Ten Books That Changed Me with Fiona McIntosh
My latest and 35th book, The Tea Gardens has just been published and is out in the world! This is my tenth novel of historical drama and it’s a delightfully adventuresome story that will armchair travel readers to England’s seaside town of Brighton to the slums of Calcutta and on to the breathtaking Himalayan Mountains.
I’m currently on the road meeting and drinking tea with readers at events across Australia to celebrate The Tea Gardens. I’m also working on my next novel, The Sultan’s Pearls, a harrowing tale of survival by a Jewish girl born in Czechoslovakia that Penguin Random House will be publishing in late 2018.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
I learned to cry for characters, aged 11 while reading the opening novel of by CS Lewis’ fantasy series; in fact, I was inconsolable about Aslan. I could not believe my favourite character had been slaughtered and that he took his death with such nobility to save others. But then I experienced genuine joy through my tears, lost in Narnia as he re-appeared. My poor parents…they didn’t know what was going on and I don’t think I’ve ever fully stepped back out of the wardrobe.
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
I read Ludlum’s masterpiece thriller when I was 18. This was the 1970s so while it has none of today’s technology or the violence that we seem to take in our stride these days, it was incredibly adventuresome and full of tension. I enjoyed the way Jason Bourne, our lead, trips across Europe and stays in swanky hotels. I decided at this tender age that I was going to travel the world as he did and I was definitely going to stay at the George V Hotel one day. I spent my early career travelling the world for my work in the travel industry and although it took me nearly three decades to make it into my guest room at the George V, I couldn’t help the smug feeling to know I kept that private promise to stay in the superb Parisian hotel.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
I read Tigana aged 30 and decided if I was ever to write a book, I wanted to write one as epic and as emotional and tension-filled as this one. It is my favourite book. And it encouraged me when I did turn to writing to try my keyboard at this sort of imaginative storytelling. It was Tigana that led me ultimately to writing 14 big books for adults set in a make believe medieval world.
Game of Thrones by George R R Martin
Now Game of Thrones might be the most popular TV series ever but I read GRRM when he wasn’t so well known and as a debut novelist. I was shocked, delighted, traumatised, energised by his tale. I think it was this writer more than any other who gave me permission, when I became a storyteller, to kill major characters and showed me what it could do for my story. Never more powerful has this permission been than in my novel The French Promise that has, at times, paralysed the reader who didn’t want to read on when they lost someone they cared so deeply about. I don’t kill deliberately – it happens and it happens because of character choices – but when it does I won’t re-write to keep that character safe. I cry too but it never fails to empower the story or take it in a fresh, exciting new direction.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
What can I say about Ian McEwan? The man infuriates me for his brilliant writing and time and again he teaches me that I have a long way to go. His stories aren’t always satisfying; he leaves plenty hanging for the reader to make their own mind up about but he always takes us on a journey. My greatest pleasure is in his character development. His characters are rarely handsome or especially beautiful and not always easy to like but as a reader the understanding of them is effortless because he draws them so brilliantly and concisely. I feel I know the characters within a few paragraphs of first meeting them and that is down to the writer’s cunning and skill. Also, sometimes even the least attractive character of his manages to embed themselves into this reader’s heart and I find myself barracking for them. Enduring Love for me is my favourite of his with that heart-stopping opening and a premise that I believe would challenge all of us, forcing us to ask the same questions that his lead does, especially ‘was it my fault?’.
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
Just for romping, stomping, page turning entertainment it’s hard to go past Kane & Abel. I read this in the late seventies and yes, it’s dated, but who cares? It’s fabulous storytelling and has that epic feel that carries you away and makes you forget your train or bus stop.
Notes from a Little Island by Bill Bryson
I will read anything by Bill Bryson. Anything! He has a rare ability to make readers – especially this one – laugh out loud and I think that’s a gift. I never buy books that people tell me are ‘so funny’ because I think I’m tricky to make laugh and I don’t particularly look for ‘comedy’ reads. However, Bill Bryson hits my funny bone with relentless ease and I have been known to disturb many a sleeping airline traveller with a helpless explosion of laughter. His softly sarcastic, self-effacing style of writing that takes us on journeys to places we mostly know is wonderfully uplifting and I can lose many happy hours with Bill Bryson whether I’m reading about Shakespeare, the English language, or roaming around Europe with him and his backpack.
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
The Power of One enriched my life at just the right moment. As a late teen I think this is the perfect time for any young reader to be given Bryce Courtenay’s novel. Beloved as our great storyteller is and with a marvellous bibliography, I still doubt he’s ever written a more inspiring novel than his debut that assures every youngster on the cusp of adulthood that destiny is ours to shape and we can achieve whatever we set our minds to. It certainly had that effect on me and was why when the opportunity came more than 20 years later to meet him I took time away from family and work to fly down to Hobart and learn about writing fiction from the maestro.
Mix & Bake by Belinda Jeffery
Belinda Jeffery is one of Australia’s treasures. There are probably plenty of celebrity chefs and those who make a lot more noise than she, but she’s a dedicated achiever whose recipes I’ve discovered are flawless. I have said time and again that for any new and anxious baker, you need nothing more than Mix & Bake in your arsenal to set you on a lifetime of pleasurable baking. I adore her recipes and since discovering it, this is my go-to baking book whether I’m looking for a celebration cake or a simple batch of scones….and it is this book that turned me into a confident baker that never fears pastry or bread…the big two challenges! J
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullogh
Colleen McCullogh is the other great storytelling treasure and while the literati perhaps scratch their heads I am never surprised as to why she is consistently the country’s popular vote for the #1 book of all time for an Aussie writer. Few books will give such emotional punch, page turning power, despair or pleasure as The Thorn Birds can. I read it before I arrived in Australia and I was entranced by this story and the landscape I had no experience of and yet I could swear I could see it in my mind’s eye. A huge, powerful story that made me want to visit Australia and see the land for myself. And so I came and look what happened J
The Tea Gardens
Spirited doctor Isla Fenwick is determined to work at the coalface of medicine in India before committing to life as a dutiful wife. With hopes of making a difference in the world, she sails to Calcutta to set up a midwifery clinic. There she will be forced to question her beliefs, her professionalism and her romantic loyalties.
On a desperate rescue mission to save the one person who needs her the most, she travels into the foothills of the Himalayas to a tea plantation outside Darjeeling. At the roof of the world, where heaven and earth collide, Isla will be asked to pay the ultimate price for her passions.
From England’s seaside town of Brighton to India’s slums of Calcutta and the breathtaking Himalayan mountains, this is a wildly exciting novel of heroism, heartache and healing, by the bestselling author of The Chocolate Tin.