Four Books That Have Shaped My Life
They're sitting in a pile on my desk next to me as I write this. One is quite literally falling apart. One is very pink and about sex. Another is a book for children and the fourth a women's fiction novel with Brownie Guide badges on the cover. As innocent as these four books look sitting quietly on my desk, they all have one thing on common.
They have all had a profound impact on my life. They've shaped my life, helped create the person I am and have led me to this writing/mentoring career. Which, quite frankly, I find fascinating.
Be-Ro Recipe Book by Joyce Bostock
This is my mother's copy. It's battered, the back page is only two-thirds there, yellowing sticky tape holds some of the pages together and there are small tears in the edges of the pages. It cost my mother one and six and is the 32nd edition. Inside there is the printed signature of Joyce Bostock with the address of the Be-Ro Home Cookery Service.
This book taught me how to bake. I would sit and read, looking at the pictures of the animal biscuits, the harlequin gateau or the Be-Ro Christmas cake; my mouth watering. I'd make the cakes with my mum and I still use the recipes to this day. The amount of times I must have made Australian crunchie from this book over my lifetime is ridiculous. It was my favourite as a child and is my daughter's favourite today.
This love of baking fed a creative side of me. I learnt, in my teens, to make cakes of various objects, including a formula one car I designed on paper before baking. Later on in my twenties, when I hit a low point in my life, I rediscovered this love of baking and included it in my writing. And my mum bought me an updated version of the Be-Ro book.
All of Enid Blyton's stories had an impact on me. They fired my imagination, encouraged me to invent my own adventures in my head and made my love of reading true. I was a real little book worm; head constantly in a book and not paying attention to what was going on around me.
Willow Farm is about four children, Benjy, Penny, Rory and Sheila and starts as they're moving out of London to begin life on a farm. I would read and re-read this book and imagine I had chickens, pigs or a lamb of my own.
So, it's funny how my life has mirrored theirs. I don't live on a farm but we did move out of London to the countryside where I began to keep chickens and ducks. Just like Sheila. Sheila had Buff Orpingtons and learned all about how to place eggs underneath the broody hen and make sure they didn't leave their eggs for more than 20 minutes. All of this came back to me when we hatched our own chicks last year. Again, I write about these experiences.
Is it too dramatic to say this book completely changed my life?
It basically set up a chain of events. I read the book. I enjoyed the book. So I looked up the author on the internet. The internet was still young. Websites were still a fairly new thing, as were blogs. But the author, Kate Harrison, had her web address in the book. I typed it in. Can't remember if we were still on dial up then - we certainly didn't have wifi - and I was on a rather cumbersome desk top with a large, heavy monitor.
So, there I was in our dining room/dumping ground/office. It was 2006 - my baby was a couple of years old by then and I'd been through a tough time. Reading (and baking - see above) was my escape. And I was starting to write. I'd started writing whilst pregnant, had stopped for a while during those months with a new baby, but was attempting to do it again. I was aiming to write a novel but I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I'd write and re-write the same three chapters. Over and over again.
Then I went on Kate's blog. Found a group she'd set up called The Novel Racers for writers wanting a spur to write their first draft. And emailed her. I've written about this before so I won't repeat myself. The point is, this novel led to me joining an online community of writers, I created my first blog, and got heavily involved with the online writing world. It led to writing opportunities with other blogs and websites, being published in magazines, getting my agent, and to where I am right now.
All because I enjoyed a novel and decided to find out more about the author.
If Kate's novel spurred me on to write and blog in the first place then Laura's changed my view of what I wanted to write. She gave me the permission I didn't know I needed to write what I wanted to write and not what I thought I should write.
It was an emotional moment. (I've written about it more here.)
For a long time I was just kind of coasting along. Not sticking my neck out on the internet. Not taking risks or promoting my writing.
Then I attended one of Laura's workshops in 2016, read her blog and her book, and looked at my writing from a totally different perspective. I started putting myself out there more. And I've found other people relate to my words.
I don't think I'd even circled her workshop on the conference programme as one I definitely wanted to go to.
It might never have happened. But I'm so glad it did.
As you can see I'm fascinated by the books that have shaped lives. I'm thinking of delving into this further and asking some of the women who inspire me on the internet what books have shaped their lives and have led to where they are today.
What do you think? Is there a book that has encouraged you to take a certain path?
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