10 Books that Changed Me with Pamela Hart
I found writing this quite challenging. It’s a very different list from ‘my 10 favourite books’, although there are a couple of crossovers. Every book changes you a little; teaches you more about what it means to be human. But the top 10? Difficult!
So I started early:
The Roma Poetry Book
This was one of my father’s old schoolbooks, and he used to read it to me at bedtime when I was very little. Apparently, I used to demand to be read to ‘from the book with all the pretty words’. So that’s where my obsession with language started – and also with the rhythm of sentences, because Dad mostly recited the poems rather than reading them. He’d learned them at school and remembered them all his life. Having someone recite to you is quite different to having someone read… I learnt a lot about the space around words as well as their meaning.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
Another one from Dad. This was a 1916 edition (I still have it) and it felt so old. I think this was where my interest in Australian history started – I remember how delighted I was when I found out the Man from Snowy River was an actual real person that Banjo Paterson had met! The idea of stories coming from real events tucked itself away in my mind, along with all that fantastic imagery of the ‘sunlit plains extended’ (yes, the collection had Clancy of the Overflow as well).
Some book I can’t remember the name of
This was the very first book I got out of our local library. It was a story about a boy who changes into his dog and lives his dog’s day. Now, I was a sophisticated enough reader at four years old to know that most stories weren’t real – but this book had photographs, not drawings. Black and white photographs, just like you got in the newspaper. I was convinced it was all real. So when I turned the last page, and read, ‘and then he woke up and it was all a dream…’, I have never felt so betrayed in my life. This book had tricked me! Deliberately tricked me! It’s one of my strongest memories from my early life. The sense of absolute and compelte betrayal. Of being manipulated.
I think that had a strong effect on me. For one thing, I HATE books which end ‘it was all a dream’. Arrrrrghghghghghgh! And for another, I have a distaste for the kind of book which is clearly trying to manipulate its readers. I think an author can deal honestly with their reader and engage their emotions without obviously pulling their strings. A little subtlety, please – and respect for your readers.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Now, you may not know that, as Pamela Freeman, I write for children, including fantasy fiction – and the Narnia books put me on that path. Not only them. For me, they represent the many, many, many fantastical and fabulous books I read as a child, which opened up imaginative spaces and magical worlds. I could list others: Ursula Le Guin’s, The Wizard of Earthsea, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, EE Nesbitt’s – well, everything she ever wrote.
It occurs to me only just now, typing that list, that many of my early beloved authors were women. Of course, women have always been represented in children’s books, but adult fantasy fiction, until recently, was a male preserve. Perhaps it was because I read so many women fantasy authors as a child that it never occurred to me I couldn’t write fantasy for both children (Victor’s Quest, the Betony books) and adults (The Castings Trilogy).
Roger Lancelyn Greene’s books about myths and legends
This is a bit of a cheat, because it’s several books, but I can’t remember which one I read first. Myths of the Norsemen, probably. These books got me interested in history from a completely new angle – and they were full of wonderful stories! Greene also spiked my interest in Robin Hood – who up until then I had thought was as made up as anyone else I saw on television (older readers may remember the Richard Green Tales of Robin Hood tv series). The idea that the television series (originally a matinée film series) was based on old ballads, and that those ballads might have been based on a real person, Robert of Lockesley… well, that was it. I was hooked on history from then on. I was about eight at this stage.
It wouldn’t much matter which Shakespeare play I read first, but Twelfth Night happened to be it – on a rainy Sunday when I’d read every other book in the house and the library was closed. I was 11. I didn’t know Shakespeare was supposed to be hard. I read it and thought the scene with Malvolio in the yellow stockings and green cross gaiters was the funniest thing I’d ever read. I was literally rolling around on the floor laughing, tears running down my face. (All that poetry reading stood me in good stead in figuring out the meaning of the old words.) And what that meant was that when I encountered Shakespeare in school, I thought, ‘Oh, great, more from that really funny writer’, rather than, ‘Oh, no, hard stuff!’
My mother, by the way, came upon me whilst I was rolling around laughing, and asked what I was reading. I told her. Her response? ‘You’re a strange girl, Pam.’ I can’t say she was wrong.
Lord of the Rings
I’m a fantasy writer as well as an historical novelist – you knew it had to come up sooner or later!
Pride and Prejudice
And I’m sure you all know why. ‘Nuff said.
These Old Shades, Georgette Heyer
I’m pretty sure this was the first Heyer I ever read, and it is, of course, a wonderful introduction. She remains my favourite Regency romance writer (but a big call-out to Anna Campbell here!). Not just because of her light, elegant prose and her wonderfully drawn characters, but because she is genuinely funny, and just as satirical as Austen, although with a slightly gentler wit.
If I have an ambition as a writer, it’s for readers to love my work as much as I love hers (I doubt that will ever happen, mind you, but a girl can dream).
Ps a small footnote. When my husband and I got married, we combined our libraries – a fraught process, we thought, and prepared ourselves to cull replica books! But it turned out that we had many of the same authors but very few of the same books, so that by combining, we often ended up with a complete set of our favourite authors. Georgette Heyer was one of those. Yes, readers, my beloved is a Heyer fan. You can see why I had to marry him!
Whatever book I’m working on at the moment
I almost didn’t put this in – I was wavering between Peter Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Patricia Wrightson’s The Rocks of Honey, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, all of which changed me in very specific ways.
But I think it’s worth considering the way a book shapes its author – through the research, through experiencing the emotions of your characters, through learning what they need to learn, through being them. Each book I write changes me as surely I as change the lives of its characters. It’s one of the reasons my books have happy endings – I am reluctant to expose myself fully to those dark, hopeless places of tragedy. Terrible things can and do happen in my books, but there is never a loss of hope – because if hope is lost for my characters, I think it might be for me and my reader, even if only momentarily, and that is a terrible thing to do to anyone.
So, since The Desert Nurse is set under a wide desert sky, I find myself looking up more than I used to; I am more aware of the horizon; and my admiration for nurses (already high) has skyrocketed!
There are other changes, of course, and other books which changed me, but those will do for now.
The Desert Nurse
Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits
It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.