My life in books

First published Ruby Speechley – My Life In Books May 2019

Ten books that have most influenced my writing? That’s quite a challenge! As with any writer, I was a reader first. Before that, I was a listener. I recall my mother chattering with her friends, my aunt or grandmother, local gossip, snippets of news, and highlights of the latest T.V. drama.

I still love to listen to people in shops, cafes or on the train. I find other people’s lives fascinating, and they influence my writing constantly. I write gothic fiction, ghost stories and other dark tales. Here are the ten books I’ve found most influential.

The Collector by John Fowles

I read this in my teens when I tried to scare myself witless with books by Stephen King and Susan Hill. Fowles’ claustrophobic narrative about the butterfly collector who expands his collection to include the lovely Miranda is powerful. The writing portraying both captor and captive is compelling. This is a dark book with a dark ending, and although there is no ghost insight, I do not doubt its influence on the direction my writing has taken since then.ey share the same genre much of the time. So what is in a ghost story besides the spirit?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My A-Level English literature teacher tapped me on the head with a copy of this novel as he handed them out at the end of the summer term. ‘Read it,’ he said. ‘You will like it!’ I loved Elizabeth Bennet and the cast of Austen’s characters so much that by the end of the summer, I had read all her novels.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

I devoured this book in two sittings. Had it not been for children, it might have been over in one! I have worked as a solicitor for more than twenty years. I loved the tight plot and characters in this story and appreciated the research Doughty put into all things legal. It can be irritating when I’m shouting at a book or T.V. screen; It isn’t like that!

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

I have read Du Maurier’s novels and short stories countless times. Her talent for creating atmosphere and tension has influenced my writing enormously. Just recently, I again enjoyed her short story, The Birds. If I must limit my choice to only one of her books, it is this one. I still think Dona should have run off with her pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubéry!

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill

I first read this novel at the same time as The Collector. I have read it several times since and never fail to enjoy the chilling tension Hill delivers in spades. The image of the wasted Woman in Black is chilling. Anyone who has not read this book should read it.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

I have just finished reading Wakenhyrst and loved Thin Air, but Dark Matter is my favourite among Paver’s gothic fiction. The isolation of the Arctic and the slow build of dread and tension had me gripped. It is an excellent modern ghost story.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The relationship between Lou and Will was what I most enjoyed, how their relationship developed and how they both dealt with the devastating effect of Will’s accident on his life. Some dark themes in this story.

Enduring Love – Ian McEwan

The opening chapter drew such a strong image I can see the hot air balloon crashing as I write. The story of one man’s obsession and how another man struggles with being the object of it is enthralling.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

This story is right up my street! A ghost story set in an isolated old house in 1940s England exploring insanity and ancient family secrets. The house is as much a character as the rest of the cast. I devoured this novel. Having written ghost stories of my own, I take my hat off to how Sarah Waters builds both the tension and atmosphere at Hundreds Hall.