The author of The Keeper of Lost Things, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes and Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel shares her favourite transportative fiction …
As a child I was often lost in a book. Back then, I was off on adventures with The Famous Five, tramping the snowy woods of Narnia with Mr Tumnus, playing hide and seek with Moomintroll and Snufkin and hanging out with the Fossil girls in Ballet Shoes. The books I love are like films that play in my head. They entice me to enter their world and live amongst their characters, experiencing their lives rather than simply reading about them. Morning’s at Seven by Eric Malpass did that for me. It tells the story of a multi-generational family living in a country house surrounded by glorious English countryside. Its cast includes an irascible grandfather, a distracted writer, a brace of bickering sisters, an ancient and batty great aunt, a bright and rumbunctious seven-year-old boy and a turkey called Abdullah. I wanted to move in and stay forever as a permanent guest.
When I was 18, I went to Italy. It was my first holiday abroad and we stayed in a small, family-run hotel. I stood open-mouthed in wonder at the perfect blue skies, the fields full of flowers and the olive and lemon trees. I tiptoed through the hushed and holy splendour of churches and envied the young men and women drinking, smoking and kissing in the square. A few years later, A Room with a View by EM Forster swept me straight back to the sights, sounds and scents of Italy. I was Lucy Honeychurch inspecting my fellow diners at the pensione, buying postcards in the square and standing amongst the violets waiting for George to kiss me!
I’ve never actually been to the south of France, but when I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris I felt myself transported there. Not just to general landscape of orchards and vineyards, not only to the particular village of Lansquenet with its half-timbered houses, white-washed church and little square of shops, but I stepped inside the very shop where Vianne performed her alchemy with chocolate and bewitched her customers with her wares. Harris excites the senses with her beautiful writing but also conjures a whisper of magic that is almost tangible.
I have been to Broadstairs, often as a toddler to visit my father’s family, and more recently through the pages of George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody. I returned there with Charles and Carrie Pooter, and their hapless son Lupin to holiday at some “very nice apartments near the station”. But not only did I travel to Broadstairs, I also travelled back in time and became completely engaged with the minutiae of gentle domesticity in their late Victorian household. I sympathised over their trials with unreliable tradesmen, trousers cut too short and a hazardous boot scraper. I disapproved along with Carrie when Charles painted the bath red, and worried with them both when layabout Lupin became engaged to the most unsuitable Daisy Mutlar.
Every book I read is the chance to visit another world and live another life.
Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan is published this month and was inspired in part by the life of Eva Petulengro, a famous clairvoyant and Tarot reader who lived and worked for many years in Brighton, and whose booth can still be seen on the promenade. Intrigued by her initial research, Hogan studied for many months with an expert Tarot teacher until she was able to read to a professional standard.
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