Books: five to read this month
After a good book for your bedside table? Gill Thompson, the author of 'The Oceans Between Us' and 'The Child on Platform One', shares her five all-time favourite tomes.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C. S. Lewis
I know this novel is – on one level at least – a children’s book, but it always has a special place in my heart. I read it when I was about 10 and realised for the first time that writers can create other worlds for readers to inhabit. It was a revelation and set me off on the path to becoming a writer. I used to save up my pocket money to buy the rest of books in the Narnia series and devoured each one. When my daughter was little, the television adaptation of the series came out and we used to snuggle up to watch it together on wintry Sunday afternoons. Now I have a seven-year-old granddaughter and I am reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to her, so this magical book has connected three generations. Perhaps she’ll read it to her children one day!
Pride and Prejudice
I suspect this is a favourite of many writers. I love the plot, the characters and the wry humour. I admire Jane Austen hugely – to set herself up as a writer, albeit secretly, in her day was an amazing feat. She referred to Pride and Prejudice in a letter to her sister as ‘my own darling child.’ I could identify with this the day I received a proof of my first novel. I use a lot of ‘free indirect speech’ in my own writing, a technique which Austen pioneered. So I am indebted to Jane Austen for many things. Whenever I am in Winchester I make sure I pop in to the cathedral to visit her grave – and thank her for all she did for readers and writers.
When I’m not a historical fiction writer I’m an English teacher, and I’ve been fortunate enough to teach Enduring Love which is why I know it so well. It has such a powerful beginning – a young couple witnessing a ballooning accident – and the repercussions of that tumultuous day ripple through the novel. The book is part thriller, part love story, part scientific treatise and McEwan expertly interweaves the different strands. Such a clever storyteller.
A God in Ruins
I first encountered this novel when the book club to which I belong decided to read it – and I’m so glad we did. My own novels are set in World War Two and I’m fascinated by this period in history. (My father was in the RAF during the war and my mother seemed to have spent most of her youth in an air raid shelter, so I was brought up on war stories.) Atkinson evokes the period so well, and her characterisation is brilliant, but I think what she does with form – providing the reader with different endings – is pure genius. I wish I could write as well as she does.
I’ve always loved Maggie O’ Farrell’s writing (she’s another author I would love to emulate). I enjoyed all of her early novels but I thought Hamnet was outstanding, and well deserving of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Waterstones book of the year. I have taught Shakespeare’s Hamlet many times but never thought of the father-son relationship in quite the way that O’Farrell envisages it. And I love the idea that writers convey messages to their families through their writing. Both my published novels feature mother-child separation and when our son went to live abroad a few years ago, I wrote about those feelings of loss from my own experience.
Gill Thompson is the author of two novels – The Oceans Between Us published in 2019 and The Child on Platform One published in March 2020. She was born in Epsom, grew up in Cheam and went to Sutton High School, and then later moved to Farnham where she lived for 18 years. She now lives in Ifold just over the Surrey border in West Sussex, and teaches English at Godalming College part time while also helping to look after her grandchildren who live in Cranleigh.