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Books that changed my life: Mark Edmondson

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Mark Edmondson, author of the crime fiction novel The Beast of Bodmin, shares the books that changed his life, from Jaws to The Old Man and the Sea


by Peter Benchley 
I was eleven years old when I stumbled into the world of adult fiction. 
I’m the youngest of three brothers, and my oldest brother had a job as a mechanic for a car sales company. He was allowed to bring home certain things he’d found in the cars when preparing them for sale, and more often than not, it was a book.
The book he brought home that changed my life forever was Jaws by Peter Benchley. Like everyone else, I’d watched the film on a Saturday evening several times over the years, and loved it. But only two or three chapters into the book, I realised I was being taken on a very different journey to the one I had on those Saturday evenings when myself and my family all sat glued to the television screen hoping that Chief Brody would succeed in saving Amity Island from the relentless and remorseless great white that refused to leave the area. 
The experience of reading the book was very different to watching the film. The story, albeit roughly the same as the film, was aimed much more towards an adult pair of eyes rather than the eyes of an eleven-year-old. I felt as though I was stepping into a world of horror, sex, bad language and gore that my mother would never have let me delve into had she read it first. 
The old and beaten up copy of the book that had lay hidden under the back seat of a car, most likely a Ford Cortina, took me out of my childhood and into a place that wouldn’t let me out, as the book stayed glued to my palms for most of my holiday to Cornwall that year.
I don’t need to review the story for you, as you all know what happened, but the book was much more graphic, much more horrific and much less censored. I felt with every turn of a page, that I too was clinging to the stern of the Orca for dear life as the great white shark circled trying to get its next meal.
I was left shocked by this book, I was left haunted by this book, and most importantly, I was hurled into the realms of horror stories from authors like Stephen King and James Herbert. Never again would I purchase a book from the children’s section.

The Old Man and the Sea 

By Ernest Hemmingway
I’m not purposely trying to keep an aquatic theme to my list, but I had to think very hard which books I’ve read that affected me the most, and this novella is definitely one that immediately came to mind.  
The story is about an old man trying hard to brave the elements and succeed as a fisherman during the twilight years of his life. He’d gone eighty-four days without catching a fish but is convinced his luck is going to change. A young boy, the only person who still believes in him, offers to help him; even though his parents don’t want him to go out onto the high seas with someone considered by many to be a failure. 
What I love about this story is the frustration you feel for the old man, who is persistent and refuses to give up, even though the odds are against him. He manages to get a marlin on the end of his line, but he battles for three days, trying to bring the fish to shore to prove to everyone that he still has some life left in him. 
I felt sorry for him as he fought with his failing equipment and the sharks that tried to take his prize. But the thing that stuck with me the most was the relationship between the old man and the young boy. The boy helped him by bringing him food, possibly by way of pity. But I find it both interesting and moving when two people of different backgrounds, different lives and different ages can become such good friends. The boy is very empathetic towards the old man, but the old man seems oblivious to this while also appreciating the boys help. 
I won’t tell you the ending, but for me it was very clever, and showed both success and failure at the same time, in a bittersweet denouement to an enjoyable and moving tale.   

Yes Man

by Danny Wallace
I very rarely read anything other than fiction these days, but I decided to give this book a try, and I’m very glad I did.
It’s a true story of a period of the author’s life where he not only decides he needs to say ‘Yes’ more, but he decides to say ‘Yes’ to everything. 
Saying yes to every opportunity that came his way, whether he wanted to or not, led him to some very unusual situations. He buys a car he doesn’t really want, he goes to Stonehenge, he goes to America, he gets a job in TV, he goes on a date with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and he travels to several different countries during this unusual time in his life.  
Before he’d decided to try this life changing plan, he was saying no to everything. No to nights out, no to his friends, no to opportunities, no to anything that came his way, and as a result, he was stuck in a rut.  
After he started to say yes to everything, the world as he knew it completely changed direction.
This story is not only funny, but uplifting and inspiring and since reading it, I have to admit, I’ve said yes to things I wouldn’t have before, and my life is all the better for it. It’s amazing how saying yes to one thing can lead to another, and then another, and it just keeps going. 
If you’re in a rut, then you need to read this book. And we all know someone who could do with reading a book like this don’t we.
Be honest, you’re thinking of that person right now aren’t you. Send them a copy. Once you’ve read it yourself that is.
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