Welcome to Jennifer Harvey, author of Someone Else’s Daughter.
Thank you so much, Ruby, for inviting me to take part in My Life in Books. It’s been a real pleasure to think back to all the novels, stories and poems I’ve read and realise how long standing some of these influences have been. I’m not sure how these works have influenced my own writing or my decision to focus on Psychological Thrillers as a novelist, but I suppose, as with everything, something has filtered through.
- Little Grey Rabbit’s Washing Day by Alison Uttley
When I was very young, I lived in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. My primary school, St. Thomas Aquinas, was run by German nuns and I was a little scared of them, save for my first teacher Sister Convivia. She was very fond of the Little Grey Rabbit books, and so I decided to learn a passage from the book as a surprise for her and recite it one afternoon. She was delighted and as a reward I was allowed to choose a sweet from the box she kept for special occasions. I opted for a huge purple gobstopper. I can still recite that passage from Little Grey Rabbit’s Washing Day and that recital is one of my earliest memories.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
We moved around a lot when I was a child and by primary seven, I was at a new school, in a new town, and once again the new girl trying to fit it. It wasn’t always easy, but I struck gold with Mrs. McLeod. She was an extremely inspiring teacher and I remember she would always read to us at the end of each school day. Of all the stories she read to us, The Phantom Tollbooth made the greatest impression. I loved the fantastical storyline and the friendship between Milo and the dog Tock. In particular the wordplay in the book really excited me and made me laugh. It introduced me to the fun that could be had with language and I bought and read the book to my daughter in the hope it will spark a similar love in her.
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I received this book from my good friend, Louise, who was studying Russian at Glasgow University. It’s one of the very few books I re-read. There are so many layers to it – the interwoven storylines, religion, magic and political intrigue – it never fails to delight me and make me laugh. The devil in Moscow with his bizarre entourage, what’s not to like? It has a deep hold on me, I think because it’s a fully immersive, almost cinematic experience. And Behemoth, the playful cat is one of the best characters ever created. I simply love this book.
- The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The same friend, Louise, also studied Italian. One summer, we both Interrailed around Europe and eventually landed in Sicily where we decided to stay for five weeks in the tiny fishing village of Isola delle Femmine. Louise had an English copy of The Leopard with her and I borrowed it and read it there in that tiny town on the outskirts of Palermo. I can still vividly remember sitting on the beach in the heat and feeling strangely transported back in time to this lost world of The Prince. His melancholy about the changes which are threatening his family and the decline of the Italian nobility are so beautifully rendered. I remember feeling very surprised that my eighteen-year old self could feel so sympathetic towards this strange nobleman. Sitting in the sun on the Sicilian coast, it was possible to share his sadness and his worries and to be swept up in the momentous changes transforming Italy. A truly beautiful book.
- An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow (from the collection The Weatherboard Cathedral) by Les A. Murray
I first read this poem about ten years ago and it had a profound effect on me. It describes a man crying in a town square. His emotions bring the town to a standstill and the residents undergo an almost transcendent experience as they watch him. It is so exceptionally humane, and the focus on people’s reactions to his viscerally expressed emotion, is both thought provoking and tender. The scene where children and dogs sit at his feet always stops me in my tracks. If I can ever write a scene that holds even one tenth of the emotion displayed in this poem, I will consider it an achievement.
- Tin Man by Sarah Winman
This book. What can I say? It has seeped into me, heart and soul. The tenderness of the relationships and the deep sadness and tragedy at its heart is so poignant. I don’t think I have read a book where the characters affected me to such an extent. The weaving of the memories with the present and the meticulously rendered setting allowed me to enter this world so completely I wanted to wrap my arms around them and travel with them. I would study this as an example of how to write a character led storyline, but I don’t want to examine it too closely for fear of spoiling it. This is a book to feel. Over and over again.
- The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
The best example of a ‘whydunnit’ I’ve read. The opening scene where Cora Bender, a seemingly ordinary German housewife, fatally stabs a stranger is so compelling and inexplicable, it’s impossible not to want to understand what happened. The book is so well paced, the revelations unfurling in such a way that, you really do stay up all night to finish it. I would love to be able to write such an intriguing, intelligent and expertly paced novel. The psychological depth adds yet another level of exceptionalism. If you like to read or write thrillers, then this is a masterclass.
- Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin
This short story collection by Danielle McLaughlin is feted for very good reason. The emotional connection she manages to develop between the reader and the characters is astonishing. It’s in the small, intimately described details that we get close to them. McLaughlin’s ability to analyse people through these tiny observations and to portray them so vividly is exceptional. I love the way an image (those bluebottles!) can portray so much. Reading this collection showed me the importance of using laser focussed detail to get to the heart of the matter.
- The Foxes Come At Night by Cees Nooteboom
There is a feeling created in this book/novella/ linked short stories that lingers for years. Nooteboom’s contemplation of death and memory is profound yet very accessible. When I first read the two stories, Paula and Paula II I remember feeling stunned and walking around in a daze afterwards. While there is grief and tragedy and a deep awareness of the shadow of death, there is nothing pessimistic or imposing about this book, rather the compassion Nooteboom brings to the page is strangely comforting and I return to this little gem of a book often. As an example of weaving the emotional impact of memories into a story, it is exceptional.
- Green Eggs And Ham by Dr. Seuss
Oh the joy! I must have read this a thousand times with my daughter and every time we would try to read it faster and faster and faster and end up roaring with laughter at the rhymes and the rhythm. The illustrations are such a delight, and it’s a book we both learned passages from by heart. Any book which instils such a lifelong appreciation for language and the sheer fun to be had from playing with it, is a must read, for me. I hope to still be reading this book when I am a very old woman.
Someone Else’s Daughter is published by Bookouture (June 2020)
A gripping emotional page-turner with a twist
We should have protected her… They’d left their daughter with us, their only child, and we hadn’t protected her. That was all they would see when they looked at us—that we had failed them.
A gripping story of the darkness than lurks beneath the surface of the most picture-perfect lives and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love. Fans of Big Little Lies, Kerry Fisher and Diane Chamberlain will be held totally in thrall by this emotional, twisty read.
Jennifer Harvey is the author of three psychological thrillers with Bookouture. Someone Else’s Daughter (June 2020) is now available and two further titles will follow in October 2020 and May 2021.