Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Books that changed my life

Was it a childhood favourite that helped you discover the full power of your imagination? Was it an inspirational true story that taught you not to take life for granted? Was it a self help book that made you realise you were not living your life to the full? Or was it a novel in your adult years that taught you about love?
For me, two books have changed my life - one in my childhood, and one on the cusp of adulthood.
In the newspaper on the weekend, I read a great feature where eight well-known Wellingtonians - writers, politicians, a broadcaster, a sportsman and a comedian were asked what book changed their life, so I thought I would share mine with you.
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
I was delighted to discover that Bill Manhire - writer and the director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University - and I share a life-changing book: The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.
Being a shy, quiet child who preferred reading to sport, I read a lot of books in my childhood and Enid Blyton was there through it all. I read as many of the Famous Five books as  could get my hands on, and then discovered her foray into fantasy which I struggled to put down and read over and over again.
I will admit that I don't remember much of the story, but I do remember how it opened up my imagination and made me believe in another world, another reality that is closer than you think. It sticks with me today, and I even think it influences how I write - not shying away from magic, other worlds, and the possibility of a force, a sort of electricity around us that we can neither see, nor touch, nor understand, that would explain things like spirits and demons and people that don't quite make sense in this world.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
At the tender age of fourteen, I went to my local library after getting frustrated with the lack of mature fiction in my school library. I was bored with every book I read, so I asked the librarian if she would point me towards something a little different, something exciting. And that's when my obsession with Jamie and Claire Fraser began.
You've all heard me talk about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series - I seem to find a way to slip it into every post I write about books - but it's just so GOOD!
Looking back now, I do wonder if it was appropriate for a fourteen year old girl to be reading a book so full of very, very detailed sex scenes. But in a way, I'm grateful because it taught me that sex is not just physical - it's the most intimate thing you can do with another person and when you love them more than life itself, you bear your soul to that person. And Diana Gabaldon herself taught me that the intense, all-consuming, impassioned love that exists between Jamie and Claire is possible in the real world - because she experiences it herself.
And then there's the time travel. I LOVE time travel stories, and this book started me on the road to writing my own novel - which I've dreamed about doing all my life - which also has a time travel element to it.
Again, it was not just the book, but the author who influenced me here. She came to Wellington a few years ago promoting the seventh book in the series, An Echo in the Bone, and spoke to a packed audience about her books.
At the end during question time, someone asked "What advice to you have for aspiring writers?" And she said, "Just start writing".
Then someone asked, "How do you find the time?" and she said, "How many hours a day do you spend watching television?"
Simple, I know. I mean, of course all you have to do to start writing a book is to "Just start writing", but so often we have this perception of an author having a degree in English Literature and a masters and a PHD to top it off - oh, and you have to be graying around the edges.
But - although Diana Gabaldon has three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology - she was just a woman who wanted to write a book, so she just started writing - in her thirties while raising three young children.
So that's how Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton changed my life.

What book, or books, changed your life?


  1. I was definitely a late bloomer with the Outlander series. I just discovered it a couple of years ago. I can't think of any one book that changed my life but the books I read as a child, I'm sure influenced who I became.

  2. HI there. I came across your blog in the comments section of rockstar diaries....(I was also an excited kiwi to see brooke fraser on her blog). Anyway just have to say I loved the Faraway Tree growing up. I had the big hard cover editions with beautiful illustrations. I always wished I got to go to that land of treats!! Did you read the wishing chair too??