Jeff Gardiner – you are what you read

I’m very excited to welcome to my blog Jeff Gardiner – an author, editor and a teacher – talking about the books that ignited his imagination, sharpened his pencil and set him on a journey into writing.

730I’ve always been an avid reader – reading with a torch under the bedcovers, making me tired the next day at school. The two biggest influences on me as a youngster were quite different: Enid Blyton and Superman comics.

The first books that really changed me were both series by Enid Blyton – The Magic Faraway Tree, The Adventures of the Wishing Chair. Wonderful feats of imagination that allowed the heroes to travel just about anywhere and have the most incredible adventures. Meanwhile my uncle passed on his DC comics about the Man of Steel and I particularly relished the comics about the Legion of Superheroes (of which Superman was an occasional member). I also recall loving the comics about the eccentric Metal Men who could turn into liquid forms of gold, mercury and so on.

But it was Enid Blyton for me, and whilst I loved the Famous Five my real favourites were the Five Find-Outers and Dog (the first in the series is called The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage). I recall summer holidays visiting my grandparents and begging to be taken to the second-hand bookshop to seek out Enid Blyton treasures. Then there were the darker books with titles such as Island of Adventure, Castle of Adventure. I always wanted to possess the power to attract animals and birds to me, like Philip and Jack in those tales.

This led me on to the wonderful novels of Willard Price – Amazon Adventure, Volcano Adventure, Whale Adventure – following teen zoologists Hal and Roger as they travel the world, collecting exotic animals for their father’s zoo.

Wind in the willowsI do remember crying when I finished reading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham because I never wanted to leave that incredible world inhabited by Ratty, Mole and Toad. I was transported into a world so magical and wonderful, including that awe-inspiring chapter called ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ when they encounter the god Pan. I loved Narnia and Wonderland as a kid but nothing could touch the River, Wild Wood and Toad Hall.

My older brother threw out some books and the covers caught my eye. They were by an author called Michael Moorcock and the titles and cover art had me under a spell. The Mad God’s Amulet, Phoenix in Obsidian, The Time Dweller. I then devoured all the Elric, Jerry Cornelius and eternal champion books of his interconnected multiverse. My favourite Moorcock book is the standalone, Gloriana. Michael Moorcock’s hero is Mervyn Peake whose Gormenghast trilogy, beginning with Titus Groan, contains some of the most wonderful language and humour you’ll ever read.

Fortunately my English teacher chose for us to study Aldous Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece Brave New World in my A Level Literature class, and I’m eternally grateful to him. It’s possibly the greatest book of ideas, philosophy and politics ever written. Funny, frightening and poignant. Everyone should read it. The other philosophical author I discovered at university was Herman Hesse whose novels Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund changed my perspective on life.

siddharthaI’m always aware that so many of my favourite authors are male, but two female writers that have affected me greatly are Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I recommend anything by these two. My favourite short story writers are both men though: Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood

In my later life I have found it harder to find the same amount of time to read; mostly because of family-life and work. However, the two stand-out novelists for me are the sadly late Graham Joyce (The Tooth Fairy, Smoking Poppy) and Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore). Both of these writers set their narratives in the modern world but neither are frightened to explore mystical, fantastical or even surreal events and experiences, in the style of magic realism.

kafkaIt’s likely that all this reading has influenced my own writing. I have written short stories that contain horror, magic realism, humour and romance. My latest novel, Pica, has elements of Enid Blyton, Kenneth Graham, Graham Joyce and Herman Hesse. It’s probably hard to see these influences directly – I’ve tried to be original, of course – but I know they’re there.

After leaving university I was a school teacher for twenty years attempting to instil my love of reading in others. I still go into schools as a visiting author hoping to help young people to see that reading is vital for the imagination and to develop personal experience and understanding of the world and universe around us. I have my own children who I continue to encourage to read (not easy). I struggle to find time to read as much as I used to, but I know it’s important. That’s really why I write: in the hope that someone will read my books and feel inspired, provoked and truly alive.


PICA by Jeff Gardiner


Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.


Jeff’s website

Accent Press


Barnes & Noble

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Australia


About Jeff

Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.

Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)

For more information, please see his website at and his blog:

Jane Risdon – her life through books

It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome to my blog Jane Risdon, a novelist with a colourful past – someone who once upon a time rubbed shoulders with spies and diplomats at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; someone who acted as an impresario for entertainers and musicians. This is her life through the prism of books that made her into the writer she is today.


I think I was born with a book in my hand. I can’t recall a time when I couldn’t read and giving this some thought, Janet and John and Dick and Dora come to mind. Both books we read in class at my very first school and I was hooked.

I adored The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Little Women too.


Little Women.

Oh, and The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. I am convinced her stories about ballet and the theatre had a huge impact on my future. I didn’t become a dancer or actress but my life has been spent mostly in the entertainment business.

I went on to Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stevenson.



I adored adventure stories and when other girls were reading Anne of Green Gables and Black Beauty, I had my nose in Kidnapped, the Biggles series, The Mask of Zoro or The Man in the Iron mask.

However, I do recall having caused a melt-down at school by choosing Return to Peyton Place as one of my English Language and English Literature one year.


We had been reading To Sir with Love, A Taste of Honey, The Girl with Green Eyes and Cider with Rosie, so I didn’t see the problem.

Later I persevered reading a wide range of books, the usual Classics you are encouraged to read at school, but I can’t say I ever enjoyed them; even Thomas Hardy didn’t really do it for me.

I loved books about spies, espionage, murder and intrigue. Anything which made me think and puzzle over. Graham Green, Frederick Forsythe, Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler with The Saint, – another of my school prizes which raised eyebrows, along with Dashiell Hammett – I adored The Thin Man, and Ed McBain, Mickey Spillaine, and similar authors; Pulp fiction I guess, but for me as a young teenager they were wonderfully exciting.

Raymond Chandler.


My favourite Du Maurier books include Frenchman’s Creek, I adore it even now. It is a romance, a period adventure, and it has Pirates. I love pirates and I love history. I also love Jamaica Inn – dark, brooding and tense. And Rebecca which I think is a one of the most brilliant books I have ever read, like Frenchman’s Creek it has everything I love about a story and entertains as well as enthrals. These transported me, making a huge impression upon me, and still do. I just cannot get into ‘heavy, serious books.’ For me reading is sheer pleasure. I don’t want to be weighed down by ‘literature.’ Call me pedestrian if you wish.

Agatha Christie, anything by her. I can’t say I have a favourite. I adore the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories because they tease and mislead and are so cleverly written. I understand that a University once ran her sentences through a computer to try and work out what it is about her way with words which makes her the best-selling author of all time. It was decided she wrote perfect sentences crafted to entice and hold the reader. She has succeeded with me. I would love to be able to write like her.

As I got older, at the height of The Cold War, I found myself drawn to John Le Carre, Robert Ludlam, Ken Follett, devouring anything in this genre. Smiley’s People is an amazing piece of writing and story-telling. I began to dream of writing, but I knew that advice to writers was always ‘write about what you know.’ What did I know worth telling?

I am an avid fan of Kathy Reichs and her career in Forensic Anthropology, so much so I have taken two Forensic courses recently. I love her writing. I want to write with the same authenticity about crime scenes and detection.

Patricia Cornwell introduced me to this genre and I am a big fan of Tess Gerritsen too – they’ve really opened my eyes. Peter James is another fantastic writer who has researched police procedures so intensely you can be assured what he writes has a solid basis in fact.


Michael Connolly, David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille, Stella Rimington, Karin Slaughter and James Patterson are all favourites of mine and I have learned so much from reading their work. Keeping sentences and chapters short and to the point, keeping a good pace throughout and above all keeping writing simple.


I’ve spent most of my life in the international music business, creating artists and their product (music), mentoring and shaping their careers and building their success. Now, as a writer, I have to try and do this for myself. Quite a challenge. I love crime writing, and I nearly always have some music or espionage in my stories somewhere. I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when younger and became fascinated with the murky world of spies. Write about what you know…

In addition to writing several short stories and pieces of flash fiction which I enjoy a great deal, I have been working on a series of novels – Ms Birdsong Investigates – featuring a fortyish former MI5 Officer who was ‘voluntarily’ retired following a disastrous mission, who finds herself in rural Oxfordshire bored silly and missing the excitement of her former life.

She can’t help keeping surveillance on those round her, and soon finds herself involved in the search for a missing woman which leads her into some very familiar territory; Russian Mafia and Oligarchs, Ukrainian gun-runners and drug dealers, all under her nose in Ampney Parva, proving irresistible to her. I have been working on this for quite a while and hope to have the series ready for publication by the end of this year.

There are several other WIP on the go, mostly crime and a couple of what I call ‘Observational’ comedies. Enough to keep me busy for ages to come.

Sometime this summer my co-written novel, Only One Woman’ with Christina Jones, is due to be published by Accent Press with whom I signed in 2014. It is the story of two girls in love with the same musician; not my usual genre.

Christina and I go way back to when she was Fan-Club secretary for my husband’s band and a Rock journalist, and our story is based in 1968/69 and full of music, fashion and the vibe there was around those days.

It is a love triangle but so much more, influenced by the world events which shaped our lives back then, and what it was like being a teenager in love with a musician in the heady  of the late 1960s.

I am published in several anthologies including:

Pic7           Pic8

Margot Kinberg Pub.                                         FCN Pub.

Pic10           Pic9

Accent Press                                            Accent Press    

Anna, thanks so much for inviting me to share my favourite books with you and for letting me ramble on about my writing too. I really appreciate it.

For information about me, my books and where to buy them, take a look at my author page on Amazon:

Accent Press:




Lynne Shelby – Books that Made Me

Lynne Shelby  with her debut novel French Kissing

I would like to welcome to my blog Lynne Shelby, an award-winning romantic novelist and fellow book lover talking about writers who inspired her and taught her a thing or two about the very noble art of writing.

You can tell from Lynne’s selection that she has been influenced by some of the greatest…


I enjoy reading novels of every sort, from romantic fiction to mainstream to science fiction to literary classics, but looking back over the numerous books I’ve read over the years, I can see that there are certain authors that have had a huge influence on me – not just as a writer but in other ways as well.

Rosemary Sutcliffe

I was about twelve when I found a book called ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ in my school library, and discovered the wonderful historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliffe. I read her stories throughout my teens, when her talent for bringing the past to life, and for creating characters who are of their time while remaining vibrant and sympathetic for a modern reader, gave me a love of history that led to my studying it at university.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Books 2I’d written stories from a very young age, but it was reading the exquisitely plotted ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F Scott Fitzgerald when I was about seventeen that made me understand exactly what people meant when they talked about writers needing to hone their craft. Until then, I’d never thought much about the process of writing and what it is that makes a reader turn the page, but reading ‘The Great Gatsby’ I was in awe of the way every single bit of the plot comes together, and the way the outcome of the story seems so inevitable. This, I decided, was what I needed to learn how to do in order to become a writer.

Sergeanne Golon

Books 1

I was a history student when I first started reading the ‘Angelique’ books, by Sergeanne Golon. The romantic adventures of this lively heroine in a vividly evoked 17th Century France not only provided light relief from my studies, but motivated me to read more books in the romance genre, including contemporary romance, which is the genre I write in now. Incidentally, I answered a question in my Finals based on what I’d learnt about Louis XIV from ‘Angelique and the King,’ which I guess is an example of just how important books can be, and how you can learn from fiction without even realising it.

Ursula Le Guin

Book 3Writing in a genre that is often criticised (mistakenly, in my opinion) for being mainly about spacecraft, robots and other ‘toys for boys,’ science fiction author Ursula Le Guin not only creates her own imagined future, but peoples it with fully three-dimensional characters living in societies that challenge gender stereotypes of our own times. Reading her novel, ‘The Left Hand of Darkness,’ taught me the importance of having well-rounded, unique characters, who may be very different from a reader, but who it is easy for a reader to like.

Jane Austen

Of every author I’ve read and re-read, I would have to say that Jane Austen is the one who has had the most influence on me as a writer. Not for one moment would I suggest that my own writing is anywhere near being in the same league as hers, but every time I re-read her novels, I think this is the standard to which, as a romantic novelist, I should aspire. She taught me that while a reader might hope that the hero and heroine of a romantic novel are going to have a happy ending, they should not be sure that they are going to end up together right until the last chapter – and preferably not until the last page.

About Lynne Shelby

CoverLynne Shelby can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing, and her ambition was always to be a published author. In January 2015, she was thrilled to win the Accent Press & Woman Magazine Writing Competition with her debut novel ‘French Kissing.’ She loves travelling and is inspired to write by the many wonderful foreign cities that she has visited and explored, with a camera and writer’s notebook in hand – Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Venice, New York, Copenhagen, Berlin and of course Paris, the city which inspired her to write ‘French Kissing,’ which is available from Amazon:



Twitter: @LynneB1

You are what you read

You are what you read and, in my case, that’s immeasurably better than if ‘you are what you eat’ were true! But we won’t go there – improvements to my diet remain consigned to my To Do List.

What follows is another list – a list of writers who changed my life and made me into a person – and a writer – that I am. That’s not to say that I am even a fraction as good as they are, but thanks to them, I am a hundred times better than I could ever be without them.

Jules Verne  

Travelling back in time to my childhood, I find myself in a place where no-one has ever been before: an other-worldly place, somewhere in the centre of the earth or perhaps on the Moon. I read all there was to read of Jules Verne and I believed in everything he said because he had made me realise that if I could imagine it than it had to be real. He taught me to live dangerously and never ever settle on a life inside the square.

Joseph Conrad

I was a teenager when that brooding man left his mark on my soul. He had burnt into it. He didn’t take prisoners in his writing – it was raw, touching every nerve, uncompromising. It was clear to me that every internal battle he described in his prose he knew intimately, and, by God, he had fought many demons in his day! His moodiness would rub off the places and the characters he evoked so vividly in his writing. His world was eerie, thick with suspense, haunting. He taught me to bare my soul, to never give in to embarrassment, to drag into the light all that delicious evil, and fear, and doubt that a writer should not dare to ignore.

Anne Rice

She swooped into my life in my twenties. No, let’s rephrase that: it was I who entered her world. And what a world it was! An ancient world that existed outside time and matter, populated by beings not quite human and yet brimming with humanity, worthy of redemption despite their unspeakable sins. The supernatural was the reality, believable and deeply rooted in human psyche. Anne Rice showed me that settings had to be made of thoughts and people, of depths of meaning rather than descriptions. Places had to live and breathe, not be merely put on display.

Ruth Rendell

I matured with Ruth Rendell. Under her tutelage, I explored the darkest recesses of human nature whilst at the same time discovering – to my surprise – its redeeming features: the vulnerability behind a crime, the reasons for insanity, the logics of obsession. Ruth Rendell taught me to understand my characters and never to judge them. They are who they are; it’s not their fault – not entirely… I know now to just let them be.

Agatha Christie

With all that angst and darkness, you need a friend. Agatha Christie’s mysteries provided some light – cosy – relief. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple became family members. We were solving crimes while sipping lemon tea and knitting mittens. All would be well, criminals exposed and their motives unpicked. And the world would go one, regardless. Agatha Christie taught me to like my characters, to find what we had in common and cherish it.