I have to be honest here. When writing a novel, I never read anything in the same genre. I just want to concentrate on my own story. However I do read other kinds of books. They might not be what others would expect. Often they’re non-fiction. But here is a list which influenced me when writing My Husband’s Wife.
Book of Uncommon Prayer.
When I started work at the prison, one of the officers told me that the men either sought refuge in the gym or in God. That gave me an idea. I would ask each of my ‘students’ to write down a saying or a prayer or a poem which helped them get through the day. I also asked the prison staff – including the governor – to do the same. The result was an anthology which I called ‘The Book Of Uncommon Prayer’. It can be bought from New Leaf Books.
One of my major characters, Carla, is Italian. Although I speak a little Italian myself, I still needed help. I have a really old Italian dictionary in my study which was of some use. A member of the Penguin team is Italian so she was able to help me too – not just with words but also customs. For example I hadn’t realised that chrysanthemums were linked with the Mafia.
My other major character, Lily, is a solicitor. As a young journalist, I had to pass a law exam as part of my NCTJ. My novel mentions certain court procedures which I needed to check up on. So as well as speaking to the Law Society , I also ploughed through a few legal textbooks.
Books on the autistic spectrum.
Another of my characters is a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. I know a little about this from personal experience and also from my time as a journalist. However I also read as much as I could on the subject.
The Church of England marriage service.
Lily marries Ed right at the beginning of the novel. So I thought it might be helpful to read the marriage service.The various promises that a couple make to each other gave me a few more ideas for the plot.
Book of children’s names.
As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to choose a character’s name. So it can be useful to have some inspiration from baby name books. I chose the name Lily for my main heroine because I wanted her to sound fresh and innocent. But at the same time, lilies can stain. They are contradictions – just like her.
Children’s books – all kinds!
My daughter and her husband have just had their first baby. So I am a grannie! My granddaughter loves books and is enchanted by the pictures. The funny thing is that when I am reading them to her, my mind goes off on a bit of a tangent and I get ideas that are totally unrelated.
When we first meet Carla, she is still a child. She reads the dictionary every night to learn new words. So I scoured my copy of Collins’ Dictionary to see what might take her fancy. One of her favourite words is ‘cunning’.
Mindfulness for Busy People
This is one of many books in the pile next to my bed. Every now and then, I dip in. It did make me think about Lily and how circumstances force her to change her pace.
This is a newspaper rather than a book. It contains articles written by prisoners as well as poetry and prose. The Letters page is particularly fascinatingas it allows prisoners to air their grievances about anything from food to warmth. It proved to be useful research.