One of the nice things about writing retreats is being able to geek out about books during breaks. And since I don’t seem to have read anything but books for children and teens in the last year (it’s research, okay?) I started collecting names of books writers love at the Devon retreats.

It’s largely novels from the last 20 years, plus a handful of writing books (lists of classics, YA and sci-i/fantasy we loved to come) but if you’re looking for great book recommendations then there are worse places you could look than into the minds of writers.

Of course I’m in favour of supporting local bookshops, but because it’s convenient for many people (and you might be in time to get them for Christmas), here are the Amazon links. You can also see them collected here.


The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. My list has a scribbled note next to this just says ‘lovely’.



The Moment by Douglas Kennedy. This made me cry like a baby.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005 gets a lot of love from our writers, as does his earlier The Remains of the Day (which won the prize in 1989).


I still haven’t read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, set in 1960s Mississippi, but I often hear people say they expected it to be disappointing, but it turned out to be of those rare books that really lives up to the hype.


The Briefcase by Hiroki Kawakami (it seems to also be known as Strange Weather in Tokyo) is a quiet love story set against the changing seasons.


What do you mean, you haven’t read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife?



Shortlisted for the Booker in 2003, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a modern classic.



The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is a huge novel, a writer who recently set up a fund to give writers time to read, something hugely important that we sometimes neglect. Go Eleanor!


Haruki Murakami’s books come up again and again on people’s book lists, but Norwegian Wood, one of his less fantastical books, is the one our writers loved most.


A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore won the 1996 Orange Prize. It deals with the taboo love between abandoned siblings around the time of WWI and is a beautiful book with a difficult subject.


The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. We had long discussions about David Mitchell’s structures and imaginative scope, and our writers also particularly loved Ghostwritten (and, yes, Cloud Atlas).


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The novel everyone’s been reading on the Tube this year, this huge novel polarises opinion just as much as Donna Tartt’s earlier work.


The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Our writers recommended a number of Sarah Waters’ book, but particularly enjoyed this novel about four Londoners that moves backwards through the 1940s.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a gorgeous blend of fantasy and reality that was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.



The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer has won a number of awards and is dark, sad and funny by turns.



Dear Life by Alice Munro. Actually, pretty much anything by Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Her Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage was recommended as a good Alice Munro starting point.


Trumpet by Jackie Kay. Poetic and compassionate, this story of a famous jazz trumpeter with a secret won the 1998 Guardian Fiction Prize.



The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal. Every time someone mentioned this book, the other writers in the room all sighed and said how much they loved it. Winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award.


We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014, a number of writers recommended this book about families and the damage we do to those we love.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Both crime drama and historical saga, writers was recommended this multiple prize-winning book partly because of its haunting Icelandic setting.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Mitchell. This retelling of ancient Greek myths won the Orange Fiction prize in 2012.





Thrillers & Horror

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly is a clever, creepy psychological thriller set in Devon.



Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is a suspenseful psychological/courtroom thriller about adulterous lovers.



The Rats by James Herbert is a short but gruesome horror classic.



Bird Box by Josh Malerman is a psychological thriller set in a dystopian world.





Books About Writing

I Am Your Brother: Short Story Studies by Charles E May. Charles has a blog called Reading the Short Story (The tagline is: Thoughts on reading and studying the short story by a guy who has read and written about a lot of short stories).



Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. Zen meditation meets practical, encouraging writing advice.



Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.



Self Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King.



The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell.



Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John York, creator of the BBC Writers’ Academy. The man knows his stuff.




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