Books / Book Reviews

A love letter to the women writers who have shaped me


I’ve long been a reader of female-authored tomes. A lifetime before working for the Women’s Prize for Fiction – a literary award that, unsurprisingly champions books by women – much of my reading repertoire was made up of books by women writers.

As a young girl I devoured anything and everything by Enid Blyton – one of my oldest and most treasured possessions is a Mallory Towers hardback that my Uncle Rory gifted my big sister for her birthday, but which I soon after saw as my own – and to this day I struggle to resist the lure of buying a dog eared and dusty Blyton book on sale in a second hand shop in a haze of nostalgia. I adored the tales of Ramona and her sister Beezus by Beverly Cleary, and loved few novels as much as E. Nesbitt’s The Railway Children and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

As I approached my pre-teen years, my shelves were stacked with Ann M Martin’s Baby Sitter Club books and well thumbed stories from Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High; tales that I believed were proof that I had reached the height of reading sophistication. I owned every book Judy Blume had written, and bonded with each and every one of the characters over the strife of teenage angst, dreaming of the suburban American dream she depicted so wonderfully in all her tales. I poured over Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Knows it All books; longing to meet the character after which the books were named and live in a house with a turret. Suffice it to say that my father was somewhat dismayed by my largely American and somewhat shallow reading diet, one that consisted mainly of boys and shopping malls, and pressed a copy of Anne Holme’s I Am David into my hands; twenty years later I’m still yet to read it, though in homage to my dad I did buy myself a copy a matter of months ago, and still it sits unread on my shelf.

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I don’t have a great recollection of the books we studied at school; though I did read – and adore – Penelope Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, and Dorris Lessing’s short story Flight, that we studied for our GCSEs, will always make me think of frangipani flowers and verandas.

Outside of my required reading curriculum I continued to read widely – wherever and whomever I could – and I fell for Jodi Picoult and her compelling plot twists, read every Joanne Harris on which I could get my hands – from Chocolat to Coastliners to the bewitching Sleep Pale Sister. It was prior to my degree in double English that I first found Kate Mosse and her Labyrinth trilogy; and of all the women writers I love she is the one I hold in the highest esteem.

University brought with it the likes of Enid Wharton and Kate Chopin; and a self selected dissertation on black women writers for which I read the back catalogues of Ann Walker and Toni Morrison in their entireties; I learnt to annotate and analyse and read beyond the words of the page. I studied travel writing and the tale of Hideous Kinky, books by Jeanette Winterson and the art of creative writing; a feat I still love today.

Post university came a book by a woman that would change life as I knew it: a Virago Classic edition of Du Maurier’s Rebecca that would inspire me to read the BBC Top 100 before my thirtieth birthday. The challenge – though long and often laborious – saw the birth of this blog, and the opportunity to work with the aforementioned Kate Mosse on the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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Unsurprisingly, working on the Women’s Prize for Fiction further whet my appetite for books by women, and during my time on the Prize, I read avidly and voraciously; the previous winners, the current long listers and everything in between. I loved Lionel Shriver and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, I adored Ali Smith’s wit and Donna Tartt’s strong yet subtle characterisation. Some books I loved; some I didn’t, but every one I read left an indelible mark on my love for literature.

And so, on the eve of International Women’s Day in the UK, and just hours away from the Women’s Prize for Fiction long list 2018 announcement, consider this my ode to the many and varied and witty and wonderful women writers, who have enriched the lives of many and  will continue to do so for decades to come.

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