Today I am delighted (if that is not a weird thing to say!) to be stranding on my literary atoll, romance author… Adrienne Vaughan. Let’s see what bookish delights she has selected to be her companions in isolation.
Book One – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy – ‘the crème de la crème’ – who become the Brodie ‘set’, introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget.
Set between the wars, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark might at first appear to be a ‘light’ read, but don’t be misled. For me, this slim, witty, exquisitely written book is a slice of history poised at a moment in time before things change forever. It’s also a wonderful portrayal of a very influential woman, flaws and all and the fact that I’m still applauding her, here in 2021, would please her no end, for she is indeed, still in her prime!
Miss Jean Brodie teaches at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. Charismatic, beguiling and unconventional, she’s a force of nature, rebelling against the shackling morality and conventions of the time in her own sublime way.
Totally devoted to her ‘girls’ – known as the ‘Brodie set’, Miss Brodie is also fond of reminding everyone that she’s ‘in her prime’. And though the story spans quite a few years – effortlessly moving back and forth following the girls’ lives – it seems Miss Brodie remains in her prime throughout. A philosophy I’ve happily adopted!
Although, an excellent teacher, Miss Brodie veers off the curriculum revealing her own tragic love story to the girls, thereby bringing them into her confidence. However, when one of her closest choses to betray her and the layers begin to peel away, it’s hard not feel every nuance of agony on behalf of our heroine; having devoted her whole life to her ‘girls’ and career.
Stylish, pared down writing, laser-like attention to detail and so much more going on than what’s being said! I highly recommend this classic be read more than once.
Book Two – Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier
On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him.
But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.
I write Romantic Suspense, and if there’s one standalone shining example of this genre, it’s Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.On the surface the story of a young woman who, while working as a Lady’s companion, meets the recently widowed Max de Winter and in true ‘holiday romance’ style they fall madly in love and marry almost immediately. However, once they leave the glamorous south of France for Manderley, Max’s family home on the Cornish coast, the new Mrs de Winter – our heroine – begins to realise that although Rebecca might be dead she haunts every room, and is being deliberately ‘kept alive’ by the equally ghoulish housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.
Mesmerising and atmospheric, Manderley and it’s fabulous coastal setting are so vivid I feel as if I’ve been there and this, combining with a cast of beautifully yet sparsely drawn characters, makes it a book that really takes hold. Not only because I’m desperate to find out what happened to Rebecca, (I know but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to know again!) but I’m also desperate for our hero and heroine to be once more happily in love.
I read it again only recently, and it’s still so highly addictive, I devoured it in two days. A masterpiece, from the unforgettable opening ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’ – to the closing – ‘And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea’. Oh, and there are spaniels too and as I’ll be missing mine, it’s a must for me.
Book Three- Notes from A Small Island by Bill Bryson
In 1995, before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire to move back to the States for a few years with his family, Bill Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.
His aim was to take stock of the nation’s public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite; a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy; place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells; people who said ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and ‘Ooh lovely’ at the sight of a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits; and Gardeners’ Question Time.
US travel writer and author Bill Bryson was leaving the UK to go back to America, and before he left came up with the brilliant idea of travelling around the whole of Great Britain on public transport and diarising his experience. First published in 1995, Notes from A Small Island by Bill Bryson has sold millions of copies and well deserves its place on this list and in my heart. Not only does it manage to portray the deep and wonderous love the author has for his adoptive country, while at the same time making us laugh out loud at things we say and hear every day. But it also portrays such stoicism, resilience and gritty fortitude, that at times it moves me to tears. I’m a great fan of PG Wodehouse, and Bill Bryson’s writing has that same effortless elegance that can capture a character, nuance and even a nation in just a handful of words.
I always think of this book when anyone mentions ‘St Martin in the Fields’, because I recall Bill’s mystified fascination with this small island’s delectation for weird and wonderful place names, and for some reason the words ‘St Dionysius Behind the Wardrobe’ pop into my head, which always makes me smile.
A book of true charm, that will remind me of home and perhaps even fondly of Marmite, though that might be going a bit far!
Book Four – The Van by Roddy Doyle
Shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize, and set in a Dublin suburb during the 1990 World Cup, this completes a trilogy which began with “The Commitments” and “The Snapper”. Jimmy Rabbite Sr seeks refuge from the vicissitudes of unemployment by joining a friend in running a fish-and-chip van.
Another book that truly deserves its place in my heart, is The Van by Roddy Doyle. Roddy writes with such affection, admiration and a certain amount of pride for Jimmy and his long-time pal Bimbo – two out of work Dubliners in the 1980s – that this story is both hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. It’s a story of true friendship, as these middle aged men battle to overcome numerous obstacles, trying desperately to make a success of their new project, a derelict chip van.
All the characters are adorable, infuriating and so beautifully drawn – I just loved Jimmy’s wife, the indomitable Victoria – and anyone familiar with this wonderful city would surely have come across their like along the way.
I read this novel for the first time on holiday many years ago and a particular scene featuring a dead cat and a deep fat fryer made me so helpless with laughter, my husband raced to my aid, for fear I would not only fall off my lounger – which I had – but off the balcony too!
We were in Turkey, but in my head I was overhearing a fabulous story told in a solid Dublin accent on top of a bus heading towards An Lár! (The city centre) Another book that takes me home.
(Blogger’s note: I would have allowed Adrienne to take the entire Barrytown Trilogy with her to her desert island as it is available in a single volume, which would be a permissible way of sneaking in an extra two novels in the form of The Commitments and The Snapper, both of which are also excellent. Mainly because I am a HUGE fan of Roddy Doyle myself and these three are my favourite of his books.)
Book Five – Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
This is the bestselling true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, Seabiscuit.
In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.
Misunderstood and mishandled, Seabiscuit had spent seasons floundering in the lowest ranks of racing until a chance meeting of three men. Together, they created a champion. This is a story which topped the bestseller charts for over two years; a riveting tale of grit, grace, luck and an underdog’s stubborn determination to win against all odds.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is a story of the triumph of the underdog over every obstacle imaginable. Set in the US during the Depression, the blurb says ‘In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.’ It’s the true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, the well-bred, but misunderstood Seabiscuit. Like all the best ‘true-life’ stories, you couldn’t make it up but when wealthy businessman Charles Howard, sets reclusive trainer Tom Smith the task of finding him a racehorse to bring on, Tom not only finds Seabiscuit but the troubled yet talented jockey Red Pollard; another underdog. The trio went on to win everything in American racing.
But this book is so much more than that, it’s a snapshot of yet another pivotal moment in history, the reality of the effects of the Depression rawly told and the will to survive easily mistaken for hard-nosed ambition and vice versa. Yet interlaced throughout this wonderful tale are heart-warming love stories, human for human, man for animal and animal for man. The connection between all the characters – including this remarkable little horse – so vivid, so real, that every time Red gets into the saddle my heart starts to pound and I’m whispering in Seahorse’s ear as they make their way to the start, you can do this, boy, this one is yours.
As you can probably tell, I love horses and feel their part in the building of our world is often underplayed; we owe these noble creatures so much.
Laura Hillenbrand is a fantastic writer, truly deserving of her best seller status, and she clearly loves history but I suspect, having read this, horses are a particular passion too. Truly magical and highly recommended.
My luxury item
Having read and re-read all these wonderful books, I’ll be totally inspired and will have to write! I write by hand, then type what I’ve written as a first edit. If I’m only allowed one essential, can it be a stock of spiral bound note books please? I know I won’t have a pen, but if I can devise a way of making ink with leaves, plants or whatever I can find on the island, I can resort to using a quill, which – if there’s wildlife – should be available in abundance. 😊
About the Author
Adrienne Vaughan is an award-winning author of 5 Star romantic suspense.
She has written three highly acclaimed novels, The Hollow Heart, A Change of Heart and Secrets of the Heart, together with an award-winning collection of poetry and short stories, Fur Coat & No Knickers. Her short story Dodo’s Portrait was short-listed for the Colm Toíbín Award at the Wexford Literary Festival in 2018.
Adrienne was brought up in Dublin and lives in rural Leicestershire with her husband, two cocker spaniels and a rescue cat called Agatha Christie – ‘We never know who she’s going to kill next!’
Two of her favourite places in the world are the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland and the coast of South Devon, both great influences on her writing.
And although being a novelist has always been her dream, she still harbours a burning ambition to be a Bond girl!
Today, she runs a busy PR practice, writing novels, poems and short stories in her spare time.
Do check out Adrienne’s debut novel, The Hollow Heart, which is the first in the Heartfelt series, three standalone novels set in Ireland and New York. It is currently on offer at the special price of 99p/99c and is available here.
Marianne Coltrane is a feisty, award-winning journalist who is far from lucky in love. Taking a broken heart, a bruised career and her beloved terrier, Monty, off to the west of Ireland she is determined to embrace a quieter life. But when she literally runs into Ryan O’Gorman, one of the most infuriating men in the world, she wonders if moving to this tiny island is the right decision after all. He’s an actor who’s just landed the biggest role in movie history and he loathes journalists. One thing they do have in common is they both think their chance of true love has passed them by, but of course, fate has other ideas.
Filled with a cast of colourful characters, betrayal and heartache and ultimately love and laughter, this twisting tale takes us from Ireland to New York and back to an island you’ll never want to leave.
Connect with Adrienne:
Facebook: Adrienne Vaughan