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
Follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for having me over, Anne. I absolutely love this series and it was great fun thinking about those books which have influenced my life and work. Tricky to choose only a few but good fun nevertheless! Laura x