Those brilliant people at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize have launched a campaign this week to discover the stories by female authors that have shaped each of us. Things began earlier in the week with a film trailer voiced by the actor, Vicky McClure and starring the lovely Anna James who many of you will recognise from Twitter (@acaseforbooks) and the ‘We Love This Book’ newsletter which Anna edits. You can watch the trailer and find out about Anna’s #ThisBook at the bottom of this post.
Taking part is easy; just answer one simple question using the #ThisBook hashtag:
Which book, written by a woman, has impacted, shaped or changed your life?
The books named on the hashtag are going to be collated and the top 20 books by women that have had the biggest impact on our lives will be revealed at the end of July.
I’m delighted to have been asked to share my book and explain the impact it’s had on me. I think this might surprise a few of you…
I don’t think I was a typical child in many ways but there was one pattern I followed that will be familiar to lots of you (especially parents); when I was younger, I devoured books. We would go to the library weekly and on the occasions I was allowed to buy a book from town during Saturday’s weekly shop, I’d have read most of it in the car before we got home (it drove my mum to keep them from me until we’d set foot in the house). However, not long after I started secondary school, things changed.
I remember spending most of my first year (Y7) lunchtimes in the library working my way through the Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew series but it wasn’t long before I’d outgrown them and didn’t know where to turn. This was prior to the boom of Young Adult titles and anyway, there were more interesting things to be doing than reading. I don’t recall reading anything much through Y8 and Y9 but at the start of Y10 something changed.
For the first time, we were placed in sets created from students across the year group. This meant I met students I’d never seen before (I went to a school with 1500 students on roll). One of the students was a girl called Joanne. Joanne and I had a mutual friend which I assume was how we were introduced and it wasn’t long before we were sitting on the back row of the science labs giggling over daft rhymes we’d made up and talking about boys. Soon I discovered that Joanne did something I didn’t anymore: she read books. She read them, enjoyed them and talked about them. And here was I with this cool, smart, funny friend and I was embarrassed. So I started reading again.
I can’t remember who recommended it – it might have been Joanne, or it might just have been the talk of a certain group at the time – but the book, written by a woman, that’s had the biggest impact on my life is Riders by Jilly Cooper. Yes, you read that right.
Of course, lots of people were talking about Jilly Cooper’s novels; we were teenagers and they were full of sex (so everyone said), what else would we be discussing? I bought myself a copy with the money from my paper round and read all 919 pages over a few days. I loved Rupert Campbell-Black and his arrogant, caddish behaviour; I rooted for underdog, Jake Lovell, desperate for the moment when he’d get his revenge; I had a soft spot for lovely Billy (didn’t we all?), Rupert’s best friend and the one who got to mop-up after all his misdemeanours. Riders may as well have been set on a different planet, rather than the far end of the Fosse Way, for all the relevance it bore to my life in Barnsley but that’s why I loved it so: it was pure escapism. And after I’d read Riders, I went straight on to read Rivals, Polo and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and I haven’t stopped reading since.
Riders is also my favourite novel to cite when people are complaining about the books kids are reading (or not reading) today. So often we’re told that children should be reading ‘quality’ literature, which sounds to me like the sort of books guaranteed to turn your average teenager right off. Rather than turning me into an illiterate, Tory-boy loving, horse-riding, nymphomaniac, Riders sparked a lifetime love of reading that lead to a degree in English, a career as an English teacher, and a blog that I love writing. Not bad, eh?
Over to you; what’s your #ThisBook? I can’t wait to see everyone’s choices.