Monday 14 May 2018

The Girl's Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland #BlogTour @louiserowland20 @MuswellPress #MyLifeInBooks

"July 2016. Bright, sparky and raring to go, Margot Goodwin arrives as the new curate at St Mark's, Highbury. She's one part exhilarated, ten parts terrified. This is the most important twelve months of her life. Success would mean becoming a fully-fledged priest a year from now, something she feels profoundly called to do. Failure would not only prove her father right, but also delight all the antis who consider woman priests an abomination. Can she convince everyone herself included - that she's more than a five foot eight blonde with a PhD and a penchant for Max Factor's Mulberry Lipfinity and a good glass of wine? Louise Rowland is a natural writer, funny and wry, this is a female Rev. "

The Girl's Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland was published by Muswell Press on 1 March 2018. As part of the Blog Tour, I'm delighted to welcome the author here to Random Things today. She's talking about the books that are special to her in My Life In Books.

My Life In Books - Louise Rowland

Where to start, when whittling down all the novels I’ve loved and which have shaped me? Tremendous fun, though … rifling through your physical and mental bookshelves and remembering that shivering sensation when you realise you’re reading something very special. It’s also made me realise there are several long overdue a re-read!

Heidi by Johanna Spryri   Of all the books I adored as a child – including most of Enid Blyton (particularly if a boarding school was involved), The Water Babies, The Ship that Flew – it was the story of the young girl sent to live with her grandfather at the top of a mountain that’s stayed with me most. Growing up by the sea in Bournemouth, I dreamt of the sparkling Alpine view from Heidi’s attic bedroom, surrounded by the smell of fresh straw, the tinkle of cow bells and the thought of the goat’s cheese and bread breakfast awaiting her on the table downstairs.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy   Hardy’s dramatic landscape was right on my doorstep as a teenager so, perhaps inevitably, his novels had a magnetic pull, particularly in the way they depicted the area as it was a century earlier. And of course the passion – and predictable tragedy – of many of these stories was irresistible to a 16 year-old. I found it hard to decide whether to include this novel, The Woodlanders or Far from the Madding Crowd, but in the end, Tess won out because of the sea-swell of the narrative. In the love triangle between the heroine, Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare, there was only ever going to be one loser.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel   Who else could weave such storytelling gold out of the gritty history of the French Revolution? Much as I enjoyed and admired Wolf Hall, A Place of Greater Safety is, for me, Hilary Mantel’s crowning achievement. While it’s a faithful narrative of an extremely turbulent social and political period in history, it’s above all the human story of three ordinary, extraordinary, men - Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins. So compelling – and modern - is their characterisation in Mantel’s hands that I felt I was physically right there alongside them every grisly turn of the way. I read it when my family and I were living in Paris which only added to the frisson…

Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu    I love writing that captures a strong sense of place – and this selection of non-fiction essays about London turns everything you know about the capital upside down. Sandhu digs deep under cover of darkness to paint a picture of a landscape peopled with fascinating characters. Each chapter focuses on a different group of urban night-dwellers: from the pilots of the police helicopters circling over the sleeping landscape with their infrared imaging, to the office cleaners working under the radar in sleek glass and aluminium towers, to the nuns in Tyburn convent on Bayswater Road, praying for the souls of the city’s inhabitants. Haunting, indeed.

Middlemarch by George Eliot    As an English undergraduate, you’re lucky enough to be asked to read all the big hitters as your day job. For me, they don’t come bigger than George Eliot and her masterful ‘study of provincial life’ – aka a hugely complex and moving depiction not only of a small village and its flawed inhabitants, but of mid-Victorian life in all its contradictions. Dorothea, wife of the chillingly monstrous Rev Edward Casaubon, is one of the most affecting heroines I’ve ever read, in her determination to be good, even as her happiness withers around her. The fact that we realise that, if she and Dr Lydgate had been together, life would have taken a very different course, only emphasises the pathos.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides   Next up, similar name, different world. This powerful epic of a Greek immigrant American family has a uniquely unforgettable character at its core – a hermaphrodite named Calliope/ Cal. Eugenides shares with Eliot a taste for sweeping narrative – and pulls it off majestically, with humour, intelligence and compassion. Poignant, punchy and powerful, this is one of my all-time top three favourite novels.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon   This brilliant story of two young Jewish cousins in New York in 1939 is dizzy with invention. Both boys are obsessed with comic books and magic tricks – the ultimate form of escapism – while savagery is about to break out on the global stage. It’s impossible to summarise the plot in a few words – other than to say that history, mysticism and magic meet to stunning effect. Playful, deft and deeply moving, this is the absolute definition of a book that keeps you reading until dawn. I’ve recommended it to pretty much every book-loving friend I know.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner   This novel from 1984 is, on the other hand, a delicate, quiet pleasure. A romantic novelist driven to temporary exile in a hotel by a lake in Switzerland discovers that still waters run deep in every sense as she meets the cast of her fellow guests. Brookner received a decidedly sniffy response in some quarters when this first appeared: her novel was seen as snatching the Booker prize from under the nose of more worthy winners, including JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun. But this beautifully drawn story, with prose as limpid as the lake it describes, is a deceptively seductive pleasure.

The Accidental by Ali Smith   Ali Smith’s sentences sometimes feel like you’ve uncorked something effervescent and expensive. The Accidental has them in spades. As the title hints, it tells what happens when a random uninvited guest turns up on the doorstep of a middle-class family on holiday in Norfolk and promptly turns their life inside out – unleashing crazy currents of healing destruction. Seen through the eyes of a 12-year old, it’s playful, funny, sad, uplifting – and totally unpredictable.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews    Discovering Toews and her quirky, wonderful, novels was one of the best things that’s happened to my bookshelves in the last couple of years. The writer grew up in a Canadian Mennonite community – and draws heavily on that experience to create a world riven with pitch black humour and one-off characters. This novel is particularly extraordinary because it recounts deeply sad – and autobiographical – events through the lens of perfectly judged tragicomedy. I was lucky enough to hear the author read from the book at an independent bookshop in London a few years ago. She was exactly the same in person as she is on the page.

Louise Rowland - May 2018 

Louise Rowland grew up in Bournemouth and studied English at Cambridge. She went on to work as a speechwriter, journalist and copywriter - including 11 years in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. 
She has a Masters in Novel Writing from City University, where she won the course prize. She lives in London with her husband and has two grown-up daughters. 

The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is her first novel.

Follow her on Twitter @louiserowland20

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