My Life In Books: Araminta Hall
My Life In Books: Araminta Hall

My Life In Books: Araminta Hall

Araminta Hall is a journalist and novelist known for domestic thrillers such as ‘Everything & Nothing’. As her latest book ‘One of the Good Guys’ hits the shelves, we asked Araminta about her reading habits, favourite authors and top book recommendations…

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What are you reading right now?

I’m re-reading one of my favourites, Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince. I used to feel bizarrely guilty when I re-read books, but I read an interview with a writer (I think was Jeanette Winterson) who said you’d never look at a painting you love once or only listen to a brilliant song once, so why should books be any different. That said, I am looking forward to lots on my ‘to read list’ right now including new books by Harriet Tyce and Abigail Dean, as well as Kill Show by Daniel Sweren-Becker.

Is there a book from childhood that’s stayed with you?

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. It was the first book I properly loved. In fact, I sometimes think it was my first inkling I wanted to be a writer because I copied it out into a notebook. I knew I wanted to understand it in a way beyond just reading it, which I guess is learning how to write. Now, my favourite picture books to read to children are Nothing by Mick Inkpen and Dogger by Shirley Hughes – they’re both profound and make me cry.

When and where do you read?

I’ll read anywhere at any time. Obviously, I read in bed, but you’re just as likely to find me curled up on the sofa in the evening, or even waiting in cars for the children. On holiday I don’t think there is anything more luxurious than reading in the day, but in my everyday life it sadly has to wait until the evening.

Where do you buy books?

Anywhere. We have some great independent bookshops where I live in Brighton, including Kemptown Bookshop, City Books and Goldsboro Books which has a selection of signed first-editions. I also love a browse through Waterstones, and I’m never known to walk past a second-hand shop.

How do you choose what to read?

I’m lucky enough to be sent a lot of books before they’re published, but otherwise I base it on reviews online or in print, and always trust word of mouth. If a friend recommends a book, it’s likely to go straight to the top of my list.

Do you have a favourite author?

There are so many it's hard to narrow it down. I adore Iris Murdoch for her incredible characters and the way she shows life in chaos, which is how we all live. My favourite book of hers is The Sea, The Sea featuring the incomparable cook and fantasist Charles Arrowby. Zadie Smith is a writer whose work I buy the second it comes out, not just because of her lyrical prose and the way she weaves relationships, but also because they are so often set on the streets of my childhood London. Try NW for the authentic Zadie Smith experience. And Patricia Highsmith is, in my mind, hard to beat when it comes to thrillers. Everything about her work is unexpected, I especially love Edith's Diary, featuring one of the most self-deceiving narrators you'll ever meet. Other authors I admire include Barbara Vine, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson.

Patricia Highsmith is, in my mind, HARD TO BEAT WHEN IT COMES TO THRILLERS. Everything about her work is unexpected.

What's been your favourite read of the last year?

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, just for its unexpectedness and emotional gut punch. It was the last book that made me cry. Thriller-wise, I loved I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai. It’s about a film producer who tries to forget her past, including four miserable years at boarding school, and the murder of her former roommate.

What one novel will always stay with you?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s the book I’ve re-read the most as it’s perfect in every way. Characters, setting, pacing, plot, themes. A masterclass on how to write a book that reveals more of itself with every reading. It has to be my favourite book of all time.

Favourite biography?

I love Shirley Jackson's fiction, but her memoir Life Among the Savages really hit a nerve with me as it's about trying to combine a writing career with raising young children. I recognised so many of the injustices she feels in this book.

Favourite non-fiction book?

I love Margaret Atwood's fiction, but in Negotiating with the Dead she uses this power she has to tell compelling stories with resonant themes to talk about writing itself. It's not a conventional how-to-write book, but it will still teach you more than most of the hundreds of books on that subject out there.

What book would you give as a gift?

There are so many. Often, I give books that I’ve recently enjoyed. Although having older children has been fun in that I’ve been able to give them classics, that they’ve then loved. I recently gave my daughter The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks (a 60s classic about a young woman who falls pregnant and moves to London) and my son The World According to Garp by John Irving.

Any recommendations for laugh-out-loud books?

All the Adrian Mole books are hard to beat.

What’s your favourite film or TV adaptation of a book?

I loved The Quiet Girl which is based on Foster by Claire Keegan, who I think is one of the most extraordinary writers working today.

I CRY VERY EASILY, but Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow made me weep.

Are there any books that have helped you through difficult times?

I think all books help you through all times. I can’t understand the world without stories, and I learn something from pretty much everything I read. I cry very easily, but Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow made me weep. I love a sweeping tale told over decades, but I also felt like this was a book with love at its heart. Not just the conventional romantic kind, but also friendship and the love we can feel towards creation. The story is sad and tragic in parts, but it was the pull of hope at the end which really set me wailing.

Favourite literary character?

Probably the unnamed narrator of Rebecca. Although I also have a strange affection for Emma Bovary in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary – I know we’re meant to hate her, but I love her sense of self.

If you had to take a book with you to a desert island, which one would it be?

Something hefty I’ve never read like War and Peace.

Tell us a bit about your own new book…

It’s the story of a man, Cole, who moves to the coast to get over the breakup of his marriage. Once there he meets a reclusive artist called Lennie, who is living on the edge of the cliffs. Two young women doing a charity walk protesting gendered violence are approaching and, when they reach the section of coastline where Cole and Lennie live, they disappear. The book is told in three sections, firstly by Cole, then by his ex-wife Mel, then finally by Lennie and the media firestorm which erupts as the young women remain missing. The inspiration came from a sense of anger I’ve felt building over the last few years. I think women expected more from the Me Too movement, but in so many senses our lives have stayed the same. The bar to be a good man is still very low, compared to the heights you have to reach to be seen as a good woman. I wanted to explore the idea of what happens when women have had enough.

Finally, what are you working on next?

I’ve become very interested in the idea of privilege and what it does to a society. The British are still such a class-driven society and I feel like our governments over the past ten or so years have exploited this. So, I’m working on a story with this at its heart.

One of the Good Guys by Araminta Hall is available to buy here


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