Monday 27 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Nuala Ellwood @NualaWrites #MySistersBones

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'm delighted to welcome author Nuala Ellwood to Random Things today. Nuala's debut thriller, My Sister's Bones was published in hardback by Penguin in February this year.  I read and reviewed My Sister's Bones here on Random Things in October last year.
Here's just a snippet of what I said about it:
"My Sister's Bones is exceptionally well written. It is brimming with suspense and unease, there are dark dark uneasy themes but the elegant and clever writing lift the story. Compelling and haunting, I'm certain that My Sister's Bones is going to be one of 2017's big sellers."

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead.
She went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at York and was awarded funding from the Arts Council for the research and development of My Sister's Bones, her debut thriller.
Her father and sister are both journalists, and their experiences inspired the events of this novel.

Follow her on Twitter @NualaWrites

My Life In Books ~ Nuala Ellwood

Long before Harry Potter and Hogwarts there was Mildred Hubble struggling to fit in at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. I first discovered this series of books when I was seven years old and felt that I’d found in Mildred a true kindred spirit. Like her, I struggled to fit in at school, particularly when it came to PE and Maths. But though Mildred messed up royally in potion making class and broomstick formation she always managed to come good in the end, though her methods were anything but conventional. I was just the same and to this day I’m still a little bit Mildred Hubble in my approach to life.

I loved this book so much when I was little. It had everything I could wish for in a story: an ancient haunted house surrounded by water, a demon tree and three seventeenth century child ghosts who befriend the main character, ten year old Tolly, when he arrives at Green Knowe to stay with his grandmother. I also fell madly in love with Alexander, one of the young ghosts. At the age of eight, a seventeenth century flute-playing phantom was pretty much my idea of perfection!

Pat Barker’s novels have been a huge inspiration to me over the years. I first read Regeneration when I was thirteen. At that age I didn't really have any idea about war, let alone the horrors of trauma and shell shock. Yet as I read Pat Barker's spare, haunting prose something sparked inside me: an anger, a questioning. I remember reading The Ghost Road in one sitting with tears streaming down my face as Barker described the final moments of Hallet, a young soldier. Before he dies he attempts, several times, to say something, but his injuries make speech almost impossible. Finally, the psychiatrist, Rivers, manages to work out that he is saying 'it's not worth it.' As Hallet takes his final breath the other patients in the ward repeat his words over and over like a mantra. That scene is one of the most powerful reminders of the futility of war and I return to it again and again when I want to remind myself just how good writing can be.

 I read Dubliners when I was seventeen and had never been so drawn into a world, its sounds, smells and voices. It was like shining a spotlight onto a stage and seeing a life unfold in the space of a few moments before the light faded again. Coming from an Irish background I could recognize the inherent Irish melancholy that seeps through each scene. It made me want to write stories, tell stories and explore those hidden worlds beyond the light.

There are some writers that you appreciate, admire, even love, and then there are the ones that become part of your soul and for me, that writer is Virginia Woolf. From the moment I read Mrs Dalloway as a teenager I felt that I’d been re-introduced to an old friend, someone that I had known forever. At each stage of my life there has been a Woolf novel to guide my way.  As a writer I love her use of language and her boldness in creating a whole new literary form. I love the beauty of her sentences and the way she uses words like scattered petals, throwing them up into the air and seeing where they will land. But it is in her diaries that the real Virginia Woolf shines through. It is here that we see all her doubts and insecurities as well as her triumphs, the vital human being behind the cool Bloomsbury fa├žade. Whenever I’m in need of guidance or reassurance I open the diary up at random and the answers I’m seeking, whether emotionally or professionally, will be there.

This novel had such an impact on me when I read it and it has inspired my writing in so many ways. The title is taken from a Henry James line -  ‘never say you know the last word about any human heart’ -  and that quote pretty much sums up what novel writing is all about for me. This book is a beautiful evocation of an ordinary life played out against the pivotal moments of the twentieth century. Written in diary form, the protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, starts the novel as an idealistic 15 year old, determined to make his mark and become a literary star, and ends it as a frail, jaded yet content eighty-five year old man. Along the way, he meets some of the key figures of the twentieth century including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Ian Fleming, men and women who not only shape their times but Logan’s destiny too. But it is the smaller incidents in Logan’s life, the ordinary times, falling in love, becoming a father, dealing with death and loss and ageing, that deliver the most impact. When I finished this book I wanted to go back and start all over again, rather like Logan felt when he reached the end of his remarkable life.

This collection of short stories, written by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, imagines richly different afterlives in order to answer the question of what happens to us after we die. In one afterlife, God is no bigger than a microbe and completely unaware of your existence, in another you are recreated based on your credit card records. But it was the story entitled ‘Prism’ that really affected me. In this afterlife you live alongside yourself at different ages. So the vibrant seventeen year old you, full of dreams and ambition will encounter the jaded, exhausted forty year old you juggling job, kids and house and just about managing; your careworn eighty year old self, all wrinkles and creaky joints will bump into the smooth skinned, energetic eleven year old you while swimming in a lake. And your twenty-eight year old self may break up with a lover in a restaurant and then encounter the thirty-five year old you sitting at the next table wistfully thinking of what could have been. But it was the last line, spoken by an invisible committee of gods, that has stayed with me ever since and made me look at my life in a completely different way: ‘You were all these ages, they concede, and you were none.’

Nuala Ellwood ~ March 2017

1 comment:

  1. Loved this interview! My Sisters Bones was one of my most favourite reads of 2016!!