Wednesday 19 October 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Susan Elliot Wright @sewelliot

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 really pleased to welcome Susan Elliot Wright to Random Things today. I read and reviewed her book Things We Never Said here on Random Things early last year and absolutely loved it.

Susan grew up in Lewisham in south-east London, left school at sixteen and married unwisely at eighteen. She didn't begin to pursue her childhood dream of writing until she left her unhappy marriage and went to university at the age of thirty. After gaining a degree in English, she decided to choose a new name, and began flicking through the phone book for ideas. She settled on Elliot and changed her name by deed poll. Then she met 'Mr Right' (actually, Mr Wright) to whom she is now happily married. 
She has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University, where is now an Associate Lecturer. Several of her short stories have won or been shortlisted for awards, and one of these, 'Day Tripper', was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

To find out more, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @sewelliot

My Life In Books ~ Susan Elliot Wright

Thank you, Anne, for inviting me to contribute to My Life in Books. My goodness, what a difficult (but enjoyable) task! So many books are memorable to me for different reasons, and it’s very hard to whittle it down to a few, but I’ve done my best. I’ve tried to space them out through different periods of my life. Here goes:

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis     I read voraciously as a child. I enjoyed all the Narnia Chronicles but the book I returned to was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think it was the big old house with the empty rooms and that wardrobe in the corner that I particularly loved. During school holidays my sister and I often stayed with our grandparents who were rather eccentric. The house was huge (or so it seemed to my eight-year-old self) and I think I was convinced that one day, I’d climb into one of the wardrobes, push aside the mothball-scented coats and find myself crunching snow underfoot.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot
Memoirs rather than novels, the James Herriot books were real page turners that made me laugh and cry. I read this first volume in my teens, then re-read it and the volumes that followed as a young mum in my early 20s. I remember reading them while I breastfed in the middle of the night and feeling a sense of comradeship with Herriot as I read about his utter exhaustion and sleep deprivation as he left his warm bed to go out and tend to a sick animal.

Riders, by Jilly Cooper    I remember choosing this from the bookshelves in WH Smith one day. My daughter had just started nursery and although I had another toddler at home, I had this crazy idea that I might now have enough time on my hands (ha!) to read a thick book. I’d not read Jilly Cooper before, but I figured this was a bestseller, so it must have something going for it. Oh my goodness, what a rollercoaster of emotions I experienced reading this novel! Possibly one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read.

The Common Years, by Jilly Cooper
After reading Riders, I read a few more Jilly Coopers and really enjoyed them. Then I stumbled across this book, which is not fiction, but a memoir of the 10 years she spent walking her dog on Putney Common. I thought, well, it’s Jilly Cooper so I’ll probably like it. I have now read this book at least four or five times. It’s so comforting! It helped to get me through some of the darkest, unhappiest days of my life. I even wrote to Jilly to tell her how much I’d adored the book, and I still have her lovely reply.

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill
This sticks in my mind because I read it in one sitting shortly after leaving my abusive first marriage. Had I still been with my ex-husband, I wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ to read for such a long period of time. And although it scared the living crap out of me (am I allowed to say that on my life in books?) I still associate this chilling ghost story with feeling free at last.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë   Another book that’s associated with my ‘new life’ post abusive marriage. I’d left school with one O-level and so now I was free to read and study again, I signed up for an English literature A-level. I’d not read the Brontës before, and I loved Wuthering Heights for the passion, the intricate plotting, and the wonderful descriptions of the moorland, the weather and the house itself.

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin     This was the book that made me want to be a writer. It’s very densely written and I struggled with it at first but it’s one of those books that reveals more each time you read it. The lyrical prose, rich in allusion, tells the story of a woman who dares to seek personal fulfilment above the needs of her husband and children. Considered utterly shocking at the time of its publication (1899), it still resonates today and is considered a landmark feminist novel.

Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy    I’m quite a fan of Hardy, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say this is his best novel, it’s a great story with all his usual themes of human weakness, love, loss, guilt etc. and more importantly for me, it’s the first novel my husband and I read together, discussing it at various points as we went along. We read it while on our honeymoon in the Peak District. It probably wouldn’t have worked on a sun-kissed beach in the Caribbean, but in a damp and misty Derbyshire, it felt like an appropriate choice.

After You’d Gone, by Maggie O’Farrell    This was the first Maggie O’Farrell novel I read, and I went on to become a huge fan. It’s particularly significant for me because, while The Awakening made me want to be a writer, After You’d Gone made me want to actually write. I admired the prose so much – it wasn’t fancy or flowery, but every sentence seemed to say what it was saying with exquisite precision – each word was perfectly chosen. The story is poignant exploration of grief, and the novel has one of the most powerful endings I’ve ever read.

Susan Elliot Wright - October 2016



  1. No man should stop a woman from reading!
    Interesting post - 3 books here that I will put on my list now - The Awakening included.
    I love Susan Hill, not read TWIB but The Small Hand really creeped me out

    1. I know – awful, isn't it? I can't believe I allowed it to happen. I have The Small Hand on my TBR list – maybe I should read it for Halloween!