My Bookshelf: Clover Stroud
Clover Stroud is renowned for the fearless, fierce honesty of her writing. Her widely feted memoir of love, loss and danger, The Wild Other, chronicled her grief and search for self after her mother sustained a catastrophic injury. Her next book, a meditation on motherhood, will be published next year.
I loved The Secret Garden. I’m now reading it to my 6-year-old daughter, and I love watching her enjoying the story slowly unfolding, It’s magical but also deals with quite grown up themes of loss, grief, and resilience.
I read Wuthering Heights when I was about 14 – and re-read it and re-read it. Perhaps I am a natural masochist, but I love the way that Emily Bronte made so much beauty from such intense pain. It’s a wild, wild book and you can feel that emotion in every page. It seemed to encapsulate the storms of adolescence, especially after my mum had her accident and my life was plunged into total chaos and darkness when I was 16.
I love Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. It’s a Y.A. book but I believe it is actually the most adult book on trauma, and how that works in a life. It’s an extraordinary piece of writing.
I always go back to The Compete Works Of TS Eliot, specifically ‘The Wasteland’ and ‘The Journey of the Magi’. My mum read his shorter poems to us as children, and I first read ‘The Wasteland’ as a student. I find the almost meditative quality of the words just extraordinary, even when I don’t truly understand it.
My daughter read the passage about the Hyacinth girl from the start of ‘The Wasteland’ at my wedding, and I have that same passage painted in gold on the bright pinks wall in our playroom too. Really I would like it tattooed on my body!
Journey into the Mind’s Eye by Lesley Blanch. She wrote about falling in love with a mysterious Russian as a young girl, and following him across the world. She was hungry for adventure and passion, and I felt like she was someone I could really relate to. Her writing is unconventional and very passionate. After I read her book I knew that I could turn some of the stories of my own life into writing I’d feel proud of.
Princes in the Land is an amazing book written in the 1930s by Joanna Cannan. It’s about being a woman, and the compromises we make. A lot of it is also about horses and motherhood, which I really relate to, since my five kids all ride! It’s a really surprising and modern book, and the main message is that motherhood is absolutely not the definition of a woman. It’s very nuanced, textured writing and I love it. It makes me cry a lot.
I have been re-reading the short stories of Helen Simpson lately, Dear George and Hey Yeah Right Get a Life. She is a master short story-teller and her writing on motherhood is absolutely spot on. I am currently writing a new memoir about motherhood, and her writing makes me want to reach a bit higher. She is absolutely brilliant on what motherhood does to women, but the stories are also fast and funny enough to consume very quickly.
Graham Greene. His writing is brilliant, but his actual plots and stories are also consuming and always surprise me. Also, Elizabeth Strout. Her writing makes me want to work harder to reach towards a more profound understanding of what makes us human.
I love Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind. I love her resilience and ability to dust herself down and make the most of every situation. She’s resourceful and funny and feminine and I’d definitely want her on my side. I don’t know if I’m like her, but I definitely think of her when times are tough. "What would Scarlett do?" is something I ask myself quite often. Usually the answer is, dust yourself down, put on a great frock, and get back on that damned horse. Quite a lot of my life is like that.
I try to write five days a week as getting out of the flow is always problematic: it always takes time to get back into it. Having said that, I have five kids so am very accustomed to writing in short bursts and snatching moments of time when I can.
I try to plan an outline and have a sense of where things are going, but the beauty about writing is that it has its own energy, it’s own momentum: things come to me as I’m writing, it’s almost like ideas sometimes flow out of my fingers, but I know that that’s the thinking part of the process bearing fruits.
I have masses and masses of notes - the writing process brings all those notes together, and they are crucially important. If you want to write, I think the most valuable thing you can do is keep a notebook. It doesn’t have to be filled with long pieces of prose, it’s the fragments of thoughts, conversations, observations, that are where you will find the gold.
In my dreams my book shelves are organised in terms of theme or genre, so that I would have novels sitting beside reference books and poetry, as long as they were all roughly about the same subject. But that is a dream. In real life they are a random muddle, with Dr Zeus snuggling up to Ottolenghi, and Beatrix Potter sharing shelf space with Elizabeth Strout. There is no order. But like the best clutter, I do actually know where pretty much everything is.