Three Books That Have Inspired Me:
- Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge
Reading this book cemented in my heart the idea of interlinked short stories. I had already started to write books (a number of them) where short stories led into each other, but had had a lukewarm response from early readers. Strout’s book is consummately well done: it is a sleight of hand to give the reader a short story collection, and then for the reader to find they have read a whole life of a town. The fact that the book is called ‘Olive Kitteridge’ shows a tenderness toward a character that is at the least, unattractive. She is a complex being – a woman, quite simply. A living, breathing, every day creature. I can’t recommend this book more highly. Please read it.
- Charles Dickens: David Copperfield
I know, I know, you’re going to say – that’s cheating, choosing old Charlie. But when I read about him, when I read his work, I feel his influence so deeply on my own work. The way he fictionalises his life over and over. The way he worked so hard: writing for weekly deadlines (beginning Nicholas Nickleby nine months before he finished Oliver Twist for instance) and understanding the rhythm that each chapter should have in order to hook the reader in but also be part of a full work. Each chapter had to stand on its own, like a short story, think of that… He was also a family man – and took his fathering very seriously, as I take my duties to my family seriously. Four children, I have. He had nine. He had a special relationship with each of those children; I try to do the same. I chose David Copperfield because of the journey – the journey from childhood to adulthood. Because of the rejection he felt, ploughed back into his work. And mainly, I chose it because occasionally, when intensely writing, I get lonely, and I think – not of my own old aunts or friends, but of Betsy Trotwood and Mr Dick. And I reach David Copperfield down, and grab a green apple and lie on my bed like I am 12 again, and read them: and it gives me joy.
- Alice Munro: Runaway
Where would I be without Alice Munro? I would be an unedited fool, I expect. I would tell a story with thousands more words, and I would not understand the layered meanings of what I was trying to say. I have read her avidly for ten years, being the first in the queue for her latest work, like a pre-pubescent Potter fan. I’ve chosen Runaway because it’s the short story collection I loved the most. But it could have been any of her collections, in fact. There is something uniquely graceful about Munro’s writing. It is like watching a practised performer in any field – an Olympic gymnast, a 71 year old guitarist on his retirement tour, Lucien Freud: Munro is so practised, there is no art to what she does. It is effortless, unique, perfect.
Three Books I Have Enjoyed Reading Recently:
- Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life
We don’t often find books that speak to us so clearly and honestly. I loved the use of the short story form to tell real, perfectly edited moments of a therapist’s relationship with his patients. This is a gem which you will turn to again and again. A couple of the stories stayed with me a long time after. I even sent a fan letter to Mr Grosz.
- Sarah Bakewell: How to Live
I have had a secret love affair with a man for the last ten years: Michel de Montaigne, I can now reveal, is a habit, a joy, a companion when no one else will do. Bakewell’s biography has filled in the gaps for me, showing me his humanity, his clever veracity. It’s a brilliant read – and Bakewell seems to love him as much as I do.
- John Fowles: The Journals
This was given to me as a present about ten years ago because I was a huge fan when in my teens – I read all of his work, and would still recommend The Magus to anyone going to a Greek Island on their holidays. If you’re taking a 15 year old, give it to them too – they’ll be engrossed. I took the journals off the shelf and was completely and utterly consumed by my reading of it for a day or two. I opened it randomly and was immediately sucked into his living heart. What struck me as most important was the complete lack of awareness of the media world – this outside chattering that seems to dominate all of our lives. He would sit down and read a whole book in a few hours, then review it in his journal. His awareness of the world came through books and his own sensory perception of it as he strode through it: and I know that’s the same for most journals pre 1990, but the thing is, we must keep reminding ourselves of this. Reading this compassionate, sensitive man made me think that our world is an upside down mad place, ruled and dominated by mad people.
Roshi Fernando was born and brought up in London. She studied for her first degree at the University of Warwick, and holds a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wales, Swansea.
In 2009 she was awarded the Impress Prize for New Writers, for her composite novel, Homesick, which comprises a series of interlinked short stories about a community of Sri Lankan immigrants in London. Homesick was published in autumn 2010 by Impress books, and has been republished by Bloomsbury (UK and Commonwealth) and Knopf (USA) in 2012.
Her story Three Cuts is published in the anthology Sing Sorrow Sorrow published by Seren in October 2010. Roshi has also been given a special commendation by the judges of the Manchester Fiction Prize, and has been longlisted for the Bridport Prize 2009. In 2011 her story The Fluorescent Jacket was shortlisted for the EFG Sunday Times short story prize.
Follow Roshi via Twitter: @rofernando