Briefly, a Delicious Life - queer inspirationsBy Nell Stevens
The books that inspired Briefly, a Delicious Life weren't texts I turned to for research - I didn't read them in the library while trying to figure out what I was writing. I did that kind of research too, poring over George Sand's A Winter in Majorca and The Story of My Life. I read her letters, and Chopin's, and biographies of both of them, making huge spreadsheets of dates and events and quotes, none of which I now remember in detail. But the books that really inspired the novel are those that I read purely for pleasure; they lodged themselves in my brain when I first read them and simply insisted on exerting a pressure on the story I was telling.
I don't think I'll ever forget the shock and wonder I felt as a teenager on reading the opening chapter of Ali Smith's Hotel World. I couldn't believe writing could do that, could be voice and idea and surprise and wit and tragedy all at once, could be queer in every sense of the word, in a way that made such perfect sense to me. It seemed so effortless. I found it flabbergasting. What's strange is that, though I adored the novel, I didn't think about it at all while writing Briefly. It was only afterwards, when I glanced at my draft having taken a break from them, that I realised how much my book owes to a book I read twenty years ago.
The other books on this list have had a similar effect on me: they are queer texts that settled into my thinking, almost without my knowledge, and which found their way into my first novel. I wonder whether that's often a feature of debuts: a lifetime of reading gets filtered into them - everything that has ever inspired us, provoked us, made us wish that we had thought of it first. To the writers of the queer stories and books on this list I owe a great debt: I'm so grateful to them for shaping my brain, and my heart, and my work.
Yiyun Li£9.99 £9.49
The stories in this collection are all sharp, taut and devastating - but I'm including it here for one story in particular, 'The Princess of Nebraska', which is such a precise, careful exploration of sexuality and gender, of performance and the body.
Jackie Kay£9.99 £9.49
Not only a masterclass in writing fiction based on the lives of real people, not only an education in writing about music and musicians, but also a tender, delicate story about love.
Garth Greenwell£9.99 £9.49
I was thinking about bodies a lot while writing Briefly: how we imagine the embodied experience of people from the past, and in particular how a disembodied ghost might imagine it. Greenwell is so good on queer bodies and queer sex.
Carmen Maria Machado£9.99 £9.49
Machado is so good on communal storytelling - on why and how we repeat the same, often terrifying, tales to each other. I was interested, in Briefly, in storytelling, and particular the stories young women tell each other about men. Machado needles the horrifying undersides of these stories, the reasons we can't let them go.
Eley Williams£9.99 £9.49
Impossible not to fall in love with the playfulness, the wit, the joy and uncertainty and energy, quietness and loudness all at once. This collection taught me so much about what I care about in writing, and what I want writing to be. I fell in love with these stories and with their author, as soon as I read them.
Henry James£9.99 £9.49
Henry James knew better than anyone the many levels on which hauntings happen: the dramatic, psychological and sexual powers of ghosts. Ghosts as what is unseen or glimpsed, unsayable, undeniable: reading James helped me see the queerness of ghost stories, and find my way to the story I tell in Briefly.
Ali Smith£9.99 £9.49
More than any other book, Hotel World shaped me as a fiction writer and shaped Briefly in particular. I still remember the thrill of encountering Smith's ghost narrator in the first chapter - her spiritedness, her freedom, her queer longings. I wasn't consciously thinking about this when I wrote Briefly, but I see its influence on Blanca, my queer teenage ghost, who is a younger sister to Smith's narrator, and owes her so much.