Tuesday 15 November 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Cassandra Parkin @cassandrajaneuk

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 thrilled to welcome Cassandra Parkin to Random Things todayCassandra is a Yorkshire-based writer with Cornish roots and a passion for fairy-tales. She’s inspired by the hidden magic that lies beneath the surface of everyday life, and loves exploring the dark places of the human heart. Her short story collection “New World Fairy Tales” won the 2011 Scott Prize and her debut novel “The Summer We All Ran Away” was nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars award. “Lily’s House” is her third novel.
I reviewed Lily's House here on Random Things as part of the Blog Tour arranged by her publisher, Legend Press.

My Life In Books ~ Cassandra Parkin

I was a huge, giant fan of Beatrix Potter’s books growing up (she’s the reason I knew the word “soporific” before I was five, and I still think “Ginger and Pickles” is the most lucid explanation of the risks inherent in any system of credit that I’ve ever come across). But The Pie and the Patty-Pan really got to me. I think it was because for years and years and years, I didn’t really quite understand that there were two pies, and Duchess ate the wrong one, but did not actually wolf down a patty-pan. The contrast between the exquisite watercolour paintings of genteel interiors and pretty bakeware, and the creepy story of a dog that eats a metal patty-pan but somehow doesn’t die, had me absolutely hooked. Also, Doctor Maggotty is terrifying. What kind of a doctor spends his time putting screws into ink-pots, and has to be sent outside into the garden? 

The landscape of Alice is one of those places that feels as if it was always there, just waiting to be discovered. I don’t think there’s any creative field that hasn’t been touched by these books. Alice turns up in other books, of course, but also in paintings and sculptures, and in mathematics, and evolutionary biology, and isometric chemistry, and political science, and high-concept sci-fi, and recipe books, and porn, and theatres…I still find it mind-blowing that every single part of the Alice books came out of the head of just one man. She’s in everything I’ve ever written, one way and another. I was lucky enough to do a talk for TEDx Hull a couple of years ago – you can check it out here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrwgMOpBG-4

Kiss, Kiss byRoald Dahl   I read this when I was about sixteen and my (absolutely brilliant) English teacher put a copy on my desk and said sternly, “You need to read this. You’re welcome.” It was the first time I’d ever read a short story collection, and until that moment, I’d vaguely imagined “short stories” meant books for children. Ha.

Vanity Fair by WM Thackeray    I love everything about “Vanity Fair”. I love its heroine; I love the gigantic scope of it; I love its lack of moral centre; I love its gorgeous freewheeling energy. Most of all, I love it because there are places where you can see Thackeray’s writing process at work. He wrote it in instalments to an insane monthly deadline, and as a result there are all sorts of little artefacts scattered throughout the text where he didn’t quite have time to go back and reconcile everything. Minor characters fade in and out again, or change their name between chapters, or suddenly have about six fewer siblings than they seemed to have originally. What amazes me is how few of these there are, and how little it matters to the book. I have no idea how Thackeray held this entire book in his head, but he clearly most have done. 

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen       It’s really hard to pick just one of Austen’s books, but if I could only take one to a desert island, it would be Mansfield Park. It has the darkest storyline, the most sinister subtext (what did Fanny ask Sir Thomas about the slave trade? And how could he possibly have wanted to be enquired of further?), the bestest, bestest villains and the most beautifully ambiguous ending (a lot of people think Fanny ends up living at Mansfield Park, but of course she doesn’t – it’s the Vicarage, where Mrs Norris and then Miss Crawford previously reigned supreme). Absolutely brilliance.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann     Sometimes, I have days when I wish I’d written “Valley of the Dolls”. Or maybe I just wish I was the kind of person who could write “Valley of the Dolls”. Jacqueline Susann had such a strange life – incredibly glamorous but also incredibly tough – and when she finally got her moment in the sun, she worked her socks off, took no prisoners and couldn’t care less what anyone thought about her. And she changed the face of publishing for everyone (especially the women) who came after her. She’s like a terrifying New York auntie who flies in for your birthday and gives you a brutal but brilliant make-over, then lights you your first cigarette and lets you swig from her hip-flask while she snogs your boyfriend over the punch-bowl.

Cassandra Parkin ~ November 2016


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