People never buy me books as presents. (They never allow me to join their book clubs either, which is a story for another day. I hope it’s because they think I’ll insist on actually reading the book rather than the alternative, which is that everyone assumes I am minus craic.)
I’ve noticed a steady decline in the number of book-presents I’ve received in recent years, and the beginning of this trend precisely correlates to when I published my first novel.
I’ve often wondered about this – are people nervous they will buy me a book I’ve already read? Or are they afraid I’ll judge their choice and find it lacking?
It’s a shame, because some of my fondest memories as a child is the stack of books I would find under the tree at Christmas time.
I remember lazy days spent over home, in my grandparents’ house, thrown on the floor in the parlour, completely engrossed in whatever novel I had in my hands.
The crackling of the wood burning in the fire, the smell of mandarins in the air, and the box of Lemon’s ‘Seasons Greetings’ chocolates that my grandfather loved so much beside me. That is what Christmas meant to me.
There was a friend of my mother’s who was particularly talented at picking out excellent books.
She was an English teacher, and her choices would often be by authors I had never heard of before, entirely different to the favourites I gravitated towards whenever I went to the library or my local bookshop.
Over time, I began to trust this woman’s taste and her book would be the first one I would read on Christmas Day, settling into my usual spot in the parlour and ignoring the world around me.
One of the great joys of my life is when, at 12, she told me I was old enough to read Roald Dahl’s short stories and she gave me a copy of the delightfully strange and macabre The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories for my birthday.
I want to be that person for the young people in my life.
I tried for many years with my cousins, and even though they are at the stage now where they would rather money for beer and Charlotte Tilbury makeup palettes respectively, I still try and sneak a book in which I hope they’ll enjoy.
My best friend has three children, one of whom is my godson, and I can spend hours trawling through picture books that I want to buy for him. (I say Ooh, You say Aah by John Kane was a recent hit.)
I gave him the complete set of Harry Potter books for his christening because I was 22 when his mother bought me a copy of the first novel, ignoring my protestations that I was too old for stories about ‘a child magician’, and she then proceeded to watch smugly as I locked myself in my bedroom for 10 days so I could read all seven titles back to back.
But what books would I buy for the children in my life?
There are recent favourites – Robin Stevens, Catherine Doyle, Angie Thomas, Nicola Yoon, Jacqueline Woodson – but I have a yearning to share my favourite childhood books.
I was just a shade too old for Eoin Colfer’s brilliant Artemis Fowl and not quite American enough for Dr Seuss or the Eloise novels, but I adored Roald Dahl’s anarchic sense of humour and Judy Blume’s warm, kind sensibilities.
For some reason, I read The Magician’s Nephew first and that remains my favourite of the Narnia books.
Enid Blyton, although problematic when read today, was a particular obsession – I am Team St Clare’s rather than Mallory Towers, and prefer The Secret Seven to the Famous Five and I believe your choices in these matters define whom you are as a person.
I went through manic phases of only reading the Sweet Valley High books (do not give these to young girls, the fat- shaming alone is demoralising), then Goosebumps, and then The Babysitter’s Club.
I was blown away by Paula Danziger’s This Place Has No Atmosphere, which is set on the moon, because of a character watching television on her watch, a feat I couldn’t imagine ever happening in my lifetime.
There were Irish favourites – Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon McKenna, The Lost Island by Eilís Dillon, Amelia by Siobhán Parkinson – and books set in World War Two that I was fascinated by, such as Goodnight Mr Tom, and Back Home, by Michelle Magorian and Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr.
Looking back, I am pleased to see that so many of the books I read were about girls, but it’s also glaringly obvious that most were by white authors and featured white protagonists (a notable exception was the devastating Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D Taylor).
This is an issue that has plagued the publishing industry.
The runaway success of titles such as The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli prove there is a huge appetite for more diverse stories.
Children of all races, religions, gender, sexuality, and abilities, deserve to see themselves reflected in literature, and I can’t wait to give some of these books to the kids I love the most.
View this post on Instagram
Three different endpapers - bunnies for Waterstones, Connie’s front door for indie bookshops, and red tropical leaves for any decent bookselling establishment. All drawn by the exquisite hand of @lucy_scholes. Bloody hell it looks good #theconfession I WAS going to post an amusing (to no one but myself) photo of me pretending to be a 17th century Mallorcan duchess but I’m on my way home now ✈️ and this feels more responsible 🤷🏻♀️ #bookstagram #newbooks #endpapers
READ: Jessie Burton is asking important questions in The Confession, questions about motherhood, art, creativity, love, friendship, and so much more.
This beautiful novel will stay with me for a very long time.
View this post on Instagram
Thanks @rogansbooks! Shout out to @olgabaumert for illustration and Alison at Hachette for design. Posted @withrepost • @rogansbooks Amazing!!! Holy foil Batman! The jacket is amazing and the hardback itself is BEAUTIFUL. It's the kind of dark gothic, feminist YA that is for adults too... Here's a synopsis. I dare you not to come in the shop, for a retelling of Dracula from the brides perspectives.. ...... On the eve of her divining, the day she'll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community. Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn't understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts. They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate... ..... #thedeathlessgirls #bellatrix #dracula #ya #bookish @kiran_mh @orionbooks
READ: Think you’re bored of vampire stories? Think again.
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is the imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula.
This is gorgeous writing.