All four of these books have stretched me in different ways: I’ve learned more about Tibet and what happened on the island of Guernsey in the second world war, but more than that, I’ve loved the spirit of the women who went out there and found these stories. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, there is always a touch of magic. Stephen King has strengthened my writing muscle, and Von Franz has enriched my understanding of femininity, giving me a new list of questions for journaling …
A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World (Bloomsbury) – Isabel Losada
Isabel Losada is a single parent from Battersea, with limited means and an irrepressible spirit. With enthusiasm, determination and humour she crusades to raise public awareness of the injustices in Tibet – an adventure that includes a daring publicity stunt on Trafalgar Square, an unforgettable trip to Lhasa via Nepal (where she falls mildly in love with a monk) and the thrill of a private audience with the Dalai Lama. In this honest, entertaining and inspirational account, she exposes the heartbreak of the Tibetan situation without becoming gloomy, and proves that one person really can make a difference.
On Writing (Hodder & Stoughton) – Stephen King
I’m not a fan of Stephen King’s dark and uncomfortable stories, but if you want to know about the craft of writing best-selling fiction, he’s the master. His schedule is rigorous: four to six hours every day in a closed room. He aims for 10 pages or 2000 words at a sitting and completes the first draft of a novel in no more than three months. But then, as he points out, ‘talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head… if God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?’ This book is partly his riveting personal story and partly a funny, generous guide to wannabe writers who, if they absorb nothing else, will never forget that the adverb is not their friend.
The Feminine in Fairy Tales (Shambhala Publications. Revised edition: 1993. First published as ‘The problem of the feminine in fairy tales’ based on a series of lectures given at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, 1958 – 59.) – Marie-Louise von Franz
This one jumped off the shelf at the library when I was trawling the psychology section for material on archetypes. Von Franz did this work more than 50 ago and her writing style has a formality that indicates that English is not her first language, and yet the book is accessible to the layman. Her analysis of the symbolism in fairy tales – particularly Sleeping Beauty – makes for interesting reading. Her comments about the fundamental nature of women are unfashionable at a time when we are so careful not to make generalisations about gender, and yet they point to deep creative processes and intuitive strengths that we’d be wise to reclaim.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
Anyone not read this one yet? It’s a wonderful, poignant and uplifting story about the dark days of the second world war and the impact of all that horror on the peaceful island of Guernsey. The author (who died soon after completing this tribute) could have produced a harrowing read; instead, she uses a present time setting and the medium of letter writing to create distance and objectivity. It’s a sort of 84 Charing Cross Rd meets Schindler’s List meets Sleepless in Seattle.
The protagonist, Juliet, is a novelist looking for material for her next book. She’s intrigued to learn of the existence of a Literary and Potato Peel Society and begins a correspondence with Guernsey islanders to find out more. Through their eyes we get under-stated glimpses of the desperation they endured, but we also get caught up in their vivid characters, present-day concerns, and a gentle, hopeful love story that changes Juliet’s life forever.