Hazel Gaynor’s latest novel, The Girl from the Savoy is set in the aftermath of the Great War. She talks us through her inspirations, from two Brontë sisters to Ted Hughes and a ‘bear of very little brain’!

The House at Pooh Corner 

by A.A. Milne

The House at Pooh Corner

I bought a box set of four Winnie the Pooh books while on holiday in the Cotswolds when I was eight-years-old. I adored Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore. They became very real to me and I credit them with sparking a lifelong love of reading.

I still have the box set, and loved reading the stories to my children when they were small. Part of me secretly believes A.A. Milne’s wonderful characters are all alive and well and still having their 'expotitions' in the Hundred Acre Wood.

 

The Iron Man

by Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes The Iron Man

Again, this was a book I adored as a child, reading it over and over again. I distinctly remember reading it beneath the bed covers with a torch when I was supposed to be asleep.

It’s such an amazing piece of writing by the poet laureate that I found totally mesmerising and completely captured my imagination. It is another favourite that I’ve loved sharing with my children.

 

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

by Charlotte and Emily Brontë

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights book covers

I can never separate Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights when I think about books that have stayed with me. Both had a profound impact on me when I read them as a teenager.

They were the first classics I read purely for pleasure, rather than because they were on the school syllabus.

I grew up in Yorkshire, not far from Haworth and the moors where the Brontës lived, so part of me really understood that bleak landscape. That close geographical connection, and a visit to Haworth Parsonage, led to a lifelong interest in the authors as much as in the books themselves. I’d never really considered the author before reading the Brontë sisters.

I wrote my A Level extended essay on the contrasts and similarities between Charlotte and Emily and their heroines, Catherine Earnshaw and Jane Eyre. I’d be fascinated to read that essay now to see what conclusions I reached as a 17-year-old.

Read more: Why does the world still care about Jane Eyre?

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Gurnsey Literary

This beautiful little epistolary novel, set on the island of Guernsey in the aftermath of World War II, is full of wonderful characters, wit and emotion.

It opened my eyes to how historical events can be written about in a way that feels far more immediate and personal than a straight historical account.

It is a book I will re-read many times and a book that led to me wanting to understand more about the two world wars.

 

The Other Boleyn Girl

by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl

This was my first Philippa Gregory novel and I found it so fascinating I went on to read all her others.

I studied History to A Level and thought I knew a lot about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and his six wives, but this novel challenged all the historical assumptions of that period by telling the story from the perspective of the women who had mostly been written out of the history books. I firmly believe this was the novel that led to me writing historical fiction.

For the first time, I could see a way to combine my fascination with history—especially women in history—with my desire to write fiction. The book is also a wonderful example of how to write history in a way that feels almost contemporary in its narrative and voice.

I was fortunate enough to interview Philippa Gregory in 2012 and she gave me some wonderful advice as a new writer. Her signed copy of The Other Boleyn Girl sits proudly on the shelf above my desk.

 

Read more from our Books That Changed My Life series

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