Today I’m very excited to welcome Louise Cole (author of the Devil’s Poetry) to the blog to speak about the top ten books she wishes she’d written. I had a lot of fun organising this post, and I really hope I’ll be able to have more authors on the blog in the future. I’d love to know your thoughts on the post in the comments or on my Twitter @GoldenBooksGirl. Now over to Louise’s excellent post! Amy x
I was recently asked to write about my top ten literary influences so I’m going to try very hard not to duplicate my answers here. Shouldn’t be too hard, given how many breath-stealing books there are in the world.
Which books would you have loved to have written? Is a completely different question to which books have you loved. There are many books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and many which have stolen my heart that I wouldn’t have wanted to write. Quite apart from needing the talent, the subject matter has to resonate deeply with something inside for it to be something you would want to write. After all you’d be committing a couple of years of your life perhaps to creating this book. So books grow from your greatest joys and greatest fears. They don’t spring from idle fancies or vague curiosities but burning obsession and fascination.
So which books strike that note of obsession within me?
1. The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman
I’d love to have written The Subtle Knife. It has all the magical world-building and drama of Northern Lights and an array of marvelous characters. Of the three His Dark Materials books, I felt it had the best chemistry, the best story arc, and the most exciting premise. A knife that cuts between worlds. What a chilling thought. No gentle exploration, but a violation, a savagery that means the worlds bleed their life stuff away. I think much of human progress is like that – exploratory, exciting but unthinkingly savage.
2. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Oh the stories within stories… Anyone who has read The Devil’s Poetry will know that books themselves fascinate me, our need to tell stories and to hear stories. I’m also hooked on the concept of truth. I think the truth matters hugely and yet it’s like a fish in the shallows, slipping through your fingers. The Gargoyle is all about truth and lies, belief and disbelief, interpretation and story. A badly burned man and a mentally unstable sculptor start a wonderful, tender, painful friendship. She insists they have known one another for centuries and tells him tales of past lives and wonders. Is she telling the truth? As her stories reawaken his will to live, does it matter?
3. Affinity by Sarah Waters. Oh to be able to write a proper Victorian novel full of betrayal and confidence tricksters, a story that twists and turns like the alleys of London until you can’t tell which way is up or who is playing who. Margaret is a ‘nice’ girl who visits a prison where she meets a spiritualist. Is the girl genuine? Is she a sham? I love the atmosphere in Sarah Waters’ novels, so thick you could cut it with a knife and yet you are never aware of her creating it. It’s like that moment when you get off the plane near the Mediterranean and one breath tells you you’re in a world of herbs and salt water and a long way from home.
4. Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy – yes, all three of them. I loved Nathaniel and Kitty, I loved the world and I particularly liked the arrogant, funny, contemptuous djinn Bartimaeus. Like another book on this list, Stroud is big on footnotes and I love taking little detours through side stories and back stories. If you haven’t met Bartimaeus, the wise cracking genii with a heart of gold, you have missed something wonderful.
5. Gillian Philip’s Bad Faith. The Church once again rules England and it’s all too easy to run afoul of the religious authorities. But life is good for Cassandra, until she finds a corpse on the riverbank. And not just any corpse but the bishop. Cass is about to realise just how many secrets layer her family – and that the stakes have never been higher.
6. City of Thieves by David Benioff. I’d love to be able to pull off a story which is, fundamentally, a tragedy and yet which fools the reader all the way along with its whimsical and tongue in cheek treatment of the siege of Leningrad. Two unlikely soldiers are sent on an impossible quest in the heart of a war – to find a dozen fresh eggs in the starving city. It is funny, sad, surreal, both adventure and political satire. I would love to be able to write something so enchanting and so accomplished.
7. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Rule number one about JSMN. Do not drop it on your foot. I have no idea what the word length is on this novel but it’s a monster. It isn’t a single journey so much as a forest. You’ll wander into Clarke’s pages and be lost for days, if not weeks. This tale of two wizards, the scholar and the upstart, is a story of magic, and the magic of stories and you’ll end it feeling like you have been kidnapped by the fae and left part of yourself behind.
8. V by JJ Abrams. I take this book out sometimes just to look at it. This isn’t a novel so much as a concept. There is a novel, Ship of Theseus by VM Straka. But that isn’t the novel you read. Or at least it isn’t the only novel you read. The true story here takes place in the footnotes and margins of this novel, in the letters that two students leave for one another, the clues they uncover. In the folded napkin with the map drawn on it. In the newspaper cuttings, the list of murders, the postcards, as the two students realise the horror story may not be just a story at all. A wonderful theatrical metafiction and I am so, so jealous because this is a book I’ve dreamed of doing but would never find the backing for, and yet I am also so thrilled that someone managed to do it.
9. The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham. The first one is called The Dragon’s Path – and no, before you are as disappointed as some Goodreads reviewers, this particular book doesn’t have dragons in it. It does have wonderful characters, who aren’t easily defined as good and bad, including a narcissistic scholar and an alcoholic teenager banker, a group of actors led by a man who avoids the truth, lest he pervert it… Just dive in. Why would I like to have written this? For its breadth, it’s world building, its exploration of ideas. And for Clara because we simply don’t have enough middle aged heroines who get love stories and heroism and to save the day.
10. And, finally, Twilight. Not because it’s a wonderful novel, although it isn’t without merit, but because it made a truckload of money. I’m half-joking but there is a serious point in here. Stephenie Meyer’s post-Twilight novel The Host is wonderful but is far less well known. Had she never written Twilight she would probably never have made enough money to not have a second job. That is the stark truth for most writers, however good. Average incomes are very low and the books that make the best seller lists are not always the best books published or even the best books that writer has published. Talent, quality, reader reception and income all live in different neighbourhoods in the book world and it’s a happy day for all of us when they finally meet up.
Happy reading x
Louise Cole is the author of The Devil’s Poetry series.