River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer is set during the time of Emancipation Act of 1834 on a plantation in Barbados and follows a journey – both spiritual and physical – of what freedom means after a lifetime of enslavement. We asked the author to answer our recurring A Life of Books questionnaire so readers can get to know him.
Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?
My mum used to read me Anne of Green Gables as a child and I think it cemented a life-long love of stories. She did voices which always helps things feel more magical! And as a young girl with a big imagination, I absolutely loved Anne as a character.
Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?
Absolutely! But I wouldn’t want to force it on them. My philosophy is that reading should start as something fun – there’s time later for reading that is challenging or texts that need hard work to get value from. Children should start by reading for the pure joy of it.
Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?
I avoided Middlemarch in school because I was daunted by its size and afraid I would find it stuffy. But I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and absolutely adored it!
What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?
My relationship to the Harry Potter series has changed a lot since I was younger – sadly, much of it to do with the author’s anti-trans rights position, which I absolutely do not support.
Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?
Andrea Levy’s Small Island was a real model for me. It’s about the experiences of the Windrush generation – the people from the Caribbean who came to the UK after the Second World War. It documents a time of great struggle for many Black people but it also has so much hope and joy and heart in it, and that was something I wanted to achieve in my own novel.
What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?
Far too many to name them all! But Colm Tóibín’s House of Names is one that is closest to the style I want to develop as an author – somewhat sparse and restrained yet still with touches of lyrical beauty.
What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?
I started off the year by reading books by writers I love that I hadn’t read before. Annie Proulx, Andrea Levy and Hilary Mantel are probably three of my favourite writers of all time, and I read Bird Cloud, Fruit of the Lemon and Beyond Black in quick succession in January. Since then, I’ve moved on to working my way through a beautiful set of Jane Austen editions that I got for Christmas.
And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.
I only need two! Nova Scotia…