I’d like to welcome Joanna Briscoe today to Between My Lines. She is sharing her thoughts on what books mean to her, what inspires her to write and what she has to avoid! Her new book Touched is out on 3 July and I’m looking forward to reading it later this week. Watch this space for a review and giveaway of Touched soon.Touched by Joanna Briscoe
Published by Random House on 3 July 2014
Source: Blog Tour
A chilling, deeply creepy Hammer novella by Joanna Briscoe, author of the acclaimed, bestselling novel, Sleep With Me. Rowena Crale and her family have moved from London. They now live in a small English village in a cottage which seems to be resisting all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp, stains come through layers of wallpaper, celings sag. And strange noises - voices - emanate from empty rooms. As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife and a good mother to her young children, her life starts to disintegrate. And then, one by one, her daughters go missing ...
Over to Joanna:
I live with books. I can’t quite say I live for books, because that would be exaggerating, and I live above all for my family, but books seem a pretty vital part of my existence. I can’t imagine any life of the mind without great novels, and my house is so book-covered, that not only are hardbacks and scrunched old paperbacks toppling over in my study, but they are shelved floor-to-ceiling and over the door at one end of the kitchen.
For me, this is about novels: it has to be prose. Yes, I see or read the odd play and am blown away by some poetry when I can push through my resistance, but it has always been exquisite prose that excites me above any other writing or art form.
As a writer, it’s vital to be surrounded by great literature, and I photocopy pages of favourite prose to take with me to the British Library, to read for when stuck in the middle of writing a novel. Now I have a Kindle, I can download samples and use them for the same purpose. The last pages of AS Byatt’s Possession are always – well, in my possession. Who can forget the butterflies with their “violet pentagrams and spiralling coils of petal-light”? I also have pages of Nabokov, Marguerite Duras, Michael Cunningham, and a changing selection of others to inspire me.
BUT of course, when one is writing, one is so sensitive to words, sounds, rhythms, that quite the opposite effect can happen. A bit of appalling prose can creep up on you unawares, accidentally read somewhere, and suddenly all fluency runs away, and you’re virtually illiterate. Some writers say they don’t read anything while they’re writing a novel for this very reason – they’re too influenced. A few of us used to alert each other when there was anything by a particular book reviewer who was so bad, so unusually appalling in content and writing style, that we spent much time conjecturing and picking the reviews apart. If I wanted to write anything at all that day, I had to be careful, and quickly read some great prose to wash away the dross.
A novel’s voice stays in the mind very persuasively, for better or worse, and it doesn’t even take bad prose to ruin one’s own. For instance, the great Jane Austen’s very distinctive style is somehow easy to echo or parody, albeit unintentionally, and reading her while writing a novel can stiffen contemporary prose until it just seems strange.
Sometimes I’m glad not to have had the influence of something good. I just read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is wonderful. The incredibly knowledgeable bookseller at Hampstead Waterstone’s, Claire Berkeley, had recommended it some time ago, and I can pick her brain when I want anything unusual, but it had joined the overwhelming pile of books to be read by my bed. Until the week before last, when I read it and gasped. It’s a mini masterpiece. I was so glad and relieved not to have read it before writing my latest novel, because Touched features wallpaper and a wall that are not quite right – assailed with stains, strange scents, damp – and I know I would have been influenced by the Victorian Gilman had I read it. As it is, there are some small echoes, but knowing they’re coincidental is somehow pleasing.
I had barely read ghost literature when Hammer asked me to write my novella for them. Since childhood, that is. I used to hide under the blankets until I fell asleep after reading Aiden Chambers’ collection of ‘real life’ hauntings and a book called Ghosts, Spooks and Spectres. It was a particular kind of voluntary torture. In adulthood, I had read The Turn of the Screw and that was it. Even MR James had passed me by. Without having read any ghost literature, I could think of my own story in a way that felt free and original, and then once I had my plot and was well into the novel, I started to read.
What an amazing mix of the fantastic and the truly risible is out there. But reading Poe, Shirley Jackson, AM Burrage, Robert Aickman, Edith Wharton and Robert Louis Stevenson was utterly inspiring. There are some terrible short stories out there, all featuring apparitions of a clunking variety that are merely laughable, and I had to either laugh or cast them aside, but the best ones are so exciting that I’m still immersed in supernatural reading after having finished Touched at the beginning of the year.
A new love affair with tasteful horror, with literary supernatural writing, has begun. I’d have never expected it. I’m also watching the scariest films. Try Orphan, Rosemary’s Baby, or The Orphanage. I bring in only touches of the ghostly – the humans are busy wreaking their own havoc, with the ghosts playing alongside them – and in a way I like showing that real human behaviour can be scarier than anything we might dream up.
It’s a constant juggling act, being a reader and a writer. Writers MUST read, and read thoroughly and widely, but content and timing is all. I am overwhelmed by the amount I haven’t read, but never cease to be excited that it’s all out there, waiting.
Joanna Briscoe’s latest novel, Touched, is published by Hammer Books on July 3rd.
Trish : Guess it doesn’t matter whether you are an author or a reader; looks like we are all scared and excited by our TBR!
Bookish Chat : Which book has inspired creativity in you? Either in writing or art or however you choose to let it out. I find books motivate me rather than inspire me. One book that inspired me to be braver is Golden by Jessi Kirby, it just makes me want to live the very best life that I can and be true to myself.