Welcome to Anna Mazzola, author of The Unseeing.
Only ten? This has been almost impossible, but also great fun at a time when fun is in short supply. Here, in chronological order (starting with me as a 5 year old), are my ten favourite books.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I was obsessed with this book as a child – its eccentric cast, its defiant heroine, its magic. I spent several weeks dressed as Alice, drinking from small bottles marked ‘Drink Me’. Things may have gone too far when I drew the door to Wonderland on my parent’s wall. It may also have been where my fascination with things below ground (caves, tunnels, secret passages) began.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s books were a big part of my childhood, but this was the one that delighted me the most: the clever daring fox winning out against the nasty, mean and foolish farmers. And of course it features secret passages and a, ‘little underground village, with…separate houses for Badgers and Moles and Rabbits and Weasels and Foxes’, so that was a winner.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I’ve read a lot of 19th century novels and decided I could only pick one for this list. It had to be Jane: the woman who insists on being heard, despite being ‘poor, obscure, plain, and little.’ As a girl, I was horrified and gripped by the episode in the Lowood School. Maybe that was where I first learnt that in order for us to be drawn into a story, we must put our protagonist through terrible things.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The best first line ever written, and the rest is pretty good too. I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was about sixteen and remember getting to the closing line (‘Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody’) and thinking, Oh, so this is what fiction can do. Frank and breathtakingly original.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Probably the most incredible writing I have ever read, Lolita is a tour de force of style and narrative. To make the reader not only persevere through, but to enjoy and marvel at such a terrible and depraved tale was a conservable achievement. First published in 1955, Lolita has lost none of its power to shock and awe.
- Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Like Amanda Saint in her blog post, I’ve had to limit myself to how many Margaret Atwood books appear on this list. Her work has had a big influence on me, as I once awkwardly told her at a book signing (she looked suitably unimpressed). Atwood’s writing is so astonishing and immaculate that I often find it difficult to write after reading her books. It feels there is no point in even trying. Alias Grace – with its enigmatic heroine, its dark humour, and its clever patchwork structure – is my favourite.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
‘Some things you forget. Other things you never do.’ Beloved was the first Toni Morrison book I read and the one that’s stayed with me the longest. A devastating retelling of a true story about slavery and obsession in 19th century Kentucky, Beloved is a horrifying masterpiece.
- If This is a Man by Primo Levi
This may be the only book on which my father and I agree (he ‘doesn’t read books by women’). What is most remarkable about Levi’s work is not so much his memories of the horror (although those are pretty remarkable) but his ability to recall what made the world beautiful. One of the most important books I’ve ever read.
- Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
I love all of Sarah Waters’ books but this remains my favourite: literary fiction with a truly gripping plot. Also featuring a wonderful cast of villainous characters, brilliant use of 19th century slang (‘Pigeon, my arse!’) and the best twist in the business.
- Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
Another of my neo-Victorian faves and such a clever, clever book. You are slowly drawn into the world of Scottish spinster Harriet Baxter and only gradually do you begin to realize what that world really is. I foist this book onto everyone. And The Observations. Can’t wait for Jane Harris’s next.
The Unseeing is an historical crime novel based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting her lover, James Greenacre, in the murder of Hannah Brown. Sarah was sentenced to death and petitioned the King for mercy.
The Unseeing begins with the appointment of the lawyer who is to investigate her petition: Edmund Fleetwood. He – and the reader – has to determine whether Sarah Gale is indeed innocent or whether she is far more involved than she would have us believe.
I’ve always loved books, and I studied literature, but I only began writing five years ago after my son was born (scribbling in cafes while he slept, when I should probably have been emptying nappy bins) and it accidentally took over.
After several writing courses and many drafts, I signed up with literary agent Juliet Mushens who sold The Unseeing at auction in the UK and in the US. I feel very lucky.
The Unseeing is published on 14 July 2016 (February 2017 in the US). I am currently writing my second historical crime novel set on the Isle of Skye in 1857. I’m also a criminal justice solicitor and I live in Camberwell, South London, with two small children, two cats, one husband, and a lot of books.