PROFILE: Meet the real Sheila A Grant – and accept no other!

Article published on January 26, 2016.

Sheila has kindly agreed to be our BookDiva expert but as you read you’ll realise she could easily have been our BookHugger. No matter, you can be confident she will unearth the best Diva books – from a field that sometimes lowers its standards. And how good will that be!

We had few books in the house when I was young, three DK Broster novels, a dictionary, a Ready Reckoner, a couple of Bibles and a leather bound copy of Dombey and Son. But we were all keen readers and my mother and I paid weekly visits to the library returning laden with books. Zane Grey and such westerns for Dad, novels for Mum and Enid Blyton and Elinor M Brent Dyer for me. The late Willie McIlvanney used the same library and like him I am strongly opposed to the cuts threatening libraries such places.

As I outgrew the girlie books I coveted that Dombey and Son with the black leather cover, the gold lettering and the unique smell and feel of fine pages. When I succumbed to chicken pox – which in those days meant bed rest – Dad reluctantly gave me his much loved school prize. I was soon lost in the tale, driving my parents crazy asking them the meaning of obscure words. That was my introduction to the classics and stories with a bit more meat than I had previously devoured. Now I was reading books that took longer than an afternoon to read.

My love of Austen, the Brontes, Hardy, Dickens and Shakespeare led to English being my favourite subject.

In a lighter mood I briefly dipped into Agatha Christie and was underwhelmed but did scare myself witless with Sherlock Holmes especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. I can hear their baying yet.    An aunt gave me a battered copy of How Green was my Valley, and I was transfixed by this family saga continuing the genre with similar such as Gone with The Wind. I was often caught reading under the covers with a torch long after lights out. I still find it difficult to stop reading a gripping book.

I attended an evening class on 20th Century Literature where we were encouraged to go out of our comfort zone. The class folded but I kept the reading list and religiously read my way through Dr. Zhivago, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. It was a natural progression then to more modern Russian literature and I tackled Solzhenitsyn, but not without a struggle. In contrast I love books telling the tale of true adventures, such as The Ascent of Everest, The Kon-Tiki Expedition, even The Voyage of the Beagle. I am interested in the history of WW2 and the Holocaust, barely able to believe that such horror happened (just!) in my lifetime.

We were never allowed to be idle or bored resulting in my dabbling with various degrees of success in a varied selection of hobbies and, of course, I have to purchase the accompanying guide book.   If you want to know anything about cookery, cross stitch, Amber, history (especially of Scotland) or photography, then I am sure I could find you a helpful manual.

And now?

I am not picky and will give most genres a try but I do I enjoy a rattling good read whether it be romantic fiction (not too mushy, and certainly not chick lit) a thriller, an adventure, or biography. I greatly admired Maya Angelou and was thrilled to meet her once. I am not the least interested in fantasy or science fiction.

There are so many excellent modern novelists and so little time to read them. I am thinking Ian McEwan, Helen Dunmore, Kate Atkinson Colm Toibin, Edna O’Brien, to name but a few. Margaret Forster is my favourite. Her books are beautifully written and her sharp observation of character gives colour to her most enjoyable reads. They touch your soul. Sadly she is not too well now. I enjoy a good thriller but there are too many excellent writers to select a favourite. I find Bill Bryson, Nicholas Crane, Neil Oliver and Ranulph Fiennes well worth a read when it comes to non-fiction travel stories.

I could bang on about books forever and frequently do. My husband is not a reader but I tell him so many snippets from the non-fiction reads that he takes part in discussions as if he had read every word!

Recently space compelled me to have a clear out.  Very hard. How many books do the most avid readers re-read. Especially with the vast choice available.

However, I will never part with my Dombey and Son, not just because it was the catalyst that lifted me from childhood books but Dad obliterated the year he received the prize so that I would not know his age!

PS As an aspiring writer herself we see Sheila here as winner of the  Dorrit Sim Published Writer of the Year Award at Ayr Writers’club dinner for the most published author of that year.  “Bearing in mind we do have novelists and I write articles and reviews I should say that no member is allowed to win this award more than once in 3 years.  Hence my great joy at winning it.  Daughter is quite shocked that I use a picture of myself as my screen saver on my phone!  I might also add that Dorrit Sim was a long standing member of the club who came to Britain in the Kindertransport.  She was a lovely lady who bequeathed money to the club.  The only English she knew when she came here was ‘I have a hanky in my pocket” and eventually she wrote a children’s book of that title.

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I’M A WRITER . . . and I don’t know whether I’m a pantser or a planner!

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In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie

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