Monday 20 February 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to Orenda Books publisher Karen Sullivan @OrendaBooks #MyLifeInBooks

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Karen Sullivan to Random Things today, she's my first non-author participant in My Life In Books, and it is an honour to feature her here today.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a huge fan of Orenda Books. 

I call Karen a 'Book Magician', she puts her heart and soul into her books and her authors, publishing beautifully written and unique stories consistently.

My Life In Books ~ Karen Sullivan

I have always been a massive reader and narrowing it down to a handful of books was more difficult than I thought! I read every series going when I was younger, including all of Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and when I found a new author, I would read everything they have ever written. I loved Susan Howatch, and reread Cashelmara and Penmarric about 20 times when I was about twelve! I read every single blockbuster, and also all the literary stuff at the top of the bestseller lists. I absolutely loved American authors like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Melville, Hawthorn, Edith Wharton, Salinger, Willa Cather … and I was always very into Canadian fiction, from Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro to Michael Ondaatje, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Mordecai Richler.

The first book I remember was Wynken, Blynken and Nod, a poem written by Eugene
Field. We had a beautifully illustrated book and my mum used to read it to me when I was very small. There was a mobile or a picture from the book above my cot when I was a baby and that is my very first memory.

The Secret of the Old Clock, a Nancy Drew mystery by Carolyn Keene. My Aunt Jan came down to stay with us in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when I was about three or four, and she read it to me and my sister, Kathy, one chapter at a time. Kathy squirmed and didn’t listen; I was rapt and ended up teaching myself to read because I couldn’t bear to wait for the next instalment. I drove my mother crazy, following her around saying ‘What’s this word…’, but my love of crime fiction was born.

I was a voracious reader in my pre-teens, as my dad was transferred a lot and it wasn’t always easy to make new friends. I escaped to the world of books, and a highlight during this period had to be Anne of Green Gables (in fact, the whole series), and I read it first when I lived in the Maritimes in Canada. 

My favourite quote in the world remains, to this day, ‘Marila, isn’t it nice to know that tomorrow is a day without any mistakes in it?’

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the Flowers in the Attic series, and books like The Shining and The Amityville Horror. My family has a summer home on a lake north of Toronto, and I liked nothing better than curling up in the back cabin and scaring myself to death! Around this time, I started writing very melancholic, disturbing short stories, and the influences are obvious!

When I was at university, supposedly revising for exams, I stumbled across The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, and was transfixed. At one point, a girl slips down the side and then under a bed at a party, just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, then realises that she’s never going to be able to come out without looking like a complete idiot. For some reason I identified with that! It was a book that spoke to me in a way that no other book had previously, and I ended up reading her entire oeuvre instead of studying. I still remain a massive fan.

More recently, I read Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, a book that quite literally blew me away. It’s harrowing, dark, moving and authentic, set in Canada when the first settlers arrived, and recounts their interactions with the First Nations people. What a book! I would struggle to find anything quite so magnificent. Its name? Yes, it was one of the inspirations for the name of Orenda Books.

I could go on and on and on. I underline passages of books that I love, and sometimes when I flip through them later, or reread, I can remember that act, and whole parts of my life are recalled. Books are powerful things and even trying to pinpoint the ones that have had the most impact on my life has been an emotive experience. Which makes me that much happier that I do what I do for a living.

Karen Sullivan ~ February 2017 

Karen Sullivan is owner and publisher of Orenda Books, a new independent publishing company that specialises in literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, and about half in translation. Orenda was shortlisted for the IPG Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award and Karen was a Bookseller Rising Star for 2016. 
Authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Michael J.Malone, Kati Hiekkapelto, Gunnar Staalesen, Amanda Jennings and Agnes Ravatn.



  1. Wow quite an interesting collection of books and a fab blog guest. Thanks so much, really enjoyed this.

  2. Great article and I wondered where Orenda came from.

  3. I spotted that book title, saw the author was Canadian, and assumed it had a connection!