Desert Island Books – with Alex Martin!

UK writer, Alex Martin and I became acquainted a couple of years ago – I discovered her wonderful WWI  novel, Daffodils, and from that moment, became an ardent fan. This book and its sequels are the kinds of novels from which TV series are made. It was only natural that I include Alex on my Desert Island guest list – we share a lot in common – coasts, dogs, herbs, French countryside, and of course, we are both indie writers.

Welcome, Alex…

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Prue. Desert Island Books is a great idea. I’m a dedicated fan of Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 here in the UK. It’s amazing what you can learn about interesting characters on that programme and now I know why they always say how difficult it is to select a few favourites from a lifetime’s musical soundtrack! I think it’s even harder with books but, just like most of the choices on the radio, I’ve selected those that resonate with me emotionally. This means they might not be the best books in the universe but they are the ones that have given me most pleasure.

Okay, let’s dive in:

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Truth to tell, I’d like all five novels written by my favourite author and found it hard to select one. I almost know it off by heart, word for word. It was the first ‘proper’ book I read as a child and the romantic story gave birth to my desire to write. Her characterisation, witty dialogue and unforgiving satire on human frailty remain masterful.  Watching the DVD set is my default activity when I’m poorly. The family know it’s serious when that goes on!

2) Howards End by E M Forster. I adore E M Forster’s writing. Again he sees deep into the human psyche against a network of social niceties prevalent during his era as does Jane Austen. His characters fascinate me and in this book he mixes the working classes with the liberal elite in London in the time just before World War One. The novel was published in 1910 and Merchant Ivory made a wonderful film of it in 1992 with Emma Thompson in the leading role as Margaret Schlegel. The play between the classes fascinates me, whatever the period, and lead me to write Daffodils, set a little later than Howards End, so that the characters are drawn into the war and we see how this upsets the social mores that prevailed at the time.

3) The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. A children’s book that I read from cover to cover, finished and started all over again. It tells the tale of some kids in an undefined period between the wars who break out of their middle class homes and start a theatre group. As a child I identified with each of the seven characters in turn, seeing them as role models and envying them their easy interaction with each other, the banter, the aspirations to board the stage, the glitz of performance and the sheer creativity as they conjured up costumes from discarded curtains, painted back drops from left over paint from their parents and, for me, most important of all, wrote scripts out of thin air. The book fizzles with energy and optimism and was a great companion on rainy days.

4) These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. Georgette Heyer is frowned upon by literary circles but she wrote very well and knew the Georgian period inside out. Her later books became very formulaic and predictable but these early ones were not only gripping tales but also crammed with witty dialogue and intriguing plots. This remains her best novel, I think and my copy, bought in a second-hand shop when I was a legal secretary and desperate to cheer up my lunch hours, is tatty from re-reading. I fell in love with Leonie and Alistair and their love affair, bizarre though it was, touched my young heart. Set in Britain and Paris, it involves cross-dressing, kidnap, a trip to the Palace of Versailles, a shoot out and a daring escape. Georgette Heyer effortlessly captures the essence of each character with so light a pen, the reader does not guess how skilful the writing is.

5) Poldark by Winston Graham. Now made famous and accessible by the new TV series, I read Poldark many years ago and the original TV series (which I prefer) had me entranced. The acting was a little patchy, I admit, although I will accept no criticism of Robin Ellis, but the first series contained much more dialogue and followed the books more closely. I read them all voraciously. Again – there’s a theme in my choices I’m realising! – it’s all about a sense of place and time and great characters. Cornwall is one of those characters and just as alluring as any of them with its wild cliffs and crashing surf. Gower, where I live in Wales, is not unlike Cornwall in its scenery but it remains delightfully undiscovered, especially if you know