The Books That Made Me Me – Laura

 Laura is far too awesome to be even VIRTUAL friends with the likes of us. She’s über-cool, a little bit geeky, oh-so beautiful and too intelligent for actual words. It’s more than an honour that she’s written this for us and we’re in awe of the gorgeous pictures-with-words (much like paint-by-numbers) she has created. Personally, I love her when she talks about John Diamond’s column-holy cow how that shaped my upbringing-I adore how she talks about the paradise that is the West Coast of Ireland, a hellish heaven on earth like no other. When she points out the hands-on-knees of her ohsosoontobehusband, I feel I sense of solidarity with Laura, as I thought I’d never seen a man as nervous as Philip before I married him.

For more  in this series…go here.  Over to Laura: 

Soooo…The Books That Made Little Old Me, well, ME. 

The Books I Grew Up With:
Malory Towers. I tried to pick one over the others, but came to the conclusion that I was actually obsessed with all of them. I was totally unaware of the fact that I was about as working-class as it was possible to be, and that private school (a private boarding school, no less) was somewhat outside of the realms of reality for my parents and their finances.

“Can I go to boarding school?”

“Ah, sure, wouldn’t you miss me?” I remember my dad saying, laughing. 

And I would have done. But I loved that whole Malory Towers thang. Let’s just overlook the hideous stereotypes for a moment (the stupid vain American? Bill the blatant lesbian with her short hair and sporting prowess?)

These books taught me important lessons, you know? Like, don’t coast in class, because unless you’re like Alicia (clever AND slack, the lucky devil) you’re going to fail, like Darrell did. Be honourable with your friends and true to them. Keep your temper. And most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough because you’re a girl. Girl Power way before Geri Halliwell tarnished it with a cleavage and a too-tight Union Jack dress.

The Book What Got Me Into Writing: 

Emily Climbs, L.M.Montgomery. Is there as more beautifully-named heroine out there than Emily Byrd Starr? I doubt it. Not only that, but she was uber-beautiful, too, with violet eyes (how is that even possible?) and black hair. Oh my. I was torn between hero-worship and jealousy.

She was waaaaay cooler than Ann of Green Gables. She had a sterm Aunt Elizabeth (who loved her really, but tried to **SHOCK HORROR** ban her from writing! She hated her wasting her time on ‘frivolity’) and a lovely Aunt Laura. She wrote stories and witty character sketches and all manner of beautiful things in her ‘Jimmy books’ (which got me scribbling) and, like every good pre-teen novel, there was a bit of a love interest.

Oh, Teddy. I fell in love with you, too.

I Am Officially Becoming a Reader: 

John Diamond, The Big C. I said before we were ‘aspirational working class’. As part of this aforementioned aspiration, my mum decided that we ought to be reading a broadsheet newspaper. And so she subscribed to The Times. Cue a lot of slack-jawed reading at the table.

“Laura. Not at the table. Not while you’re eating.”

My favourite bit was John Diamond’s column. He wrote about his wife, Nigella, (of voluptuous-cookery fame) and his kids. He wrote about being Jewish. He wrote about being a journo and living in London. It was all quite light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek.

And then he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The tone of the column, err, shall we say, shifted.

I followed it for years, from the early days to having most of his tongue removed, then having a hole punched in his windpipe and then to the days of almost choking on mucus in the middle of the night. It was heart-breaking. I emailed him when I was seventeen and embarking on an A-level English project, blustering that I’d like a bit of advice. And I was about to go to Lourdes for the first time, which he’d written about scathingly – he wasn’t into miracle cures, religious zealots or alternative medicines of any kind. He replied, witty and charming, and told me a great joke about a Catholic nun. When the book was published, I devoured it. And the last page – recounting a conversation with Nigella – I cried and cried.

“It’s such a strange time, isn’t it?” I said.

“How so strange?”

“Oh, you know. Strange in that I’ve never felt more love for you than in the past year, that I’ve never appreciate you as much, nor the children. In a way I feel guilty that it should have taken this to do it, I suppose. But it is strange, isn’t it.”

I Become a More Discerning Reader:  
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. I read anything and everything as a young ‘un. Babysitters Club, SVH (already discussed on these peachy pages), Point Horror (The Cheerleader pretty much changed my life). I dabbled in Steven King, devoured Maeve Binchey and claimed Cider with Rosie as my ‘favourite’ in polite company (I knew it was old, and had a hardback cover, so it was definitely the sort of thing that SHOULD have been my favourite book). 

And then I picked up Jane Eyre. And that plain little governess with the nipped-in face and sober wardrobe became my idol. Such dignity! Such integrity! Such passion restrained! To this day, I don’t think there’s a better rounding-off of a story in the literary Canon than those final few pages of Miss Bronte’s novel.

And so at the ripe old age of thirteen, I made a vow not to read any more crap. Rochester and Jane’s storm of a love story taught me to be pickier about what I read.

I Become A Little Obsessed With Ireland:
Tarry Flynn, Patrick Kavanagh. Ah, Eire. Place of many a summer jolly. For every single summer of my formative years, Sligo in the West of Ireland was our holiday destination. We went to the beach in Enniscrone, we ate Fat Frog ice lollies (Jesus, there was some food colouring in those bad boys) and generally had the time of our lives.

Ireland always makes me brood. There’s something about that wild wind and rain-soaked landscape – especially out in the West – demands that you think. And, if you have the natural inclination, demands that you read and write. Oh, I’ve devoured some books in Ireland. But Tarry Flynn is the best of the lot. 

I always think of Ireland’s history as shared by all Irish. If you’re Irish, you just know. You know the people, the places and the craic. Kavanagh captures all of this perfectly. In 1930s Monaghan, Tarry fancies himself as a poet. He fancies himself as a ladies’ man, too – a romantic, mythical character. Sexually frustrated and burdoned with a demanding mother (“Oh, look at him there with his big nose on him and the oul’ cod of a face like his uncle that – that a Protestant wouldn’t be worse than him…” – the dialogue is superb, it really is), Tarry stands with the other men in the back of Mass and ploughs his fields and dreams and lusts.  

I Think About Life:  

The Hours, Michael Cunningham. There’s a Jarvis Cocker lyric that goes, ‘Someone falls in love; someone falls from a windowsill’. And that’s horribly macabre, but it’s a thought that intrigues me. It’s true, like. Sometimes I have a one-the-verge-of-a-religious-experience revelation that TODAY, a fairly mundane day for me personally, has been utterly life-changing for millions of others. Children have been born; people have died, in all manner of circumstances, they’ve been diagnosed with terrible, incurable illnessess, maybe been given terrible news in impersonal waiting rooms, given themselves up to another in marriage, been captured – or escaped, passed the love of their life on the street without even knowing it…and the Universe and all its glorious chance reveals itself for one mind-blowing moment. That’s how I felt pretty much the whole time I was reading this book. I really, really hope you haven’t seen the film. I really, really hope you discover the book and feel the same.

“Clarissa thinks of Richard on the windowsill; Richard letting go; not jumping, really, but sliding as if from a rock to water. What must it have been like, the momennt he had irrevocably done it; the moment he was out of his dark apartment and released into the air? What must it have been like to see the alley below, with its blue and brown garbage cans, its spray of amber glass, come rushing up?”


I feel a bit like I’ve cheated. There’s no Fitzgerald here. No Auden. No Larkin. No The Secret History. No Virgin Suicides. No Plath. No Armitage. Gaaaah. But I’ve tried to pick signposts and milestones in my Life As A Reader. So this is it.
Categories: Books, Books That Made Me Me
20 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I want to stand up on the train & give a huge round of applause for this but it's 7am so I shall write a comment instead. I now want to read Emily Climbs. Lovely way to start the day. Thank you.

  2. Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Yet more books I now need to read… Although now tempted to RE-read all the Point Horror books. Do they still make those things?? I was a teenager obsessed….


  3. Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Laura, this whole list is filled with beauty and love and history and tells us as much about who you are as it does the books. And it makes my heart ache. Honestly. You are a mentally talented writer. Thank you!

  4. Mahj
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    OMG, Point Horror! I completely forgot about those (they used to give them away as end-of-term prizes at my school) and Mallory Towers! Mallory bloomin Towers!

    Love this list Laura and like Joan, I want to read Emily Climbs too, who btw, sounds a little like how the amazeballs Elizabeth Taylor was described.


    PS. Did you know that there is a follow up to all the SVH/SVU books?! Its called SV Confidential and I have it! And I read it in about a day with much squee and glee! I always wanted a license plate that read '1BRUCE1' because of those books!

  5. Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Emily climbs! Every time I type the word rhyme (not often enough, as it happens!) I think of the 'red headed young man – almost a rhyme but never a poem' line. Laura you write beautifully and this list had me saying 'yes, yes, and will she have written a book of her own to finish the list with?' Lovely.

  6. Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    ps Mahj, I can't believe they gave you guys Point Horror as prizes at your school – they were TOTES banned at ours!

  7. Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    As I was reading this, I was thinking, "Who is this Laura person? She is amazing! I must subscribe to her blog immediately!" And then I clicked on the link, and, oh. I already do. In my defence, I have not yet had my morning coffee.

    I think, shamefully, the only one on this list I have read is Malory Towers (although having seen the recent Jane Eyre film adaptation I am now utterly obsessed with Mr Rochester). The John Diamond one sounds great, but I'm a bit scared to read it – is it terribly sad? I'm not sure I can cope. How wonderful that he replied to your letter.

    So many books, so little time.

  8. Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Oh, Point Horror. Is it completely insane to admit that they actually scared me?!

    Kirsty, John Diamond's book is sad, yes, because a fantastic man who loves his family very much dies far too soon, but it's an incredible read and will leave you more thoughtful and appreciative of life than it will devastated and sobbing. I hope. You should read it, anyway.

    And I'm GUTTED that I've seen 'The Hours' and not read the book-I did enjoy the film a lot, but I'm going to pretend I haven't seen it and go and order the book from Amazon.


  9. Posted October 20, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Okay, I could have written this list myself – most of these would definitely be on (or almost-on) my own list, and really shaped my first two decades. And especially Jane Eyre – I got bought it for passing the 11-plus, devoured it, and have loved it ever since.
    Great stuff, Laura!
    I love this series – although it's slightly frustrating me at the moment as I have too much work to do and not enough time to read, so even my commutes are taken up with work at the moment when all I really want to do is lose myself in fiction. Not good.

  10. Posted October 20, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I'm ashamed to admit I've not read anything on this list (although Jane Eyre is on my to do list – might have to add a few others), unless you count Point Horror that is.

    Although I would like to point out that Mallory Towers sounds an awful lot like Mary's!

  11. Posted October 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I made the same mistake as Kirsty. HI LAURA!!!! Of course it's you, because you're awesome. I have to say I always wanted to be Alicia from Mallory Towers, she was such an iconic bitch! Rather boringly, I suspect I am more of a Darrell. Although clearly still hard as nails as only got genuinely scared by two Point Horrors (Trick or Treat and Funhouse)

    Sorry, hope nobody actually wanted to discuss literature.


  12. Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant post Laura!

    I just had to comment because I was obsessed by Mallory Towers! Obsessed I tell you. Beyond all reason. And I soooooo wanted to be Darrell. I completely identified with her moralistic streak getting her into trouble for seeing things in absolute black and White.

    Thank goodness I've filled in some of the shades of grey since ;)


  13. Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Aw man. Such love for the books. That's what it's all about on a depressing Thursday.

  14. Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh that Laura! I see.

    Excellent post, Laura. Now I understand why you teach this stuff. Love your writing as ever! Your collection of books is decidedly more impressive and intellectual than mine would be! Jacqueline Wilson doesn't have the same weight as John Diamond to drop into a conversation! I love these posts though, it's a great insight into someone's mindset.

    I'm afraid I'll have to add my love of Point Horrow to the growing list here (and Babysitters Club and SVH). Aisling, the Points totally scared the bejesus out of me too!

    Mahj, thanks for the info about the extra SVH spin off! How did I miss that one?


  15. Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Horror fail, sorry.

  16. Becca
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Um I have ALL the SVU books.

    If I ever have girl twins….names picked.

    Sad or what?

  17. Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Ditto Kirsty and Penny. 'ooooh who is laura' 'ah yes THAT Laura who is hilarious & is generally a bit genius'

    Not to go too low brow but YES YES YES to Point Horrors, I completely forgot about them ;)

  18. Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Trick or Treat, yes Penny that was the best one!

    Oh and yes, I read some clever books too (i'm such a liar.. my mum gave me Jackie Collins – I blame that for my bad language and smoking – I wanted to be Lucky

  19. Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    John Diamond's book was really special to me too. Read it ten years ago and still think of it now. It is brutally honest and it broke me – very poignant reading about his love for Nigella who he adored.

One Trackback

  • By Any Other Photo {Laura and Bedford} on February 29, 2012 at 9:46 am

    [...] from the head, and the rest is directly from the gut. Laura’s written for us before about the books that made her her, and you loved it.  This is even better.  Happy, from-the-gut Friday, [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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