Have you ever been so inspired by an author’s work that you wish you could tell them exactly how much they have impacted your life? In this series, Literary Love Letters, we do just that – share open love letters to inspiring authors. Today, The Art of Baking Blind author Sarah Vaughan writes to Kate Atkinson.
I hope it’s OK to call you that? From your author photos, you look strong and just the tiniest bit enigmatic. An author who very sensibly shuns social media to get on with the proper business of writing books.
And yet your writing suggests someone not in the least remote; who’s all too aware of the pain of human experience, and who writes with such sensitivity and compassion you manage to move me to tears without once becoming sentimental.
You do this through your bright, muscular prose and your sometimes-brittle humour. Through pitch-perfect dialogue, and your glorious use of free indirect speech.
You manage it through images so sharp they shock. A mother cut down in a wheat field; a child falling from a roof. In Life After Life, the description of the elderly lady seen by Ursula in the aftermath of a Blitz attack haunted me for weeks after I’d finished:
“Her attention was caught by Lavinia Nesbit’s dress…But it wasn’t Lavinia Nesbit’s dress. A dress didn’t have arms in it. Not sleeves, but arms. With hands… The headless, legless body of Lavinia Nesbit herself was hanging from the Millers’ picture rail.”
If I admire you for such flashes of brilliance, I love you for capturing a peculiar Englishness. The England of Fox Corner is richly evocative: a world of wheat fields and cornflowers; of herds of cows and ageing Labradors that will linger long after Bomber Teddy meets his death.
I love that you take risks. Yes, I enjoyed the Jackson Brodie books with their complex plots but how could I not prefer Life After Life for being bold and anarchic; and for challenging me to rethink history, time and chance through characters that infuriate, move and entertain?
Which is not to say that I think you always get it right. I am too old to be blinkered in a love affair and felt shaken at the end of A God of Ruins. Yes, it was supremely clever but I had invested too much for it to make emotional sense. I was there, cramped in the cockpit with Bomber Teddy and his crew, cheering them on, ever alert to the hazards of gunfire, floodlights and tumbling aircraft. I had cried twice over them – and over Teddy’s grandson Sunny. Your novels ambush me that way.
And yet, of course, I forgive you, in part because I am easily seduced by your writing and in part because I have learned so much from it. When I couldn’t get the prologue of my debut right, I reread the start of When Will There Be Good News, written from inside the head of six-year-old Joanna; and when I returned to my novel, I knew exactly what to do.
You make me aspire to write so much better and I can’t wait for your next novel.
With many thanks,