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
Follow her on Twitter @rebeccamascull


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