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Five Books chosen by Sophie Haydock

Five books that inspired me to write The Flames

Chosen by Sophie Haydock

I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

This slim novel, set in 1937, about the final lost days of the doomed aviator, is incredible. I read this as a teenager and realised, for the first time, that it was possible to take a real person from history and fabricate elements of their story. I'd not known before that this was called ‘biographical fiction’, in the style of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, where she reimagined the details of the artist Vermeer and his young model. I'm sure that planted a seed for The Flames, my debut novel about the muses to the controversial Austrian artist Egon Schiele, which I wrote two decades later...

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

This stunning novel is about the four overlapping wives of the controversial and celebrated American writer Ernest Hemingway. I read it just before I visited the Egon Schiele exhibition in London, where I had the idea for The Flames, and was inspired by the structure of the novel -- it gives a voice to each of the women in the writer's life, and the reader's loyalties and sympathies shift depending on which perspective you're reading.

Frieda by Annabel Abbs

I loved this fictional retelling of Frieda von Richthofen, the German lover and eventual wife of D. H. Lawrence - she was clearly an incredible and complicated woman, and their fiery relationship inspired Lawrence to write Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was promptly banned and is still considered a classic novel. Annabel Abbs does a beautiful job of bringing Frieda to the fore, and centering her life and inner world. This has also recently been shown expertly by Elizabeth Lowry in her latest novel, The Chosen, about the author Thomas Hardy, and how he responds to the death of his wife -- after he discovers secret diaries she kept about him during their long and loveless marriage. I love the way these novels take the focus from the famous male -- in this case, writers -- and refocus it on the women who shaped their work.

Wintering by Kate Mosse

This novel is about Sylvia Plath and her doomed relationship with the poet Ted Hughes, which contributed to her suicide in 1963, at the age of 30. Again, it shows that readers, we can get inside the mindset of a woman and acclaimed writer, who we already think we know so much about. This novel is very poetic, and you feel the pain of the breakdown of Plath's marriage and descent into overwhelming agony in the final days of her life, as she stumbles towards destruction. It inspired me to think about famous people from the past and put myself in their shoes. This is what I tried to achieve in The Flames, putting myself in the frame when it came to the muses who inspired Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist who died tragically young and is now considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

This book is written as a prequel to Jane Eyre -- and it's another seminal retelling of a story we all think we know, but from a new and often overlooked perspective -- Berthe, the first wife of Mr Rochester, who was considered ‘the madwoman in the attic’. It is so powerful, so urgent and stunningly written. It reminded me, as a writer, that there are so many stories waiting to be told, and the best ones are often not the most obvious. It chimes with my desire to write fiction that shines a light on women's stories from the past that would otherwise be forgotten.


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