Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Books of a Lifetime by Hazel Gaynor

Thank you for inviting me to Historical Tapestry to talk about my favourite subject: books!

All writers are readers, first and foremost. I firmly believe it is a love of words, instilled in us during our formative years, which creates that urge to write our own books as adults, to tell our own stories. Perhaps all writers are channelling their inner child – making stuff up, using their imaginations. I like to think so!

My own childhood was peppered with a rich diet of classic children’s books. Bedtime stories were Winnie the Pooh, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Wind in the Willows. My dreams were inhabited by Tigger and Piglet, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Ratty and Mole and naughty Mr Toad. Of course, Enid Blyton was also on the shelf: Noddy and Big Ears, The Famous Five, Malory Towers … and when I was old enough to read myself, I took great joy in hiding under the bed covers with a torch to read on when I was supposed to be asleep. Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man was also a particularly memorable childhood book. Part mesmerised, part terrified, I just couldn’t put it down. I recently read a beautiful illustrated version to my two boys and they are equally captivated.

I also have very clear memories of visiting the local library as a child. It was a cold and draughty building, but there was something quite magical about those shelves and shelves of books just waiting to be read. I can almost remember the smell of the place; can still remember how I would reach up onto my tiptoes to watch the librarian as she took the little card out of the sleeve in the front of each book, stamped it and slid it back in. Such a simple thing, but the basis of such profound memories.

It was in my teenage years that I discovered the two books which have had the most lasting impact on me. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Both are still my most loved books of all time (no doubt helped by the fact that the Bronte home at Haworth Parsonage on the Yorkshire Moors wasn’t too far from where I grew up). I adored these sisters, their lives and their novels so much that I chose to compare and contrast Emily and Charlotte, and their female protagonists (Cathy and Jane), for my English Literature A’Level extended essay of 10,000 words. I could easily have written 20,000 words. I would love to read that essay now – I wonder what conclusions I drew?!

From the Brontes, I moved on to Jane Austen and fell in love with Lizzie Bennett and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. I equally loved Sense and Sensibility and Emma. I also have great affection for Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham are such fantastic characters. At around the same time, I discovered Daphne du Maurier’s brilliantly haunting Rebecca, another book which has really stayed with me. Mrs Danvers still sends a chill up my spine!

And there are so many other books I have loved since, many of them read on my daily commute in London in the mid to late ‘90s: Birdsong. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Perfume. Wild Swans and Memoirs of a Geisha to name but a few. I also read the early Harry Potter books on those train journeys, long before they were republished with much less embarrassing ‘adult’ covers.

I was a late bloomer when it came to Tolkien, reading The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy just before the first movie was released in 2001. I consider it a rite of passage to read these classics, and made my way, slowly, through Moby Dick for the same reason.

In more recent years, the books I have read and loved have been many and varied. I wept for hours after finishing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I fell hopelessly in love with Rose Tremain’s wonderful character, Merivel, in Restoration and again in Merivel. I adored Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. And of course, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl which was, for me, a game changer for historical fiction. She wrote history differently. She opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective of the Tudor dynasty that I had laboured over in the vast tomes written by historians such as David Starkey. Philippa Gregory made this fascinating period really come alive for me. I have read many of her books since and was totally in awe when I met her in person in 2012.

Most recently, I have gushed with praise for Eowyn Ivey’s magical The Snow Child and Hannah Kent’s astounding debut Burial Rites. I have many, many books on my TBR pile and while this may take over a hefty corner of the bedroom floor, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a writer, I now read with a slightly different eye. Of course, I still get hopelessly lost in a great story, but I can now also step back a little to admire the craft of writing, the narrative devices and the sheer brilliance of a story well told. These great authors simply make me want to write better. It is by reading that I have ultimately discovered what it is I want to write (and what I don’t) and I continue to read with more and more hunger as my own stories bubble and brew in my mind.

As for what I am currently reading? Hilary Mantel’s epic, Wolf Hall. I may be some time …

Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer in Ireland and the U.K. and was the
recipient of the Cecil Day Lewis Award for Emerging Writers in 2012. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children, and an accident-prone cat.

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .
Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.
Chicago, 1982 . . .
Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanicthat she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.

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