Saturday 3 August 2019

Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan @gilliallan BLOG TOUR @rararesources #BuriedTreasure #MyLifeInBooks

Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. 
And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. 
But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. 
Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.

Welcome to my slot on the Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan Blog Tour, and thanks to Rachel from Rachel's Random Resources who invited me to take part.

I'm delighted to welcome Gilli Allan to Random Things today, she's talking about the books that are special to her, in My Life In Books.

My Life in Books - Gilli Allan

As a child I was a slow starter, but once the light-bulb went on I became a voracious reader. I read all the children’s classics, Coral Island, Black Beauty, The Stream that Stood Still, The Secret Garden, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island.  But the childhood book that always springs first to mind when asked this question, is the present I received on my eighth birthday.  Up until then anything I’d read was passed on, shared, or borrowed. It was the first full-length book I’d been given – it was brand new and it was mine and mine alone and I can still remember how it smelt. ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri.

I must have been around 12 - a critical moment for girls, when hormones are on the rise – and I was actively looking for someone or something to feed the romantic impulse which was blossoming inside me.  I found a dusty old hard back on the book shelves at home - the book - The Knave of Diamonds - by Ethel M Dell, was dated 1913. It had probably originally belonged to my great grandmother.

Although she didn’t try to stop me, my mother did try to dissuade me from reading this book. Looking back, I don’t think it was the subject matter or the sexist attitudes that worried her so much as the critical disdain then prevalent about the quality of Ethel's writing.
Prolific, and a huge bestseller, Ethel was, arguably, the first writer of romance, as we understand the term. Shy and reclusive she had begun writing young and had many short stories were published in magazines.  Her novels are characterised by their focus on love and longing, repressed passion, a lot of heavy breathing, unutterable emotion and racing hearts. For the times, they were considered very racy. The Knave of Diamonds ticked all the boxes for me.

There are probably only three books in classic English Literature which appeal to the young teenage girl - Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Jayne Eyre. At that age, I found Emily Brontés Wuthering Heights too disturbing and not really satisfying romantically.  It’s a toss-up between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontés Jayne Eyre. 
On balance I choose Jayne Eyre, as it has  a tortured hero, and a heroine who is not the prettiest or most flashy getting the man.

This is the only book I’ve ever read more than twice (apart from set texts).  Having only a hazy notion of what it was about, I picked it up in the school library when I was a teenager with rampant hormones and no boyfriend on whom to focus my burgeoning passions.   I was immediately enthralled.  I fell in love with the ‘hero’ Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. I lived his anguish and his redemption.
Imagine me, a middle-class girl from a happy suburban home, with no experience of poverty, slum living conditions, disease, aggression, drunkenness, violence or crime.  Because of their distance from my experience these things were romantic and poetic to me.  Even my hero’s rampage, killing two old ladies with an axe, did not trouble me too much.  They were horrible and greedy and exploitative.  They might not have deserved such a horrible end, but I understood why it had to be done.  Rodion Romanovich needed the money and his Napoleon complex had convinced him he was above the law of ordinary mortals. 

I still have that copy as it was never returned when I left school after O levels.
I have read it more than five times, on the first few occasions beginning again as soon as I’d finished. I’ve not reread it for many years and now suspect I would find it a bit indigestible.

I even remember when and where I bought the first of the trilogy.  When I picked it off the shelf in Smiths I knew nothing whatsoever about it and even whether book’s title was Titus Groan or Mervyn Peake. What can I say about this trilogy?  Although, in fairness, it is only the first two which stopped by breath and drew me in utterly to Peake’s fantastical world. But it had the effect on me that many people at the time claimed for Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.  I enjoyed Lord of the Rings, but I wasn’t completely bowled over.  But I was utterly entranced by the extraordinary and fabulous Castle Gormenghast, and its strange, sinister, funny and entirely original inhabitants.  For some time after reading it would buy it as a gift for friends and family, to give myself people to talk to about it.

I have a poor memory.  I often can’t even recall what I am reading at the moment, without looking at my bedside table! So I find questions about favourite books quite tricky.   It wasn’t until the new television version of Catch 22 began recently, that I recalled this used to be one of my favourite books.  The screen adaptations can’t really do it justice, but as with all great books, it’s not just funny and a good yarn, it is poignant and sad and has the devastating ring of truth.

A fantastic series of books but perhaps the first – the one written initially as radio series - is my favourite. There are many stories told about Douglas Adams and his chronic writer’s block.  But when he was forced to sit down and produce, what an amazing output. Perhaps not a huge quantity, but the quality is undeniable.

I had to pick something by Ruth Rendell.  I very much enjoy crime fiction but I am choosy.  I’m not interested in formulaic whodunnits, and even Ruth’s Inspector Wexford series are less appealing to me. The ones I completely love are her psychological thrillers, in other words, her what is going to happen, why is it going to happen, who is going to do it and to whom? books. There are so many I could pick, but I knew there was one in particular in which the denouement really really took me by surprise and given my poor memory I had to go up to the RR section of my book shelves to remind myself of the title.

I love all of Kate Atkinsons books.  They are quirky and left-field and you never know what you’re going to get.  But her Jackson Brodie books are my absolute favourites.  And One Good Turn is my topmost number one favourite of the series.  I have not read the most recent, Big Sky, published this year, I am saving it for my holidays.

I could pick any one of C J Sansoms Shardlake series of novels. Set in the reign of Henry VIII they are all utterly brilliant.  They are at heart crime novels, the detective is the hunchback lawyer Matthew Sahrdlake, but it’s the world he creates, the utter confidence you feel walking down those Tudor streets, smelling the smells, feeling the textures, sloshing through the mud, that makes then so riveting.  Sovereign just happened to be the one I read first but it was out of order.  It didn’t matter.  After finishing it I immediately started the series from the beginning.  Luckily there were already three I could immediately get my hands on.  From then on I had to wait very impatiently for the latest to come out. 

This is a novel that made me laugh more than any other novel I’ve ever read.  But it is also incredibly touching, poignant, warm and inciteful about love, the human condition and relationships.  I would particularly recommend it to any parent of a son.  

Gilli Allan - August 2019 

Gilli Allan began to write in childhood - a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.

After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist, and only began writing again when she became a mother. 

Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.

Currently published by Accent Press, each of her books, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL has won a ‘Chill with a Book’ award.

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is also a writer. His most recent work, published by William Collins, is ‘Viking Britain’.

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