Books that changed my life: Jo Bavington-Jones

Jo was born in Dover after her parents moved there from Norfolk when her father inherited the local newspaper. 

Her first novel, ‘Lucy Shaw’s Not Sure’ was published in 2017 and the sequel, ‘Lucy Shaw Wants More’, which was published in May this year has been described as a ‘sophisticated modern romance novel’. 

I’ve thought long and hard about individual books that have changed my life. The honest answer is, there really aren’t any. Is that a shocking admission for a writer? I could pretend, and write some pretentious prose about three books I studied at university, but I’m far too honest for that. But books in the broader sense, that’s a different matter; books, per se, have most definitely changed my life.

I still have books from my childhood, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, treasured and kept safe in a box under my bed. I suppose you could say I had favourite authors from a very young age: Richard Scarry was the first. I simply loved his books, my favourites being ‘The Supermarket Mystery’ and ‘The Great Pie Robbery’, which sparked my imagination and gave me so much pleasure as I hunted for clues along with detectives Sam Cat and Dudley Pig, and for the bug he would hide in the pages. Even then I knew books mattered and as soon as I could write my name legibly I would claim ownership of books. My spelling has improved since then!

The next milestone on my journey with books probably came when I discovered Enid Blyton, whose books turned me into an avid reader. I devoured every single one of the ‘Famous Five’, ‘Secret Seven’ and ‘Adventurous Four’ books, but it was really the boarding school books of ‘St.Clare’s’ and ‘Malory Towers’ that thrilled me as a young girl and sparked a love of escapist fiction that has never wavered. Enid Blyton’s schoolgirls – Darrell, Sally and Alicia, I still remember their names - were so real and relatable, and I so wanted to be one of them.

That love of escapist fiction has never left me: I never read non-fiction, and my pattern of finding an author I love and then binge reading every book he or she has written continues, through Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming in my teens, to Lee Child, Peter Robinson and Michael Connelly as an adult. My favourite genre is definitely detective fiction; Sam Cat and Dudley Pig have become Hercule Poirot and Harry Bosch. When real life gets too much, what better place to seek refuge than the pages of a book that takes you away to another place, and to somebody else’s problems?

I will, however, admit that my relationship with books hasn’t always been an easy one. I studied for a degree in English and American Literature, and three years spent analysing texts which I would otherwise not have chosen to read, mightily took the shine off reading for a while. I found I could no longer simply read for pleasure; I could no longer escape into the pages without analysing, criticising, arguing. It seemed I had forgotten how to read for pleasure and it took a long time to find my way back to books. J.K.Rowling, I have to say, was a godsend in that respect.

Ironically, the books I write are very much about real life. I wanted to write about a woman who was real and relatable – perhaps a modern, grown-up version of Enid Blyton’s schoolgirls – and the trials and tribulations of modern life and love. I hope women can see themselves in Lucy, and know that they’re not alone in what they might be going through; that nobody’s perfect and that’s okay, we’re all just doing the best we can. Escape into Lucy’s world for a short while; share her laughter and her tears and remember your own love of books once more.

Click here to buy ‘Lucy Shaw’s Not Sure’ and the sequel, ‘Lucy Shaw Wants More’.