Welcome to Susan Elliot Wright, author of What She Lost.
Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute to this brilliant blog. I’ve always been fascinated to hear other authors talk about the books that have influenced them, so it was a great pleasure to come up with my own (and harder than I thought!) Here we go:
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
This was influential for me because it’s the first book I remember completely losing myself in as a child. I read it several times, and as I grew older, I became increasingly aware that I had recognised the power of a book to create a completely different world, one into which the reader can step at any time.
- The Common Years by Jilly Cooper
I stumbled across this non-fiction book one day when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. It’s a memoir of the ten years Jilly Cooper spent living on the edge of Putney Common and walking her dogs there – I like dogs, and I spend a lot of time walking mine, so I thought I’d probably like this. I’ve now read it maybe four or five times. It is pure joy – so comforting! It helped me get through some of the darkest, unhappiest days of my life – another reminder of the sheer power a book can have. It lifted my mood and gave me hope. It was also an early insight into the daily life and insecurities of a bestselling author.
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This was the book that made me want to be a writer. It’s not an easy read – the writing is dense, packed with imagery and rich with allusion. It’s a book you definitely need to read more than once, and on each new reading, it reveals more layers. I almost didn’t finish it the first time, but there was something about the lyrical prose and the plight of the protagonist that kept me reading. It’s the story of a woman who dares to seek personal fulfilment above the needs of her husband and children. Considered utterly shocking when it was published (1899), it still resonates today and is considered a landmark feminist novel.
- Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
This is the most amazing book about writing that I’ve ever read. First published in the 1930s, it has been popular with both beginner and established writers ever since. It’s not a technical ‘how to’ sort of book, it’s more about the psychological process of tapping into creativity. She talks about ‘harnessing the unconscious’, and about training your brain to ignore the inner critic and get on with it. The style is slightly bossy, and, having been written in 1934, the language feels a little dated – she constantly refers to the writer as ’he’ – but it’s such a brilliant book, I’m prepared to let that go.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I think I would have liked Emily! I love Wuthering Heights for the intricacy of the plotting, the passion, the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the moorland, the weather, and that big, dark, shadowy house.
- The Road Home by Rose Tremain
For me, this is a masterclass in how to write a novel. We meet the protagonist, Lev, at a point of change in his life. He has a goal which becomes more clearly defined as the novel progresses, and he faces obstacle after obstacle along the way. He’s not perfect, and as he fights to overcome the obstacles, we see flaws in his character, but ultimately, we’re rooting for him all the way. This is one I’ll definitely read again.
- On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I’ve never read a Stephen King novel, but his memoir is one of the most inspirational books on writing I’ve come across, and one I always recommend to anyone who feels their motivation flagging. In this book, we learn about Stephen King’s early attempts at writing, the rejections, the poverty, the low-status jobs to keep some money coming in. And then the wonderful successes. He also smoothly works in lots of insightful tips about the writing process.
- After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
I’ve been a huge Maggie O’Farrell fan ever since I read this novel. It jumps about in time and from viewpoint to viewpoint – it breaks every ‘rule’. But she pulls it off beautifully. You know where you are within a sentence or two of each new section. It’s a poignant exploration of grief, and it has one of the most powerful endings I’ve ever read. Even on a second reading when I knew what was coming, the ending made me gasp.
- The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
Am I allowed two Maggie O’Farrells? I just wanted to mention this one because firstly, it was a fabulous story, flipping back and forth between past and present (I do this in my own novels – it’s like getting two stories for the price of one!) But also I was so drawn to the writing. Where The Awakening made me want to be a writer, Maggie O’Farrell’s prose makes me want to actually write. It’s not fancy or flowery, but it’s as if every word is chosen with exquisite precision.
- Honour Thy Father by Lesley Glaister
When I did the MA in writing at Sheffield Hallam, Lesley Glaister was one of the tutors there, so I thought I’d better familiarise myself with her work. I was blown away by this novel about four elderly sisters living together in a crumbling, decaying house with a terrible secret in the cellar. Dark, compelling, atmospheric and deeply unsettling.
What She Lost was published by Simon & Schuster on 9 March 2017.
Eleanor and her mother Marjorie have always had a difficult relationship and although they’ve tried, they have somehow just failed to connect.
Now Marjorie has Alzheimer’s, and as her memory fades, her grip on what she has kept hidden begins to loosen. When she calls her daughter to say, ‘There’s something I have to tell you’, Eleanor hopes this will be the moment she learns the truth about the terrible secret that has cast a shadow over both their lives.
But Marjorie’s memory is failing fast and she can’t recall what she wanted to say. Eleanor knows time is running out, and as she tries to gently uncover the truth before it becomes lost inside her mother’s mind forever, she begins to discover what really happened when she was a child – and why…
Susan Elliot Wright grew up in Lewisham in south-east London. Before becoming a full-time writer, she did a number of different jobs, including civil servant, cleaner, dishwasher, journalist, and chef. She has an MA in writing from Sheffield Hallam University, where she is now an associate lecturer, and she lives in Sheffield with her husband. Her latest novel is What She Lost, and she is also the author of The Things We Never Said and the Secrets We Left Behind.