Today I have a very special guest - Hayley Long, the absolutely brilliant author of the Lottie Biggs books! I am a huge, huge fan of Lottie Biggs so I'm absolutely thrilled that Hayley wanted to come here today to talk about her favourite British books.
Hayley, as well as being an author of some hilarious books, is also an English teacher who lives in Norfolk. Please do click on the links to the following websites in order to find out more about Hayley Long or Lottie Biggs:
First up, I need to explain something. This is not a Top Ten. I don’t think I could do that. I love different books for different reasons so it’s impossible for me to rank them and choose an out and out favourite. Also, there are some books here which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE EVERY WORD OF but which I haven’t included. Books like the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend – which I’ve talked about a million times before in a million different blog posts – and also Wuthering Heights which is probably on a lot of lists and really doesn’t need to be written down here on another one.
So I’ve chosen books which I’ve spoken less of. Or which are spoken less of generally. Although most of them are very well known and are spoken about an awful lot. Oh well… why don’t I just quit the waffle and get on with it.
In no particular order… except perhaps the order that I first ever read them.
The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
Parents don’t like Enid Blyton anymore. She’s out of fashion. And it’s true that all her characters are white and English and very middle class and drink lashings and lashings of ginger beer but the truth is that little kids don’t generally care about political correctness or whether the world is being accurately represented or not. They just want a rip-roaring good story. And Enid Blyton really knew how to tell one. In fact, she told hundreds of them. As a kid, I read her books one after the other.
But The Magic Faraway Tree was my favourite. It’s pure fantasy. There’s this big tree. And really weird people live in it. And if you climb all the way to the top of the tree there’s a cloud with a hole in it. Climb up a ladder and through the cloud and you’re in some weird and wonderful land – and that land changes every single day!
Oh my days!
I want to read this book again. Right now!
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Roald Dahl
I love Roald Dahl. He’s got a twisted and sick sense of humour which strangely appeals to me. Any one of his books could be on this list but I’ve chosen the extended short story of Henry Sugar. Because this had such a huge impact on me when I first read it. I think I was about eight or nine. It’s a strange story for a little girl to get so wrapped up in but, then again, I think I was quite possibly an ever so slightly strange little girl.
In this story, Henry – who is a selfish, degenerate, good-for-nothing gambler – learns a mysterious Indian art of being able to see through solid objects. He trains himself to see through playing cards and then tours the world’s casinos winning vast sums of money wherever he goes. After I first read this story, I sat for hours with a pack of playing cards and tried to train myself to see through them. I honestly did. Sadly, I couldn’t though.
I’m the King of the Castle –Susan Hill
I did this for my O Level English exam. Yes. That’s how old I am. I did O Levels. And it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember too much about it but I do remember this book. And, anyway, I’ve read it since then.
I’m the King of the Castle is really intelligent teen fiction at its very best. Edmund Hooper is an only child who lives with his father in their massive country house. And then his dad announces that he’s going to marry Mrs Kingshaw, their house-keeper, and she moves in with her son. The entire novel is a terrifying tale of extreme bullying. Edmund Hooper is one of the most evil little sh*ts ever created. And the ending of this book is traumatic and mesmerising. It’s one of those books that you read and can never ever forget.
Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
And so we go from one evil little fictional sh*t to another one. Pinkie in Brighton Rock is a terrifying boy gangster who has the Brighton criminal underworld in the palm of his hand. I first read this novel during my A Level course. I loved it.
I was fascinated by Pinkie and his hideous, cruel, manipulative ways; I despaired at his ‘girlfriend’ Rose – who is too daft to be able to see through him – and I absolutely loved Ida – the chubby middle-aged woman who makes it her mission to track Pinkie down and bring him to justice. Poor Rose is pathetic but Ida absolutely brims over with girl power. This is a magnificent novel.
Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
Britain had some fantastic Victorian novelists. The Brontës of course and Dickens and George Eliot are always talked about and rightly so because their books are great. But let’s not forget Mrs Gaskell. She wrote some real epics. Mary Barton is easily my favourite.
It’s got everything here. The beautiful but poor girl. The lover who is apparently lost at sea. The drunken father. Aunt Esther the prostitute. Hunger. Riots.
Hang on a minute:
I demand to know why this isn’t being made into a mini-series!
Prufrock and Other Observations – T.S.Eliot
Ok, I’m slightly cheating. T.S. Eliot was American. But he lived in the UK for years. And in my book that makes him one of us. This is an unusual choice for me because it’s a collection of poetry. Poetry is not my favourite thing. I have to admit that sometimes I even struggle to see the actual point of it. I mean… hmm.. yeah… self-expression written down randomly on a page… yadder yadder yadder…
But this is pure and total genius.
Each poem in the collection is a portrait of an utterly unnerving and strange individual and Eliot takes words and turns them into pure magic. Reading one of these poems is like riding a rollercoaster of reactions and emotions.
I mean… look at the opening lines of The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Let us go then, you and I While the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table
It’s like - oh that’s pretty- and then aaaaarrrrrrrhhhhhh, what a weirdo!
Am I sounding like an English teacher?
Oh, and his name backwards is nearly toilets.
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – Fay Weldon
Oh but this is so sick and twisted. Again? OMG, what is all this saying about me?
But I love it. When I first read this, I was really struck with the way Weldon writes. There’s no fancying about. It’s just clear, high impact language and frequently very funny. Some of the stuff in it is quite racy so it’s definitely more of an adult read this one. Hmm? Perhaps I’d better move swiftly on.
Dreamhouse – Alison Habens
To be honest, this isn’t a kids’ read either. Definitely not. And you might be hard pressed to find it because I think it’s out of print. It was published in 1994 and then quickly disappeared again. But I read it and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s an adult retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Or perhaps a satire of it. It’s so cleverly written though that the writer manages to deliberately mess your head up while you read it. And the house party which fills the whole novel is probably the most exciting house party I’ve ever attended. Or never attended. You know what I mean. Maybe.
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Ok, a lot of people talk about this debut novel from Zadie Smith. But with good reason. Because it’s so good. She captures Willesden Green – where I once lived – perfectly and she is an absolute master at writing dialogue. I love this book. It’s Great Multi-Cultural Britain in all its glory.
Personally, I think the ending is a bit ropey though.
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Wow. This is an incredible novel. Why do I love it so much? Well, the central character, Bryony, is a bit of a little sh*t. Not a great big one – like Edmund Hooper or Pinkie – just a little bit of one. And she gets jealous and tells a lie. And that one lie messes up other people’s lives forever. And what is so devastating and horrifying is that it’s possible to put ourselves in Bryony’s shoes and think OMG, am I so very different from her? And that’s a very disturbing thought. But good fiction should do this. Make the reader think. And put us in shoes we’re maybe not comfortable wearing.
Wow. That’s all I can say about this novel really. Wow.
Framed – Frank Cottrell Boyce
I read this earlier this year. My editor, Emma Truffle, from Pan Macmillan gave me this to read. I think she was helping me find my sense of humour because I’d lost it. Anyway, this book is brilliant. I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down. And I was chuckling all over the place. It’s right up my street. For starters, it’s set in Wales and for seconds, there’s a hairdressers in it called Curl up n’ Dye.
And Dylan is the last boy in his village and has nobody to play football with. Which should be sad except that it isn’t. It’s very very funny.
Definitely read this book if you’ve lost your sense of humour. It will help you find it again. Thanks Emma.
And thanks to anybody who is still reading this after I’ve gone on and on and on and on. I could talk about books for as long as you like, you know…