Ever been influenced by a book? I have, many times, although I haven’t always realised its full impact until much later. Today, author Jane MacKenzie shares with me the books that have changed her life…
Jane MacKenzie has spent much of her adult life travelling the world, teaching English and French everywhere from the Gambia to Papua New Guinea to Bahrain, and recently working for two years at CERN in Geneva. She now splits her time between her self-built house in Collioure, France and the Highlands of Scotland, where she has made her family home.
BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE
Trying to think back to books that have changed your life is difficult, because so many books have mattered, but not many are actually life-changing. I think the books that mark you the most are the ones you read when you’re very young, so when I started thinking about this I deliberately went back to my childhood and teenage years and thought about what I read back then.
I was a bit of a swot as a child and quite young I would read relatively serious books. I first fell in love with Little Women, and then Jane Eyre. But my mother giving me To Kill a Mocking Bird to read stands out as a real memory. It was the first truly ‘social’ novel I’d read, and I absolutely loved the characters, and the way Harper Lee evoked the American south. The book was a shining beacon of justice and goodness and enlightened intelligence. I was almost sorry to read Go Set a Watchman when it came out a couple of years ago. It spoiled the characters for me.
And then in my teenage years I read the usual romances and adventure stories, I suppose, but my abiding memory is of reading and re-reading Georgette Heyer. I’ve just turned sixty, but even back when I was a teenager Georgette Heyer was old-fashioned! It didn’t stop me though. I loved the escapism, and the bubbly humour, and perhaps when you’re suffering from all those teenage agonies you need something really light to read. But it was also important to me that even though the subject matter was light, the writing was of good quality. I was already heading towards literary studies and I didn’t much like books for teenagers that were written in slang, or anything like that. I read all of Jane Austen, as well. And all of Dorothy L Sayers. What a boring teenager I must have been – all I read were genteel, unshocking books that made me feel good!
University changed all that. I studied French Language and Literature and immersed myself in the French classics for four years – Sartre and Camus and André Malraux were my favourites, and they got me interested in the Spanish Civil War and the 2nd World War, and the whole effect of that period on the lives of people in Europe. Their writing blew my mind and opened me up to a whole new understanding of the world, a political awareness, an anger at evil, and a passion for justice that has stayed with me all my life.
You could say that these authors changed my life in another way too, because I’ve since written four novels that are rooted in that time. The novels were written over thirty years later, but I know where that passion first came from. I love the fact that this period of history is almost touchable, that my parents and grandparents lived through it, that the people you read about are just like us, that in hard times people retained so much hope and came out so strong. It makes it feel very personal, and you can write such human stories.
The books I read now are much more modern, by contemporary authors that I want to support. My three favourite reads in the last year have been Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Good Doctor of Warsaw. They are wonderful books that have given me huge pleasure, but they haven’t changed my life. Perhaps at sixty we change much less. The books I read as a child gave me a love of character and elegant writing, and a sense of human values. And then the books I read as a student shaped my thinking for the rest of my life! How wonderful is that!
*** Thank you for sharing these wonderful books with us, Jane! There’s a great mix here, but I think two of my personal favourites are Jane Eyre, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Good luck with your new release, The War Nurse. ***
About Jane’s new release, Tapestry of War
From the deserts of North Africa, to the waters of Scotland, the Second World War touches the lives of two women from two very different worlds. In Alexandria, Fran finds her world turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. The life of luxury and stability that she is used to is taken away as she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty. Meanwhile, in the Firth of Clyde, Catriona struggles between her quiet rural life and her dreams of nursing injured servicemen on the front lines. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become intertwined – bringing love and friendship to both.
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Website – janemackenzie.co.uk