Erica James: Books that changed my life

The romance novelist shares the books that shaped her career

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

This was the first book that made me laugh out loud.  I read it in my late teens and until then I hadn’t discovered the joy of a comic novel.  Anything I’d read previously had been school texts and, I’m afraid to say, I found them all rather dull. 

But suddenly here was something wonderfully uplifting which spoke volumes about the myriad idiosyncrasies of human behaviour, whether it was relaying the story of Uncle Podger trying to hang a picture or describing the herculean attempt to open a tin of pineapple without a tin opener.

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

I was a mother with two young children when I read this novel in the 1980s and was thoroughly swept up in the rags to riches story of Emma Harte, as well as the author’s obvious love of Yorkshire and its rugged moorland scenery, which was where I was living at the time. 

What I loved most about the book was the world Barbara Taylor Bradford created with its huge cast of characters and strong sense of family and it sowed a tiny seed within me that I might like to try and create my own world through putting pen to paper.  A few years later I did just that and my first novel was published.

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler often writes about families and Saint Maybe is a poignant example of how one small mistake can result in tragedy for a family and with lives changed forever. As always with Anne Tyler, there’s pathos and humour within the pages, but the true strength of this novel lies in the author’s ability to write with genuine compassion and understanding. 

I’ve read this book many times over and always find it inspirational when it comes to writing my own novels about the complexities of family life.  

Erica James is the author of 23 best-selling novels, including Swallowtail Summer and Letters From the Past. Her new book, Mothers and Daughters, is published by HQ, is out March 17

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