The Books That Made Me

Reading took off for me when I was nine when my family moved house and I had a term left of my final year at junior school. With no way of getting home, my mum arranged for a neighbour to collect me from the village library which was next to the school gates. I probably sat there bored for a few days until I pulled a book from a shelf and discovered that I was allowed to take it home.

My next problem though – as an adult – is that I have very little recollection of what I read but I probably went through the whole of the children’s section. The one book I do remember from that first reading frenzy is Stig of the Dump by Clive King. I loved the story, about a boy who falls into a chalk pit and finds a caveman but really I read it for the illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, because by then I’d decided I wanted to be an artist.

When I’d read all the children’s library books that I liked the look of, I moved on to the adult shelves, and the librarians didn’t seem to mind. Again, I tried all sorts, but it was darker stories that I was drawn to, and I know I read some books that were pretty inappropriate for my age including novels by James Herbert and Steven King. Without any adult to guide me or make suggestions I made my own way through the shelves, dismissing the classics and romance, always drawn to darker stories, but eventually preferring literary fiction.

I wish I’d kept a list of everything I read in my teenage years and twenties because I was still reading voraciously but I can barely recall any of them. Now I use Goodreads to keep track of my reading, as well a notebook, and I post mini reviews of what I’ve loved on my Instagram account (@writerclairefuller).

The books I read as an adult before I became a writer which stick out in my mind include The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.

It was only when I was 40 that I started to think about writing a novel and began to read books from a writer’s perspective. Rather than just letting myself sink into the story, I looked at how the author make me feel the way I did, the structure, the words they chose, and all the things that come together to make a novel. But it was still darker books I was drawn to and those which were prose-led. Novels such as, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, all of which informed my writing.

And now? Books are still changing me, shaping how I see the world, making me, and I’m very pleased for it.

  • Claire Fuller