Jo Talks Books: On The Books That Made Me

Hi everyone! Thank you all for the birthday wishes on my Top Ten Tuesday post yesterday and today, I had a wonderful twenty-first, with friends, shopping, food, cake, presents and the thing that makes all days better, musicals! I had originally planned for something else to be the first post of September, but this was a post inspired by an awesome panel at YALC with Victoria Schwab and Laini Taylor talking about the books that inspired them when they were younger and I thought that since my birthday was yesterday, now would be a perfect time to look back and talk about the books that made me the reader and writer that I am today. I warn you guys, this might be a long one, but I hope you’ll enjoy it!

So I can’t talk about the books that have made me who I am without talking about Harry Potter. I mean I loved to read before Harry Potter and can honestly not remember at time when books weren’t a part of my life in one form or another, even before I learned to read I loved stories, my dad used to read to me and my sister, he read the first Harry Potter book to her when she was little and always jokes about how she used to mispronounce Hermione’s name. My sister has all the books and I would borrow them from her once she was done reading them, devouring each one as it came. Harry Potter was something that we could bond over and share, and it was completely captivating to me. It wasn’t just a book series, it was a part of my childhood, I grew up with the books, by the time the last book was released, I was the same age Harry was in the first book (well almost, my birthday’s in September obviously, so I was still 10 on the official release date). I saw all the movies in the cinema (well at least from number 2, I can’t remember if we saw number 1 there or not, I was only 4!) as they were released, and the first one was among the first books I read on my own. I was utterly captivated by this world where seemingly ordinary people could have extraordinary magic and it was reading these books that made me know that I wanted to be an author. I wanted to be able to create that feeling of wonder and awe for someone.

But Harry Potter is far from the only book that has shaped me as a reader, a writer and a person. If JK Rowling and Harry Potter opened my young mind to the joys and wonders of fantasy, then Jacqueline Wilson was the author who opened my mind to the harsh realities of life. Her unflinchingly realistic portrayal of issues such as death, divorce, adoption, mental illness, friendship, family, poverty etc were wonderful for me to read as as a relatively privileged child who had not experienced many of the harsh realities of life at that point. I remember reading and loving so many of her books as a kid, they were definitely a staple of my early reading diet and then as a teenager, my grounding in Jacqueline Wilson books, led me to Jodi Picoult’s books, who again explores difficult issues but with adults rather than children and she is now one of my favourite authors.

My love of animals was also reinforced through the books I read. From My Secret Unicorn, giving me my first real taste of magical creatures, to Animal Ark which had me seriously considering being a vet when I was older and was one of the first series I ever loved, to The Saddle Club, Heartland, Chestnut Hill, Black Beauty, Blind Beauty and Flambards, which reinforced my love of horses and had me begging my parents for a horse (I started riding at age 8, still don’t have a horse!). Through these books I could read about other animal crazy kids and allowed me an outlet for my love of horses and dogs. My love of animals has always given me a connection with my dad as he is also a big animal lover and one of the first books he ever read to me was Enid Blyton’s Shadow The Sheepdog, a book he read when he was a child, so even before I owned a dog or had ridden a horse, stories like this were very important to me. My dad reading James Herriot books to me was another reason why I ended up loving animals as much as I do, as I loved his humourous stories of working as a country vet in England in the 1930’s-50’s and it was yet another way for my dad and I to bond.

Roald Dahl was also a huge influence on me when I was a kid, from Matilda, to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory to The Twits to Danny Champion of The World, I would devour whatever Dahl story I could get hold of. His combination of somewhat sinister and yet somehow still charming stories were the perfect mix for me. What I loved the most about them was that he never looked down on kids, the kids were always the champions and that’s a great thing to see when you’re a kid! I think Roald Dahl’s books definitely contributed to my love of dark humour, which led me to books like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Skulduggery Pleasant and Unwind when I was older. I also always loved that Roald Dahl’s birthday was the day after mine (ie yesterday)!.

Enid Blyton was another author who turned me into the reader I am today, the Faraway Tree stories showed me the simple joy of reading, of going on adventures with characters to places that you could never go in real life. The Faraway Tree was probably my first ever fantasy love, even before Harry Potter (though I think Harry Potter was the start of my true obsession with the genre). It was the start of my lifetime of longing for adventure, sure I can’t go up a tree and escape into a magical land, but the world is just as exciting and there are just as many different lands that you can escape to! Adventure has always been a huge part of the books I love to read, fantasy stories tend to have some kind or another of adventure and I think that all started with The Faraway Tree when I was little.

I have always loved History, even from a young age and I definitely think that the books I read when I was younger have contributed to the fact that I now do it as a degree. I especially remember loving The Roman Mysteries, the Romans fascinated me even when I was younger and reading those books showed me just how fun history could be. I also had a massive children’s book of Greek mythology (basically the Greek myths but made for kids) which I have no doubt was my grounding for Percy Jackson in the future. The Roman Mysteries was just the start of my historical fiction journey which eventually led to favourite books like The Book Thief, Code Name Verity, Cross My Heart, Between Shades of Grey and The Storyteller. Each of these books showed me how wonderful and powerful history could be and how amazing humans are (sure the characters are fictional but the events are real, they represent a lot of real people) and I knew that I wanted to study it.

Noughts and Crosses was my grounding in dystopia, which eventually led to me reading books like The Hunger Games, Unwind, The Pure Trilogy, Breathe, all really great books but it was also my first real adventure into YA. I remember being a bit reluctant when I was younger to explore the older sections of the bookshop and library as I reached that age because I loved the books I read as a kid so much that I didn’t want to leave them. But as well as being my first experience of reading about racism, this book was also my gateway into YA, so I guess I have Malorie Blackman to thank for my current obsession.

As well as books that have shaped my reading habits and my personality, there are also many books that have turned me into the writer that I am now. I only read the first two Shades of Magic books last year (and the last one this year) but I can definitely say that Victoria Schwab has inspired my writing, the elemental based system in my YA Fantasy This Is Not A Love Story was in part inspired by the magic seen in her books, as well as the magic from the Skulduggery Pleasant books. I’ve always found elemental magic quite captivating, and have loved the idea of being able to manipulate the world around you (in fact my earliest experience of an elemental type magic system was in Linda Chapman’s Stardust spirits, as the girls are all spirits of different types of season and can therefore control different kinds of elements) so it was definitely something in my mind when I was deciding the kind of magic I wanted my world to have. I have also been in no small part inspired by Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass, I was reading Empire of Storms at the time I was writing the first draft of This Is Not A Love Story and I think you can definitely tell in my writing! The snarky humour of both Skulduggery and Percy in Derek Landy and Rick Riordan’s series, two series which formed a huge part of my teen years, were definitely an inspiration in my writing, although I’m not sure Tiffany’s snark is quite as good as theirs.

Tiffany, the MC in This Is Not A Love Story, as well as obviously having quite a lot of me in her (her general cynicism about love, having a comeback for everything, her dislike of most people except for her few close friends and her yearning for adventure), was also in no small part inspired by my favourite fantasy heroines. The Aelin influence I feel is quite clear, she’s very fiery (literally!) and independent. There might be a few shades of Lila Bard in there too, she’s arrogant, headstrong and impulsive and not at all ladylike. She’s a little like Percy in terms of humour but I think hers is a little more biting. The point being, I think you can definitely see my favourite authors’ influences on my work.

The Hunger Games also has had a huge influence on my reading tastes, I mean I’ve always liked stories with female characters who are strong and independent and get the job done, and although Harry Potter had started me in that direction when I was younger with Hermione, I think Katniss cemented it for me, that was what I wanted to see, women being brave and strong and powerful. Sure there are some problems with the whole strong female character trope but when it’s done well, it’s such a wonderful thing to see. I don’t know if this is just because of the proliferation of female authors in YA but when I think of my favourite characters from books, most of them are women and both my WIPs so far have been female centred stories. It’s not that I don’t like male characters, quite the contrary, there are male characters that I love, I just find there’s something so satisfying about seeing women kick butt!

Another thread common to my favourite books is that they all have some kind of theme of friendship running through them. I’ve always loved stories about choosing your family (like in Ballet Shoes) or finding family amongst your friends (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and The Raven Cycle are the three main ones that come to mind here) and that definitely impacted my writing in a big way. I wanted Tiffany to be the centre of her own story yes, and not to be overshadowed by some big romantic subplot, but I also wanted to make sure that friendship was more of a focus as I love it when that happens. In this regard I feel like Code Name Verity was a big inspiration to me, because that story completely centres friendship and I love it. This started with books like The Saddle Club and The Sleepover Club when I was a kid, which had such great portrayals of friendship and it’s something that I’ve sought out in my books ever since.

It’s strange, I’m not actually a huge fan of crying (crying in public is my one big bug bear) but I love books that make me FEEL, and my favourite ones are usually the sad ones, a lot of the books I’ve already mentioned in this post are very hard on the feelings! I’ve always been that way, even as a kid, I loved emotional books, Black Beauty and Charlotte’s Web were two of my favourites and they paved the way for books like The Book Thief and My Sister’s Keeper later on. Humour is also a big thing for me too though and I feel like the best books are the ones that balance the two, that can punch you in guts one moment but have you smiling from ear to ear the next, Harry Potter is an excellent example of this.

Every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. Even the ones I’ve really hated have their use because they’ve taught me what I don’t like. I’ve learned so much from books, taken so much from them and whilst I might have mentioned particular favourites in this post, I can’t think of many books where I haven’t taken something away from them. Books have become such a huge part of who I am and I honestly cannot think who I would be without them, so I’d like to thank all the wonderful authors whose books I have loved over the years, for taking me out of my bedroom, or wherever else I have been reading and allowing me to visit different lands, experience different cultures and times, have innumerable adventures and generally learn about the world around me. You guys are all rockstars!

Over to you! Which books have inspired you, as a reader, as a writer, as a person? Do we share any? Let’s discuss!

I don’t know what I’ll be doing my next discussion post on, I guess I’ll see what I feel like writing towards the end of the month! In the meantime, I will have my review of Glass Sword up very soon.



4 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On The Books That Made Me

  1. Sophie Li 14/09/2017 / 11:33 am

    Happy birthday! 🙂
    I also loved Harry Potter. I was around Harry’s age when I started reading the series, so I also feel that I’ve grown up with him. Black beauty was one of the first “chapter books” that I’ve read (growing up that’s what we called books with chapters haha) and I remember it made me cry so much!
    I also loved Babysitters Club, Silverwing, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. As for what influenced my writing the most: it would be Steven King’s On Writing.
    I absolutely love strong heroines as well. It is empowering to see women kicking butt (like Wonder Woman 🙂 ) and I am so glad that we see more of this in fiction today. One of the things that make me cringe a bit when I read older books is the traditional woman mindset.
    This post was nostalgic for me to read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx 14/09/2017 / 1:10 pm

      Hi! Thank you! Yes, I think a lot of us do, it’s wonderful how many people have grown up with Harry and how many more will! Ah that’s cool, I read it when I was a bit older, and I remember getting into trouble reading it under the desk at school (although now I think about it that might have been the second time I read it, I’m pretty sure I was about seven when I first read it). Yes it is very sad! I never actually read Babysitters Club and I haven’t heard of Silverwing, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes it is, and I think it’s something we need in fiction to show that women can do more than we’re sometimes given credit for. Oh it makes me cringe too! It’s like, it’s 2017, we don’t need to read this sexist drivel anymore! No problem, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. Mallory 15/09/2017 / 1:23 am

    Your post took me back! I loved any books with horses in them growing up and completely forgot about the Saddle Club books and Black Beauty. Roald Dahl was also a favorite, especially “The Witches.”


    • iloveheartlandx 15/09/2017 / 4:36 pm

      Thanks! So did I, I still read some occasionally and I still really love horses, but I don’t read as many horse books as I did when I was a kid, mainly since they don’t seem to do them for 21 year old horse obsessives! Thank you 🙂

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