This week’s guest on the Inheritance Books sofa is my fellow BestExperimate (from the Bestseller Experiment Facebook group) Jac Harmon. Hi Jac, welcome to Inheritance Books I’ll go get the Hobnobs, while you introduce yourself.
I was born in London into a family of readers. My nan would read, knit, watch TV and smoke a cigarette all at the same time! Among my earliest memories are being taken to Shepherd’s Bush Market where there were two, huge second hand book stalls under the railway arches. I suspect me and my pram were used as transport for the bags full of paperbacks in the early days. Later, when I could read (and walk), I was given my own little bag to carry and my aunt bought a wicker shopping trolley.
I had my first go at writing a novel when I was about 12 after reading Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy – a truly terrible example of fan fiction which I sadly still have. After that I had several more attempts, experimenting with different genres and finally settling on historical fiction. Having studied medieval history at university I thought that was the period I would go for. Unfortunately, it turned out that my character, once I got to know him, preferred the seedy, criminal underworld of late-nineteenth century London to the fields of ye olde England, and I had to start my research again. The silver lining was that it became possible for me to weave in a lot of old family stories.
I now have a series of 5 books planned (3 written), featuring the criminally inclined Jack Martyn and his on/off love interest the ‘punch ‘em first, ask questions later,’ Charity Knox.
I live in Cambridge with my husband and my cat, Willow.
Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?
The book I inherited is A Many Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin.
Before my Mum met my Dad she worked as an usherette at the Ealing Odeon. In 1955 she saw a movie, she saw it many times. Set in Hong Kong in 1949-50 during the Korean War, it starred Jennifer Jones as Dr Han Suyin, and William Holden as US journalist, Mark Elliott. It was called Love is a Many Splendoured Thing. Mum was always a little bit in love with William Holden after that. Funnily enough, my dad looked a bit like William Holden. I have a very Holdenesque photo of him sitting on a deserted beach in Kenya which could be a still from the film.
Mum came to the book itself late when, in a moment of pure serendipity it fell into my hands. I’d been helping at a Scouts’ Jumble Sale and was packing the unsold books up to pass on to a charity shop when there it was. I was stupidly happy and gave it a hug. Mum was delighted.
A Many Splendoured Thing has to be one of the most beautifully written, tragic love stories, ever. I can only wish that, one day I will write such an opening.
‘Will you write a book about me?’ asked Mark. It was the hour after love. We lay in the long grass of the hill slope, in the abundant sun.
Which book would you leave for future generations? Why?
The book I would leave to future generations is Possession by A S Byatt
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I bang on about this book. I can’t help it, it has everything I love, and I want everyone to love it too. There’s libraries, hidden letters, poets, secret love, a frosty academic, a flustered researcher, and a dual timeline. At times complicated, at times frustrating, but always atmospheric and perfectly crafted. I won’t say it’s an easy read, but it’s a rewarding one. Like A Many Splendoured Thing, my first copy – not the one pictured – also came to me by accident. It was on a friend’s bookcase and she saw me reading the blurb. ‘I’ve had that ages but I can’t get into it,’ she said. ‘You’d probably like it.’ I took it home, already hooked by the pre-Raphaelite woman on the cover. It was the beginning of the ongoing love affair. I read it every few years, and writing this is making me want to read it again right now.
It’s a book that at times gives me goosebumps, and at others makes me want to jump in and sort the characters out, but it always makes me want to go back to my own work and make it the best it can be. It would definitely be the novel I took to a desert island.
Nobody Knows Jack, the first book in the Jack Martyn series, is due for publication sometime during 2020.