I asked Jess what books have influenced her over the years and helped her become the writer she is today. She said…
These are the books (and plays) that have influenced me as a writer – each book represents a moment’s realisation of ‘so that’s how it’s done!’ All these texts are epiphanies, ‘lightbulb moments’, which represent an important milestone in my artistic life. I’ve chosen them for their stories, for the inventiveness of language and their craft.
1. Conrad: The Factory-Made Boy by Christine Nöstlinger 1976
This was the book that made me want to be a writer. I picked it up and thought this is just incredible. It’s the story of a scatty, eccentric woman who accidentally receives a mail order son through the post. Mail order boy helps her put her life in order and she helps him learn how to play. This is an anarchic book, along the lines of Roald Dahl, which shows that adults aren’t always in control!
Available from www.abebooks.co.uk ISBN: 9781849394833
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This is a very influential book in my life as an author. I love it for its inventiveness, eccentricity and surrealism.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Penguin ISBN: 9780141321073
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
In my teenage years this book really stuck a chord with me. I was fascinated by the portrayal of power, freedom, human fragility and spirit. It really affected me.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Penguin ISBN: 9780141187884
4. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
Allende is an amazing writer and her magic realist writing style was a huge influence on my own work. At the centre of the book are strong and beautifully drawn female characters.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Vintage ISBN: 9780099528562
5. After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Jean Rhys
This stunning, flawlessly executed novel follows Julia as she attempts to survive in a world of broken relationships, shabbiness and isolation. For me Jean Rhys is the perfect writer.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Penguin ISBN: 9780141183947
6. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, George Saunders (short story from collection of same name)
Saunders is magnificent in his use of magic realism, especially his treatment of dead characters. I was thrilled when I first read him. His short stories are surreal, eccentric and often set in theme parks, like this one.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Vintage ISBN: 9780099595816
7. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
For me this is a perfectly constructed novel, Nabokov’s craft is just brilliant.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Vintage ISBN: 9780141182537
8. The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien
Some readers have spotted the influence of this book on Himself. Flann O’Brien is a great comic writer and one I would return to time and again.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Harper Collins ISBN: 9780007247172
9. The Playboy of the Western World, J. M. Synge
You’ll find this play at the very heart of Himself. It was greatly influential to me in terms of characters and plot but also in helping me discover how to write about violence. Synge balances the reality of violence and language about violence throughout his play to explore some very dark themes. He is also an exceptional comic writer.
Available from all good independent bookshops. Penguin ISBN: 9780140188783
10. Not I, Samuel Beckett
Beckett is a writer I want to learn more about. This is a staggering piece of writing. A stream of consciousness delivered, at speed, from a spot lit mouth on a black stage. It gives voice to a fragmented mind, clattering on, wheeling relentlessly through thoughts and blasted memories. It’s not an easy piece to read or watch, but it works strangely on the nerves and on the heart.