Once you know true book love, your whole life changes. And for these nine authors, it would even determine what they would eventually do for a living. Here are the first books they fell in love with.
“The first book I fell in love with was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. I was in primary school at the time. My teacher knew we had recently arrived from India and my family had originally fled the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan four years earlier. This teacher helped me settle into school and introduced me to the library. I don’t recall exactly but I associate this novel with that teacher’s kindness and support.
The novel is the story of nine-year-old Anna whose family flee the Nazis. It is told from Anna’s perspective and she refers to her family as refugees. This was an enormous moment for me to think that there was this character who was also a refugee. She had to give up her normal life, the life she knew and loved, and I was not alone in that experience. The book also fuelled my dream that one day I would like to write novels myself. My debut novel Pomegranate & Fig has its genesis in the early stories I had written which were inspired by reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.”
Zaheda Ghani is the author of the beautiful literary fiction novel Pomegranate & Fig, published by Hachette Australia. She is an executive at tech giant Atlassian, has previously held positions at fashion giant THE ICONIC and is an Ambassador with the UNHCR.
“It was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I was 14 and I somehow got my hands on the black and white Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. After watching it, I sought out a copy of the book and devoured it. I re-read it again almost straight afterwards.
I remember pouring over every scene with Mrs Danvers – the darkness in her character compared to the innocence of the new Mrs de Winter is sublime. I loved, and still love, the scene on the staircase when the second Mrs de Winter appears dressed as a woman in a painting on one of Manderley’s grand walls, without knowing it was the last dress Rebecca wore to a Manderley ball. It’s creepy and unfair and heartbreaking.
Rebecca was the original domestic noir and has everything I still adore in a book: darkness, intrigue, romance, and a spine-tingling twist. It has definitely inspired the way I write my own suburban noirs: I can’t get enough of a dark, twisty storyline!
If I’m in a thrift store, I’ll always look for an early copy of Rebecca in the book section. A few months back, I found a third edition from 1940 at a Lifeline store. When I got my two-book deal for The Trivia Night and The Running Club, I bought myself a first edition of the book and a postcard written by Daphne du Maurier to her aunt, with a photo of Menabilly House in Cornwall, du Maurier’s home and inspiration for Manderley, on the front. I’m planning to visit Menabilly when I go to Cornwall – a kind of du Maurier pilgrimage. It’s my little literary obsession.”
Ali Lowe is the author of The Running Club and The Trivia Night, published by Hachette Australia.
Like what you’re reading? SIGN UP to The Suite – it’s the magazine-style newsletter you’ve been waiting for.
Jules Van Mil
“If I had to choose one book as my favourite, it would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I was 14 years old, and it was the Christmas school holidays, when I first read this classic. I remember lying all day on a beach towel under a tree, totally captivated by every word. The destructive relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, and the other characters, opened my eyes to the complexities of love relationships and, I guess, to relationships in general. I could feel those cold winds whipping across the hilltops of the Yorkshire Moors as I was transported to the 16th century farmhouse that was Wuthering Heights. I literally felt as if I was in the novel, and I didn’t want the story to end. As readers, we’ve all felt that sense of loss when we come to the end of a book we’ve loved – a journey travelled privately, internally.
Bronte’s writing had a profound effect on me and fostered my love of historical fiction. I’ve re-read this book many times over the years and each time I’ve been able to reflect on the narrative in different ways, as I’ve matured and had my own life experiences.”
Jules Van Mil is the Sydney-based author of A Remarkable Woman, a compelling story of one woman’s quest to follow her head and heart, published by Pan Macmillan Australia.
“The first book I fell in love with was Kate and Katie Doll by Rosemary Garland and Gwyneth Mamlok. I think I was around six or seven when I was given this book, probably as a birthday gift, and it thrilled me because I thought it was written especially for me (I was called Katie then), even though the Kate/Katie in the story has red hair and I do not! It was also one of the first books that I was able to read by myself, and that delight in independence has stayed with me.
I loved it for its sense of mystery and mischief – there is a naughty doll that escapes from a trunk in the attic, and she swaps places with the real little girl and thoroughly misbehaves. The girl is staying in a creaky old house with her Great Aunt Jane, and perhaps this is one clue as to why I often set my books in grand old houses that contain plenty of secrets.
I still have my copy and have read it plenty of times to my own daughters, though they of course have different favourites. Even now, turning the pages takes me back to that happy place of being able to immerse myself in another world.”
Kayte Nunn is the international bestselling author of seven novels, the most recent of which, The Only Child, is published by Hachette Australia on 30 August 2022.
“I was 15 when I first read Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite. Set between New Orleans and the fictional North Carolina town of Missing Mile, it follows the journey of Nothing, a teenage vampire, as he searches for his true family and answers about his birth. The book is an unapologetic love letter to 1990s goth culture, where black-clad “children of the night” wear funeral lace and dance to Bauhaus while smoking clove cigarettes. It’s also grim and gory, filled with hideous violence and characters who are unapologetically terrible.
But as an introverted goth kid growing up in rural Australia, Lost Souls gave me something I desperately wanted; a world far from bus rides over dirt roads and school days spent with people for whom I was always too quiet, too weird, too much, to ever truly fit in. I loved that Brite’s vampires were not the mythical creatures of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula or Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, who felt so distant and adult. The main group of vampires in Lost Soulswalked in daylight, wore sneakers, ate junk food and drunk endless bottles of chartreuse – a potent French liquor that, when I first tried it, tasted vaguely like perfume. And I couldn’t help but identify with Nothing, who was like me; disillusioned and 15, longing for a place where his strangeness would be accepted.
Lost Souls was also one of the first books where I saw the type of stories I wanted to write – small stakes, intimate worlds filled with angst and romance where the everyday became romanticised and love and horror were two sides of one coin. Brite’s devastatingly lush prose veered almost into the territory of overwrought, but it called to me as a writer; I dreamed then – as I do now – of crafting books that feel beautiful to read, with words like poetry. Even today I still come back to this book as inspiration.”
Lyndall Clipstone writes about monsters and the girls who like to kiss them. An Adelaide-based author, her debut novel, Lakesedge, was a Dymocks Books bestseller. The sequel, Forestfall, is published by Pan Macmillian Australia on 30 August 2022.
“The first books I fell in love with were ghost stories. Anything with a ghost or a hint of sceptre and I was completely enthralled. Lucy M Boston’s Green Knowe series comes to mind. So does, Can I Get There By Candlelight? by Jean Slaughter Doty and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. I’ve always been a complete sceptic but kind of desperate to be proven wrong, so I look for ghosts everywhere.
Later I started to look down my nose at the supernatural and went through a bit of a ‘great literature’ phase. I got a bit evangelical about Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which opened my eyes to writing that challenges conventional form and language. I still think about that book when I’m playing with words, but really what I want from a book is not to notice the writing at all, but to be taken clean away by a story and left there even when the book ends. I still adore ghost stories. All three of my novels have ghosts in them, you just have to be looking for them to find them. Perhaps I’m working up to writing a full-blown ghost story one day.”
Meg Bignell lives on Tasmania’s east coast and is the acclaimed author of Welcome To Nowhere River, The Sparkle Pages and, most recently, The Angry Woman’s Choir, published by Penguin Random House Australia.
“I think I might be the very definition of ‘promiscuous reader’. As a teenager, I voraciously consumed everything from Jane Austen novels to play scripts (I admired Tennessee Williams) to dystopian fiction like 1984 and Lord of the Flies. My tender little reader–writer’s heart, however, belonged to my collection of Sweet Dreams romances. Back then, I never really thought about there being any kind of hierarchy among the kinds of books I read, so I was quite unselfconscious about my love for these dreamy, harmless, escapist novels. They came as slender paperbacks and they were easily consumed, like a box of chocolates, in a delicious and indulgent couple of hours. In the mid-1980s, I read (and reread) titles including PS I Love You (about a girl whose true love dies – how heartbreaking!), Love Match(resentment turns to love on the tennis court), The Problem with Love (girl gets handsome maths tutor), Ten Boy Summer (competitive dating) and Trusting Hearts (girl who wants to be a vet). Reliably, they left me sighing and satisfied; I’ve always enjoyed the catharsis that a happy (or perfectly melancholy) ending can deliver.
I was about 15 when I first tried my hand at writing a romance of my own. My (lovingly) pedantic father found my manuscript lying around and decided to do a spot of editing, leaving critical comments in the margin. These days, I’d either just take his comments as wonderful contributions to my development, or I’d argue the point. Back then, though, I was crushed. That experience made me feel a bit silly and embarrassed, so it took me quite a while to circle back around to having a go at writing a romance, which I did, first with Star-Crossed, then The Lost Love Song and now, With Love From Wish & Co. When I write romance, part of me is a teenager again, lounging on the lumpy daybed in the summer sun at our family shack, with a well-thumbed paperback in hand.”
Minnie Darke is the author of the bestselling novel Star-Crossed, which has now been published in over 30 countries. With Love From Wish & Co was just released by Penguin Random House Australia.
“After the footsteps down the hall faded away, Dad always checked my light was out at eight o’clock sharp, I unclipped my gun metal grey bendy lamp from my bedhead, tucked it under the blankets with me, and made a reading cave. I had travelled to the top of The Faraway Tree before, so I knew the roundabout and snow and ice lands awaited me this night in The Enchanted Wood. Before I headed off to eat honey pop cakes with Silky, dodge Dame Washalot’s blue soapy water and slide down Moonface’s slippery slip, I stared at the pictorial boards on my special book. I just loved Jo, standing there in his vest with his curious eyes looking up the tree. He even had messy hair, like me. Bessie looked nice enough in her dress with a bow in her hair, but I felt like I was wearing poison ivy when I was forced to wear a dress to go to my nanna’s. So, Jo was who I became when I entered the woods. Every now and then, I wouldn’t even be the characters. On special nights, when my imagination was just right, not too big and not too small, I entered the world as myself – The Faraway Tree’s imaginary friend. They knew I was there, but they couldn’t see me. But I knew they knew I was there because I would get tiny sideways glances from my favourite characters. Like the time the pixie glanced over his shoulder as he sat on his toadstool and winked at me.
Into the pages I went. I felt sick and dizzy as I meandered through roundabout land, fearful when the giant snowman enslaved me and exhilarated when I rode all the way down the tree on the slippery slip. I paused to poke my face out of the blanket cave. The cold air was refreshing, and I savoured some deep cold breaths. Perhaps that’s what breathing in snow and ice land felt like. My eyes saw The Secret Seven book Dad had left for me. He told me it was silly to read the same thing over and over when there were so many books in the world to discover. It sat there next to my bed like the boil just under Sister Sylvester’s temple. I didn’t want to look at it, but I couldn’t help it.
Although I didn’t join The Secret Seven that night, I eventually did. And all the books between then and now, with their magic words, have taken me away on vivid adventures where I can frolic or cry and everything in between. Where I can feel unhindered and be whatever, or whoever, I want to be. And doing so from a blanket cave is still my favourite. My good spot.”
Hilde Hinton avoided being a writer for many years. But after her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Loudness of Unsaid Things, became a bestseller, everything changed. Now the stories won’t stop. Her latest release, A Solitary Walk on the Moon, has just been published by Hachette Australia.
“I was only eight years old when I read Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians, but it’s the first book that had a huge impact on me. I loved all those characters, and I was devastated when Judy, the liveliest, naughtiest and most vibrant of those seven children died (a gum tree fell on her). Not only had I lost a best friend, but my heart was broken by the deathbed scene with her brothers and sisters all around her.
“Meg, I’m so frightened. I can’t think of anything but ‘For what we are about to receive’,” and that’s grace, isn’t it? And there’s nothing in Our Father that would do either. Meg, I wish we’d gone to Sunday School and learnt things. Look at the dark, Meg! Oh, Meg, hold my hands.”
When I finished this chapter, I ran into my parents’ bedroom, bawling my eyes out, and they were very concerned, of course. Until they realised I was only crying over a book. But I had learned about the emotional power of books, and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.”
Barbara Hannay writes women’s fiction and has sold more than 12 million books worldwide. Her novels have been translated into 26 languages, she has won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award and has been shortlisted five times. Her most recent release, The Happiest Little Town, is published by Penguin Random House and available now.
Looking for a little more literary inspiration? We thoroughly recommend Four Thought-Provoking Books To Read Right Now.