Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.
To be honest, I’ve written since I was old enough to hold a pen properly. When I was small, summer nights felt eternal and my parents sent me to bed long before dark. So, in my bedroom, I’d duck under the curtains; prop my notebook on the windowsill and scribble down stories until there was no light left. Back then I was mostly writing lame, rip-off versions of The Wizard of Oz. I know. Not exactly inspiring or original. But give me a break. I was only six and this was long before Oz the Great and Powerful hit cinemas.
This said, the literature I’ve read over the years has steered me in my quest to develop my own author voice. Below, I’ve discussed the three titles that left the deepest impression on me.
Most of my childhood was spent devouring the Narnia series (all of them not just the ones that made big bucks at the box office), and as much Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl as I could get my hands. Eventually though, one of my English teachers recommended I read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I picked it up but definitely still at that awkward, uncertain age when the experience of older, wiser women dwarfed me. The world was large and unknowable to me then and getting a proper hold on it, and what I was supposed to do in it, seemed a mammoth task. All these fears are explored at length through the protagonist in Du Maurier’s gothic mystery.
I’ve since read several other Du Maurier novels, all very fine, but Rebecca remains her stand-out classic in my eyes. Largely, I think, because of Manderley. That lavish, old house where our heroine lives with Max DeWinter.
Manderley is simultaneously enchanting and menacing, much like the titular Rebecca who was once lady of the manor. Reading Du Maurier’s descriptions at a formative age, I understood for the first time how significant a part setting could play in the telling of the story. An element I would harness whilst writing my own novel some twenty years later.
Not long after reading Rebecca, I bought a copy of Sylvia Plath’s almost autobiographical novel The Bell Jar from our local bookshop. Like most teenagers, I’d already consumed an unhealthy amount of Plath’s poetry so reading The Bell Jar seemed a natural progression. Besides, reading anything that meant I had more in common with Katarina Stratford was aspirational to me at the time.
To my mind, the opening paragraph of The Bell Jar is one of the greatest in literature. It begins with a stark allusion to the electrocution of the Rosenbergs. Instantly introducing the notion of being a traitor to your own country, something that Esther struggles with in regard to her feelings about womanhood and what her country expects of her; foreshadowing the electrotherapy the protagonist will endure to later in the novel and also signalling Esther’s fascination with morbid subject matter.
Moreover, the opening is peppered with atmospheric descriptions of New York City. The mention that it was a ‘queer, sultry summer’ offers the reader immediate insight into Esther’s mood and mindset whilst the ‘fusty, peanut-smelling’ mouths of the subway station imply something stagnating underneath a more glamorous surface. A notion the whole book hinges on.
Possibly my biggest lesson from The Bell Jar however, was that writing about dark subject matter does not negate the use of humour. The dry-witted thread weaving all the way through The Bell Jar is in keeping with my own dark sense of humour, and consequently I suppose it’s no surprise that while the protagonist in my own novel undergoes her fair share of traumatic events, she doesn’t forget how to crack a joke.
The last book on my list is one I read quite recently. About five years ago, a friend borrowed Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day from her local library and recommended it to me. From the very first page I was grinning along to the words of Winifred Watson. As you may have gathered by the other entries on this short list, I gravitate towards books that tackle quite difficult psychological quandaries. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day does explore the limitations of social class; the sense of worthlessness attached to poverty and the pitfalls of controlling relationships but the prose is so light and airy that every single page instills a sense of joy in the reader. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book that feels like this one. Perhaps the Mrs Harris series by Paul Gallico comes close, but the pleasure I felt whilst reading this story about a down-on-her-luck governess sent to the wrong address stayed with me for a long time. And, once I’d finished it, I dreamed about one day writing a book that brought that much happiness to a total stranger.
If you’d like to ask me a question about my writing journey, you can do that here.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about books you’ve loved or books that inspired you to write. If you haven’t read the three on my list, World Book Day seems as good a day as any to give them a whirl.