words of grace and beauty


As an exercise in deciphering ‘my voice’ and what influences me, I have been thinking about my favourite books and writers.  It is a curious thing to sit down and explore why you are attracted to particular books and authors. It is awfully revealing.

I tend to have an ever rotating list of ‘5 favourite books’. There is never just one all time, overshadowing favourite (‘The Secret History’ is coming close though, it has been in my ‘top 5’ list for the last 5 years).  So my current top 5 books are as follows:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (East of Eden is also BRILLIANT)

The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Vol 2

Dialogues with Silence, Thomas Merton

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

Honourable mention (as I take it off my shelf on such a regular basis and refer to it so often), Beyond Words by Fredrick Buechner.


Favourite authors are easier for me to identify, John Steinbeck, Mary Oliver, and Thomas Merton are all high on the list. As are Ruth Jones and James Corden who wrote the TV series ‘Gavin and Stacey’. Ernest Hemingway, Robert Graves and Leo Tolsty, they all rate highly too.

I like writers who discuss the shadows and the light, who see beauty in the everyday and acknowledge that life is complicated and layered but it can also be tedious. They use words well and with grace and effect.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Stories of John Cheever all do this – they are gritty, unswerving in their honesty and at times devastating. They explore moments which are wrapped in lightness and bathed in heartache.

I love themes of beauty and truth found in dark and hard places.

I appreciate good words, used well, but simply.

I’m not sure how this currently effects what or how I write. But it does ring true that I desire that same kind of simplicity and grace with words that these writers have. I want to translate life into words that people resonate with and recgonise. I want truth and beauty to chase away the dull and ordinary.

Here is some of what I have to live up to! –

‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ Ernest Hemingway

‘There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.’ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

‘Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’ Donna Tartt, The Secret History

‘There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial’. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

‘Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’ Mary Oliver


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