Last Saturday I went to Kew Gardens for their ‘Write on Kew’ literary festival. What a wonderful location to have a literary festival! I really hope they run it again next year.
Mel’s talk last Saturday included John Mullan, author of How Novels Work and Professor of English at UCL, and Rachel Johnson, novelist and journalist. The talk was a perfect blend of humour, insight and book-loving. I love being in a room with people who love reading as much as I do, you feel as if you’re in a safe place, with your kind of people. Mel and her guests each picked three books they’d recommend: a starter, main and pudding (the ‘literary lunch’).
Starter: The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Eldirkin. I really liked the sound of this book, full of suggestions for what fiction to read to help you through all sorts of problems.
Main: The Shardlake Series by C J Sansom, an historical fiction series set in 16th Century England. I, like Mel, have been wary of historical novels in the past, but I’ve read some I’ve really loved too: Kate Mosse, Ken Follett, to name a few. Mel chose this book as she thought the main part of the lunch should be meaty and she really loved the main character, Shardlake.
Pudding: The Full Works of Ronnie Barker.
Starter: The Aspern Papers by Henry James. John chose this as the starter of the lunch as it is short—a novella. It is based on the letters Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Claire Claremont, who saved them until she died. This sounded really intriguing. I found it free on kindle on amazon by the way, if anyone wants to read it.
Main: Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. I also found the three volumes of this book free on kindle on amazon. John said he chose Clarissa because it is regarded as the longest novel in the English language. It sounded intriguing however, as it is about a virtuous and intelligent young lady pursued by a repulsive, unvirtuous man and the novel is written as a series of letters.
Pudding: I’m afraid we started running out of time and I may have missed what John’s pick was, apart from his admitting that his guilty pleasure was to read women’s magazines!
Starter: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. This is a coming of age story about a girl and her eccentric family, who are struggling to live in poverty in a decaying castle during the 1930’s. Rachel said this was a book she read as a teenager and re-read many times, a comforting book.
Main: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. It follows the lives of two women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Medley, amid their family and friends. Rachel said she liked it because she identified with Becky, who is strong-willed, cunning and determined. Also free on kindle on amazon.
Pudding: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, which is the first in a trilogy about an upper-class English family in the interwar period. Rachel said she liked the feel-good factor of this book.
It got me thinking about what I would choose. For my starter, I think I would choose: the Family at Red-Roofs by Enid Blyton. I loved this book as a child and read it many times. It’s comforting and wonderful, about an imperfect family, getting through some tough times, and it is really heart-warming. For my main, I would choose an epic fantasy series (sorry, not just one book!): my first love in fantasy is Ian Irvine’s Shadow on the Glass series, which I have read many times and still remains really special to me. I might also have chosen Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, which I love for very different reason’s than Shadow on the Glass—for it’s intelligence, thrill-giving, and fighting spirit (and mostly Lisbeth Salander!). For my pudding, I would choose something refreshing, something spiritual to soothe and leave me feeling inspired: I have just read Katie Piper’s ‘Things Get Better,’ and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not just that Katie is inspiring and motivating, her words have that feel-good factor, that make you believe in yourself and in your ability to heal yourself. And that is not a small thing to be able to give someone else through your writing.