The best books to turn you into a novelist...they turned me into one

Who am I?

Loads of people want to be writers and the dream can come true! It did for me. So, I want to tell people about the books that have helped to turn me into a novelist. Initially, I wrote journalistic pieces about bizarre leisure activities for various British newspapers and magazines: I lay on a bed of nails, walked on red hot coals, met people who collect bricks as a hobby...and even lost my underpants while performing on the flying trapeze! (No kidding!) But my ultimate goal was always to become a novelist. Then, one day, I discovered the subject I just had to turn into a novel. And the result was...Death and Mr. Pickwick

I wrote...

Death and Mr. Pickwick

By Stephen Jarvis,

Book cover of Death and Mr. Pickwick

What is my book about?

My novel Death and Mr. Pickwick tells the story behind the creation of Charles Dickens’s first novel The Pickwick Papers—the twist, though, is that the main character is not Dickens, but rather his illustrator, Robert Seymour, the ‘Shakespeare of Caricature’. Death and Mr. Pickwick is about the dawning of the phenomenon of global celebrity—with Pickwick catapulting Dickens to worldwide fame—set against the personal tragedy of Seymour. No previous knowledge of Dickens is required to read Death and Mr. Pickwick. There is a very active Facebook page for the novel- so far,  there have been literally thousands of posts with some fans describing the novel as ‘life-changing’ or ‘like a time machine’. 

The books I picked & why

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The Pickwick Papers

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of The Pickwick Papers

Why this book?

The extraordinary story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers forms the backbone of my novel, so I must include this among my recommendations. The Pickwick Papers is full of life—loads of characters, many writing styles. There is humour—but there is also the tragic tale of an alcoholic dying clown. And, above all, this book is a journey: you feel that you have been on a long, long voyage when you reach the last page—and you will want to go on that voyage again and again. The Pickwick Papers is more like a library of experience than a single novel. I have never read anything like it. 


By Jorge Luis Borges,

Book cover of Labyrinths

Why this book?

Borges writes only short fiction—and his collection of stories Labyrinths made a huge impression on me. The stories have a clean, almost mathematical style, and are often based on a single, bizarre concept. For instance: just suppose there existed a library in which the books represent all the possible combinations of the letters of the alphabet—so some books consist of nonsense, others consist of the complete works of Shakespeare, or even Shakespeare’s works differing by one letter from the original. In my book, I include an inset story about a man called Mr. N, who spends fifteen years of his life cataloguing every word in The Pickwick Papers and this story was strongly influenced by Borges.

The Tree of Man

By Patrick White,

Book cover of The Tree of Man

Why this book?

This book made me realise that a great novel could be largely plotless. The Tree of Man simply describes the lives of a husband and wife in Australiaa sort of echo of the Garden of Eden set in the Outback. I can’t claim that I remember many details about it nowI read it years and years ago, but I do know that it made me feel that I too could write a plotless book, based on simple, everyday human experiences. 

Of Human Bondage

By W. Somerset Maugham,

Book cover of Of Human Bondage

Why this book?

This book’s magic comes from its plot. I would say it is the most unputdownable book I have ever read. But once again, it deals with a simple human experiencein this case, of a young man obsessed by a woman. There are times when you feel like shouting at the main male character: “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” And of course he does do it, and you want to find out what happens. I remember that I recommended this novel to a friend, who didn’t believe it could be so unputdownablebut he found himself staying up until the early hours of the morning, unable to stop reading this novel. In a way, I think Of Human Bondage will influence me more as a writer in the future than it has so farbecause one day I would like to write a heavily plot-driven novel. 

London: The Novel

By Edward Rutherfurd,

Book cover of London: The Novel

Why this book?

This novel was a massive influence on me. Rutherfurd takes the city of London as his subject, and follows the life of the city through the centuries, taking in Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans etc…right through to modern times. I don't have quite such a huge canvas in my book, but I do follow a series of historical events in a manner which is somewhat reminiscent of Rutherfurd. Rutherfurd takes you on a wonderful journey. 

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