving baby Jake is not only Leon's instinct, he feels that it's his duty too. Just as he does his best to look after his mum.

But Leon is only ten years old, despite the fact that he's stocky for his age, and people often mistake him for an older boy. He's just ten, and caring for a tiny baby and a mum who is struggling becomes too much for him. Caring but concerned neighbour Tina finally has to inform someone, and Leon and Jake go to live with Maureen.

When Jake is taken away to live with new parents, because it's easier to find a new family for a white baby than to find anyone who wants to give Leon a new home, and it's because Leon is not white.

Set in 1980, Kit de Waal has captured the era perfectly. With a backdrop of a Royal Wedding, racial tension and disrupted streets, along with Curly Wurlys and a BMX, My Name is Leon is so very very authentic.

The author writes with authority and compassion, with a heavy dose of wit and humour that avoids the book turning into the bleak and depressing. Her characters are vivid and honest and beautifully created, there are many to fall in love with; Maureen, Tufty, Slyvia, each one of them are genuine and perfectly created.

Leon's story is heart-breaking at times. He's seen and heard far too much in his short life, yet retains an innocence that defines him. He feels unwanted inside, yet he comes across a community of people who accept him for who he is, with no question, and the developing relationships are tenderly nurtured by the author.

Leon is a character to cherish. My Name is Leon is a book to savour and to remember, and Kit de Waal is most certainly a very talented author, one to watch in the future.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother and Caribbean father and worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law. She has been awarded the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize in both 2014 and 2015, the SI Leeds Literary Reader's Choice Prize 2014, and second place in both the Costa Short Story Award 2014 and the Bath Short Story Award 2014. Her short stories, 'The Beautiful Thing' and 'Adrift at the Athena' have also been produced for BBC Radio 4.
#MyNameIsLeon is her first novel.

Follow her on Twitter @KitdeWaal

Find out lots more about the author and her work at www.kitdewaal.com


Friday 27 May 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Laura Wilkinson

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 special to them and have left a lasting impression on their life.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Laura Wilkinson today.

Laura is the author of two novels, both published by Accent Press.  Public Battles, Private Wars was published in March 2014, followed by Redemption Song in January 2016.

I've read, enjoyed and reviewed both of Laura's books here on Random Things, check out my review of Public Battles, Private Wars from October 2014, and the Redemption Song Blog Tour post from February this year.

My Life in Books ~ Laura Wilkinson

Many authors harbour a desire to write from an early age but I didn't. As a child I only wrote when forced by my English teacher, Miss Logan. Even thank-you letters were a chore. I did, however, adore stories and was a voracious reader. I still am. So when Anne asked if I'd like to take part in her occasional series My Life In Books, I leapt at the opportunity. To focus on just a few books has been a tremendously difficult task but here are some I will never forget. Thanks, Anne.

My earliest memories of story are Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit series and Blyton remained a firm favourite throughout my girlhood. One of two treasured books which had belonged to my mother when she was a girl was Blyton's The Land of Far Beyond. Complete with illustrations, some colour plates, I was fascinated by the huge burdens the children carried on their backs, the skeletal hands that gripped their shoulders, the menacing city of Turmoil. Growing up in a family with no religious leanings whatsoever - my mother hadn't even bothered to have my sister and me christened - and without a religious education I had no idea it was a reworking of John Bunyon's The Pilgrim's Progress, I simply enjoyed the adventure.

The other battered, much loved, hand-me-down book was Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden. I fell in love with disagreeable, lonely Mary Lennox amost from the off. I was close to my mother's brother, my uncle Pete, who had been paralysed in a motorbike accident at sixteen and I remember crying with Colin steps from his wheelchair and walks. The book left me with a love of unusual heroines, landscape and even now I hanker after a walled garden with a rose swing.

But it wasn't all Blyton, The Shrimp and the Anemone left a huge impression, as did Lord of the Flies, Stig of the Dump and many, many others. I was fortunate that my mother worked in the county library and was forever bringing home literary delights. And A levels and then a degree in literature introduced me to swathes of classics from Europe and across the pond. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale made a huge impression as did Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5.  The unforgettable Billy Pilgrim, 'spastic in time', who meets aliens from outer space and witnesses the destruction of Dresden in World War II, allied revenge fro the bombing of Coventry. Based on Vonnegut's own experience, it is still the most powerful anti-war novel ever IMHO. It's barely 150 pages, but my goodness what a punch it packs. It demonstrates that the best fiction often takes huge risks and isn't afraid to cross a genre.

As a young adult I discovered the late, great Bernice Rubens when one of my subscription magazines - it might have been Cosmopolitan - gifted A Five Year Sentence, which only goes to show that these promos do work. Rubens focus on alienated, lonely and, bluntly, often disturbed protagonists is mesmerising. Darkly comic, she examines the human condition without romanticism, but with precision and enormous tenderness. Miss Hawkins plans to commit suicide on the day of her forced retirement from her job. Institutionalised from childhood, she cannot contemplate a life without rules, structure. But her leaving gift is a five-year diary and programmed to obey she cannot depart this world until her sentence is over. Unusual and monumentally gripping. Miss Hawkins is a quirky, distinct heroine I cannot forget.

I cried buckets reading Ian McEwan's Atonement. I shed almost as many tears as I did reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin but I was pregnant with my first child when I read that one and the tears flowed at the most obvious point. Not so with Atonement. I first wept during the Stukas attack as the allies and French civilians are retreating to Dunkirk - what an incredible piece of writing that is. Tense, emotionally compelling, spare, never flashy. And I cried again, of course, when we discover that Cecilia and Robbie never did get to fulfil their love. Like lots of McEwan's work it's such a clever novel but it doesn't lose its emotional connections. It's maddening and heart-breaking and utterly devastating.

I'm a fan of Maggie O'Farrell, Susan Fletcher, Sarah Raynor, Sarah Hall, Claire Keegan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jenn Ashworth, Jojo Moyes and David Nicholls to name but a few and I'd love to give them more time ....

But the last book I'll mention today is one I've read quite recently and which made a massive impression - for the beauty of its prose, its humour and honesty and realism, Emma Jane Unsworth's Animals. Billed as Withnail and I for girls, it's so much more than that (and loved Withnail), Set in contemporary Manchester, it's a laugh-out-loud funny and touching story of female friendship and the struggle to grow up. Why did it resonate so much with me? I had a friend not dissimilar to Unsworth's lead and we had an incredibly intense, hedonistic and ultimately destructive realtionship. Memories of those times crashed back as I read. I'm still not sure if I'm a proper grown-up. I suspect we never are.

Thanks so much for having me, Anne.

Laura Wilkinson ~ May 2016

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in Brighton with her husband and two boys.
As well as writing fiction, she works as a mentor and editor for The Writing Coach and literary consultancy, Cornerstones.

For more information about Laura and her work, visit www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble


Thursday 26 May 2016

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

Did she leave or was she taken?
The day Adam Dunne's girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads 'I'm sorry - S' sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.
Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate - and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground .... 

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard was published on 5 May 2016 in trade paperback and ebook by Corvus.

The last two years really have been excellent for fans of good, psychological thrillers. I've read some absolute corkers and most of them have been from female authors. It's probably a difficult time to enter this genre, but Catherine Ryan Howard has certainly entered with a bang. Distress Signals is an incredibly accomplished, intelligent compelling thriller.

Adam and Sarah are a pretty average young Irish couple. They've been together for ten years. Sarah works in recruitment whilst Adam is a writer. Sarah's been the rock in the partnership, earning the money, paying the bills and allowing Adam to achieve his writing goals.

At long last Adam is tasting the success that he has craved for so long. He's sold a script and once the re-writes have been completed, the cheque will appear, and he can begin to spoil Sarah and let her know just how much he appreciates everything that she's done for him. Adam's going to complete the re-writes whilst Sarah is away for a few nights in Barcelona, on business.

Sarah doesn't return. Adam's world is tipped upside down when he discovers that Sarah had not been away on business at all, and his desperate attempts to find out where she is uncovers more and more secrets. Frustrated by the lack of interest from the police, Adam is determined that he will find Sarah and when he discovers that Sarah was last seen on board a cruise ship called Celebrate he decides to take action.

Distress Signals is a multi-layered, very cleverly written story. The oppressive and almost foreboding atmosphere on board the ship is so well done and there is a feeling of unease running throughout the story. I didn't really like many of the characters but I was engrossed by their story. This is one of those page-turners, the kind of book that is difficult to set aside for very long, and when you do, you'll find yourself thinking and wondering about what the outcome is going to be.

A very cleverly constructed plot which is well thought out, pacy and thrilling. Be sure to read this one when you are firmly on dry land!

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher.
She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College, Dublin

Find out more about the author and her writing at www.catherineryanhoward.com
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @catherineryanhoward


Wednesday 25 May 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Rebecca Mascull

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 special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Mascull to Random Things today. 

Rebecca writes historical fiction and has published two books with Hodder.

I've read and really enjoyed both of Rebecca's books, you can find my Random Things reviews here for: The Visitors (August 2014), and The Song of The Sea Maid (February 2016)

My Life in Books ~ Rebecca Mascull

A Book of Magic Animals; Enchantments and Curses; Sorcerers and Spells by Ruth Manning-Saunders    As a child, I wanted to escape the routine of everyday life and lose myself in books. Anything to do with fantasy creatures and flights of the imagination attracted me. I loved this retelling of international folk tales by Ruth Manning-Saunders and found myself quite haunted by the peculiar line drawings too. I still have this book today! (And I've kept many of my other childhood books too and now my daughter is reading them!)

Other childhood books I loved include: Enid Blyton - anything about magic, fairies or toys especially The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair.

Ursula Moray Williams - anything by her, especially The Nine Lives of Island Mackenzie and Bogwoppit
All of the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting         The Little Ghost by Otfried Preussler

Around the age of 7, I went to see the new film Star Wars at my local cinema - I know my brother David was there, because we never stopped talking about it from that moment to this - and it changed everything. Ask many people around my age about their experience of seeing Star Wars for the first time and you'll get a similar story; it's nothing unusual. But there was something very deep at work her, something which called to a part of my 7-year-old self, namely the Call to Adventure. Much of my childhood was dominated by the imagery, characters and stories associated with Star Wars, largely as a source of escapism and I suppose I never really grew out of it; that sense of wonder sitting there in the dark, being taken on this overwhelming journey, far, far away, following the fortunes of a young hero, the obstacles and gatekeepers in his path, his triumphs and failures, his ultimate reconciliation and redemption.

Years later, in my 20s, I found a book called The Magic of Myth by Mary Henderson, all about how Star Wars is structured around the Hero's Journey. It confirmed everything that my sub-conscious had already figured out, that there was indeed a deep structure to the Star Wars story, and not only that story, but all the other stories which make us laugh, cry and stay rapt at the screen or keep us turning pages. This was profoundly influential on my understanding of structure when writing my novels.

The Singing Detective by Dennis Potter  I know it's a TV drama, but after studying it at university as part of a Modern Dance course, I bought the screenplay and read it over and over. My word, it's a work of genius - so many layers; tragedy, comedy, crime, domestic drama, parent/child relationships, sexuality and adultery, pastiche/homage, musical, psychological mystery, war story, childhood memoir, hospital drama etc. etc. Again, another big influence on me, as it taught me about layering and how to be ambitious in your work.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens  I'm a huge Dickens fan. I read all of Dickens' novels when I was pregnant. I read some of them aloud to my daughter in the womb! My favourite Dickens novel is the first I read in those days of pregnancy and that is David Copperfield. It's the one I'm most fond of and I adore Peggotty and Barkis ("Barkis is willing"!!) and all the other characters. I think Our Mutual Friend is a brilliant, complex novel and perhaps unfairly overlooked. But I have to say that Great Expectations is, I believe, his greatest achievement - a perfect novel if ever there was one. I aspire to write a tiny percentage of anything as finely wrought in structure, prose, character development, plot moments and honesty as this astounding novel.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood  I love anything historical or contemporary by Atwood (though her speculative fiction, though brilliant, has never really appealed to me as much) and this book I believe is her finest. It's a brilliant story about love and lies, secrets and death. It's beautifully structured and tells its plot through a variety of voices, including the main narrator, a sci-fi novel, articles and newsletters, even a photograph. I feel it's really all about the nature of storytelling and truth. It was hugely influential to me me in my early days of writing and opened up for me the possibilities of what a novel could be. Just brilliant.

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard  I discovered the five Cazalet books almost by accident - one of those books you have a radar for but don't get round to actually buying for ages, then once you start and fall headlong into the most wonderful books, you can't believe it took you so long!  I spent one whole summer a couple of years ago reading all five back to back and felt utterly bereaved when it was all over. There is something so real about every single character in these books. I totally believed they were all people I'd known once and lost touch with. It was extraordinary yet transparent writing, a feat of imagination and yet felt like life. Howard is a very fine novelist indeed and should be lauded far more. I do hope that time will tell and her name will one day rank alongside the greats in posterity, where she deserves to be.

Rebecca Mascull ~ May 2016

Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the East of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy.
She has previously worked in Education, and has a Masters in Writing.

Her first novel, The Visitors, was published by Hodder in January 2014.  The Song of the Sea Maid was also published by Hodder, in June 2015

Find out more about Rebecca and her writing at www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com
Follow her on Twitter @rebeccamascull


Tuesday 24 May 2016

My Map of You by Isabelle Broom ~ my review & Isabelle's My Life In Books

A holiday on the stunning Greek island of Zakynthos, with its perfect blue skies, white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, should be a dream come true.
But for Holly it feels more like a nightmare. Arriving on the island to clear out a house she's just inherited, Holly has no idea what to expect. And she's certainly not prepared for the family secrets she uncovers inside.
With the help of Aidan, her handsome neighbour, Holly sets out to explore the island, hoping to piece together her own lost story. Yet all too soon real life, including the boyfriend she left behind, threatens to catch up with her.
Holly things she's following the secrets of the past. But might it turn out to be a map to her future? 

My Map of You by Isabelle Broom was published in paperback by Penguin on 21 April 2016, and is the author's debut novel.

I read a lot of books.

I read a lot of books, from a lot of genres. I read books by male authors, and female authors. I read fiction, I read non-fiction. I read a lot of books. I very very rarely call a book 'perfect'. There's been The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor-Bradford - they were many many years ago.  There's been The Vanishing Act of Esmee Lennox by Maggie O Farrell and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  Each of those books are 'my' perfect books, for many reasons, but all personal.

I'm so happy to welcome another book to that special party; take your place My Map of You by Isabelle Broom,

I'll start with the beautiful cover. Blue sky, blue sea, a glimpse of the dazzling white buildings, the tree covered hills, the colourful flowers, in the the background, a faint, hardly noticeable hand-drawn map of Zakynthos. Evocative and inviting and draws the reader in without even having read a word.

There is absolutely no doubt that My Map of You has been written by an author who knows and loves Zakynthos. I too love the Ionian islands, I've visited them all, even the small ones that most people miss, and reading this book is almost as good as being there yourself. Isabelle Broom has perfectly captured the sights, the smells, the people of Zakynthos. She takes her readers to the small, traditional villages and also to loud, brash Laganas. The characters eat cheese pies and drink village wine whilst listening to the cicadas and locals arguing. They also experience the 'strip' at midnight; the neon lights, the goldfish bowl cocktails, the sunburn. For me, this makes the story so realistic, it would be wrong to think that Zakynthos is purely secluded tavernas and fresh fish, this well-balanced view gives the reader the opportunity to experience the whole Zakynthos experience.

Our lead character, Holly, is a troubled woman. Finding out that she's inherited a house on a Greek island that she knows nothing about, from an Aunt that she didn't know existed has been a shock. She's spent most of her life creating an invisible armour around herself, rarely allowing people to get too close .... in case she loses them. The death of her mother hit her hard, she looks back at their relationship that for the last few years centred around a Vodka bottle and an empty belly and struggles to feel any love or affection for the woman that used to be the funniest, most loving mum in the world.

I'm not going to go into depth about what happens to Holly on Zakynthos, that wouldn't be fair, and really everyone should buy the book and find out for themselves. However, I do want to say that Isabelle Broom's writing will transport every reader to the heart of this beautiful island. The reader will meet Greek people who are so wonderfully drawn that they become a part of life whilst reading the book. You'll be delighted by the descriptions of the island, the food and I can promise you that you will be Googling 'holidays to Greece' within minutes of finishing this heart-warming, beautifully written story.

I really try not to 'gush' when I write a review of a book, but My Map Of You landed in my hands at the perfect time for me. It made me able to put some huge, frightening changes in life to the back of my mind for a few hours, and it took me to one of my favourite places in the whole world.

Me?  I fly to Corfu in a fortnight. Bring on the cheese pies, the Mythos and the sunshine!  Yiamas!

My thanks to my dear friend Nina who gave me a signed and dedicated copy of My Map of You, and thanks to Isabelle Broom too.

It's a real honour to welcome Isabelle Broom to Random Things Through My Letterbox today.
Isabelle is sharing her list of books that are special to her and have left a lasting impression on her life.

My Life In Books ~ Isabelle Broom

Silver Snaffles by Primrose Cumming   I grew up obsessed with ponies, so this book - which is all about a girl who enters a parallel world where horses can actually talk - was one I read over and over. I've always loved stories with a magical element, and I think reading this really made me realise that all I needed to do to escape into another world was pick up a book. Of course, this is something I have never stopped doing. I'd love to dig out my old copy of this book - especially as I've just now discovered that they're selling for almost £50 on Amazon!

The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton   I know most people went mad for The Famous Five, but I always preferred The Secret Seven. I had the books in hard copy and those story cassettes you used to be able to buy, and I'd listen to them while I was playing in my bedroom. I hold them purely responsible for my constant childhood cravings for homemade lemonade and jam tarts - not to mention making dens. It's a wonder I didn't end up becoming a professional sleuth, really - but I reckon being an author is far more fun.

The BFG by Roald Dahl   This was another book that literally fell apart at the seams from sheer reading. I used to carry it around with me everywhere I went. Roald Dahl was such a genius at striking that perfect balance between heartfelt and macabre, and he taught me what it means to be a brave writer and to push the boundaries. When I was a bit older, I read and really enjoyed this autobiographical books, Boy and Going Solo, too. I just find him absolutely fascinating - and all his stories have really stood the test of time.

Forever by Judy Blume  For a time when I was growing up, this book was the one that all the girls at school used to pass round and giggle over. Who doesn't remember the first time they read about Michael, Katherine and, ahem, the charming Ralph? He was an enterprising fellow, wasn't he? I used to read it under my duvet, eyes wide and cheeks pink. I wonder if teenagers do the same thing with Fifty Shades nowadays? Let's hope not, eh?

Riders by Jilly Cooper   If Forever taught me the basics, then this bonkbuster filled in the gaps! I suspect I was probably a bit too young to have read this when I did, but it hasn't done me any lasting damage. On the contrary, it's made me all the more likely to indulge in a terrible-yet-hilarious pun or twelve. But seriously, sex scenes aside, there's barely an author alive who does character better than Jilly. She writes people that are so alive and real that they become a huge part of your life - and I still measure most men I meet against Rupert Campbell-Black. Thank heavens he's coming back in her new novel Mount this September!

Harry Potter by J K Rowling  Please don't ask me to pick which one of the Potter books I like the best, because I can't. And anyway, why would you limit yourself to just one foray into the magical world that JK Rowling has created for us all? If there's one author who inspires me, it's this lady. Harry Potter is just pure perfection - that characters, themes, plot, pace, detail, magic, style - and Jo deserves to win every single accolade going. She's responsible for getting a whole generation of children and adults excited about reading books again, and I plan to revisit them time and time again throughout the course of my life.

Falling In Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island by Jennifer Barclay  This true-life tale seemed to fall into my lap at exactly the right time. A few years ago, I was disenchanted with my life in London, single, bored at work and yearning to turn my writing habit into a career. I had half-decided to pack everything up and move over to Zakynthos in Greece when I read a feature about Jen Barclay in a Sunday newspaper and ordered her book. Jen moved from London over to the Greek island of Tilos after a relationship fell apart, and her story absolutely captivated me. Here was a woman who not only understood that intrinsic pull that I felt towards my own little corner of Greece, but she'd actually had the guts to go through with moving there. Her way of thinking and the story of her adventure changed my life, because it made me feel less alone and gave me that final push I needed to do what I'd always wanted: write a book set in Greece. Will I ever follow suit and make a new life for myself over there? Never say never .....

Isabelle Broom ~ May 2016

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts at the University of West London before starting a career first in local newspapers and then as a junior sub-editor at heat magazine. She travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree. Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, L.A, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece, but her wanderlust was reined in when she met Max, a fluffy little Bolognese puppy desperate for a home. When she's not writing novels set in far-flung locations, Isabelle spends her time being the Book Reviews Editor at heat magazine and walking her beloved dog round the parks of North London.

If you like pictures of dogs, chatter about books and very bad jokes, you can follow her on Twitter @Isabelle_Broom or find her on Facebook under Isabelle Broom Author.