This week’s Inheritance Books are from fellow RNA member, Helena Fairfax.
Hi Helena, welcome to Inheritance Books. Please, have a biscuit and tell us a bit about yourself.
My name’s Helena Fairfax, and I’m addicted to reading. Since books don’t come with a health warning, no one except my long-suffering husband has ever commented on my affliction, but if books were ever taken away from me I would probably have to run amok before going seriously cold turkey.
Besides chain reading I’ve been scribbling on and off at romances for many years, but it wasn’t until last year that I really decided to try and make a serious go of writing. My first two romances were published in 2013.
I studied languages at University and have travelled a lot. I’ve also moved house many, many times (sigh), but am now firmly settled in Saltaire village, on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. My dog and I go walking there every day, and we discuss characters and story arcs. (Well, my dog pretends to listen. Secretly she’s thinking about killing wildlife.) Once we’re at home my dog sleeps the sleep of the innocent whilst I try to make the thoughts in my head come to life on the page.
Which book have you inherited from generations above? Why is it special?
One of the best presents I ever received was this complete Penguin set of Jane Austen, given to me by my mum on my fifteenth birthday. You can probably tell by the state of the books that it’s a number of years since I was a teenager! They did come in a beautiful cardboard box, which has long since disintegrated. And check out the condition of Pride and Prejudice, with its faded and Sellotaped spine. The whole set has literally been read to bits.
I remember sitting on the kerb in the playground at school reading P&P for the first time (oh lucky me!), totally gripped by Darcy’s proposal to Lizzie. In my teenage ignorance I’d assumed Jane Austen was going to be staid and dull, but I was absolutely gobsmacked. I just had to find out what happened next. So I hid behind some coats in the cloakroom and became so absorbed in the whole drama of it that I missed the bell for registration and ended up in detention. Detention for reading Jane Austen! The irony. It was worth it, though.
I’ve since bought brand new sets for my own daughters, and I hope Austen’s novels bring them both the same sense of excitement, the same delight, wonder and sheer joy that they have always brought me.
Who doesn’t love a bit of Jane Austen? Which book would you leave to generations below? Why?
The book I’d like to pass down is Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden. Here’s my battered copy, the very one carried by me to Primary school and pored over with my grubby hands. This is the first book I ever read where I really “got” what reading was all about.
To put you in the picture: I was born in Uganda, and didn’t arrive to live in Yorkshire until I was six. Until then I’d never been to school. When I got here, I hated it. I couldn’t understand what the other children were saying to me with their accents; the skies were grey; I was cold, miserable and homesick. [I have similar memories of when I first arrived in Yorkshire. I did a lot of smiling and nodding -RB].
Then I read Rumer Godden’s story and – amazing! Here was a little girl, just arrived in England from India, who felt exactly as I did. I was bowled over by it.
I re-read this story recently and am amazed by the author’s ability to relate so well to a child’s total misery. The book is a very uncomfortable read for me now, but it’s a great lesson for parents not to underestimate what children feel. Reading it as a child it certainly resonated with my own sense of powerlessness.
Here’s a particularly bleak passage. Nona, the little girl in the book, is mailed a present of two Japanese dolls, the Miss Happiness and Miss Flower of the title, and during their uncomfortable journey the dolls talk to one another:
‘Where are we now?’ asked Miss Flower. ‘Is it another country?’
‘I think it is,’ said Miss Happiness.
‘It’s strange and cold. I can feel it through the box,’ said Miss Flower, and she cried ‘…I wish we had not come!’
Miss Happiness sighed and said, ‘We were not asked.’
I’ve devoured all Rumer Godden’s books since then, both adults’ and children’s, and love all of them. She has a fantastic insight and empathy with how people feel. I wish I could write like she does.
That sounds like a very intriguing book. (scurries off to Amazon to go check it out).
Thanks for asking me about my inheritance books, Rhoda. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting them!
You’re very welcome, Helena. It was lovely having you. Here, have a couple of extra biscuits to take with you. Pop by again soon.
Helena’s debut novel, The Silk Romance, was published May 2103. The Silk Romance is a contender for the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award 2014. You can find out more about Helena from her website or Facebook and catch up with her on Twitter (@helenafairfax).