The Books That Inspired 'The List of Suspicious Things' by Jennie Godfrey.

The Books That Inspired 'The List of Suspicious Things' by Jennie Godfrey.

We caught up with our February PREM1ER author, Jennie Godfrey, recently to find out more about where she got the inspiration for her stellar debut novel and Sunday Times Bestseller, The List of Suspicious Things. Jennie kindly shared her five favourite books of all time which helped her during the writing process, and today we are delighted to share her picks with you!
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The idea for The List of Suspicious Things, my debut novel about two young girls and their search for the Yorkshire Ripper, came to me fully formed while I was out walking the dog one day. As a result, I always felt as though it had come from somewhere else, other than me (sounds a bit woo-woo I know) and that my job was to do justice to the idea I had been ‘given.’
So in the writing of it, I turned to five of my favourite books of all time to inspire me, as each had an element within it that I somehow wanted to capture in The List of Suspicious Things.  
 
1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Barnett
 
This is the most-read book of my childhood, and I still love it intensely. I am forever amazed that it was written as long ago as 1911. There are three main things this novel has that I admire hugely and wished to somehow reflect in The List of Suspicious Things. The first of these is a distinctly imperfect protagonist. Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden is spoilt, selfish and (certainly at first) furious. Even as she grows and changes throughout the story she remains strong minded and curious. She is a real person. The second is how much ‘place’ plays a part in the book, from the moors of Yorkshire to the secret garden itself. The third is about family. Mary’s family of origin was less than ideal, and there was a great deal of trauma in the loss of it, but somehow Mary find family in the people around her. All of these would become important elements in the shaping of Miv, and her world, in The List of Suspicious Things.
 
2. A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
 
I can remember reading this book and being so moved, and at the same time, blown away by how much the reader understands vs what is said by the 14-year-old narrator, and how powerful that is. This book has such a strong, authentic voice. I was extremely nervous having a young girl be the narrator of The List of Suspicious Things, as I know how hard it is to get ‘right,’ but through this novel, and the next one, saw how incredible it can be when it’s done well, which leads me also to the next book.
 
3. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
 
In this book, the author not only captures the voice of a teenaged boy growing up in the 1980’s, but also the lives of ordinary working class families. It’s so rare for working class lives to be portrayed with humour in novels (and not constant angst) and this one is all the more brilliant for how funny it is. I would argue that it is all the more truthful too. Real lives are sad, difficult, joyful hopeful AND funny. I wanted all of this to be in The List of Suspicious Things too.
 
4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
 
This beautiful novel about two friends growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950’s and 60’s, and the eventual fate of both of them had a profound effect on me. I will never, ever forget the ending of this book. I read it when it was first published, thirty-five years ago, and have not read it since, yet it is burned on my brain. Everything in this story has significance, and it is an incredibly intricate jigsaw puzzle of a plot. I could never hope to emulate John Irving, but I wanted The List of Suspicious Things to have the same feel at the end, where everything finally slots into place and the importance of the smallest detail becomes apparent. If you haven’t read this novel, I would absolutely encourage you to do so.
 
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
 
I will finish with what I see as the ultimate small town novel and the book which vies with Persuasion by Jane Austen as my favourite book of all time. All of life is in here. It is both personal and political, and the fact that it is seen through the eyes of a child makes the insanity clear. For me, this novel represents the far-reaching, magical possibilities of story-telling. It is firmly rooted in a time and place and yet transcends it. I couldn’t even dream of doing what Harper Lee did, but I hope that The List of Suspicious Things, in telling the story of a small Yorkshire town in the 1970’s, says something about how things are now.
 

 - Jennie Godfrey (June 2024)

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