Cherie Jones: ‘I found my tribe on the pages of John Wyndham’s Chrysalids’

The Women’s prize nominee on the brilliance of Earl Lovelace, the influence of Toni Morrison, and laughing out loud at Nora Ephron’s chutzpah

The book that changed my life
The Wine of Astonishment by Earl Lovelace. I never looked at a villain in a book or in real life quite the same after encountering his character Bolo. That book was the beginning of my understanding of the “how” behind the people we see and regard as “bad”. I learned a lot about the complexity of people, and therefore of characterisation, in writing. Lovelace is a master of his craft, I’ve probably read everything at least once that he’s written.

The book I wish I’d written
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton. I discovered this book during my MA writing programme at Sheffield Hallam University in 2013 and have been in love with it ever since. I’ve always been fascinated by stories in which you learn as much, or more, from what remains unsaid on the page. As an amateur photographer I’m also fascinated by the form of the book and how much of the narrative is relayed through the photos that appear in the fictional auction catalogue.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison paved the way for me to address trauma using a structure that is nonlinear. Morrison subordinates structure to story in an incredibly inventive way.

The book that changed my mind
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I read it in my first year at secondary school. I was beginning to understand that I was too tall, too round and too outspoken to be cute and my interests were too eclectic to allow me to relate well to some of my more popular peers. Then I found my tribe in the fringe-dwelling community of Waknuk in the pages of that book and was somehow set free. After that I didn’t care what I wasn’t; who I was became much more important. I highly recommend it for pre-teens everywhere.

The last book that made me laugh
I laughed out loud at so many points reading Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. I loved its honesty, humour and chutzpah – and lack of sentimentality.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Being ashamed of not having read any book (yet) presupposes an understanding of all the books I “should” have read by now. I’m wary of “shoulds”. I learn, live (and read!) as I go.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I’d like to think that the best is ahead of me – but I wouldn’t want to choose one anyway. It must be as bad as being asked to choose the favourite of your children.

My comfort read
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds. I treasure this collection of poems: so beautiful, so personal, so revolutionary. I don’t think I’m much of a poet but I’ve long had a love affair with reading poems. Every time I return to this book I find a line, a stanza that I understand better, differently, appreciate just a little more.

The book I think is most underrated
The Way to Rainy Mountain by N Scott Momaday. A local writing mentor of mine, Dana Gilkes lent me this book many years ago. I love how it examines universal truths via the myths of the Native American Kiowa people. I wrestled with it when I first read it – and I couldn’t get it out of my mind after I’d finished it. Dana said it would change the way I wrote and understood stories and she was right.

• How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (Tinder) has been shortlisted for the Women’s prize for fiction.

Cherie Jones

The GuardianTramp

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