What makes a classic? For me, a classic book is one that penetrates the soul of many readers and stands the test of time … And by that, I mean it continues to sell decades after it was published.
We can all state the usual classic books by amazing authors like Dickens and Shakespeare, yet there are so many classics out there that don’t immediately spring to mind. Here are 10 Sensational Classics to Read Right Now!
1) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Kids kidnapped and taken to an island to fight to the death until one is left standing, done in the name of entertainment and to maintain law and order over the unruly youth. Battle Royale may not scream classic, yet, Takami’s YA novel is not just a horror show. It’s a looking glass into the minds of teenagers faced with an impossible situation and their attempts to stay alive. Some give up, some become ruthless killers and some stand up against the government and try to escape. Dystopian as a genre is full of classic tales. This one being one of the best.
For more information on dystopian worlds, read my Top Ten Deplorable Dystopian Worlds HERE.
2) I know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is the first volume in a series of six autobiographical books. It’s a coming of age story. Quote: “I was going to look like one of those sweet little white girls who were everybody’s dream of what was right with the world.” Two pages in and tears were streaming down my face. What a thing for a child to think. A powerful account of a difficult life, told in an innocent voice and in the style of a fictional novel. Have some tissues handy, you will cry. A non-fiction classic.
3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
There was some dispute over this one. People couldn’t believe that a woman, and someone as young as twenty, could have penned this accomplished, dark, gothic story. Mary’s husband (also a writer) must have written the novel. Nope! It was found that her husband had done no more to enhance the story than that of a usual editor. Mary had indeed penned the tale. Frankenstein is whimsically written, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before the frightening truth unfolds. The story of Frankenstein’s monster has been retold using many different mediums. It’s a tragic tale of a manmade creature trying to find his place in the world. The creature ends up killing people and destroying is maker’s life, all because he doesn’t wish to be alone. Doctor Frankenstein is the real monster. A firm classic.
4) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
When I was the same age as Anne, I wrote a diary. It was unremarkable garbage which involved teenage angst and gossip. I thought it might be publishable and actually wrote to my favourite author at the time to ask her opinion. She told me my diaries would have to be remarkable to be published. Mine might not have been, but Anne Frank’s certainly was! Written from age 13-15, Anne documented her life during the war and sadly died in a concentration camp, never to know her diary would be published. Anne describes people and events as only a teenager can. It is both heart-warming and heart-breaking: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” A forever classic.
5) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Arthur wrote this book over six years and it was released when he was forty. This is one of my all-time favourite novels, which is surprising because it does not fit with my usual ‘go to’ genres. What makes this classic story amazing is the fact Golden consulted a real Geisha and spent time studying and working in Japan. The novel transports you back to a time period when Geisha were at their peak. It’s a work of fiction but Mineko Iwasaki, who Golden had secret meetings with, was outraged when he named her in the acknowledgements. She received death threats and lost friends over breaking the code of Geisha and then wrote her autobiography: ‘Geisha of Gion’ as counter balance to his story. It makes me wonder how much of a work of fiction it is and that maybe there is more truth in this story than Geisha would like to acknowledge.
6) Animal Farm by George Orwell
George had written ten books before he penned Animal Farm and was about forty-two when he wrote this amazing political tale about farm animals staging a revolution. The animals wanted freedom and a better life, what happens is far from it. This novella highlights how easy it is to manipulate facts to suit an agenda and how easily the mind will accept alt-facts. A clever story and one that stands the test of time, especially in the post Brexit, Trump age!
7) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Written in entries titled ‘Dear god’ this book is strong from the start. It almost feels like non-fiction. The protagonist’s voice and character pops off the page, Celie’s southern accent coming through as if she sits in the room talking to you. Alice Walker actually narrates the audiobook, it’s haunting. The Color Purple is a tale of sexism, racism, abuse and control. It is also a tale of sisterhood and strength in the face of adversity. A southern girl, in impossible circumstances. There’s no question as to why this won the Pulitzer prize, this book deals in the human condition with unapologetic honesty.
8) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
The Harry Potter series is hugely popular and for good reason. I believe it is a classic tale across seven books. I’ve found that some adults have a mental block where HP is concerned and it’s a real shame. I read the books in my 20s and it was a magical experience. My children are now reading, watching and listening to the masterpiece that is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The story is riddled with messages of morality and touches on so many important issues; right and wrong and the grey area in between. Injustice. Life, loss and death. JK Rowling has sewn her fantasy world into our reality, and that’s the real magic of Harry Potter.
9) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray’s writing is unusual. It’s written in prose I’d never seen before. Disjointed and poetic, like the story itself. The book is centred around the life of a man called Guy Montag, who’s a fireman; called not to put out fires but to start them. In this bleak idea of the future, books are outlawed and Montag’s job is to burn them and any personal libraries he happens across. Montag is soon disillusioned with the world he lives in and everything starts to unravel from there. A classic dystopian tale which is every reader’s nightmare.
For more on this title, read the case study HERE.
10) Misery by Stephen King
From a reader’s book-burning nightmare to a writer’s manuscript-burning one! Misery is one of my favourite King books. It’s the ultimate fangirl obsession taken to psychopathic levels. Annie Wilkes is a classic character and the idea of a writer being kept prisoner in order to re-write a book a fangirl was unhappy with is something I don’t think can ever be recreated. King has nailed it.
For more on this title, read the case study HERE.
IN CLOSING: There are thousands of classics and more being penned every day. I’d love to hear from anyone who can recommend classic work by LGBT, poor/uneducated or disabled authors. The person behind the book matters not, we don’t need to know who they are to enjoy their work but I, for one, think all voices should have an equal platform. Storytelling belongs to all of us. If we continue to increase the variety of voices and characters in our stories, the HUMAN race will continue to grow and flourish.
Ah, Valentine’s Day – the one day of the year most of us DREAD. Yep, you read that right. It’s not about love, it’s about companies using our emotions against us in order to cash in!
Perhaps we should celebrate the day of love as was intended? I researched the murky origins of Valentine’s Day and then thought about couples who might prefer the traditional Roman way of celebrating, rather than the card-giving we do these days.
We’ve gone from this …
“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. The Romans were drunk and naked. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile. The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would be together for the duration of the festival —or longer, if the match was right.” YIKES!
… To this:
‘William Shakespeare helped romanticise Valentine’s Day in his work, and thus it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.’
Hmm … what a choice! Do I want a romantic Valentine’s Day of kisses and card-giving, or a good ol’whipping with the hide of an animal???
I think I know what my Top 5 Lunatic Lovers would choose — just watch out, 'cos here there be spoilers …
1) Mickey and Mallory Knox, NATURAL BORN KILLERS
When people first think of crazy lovers they go one of two ways: The Joker and Harlequin or Mickey and Mallory. These two are seriously screwed in the head. Both from abusive backgrounds, they hook up and go on a killing spree. They get off on killing people together. Taking lives brings them closer. They play sadistic games; not like cat and mouse, more like two wolves provoking each other. Deeply in love and deeply disturbed.
Tarantino’s screenplay was heavily revised by writer David Veloz, the producer and the director Oliver Stone. Though I like the film the way it is, I would love to see the original script. MORE: The Secret Of Writing Great Conflict In Scenes – 3 Examples
2) Spike and Drusilla, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
It’s no secret I’m a Buffy fan. A female slayer with super strength is a neat concept and the show has a great cast of characters. Two that I love are Spike and Drusilla. A vampire couple who’ve been together since forever. They love to torment their victims and although Dru is utterly insane, Spike worships her. The couple tease each other, plot together and kill for one another. Sadly, it doesn’t last. Though they can live forever, their love for each other dies.
3) Chucky and Tiffany, BRIDE OF CHUCKY
Comedy couple of the bunch. Plastic fantastic, passionate and psychotic. This couple enjoy being abusive to each other. Insults, physical abuse, they even try to kill one another. Dysfunctional and delightful. Once human, their consciousness is now trapped inside two dolls. Chucky was a serial killer and his bride shares his passion for murder and mayhem.
Tiffany: [after Chucky stabs her] My mother always told me love would set me free.
Chucky: [pushes her back] Get off my knife.
MORE: 7 Dark Loves of Cinema
4) Cersei and Jamie Lannister, GAME OF THRONES
These two are uber-sick puppies. Not only brother and sister but twins!
Cersei: Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We shared a womb. We came into this world together, we belong together.
Cersei is a power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Jamie pushes a ten-year-old boy out of a window in order to keep their dirty secret and preserve their love. The boy doesn’t die. Naturally, Cersei then tries to kill him. Jamie rapes Cersei in a room with their dead son, but still they remain together.
5) Pauline and Juliet – HEAVENLY CREATURES
This movie is based on a true story and filmed in my home from home, Christchurch, New Zealand. I moved from London to New Zealand when I was sixteen years old and that’s when I met my own lunatic lover. (Well, minus the lunatic part!)
In the opening credits of Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson depicts a safe, conservative Christchurch and then a sinister story unfolds. The two girls are aspiring writers, and they create their own fantasy world to live in. When the couple are faced with being split up (society was not accepting of homosexuality back in 1950s) they plot to kill Pauline’s mother in order to stay together.
I’ve actually walked the path Pauline and Juliet took before committing the murder. It’s creepy. The girls tried to convince the authorities that the mother’s death was a terrible accident, but Pauline’s diaries were found and the lover’s worst fears realised. They were split up forever. MORE: Top 7 Killer Couples of Cinema
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Stephen King is the master of horror. The king of grim, the heir of scare, the duke of puke, the prince of mince… well, maybe not that last one! But this means he also has some fantastic book to film adaptions out there.
I’m a huge King fan. Not quite as infatuated as Annie Wilkes is with Paul Sheldon, but not far off! For those who are not familiar with Misery, here is a summary of the plot.
Paul Sheldon is the writer of a popular romance series called Misery. He has a car accident in the middle of nowhere and Annie Wilkes (his number one fan) comes to his aid. Instead of taking him to the hospital this psychotic ex-nurse takes him to her home and holds him captive.
While he’s ‘recovering’ from his injuries she reads his latest Misery book and is livid when she finds out he’s killed off the protagonist (Misery), thus ending the series. Annie keeps Paul locked in a room and forces him to write a new novel, ‘Misery’s Return.’ Paul does as she bids, all the while trying to think of a way to escape before the crazed Annie kills him.
Before we get started – there aren’t huge spoilers in here but there are some. I don’t mind spoilers because I’m a writer and it comes with the territory, but I’d hate to spoil the story for others. Ready? Let’s go …
The Book (released 1987)
1) Paul’s Misery is Threefold
So, we know Misery is the protagonist in a series of romance novels written by Paul Sheldon. The title is a nice play on words but it could have more than one meaning. For me, it’s also about the misery Paul feels in having to continue writing the popular romance series long after his passion for it fizzled out, writing to please readers and fulfil his obligation to the publisher (a fictional gun to his head). Then Paul crosses paths with his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, and this concept is taken to a whole new level, piling on more psychological misery and adding physical misery to the mix.
2) Paul’s Inner Crazy
Misery comes under the header psychological horror and the book lives up to this label. What the reader gains from the book is Paul’s thought pattern and not just what he is thinking about doing, but also an inner monologue from a third voice who is rather aggressive towards him. Paul seems to have two voices in his head. They are both his own, but one is an alter-ego, part of his self-loathing, which makes it seem like a separate entity jabbering away inside his head, slowly driving him crazy.
3) Annie Wilkes
As King says, ‘The best stories always end up being about the people, rather than the event.’ Annie is etched into my mind. She is the star of this book, her dialogue shaping her. On the surface, Annie doesn’t look like a traditional monster, even though Paul makes it seem like she’s gruesome, with her cracked lips and stinky breath. Yet that’s precisely what makes her terrifying.
What makes Annie dangerous is that she doesn’t look/seem dangerous … at first. This narcissistic maniac is the lynchpin; if she’d been less colourful and layered the story would have lost its magic. Paul, on the other hand, could have been anyone. He’s just a regular guy and maybe that contrasts to how crazy Annie is.
The pace of the book was not fast enough for me. I don’t know if this is because I read it in the information age and not when it was released in 1987. I would have been seven-years-old and although already writing my own horror stories at that age, I was obviously not reading King yet. I expect to read fast-paced stories and I do struggle when they plod, no matter how rich the prose … but maybe that’s just me?
5) Too Much Information
I could have easily enjoyed the book had King left some less important strands of information out. The Misery’s Return parts for example. I was uninterested in reading about Misery’s adventures. No wonder Paul hated writing about her. I imagine King did this for several reasons: to show how annoying Annie is for liking such trash; to show Paul’s struggle having to write with the letter ‘n’ missing off his typewriter and later the letter ‘t’; or to show another part of Paul’s torture, forced to sit and write something he’s come to hate. I almost skipped over and only read on out of fear of missing something important later in the book. It’s a minor gripe though and I’m being extremely picky because it’s hard to find weaknesses in SK’s work.
The Film (released 1990)
As mentioned above, I was bored by point 5 in this list, so I think the movie draws strength from us NOT having to read about Misery’s adventures! Instead, we only see an excited Annie asking Paul questions. Kathy Bates was perfect for this role. Not only does she look like the type of woman who would enjoy Misery stories but her body language and the way she delivers her lines is exactly like I imagined the deranged ex-nurse Annie Wilkes. King brought her to life on the pages and Bates did her justice on the screen.
I think the hobbling in the film was effective. Had they cut the foot off and blowtorched it, I don’t think that level of gore would have had the same impact as the block of wood and sledge hammer. It would have taken something away from the character Bates had created, pushed it too far in the insane direction for the viewers and made her less believable. Less was more in this case. I think this is also true of the scene with the lawnmower, which those dirty birdies left out of the film (but was my favourite part of the book!).
8) Dialogue and Overall ‘Feel’
The script was true to the book. I liked that they kept Annie’s original dialogue. Words like: Cockadoodee, dirty birdy, mister man and oogie, weren’t compromised. The writers were also loyal to the plot. The film was clean, simple and ticked all the boxes. The location and set design were just as I’d imagined. Had they made the film grander than two characters and a room, I think it would have failed.
9) Paul Sheldon
I thought Paul was uninteresting. I didn’t feel the same level of sympathy towards him that I did in the book. I wondered if this was the choice of actor, perhaps I felt James Cann wasn’t the right fit? But I think some of it is to do with the lack of inner voice: it was almost like an extra character in the book and for me, this wasn’t translated to film. I felt Paul’s pain and panic but I’m not sure I cared about him all that much. In the book, I was rooting for Paul to escape, not so much in the film. His descent into madness wasn’t there; he stayed relatively calm in the film. If I think about casting the film today I would cast Heath Ledger (if he were alive) or Idris Elba as Paul … Melissa McCarthy would make a great Annie!
10) Paul’s Inner Voice
Had the inner voice making Paul crazy been added, I think I would have felt more of a connection to Paul. I don’t know how they could have portrayed this better but I feel it was the only thing the movie lacked.
I like the book and film in equal amounts. Sometimes book to film can be disappointing but here we have a subject matter that translates from page to screen extremely well. Is it the simplicity of the story? Possibly. I think it’s also probably King’s genius and the right filmmakers and actors for the job.
By the way, as a writer, the most miserable AND frightening part of both the book and the film was when Annie made Paul burn the only copy of his new manuscript. NO!!!
I think I’d have answered her request to torch my hard work with, ‘I’d rather die, you cockadoodee!’
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but here’s why I think you should …
We’ve all heard bookworms say they don’t care about the cover as long as the story is good but in the next breath they’ll say, ‘I bought it because I liked the cover!’
Truth is, we want to read a good story first and foremost, but readers ARE attracted to cool covers. So, let’s talk about why it’s important to have a great cover for your book:
1) Visual Hook
A good book cover acts as a shop window. After staring at an interesting shop window for a bit, I soon want to go inside and I don’t even need to knock! It’s the same for book covers. Why? Because, like shop windows, you think ‘This cover is so amazing; the book must be the good’ Simple, really!
Of course, we all know a good cover doesn’t necessarily mean a great book, but a good cover helps SEDUCE readers … just like it did with Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll admit: it had a great cover and I was drawn to it, picking off the shelf even before I’d heard the hype. Then I read the first page and put it back down! But I did pick the book up. That’s what’s important here. You need to get the book into people’s hands before they can begin to read it.
TOP TIP: Hook the reader with a lush cover. If you don’t bait the line, how can you expect to catch any fish?
2) Amateur Book Cover = Amateur Writer
If the book cover is ugly then what does that say about the writing? Well, rightly or wrongly, just as an ‘amazing cover = amazing writing’, the opposite assumption is made. People will think that, if the author didn’t care enough to make sure the cover was amazing, then they probably didn’t take the same care when writing the novel. It’s a real shame when I see a writer has worked hard on their debut, for their book cover to fall down on such an important first impression.
TOP TIP: Show you’re a professional by using the best tools at your disposal, don’t settle for ‘that’ll do’ because it won’t.
The cover sets the tone for a reader. Get it wrong and miss your target audience. Who are you aiming this book at? If you put out a teen romance with a picture of a grandma knitting in a rocking chair on the cover, you will probably miss your target audience or any audience, for that matter. Okay, that’s simplifying the matter, but believe me – it’s easy to get wrong. The cover of Harry Potter was clearly aimed at children, yet I, and many others, read it as adults. By book five Bloomsbury were putting out two covers, one for adults and one for children, with the thought that adults could now read this magical children’s series in public without feeling silly. Great idea!
Here on the left is an example of an effective cover without the huge price tag. So pretty. The name says it all and the colours and minimalist background promises sophisticated and intriguing stories.
Shameless plug: my short story, London’s Crawling, is in this book. I love the cover. It does the job for all the stories included in the charity collection. I’m grateful to Bloodhound Books for choosing such a fab cover design.
TOP TIP: Remember who your target audience is. The Dark Minds cover sets the tone perfectly; readers instantly know what kind of stories they’re going to find inside.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie, mid-range writer or a famous bestseller like King and Rowling. You MUST put out the best cover possible! No matter what, famous authors always put out the most amazing book covers. Why do they bother? They could put out a blank book – white cover with their name on the front in black courier font – their fans would still buy it, right? So why don’t they put books out like that?
Because a) their brand helps people find their books quickly and b) people expect a swanky cover from them, if the cover quality drops they might think there’s something wrong with their favourite author and perhaps the writing quality has also dropped. Plus, don’t forget – authors should be always looking to hook new readers.
TOP TIP: Don’t let the quality of your book covers drop, ever! I’ve followed many writers’ careers and found consistency to be the key to longevity.
5) Branding and Titles
Branding is important. This is not just about genre, authors can swap and change, but branding your books in line with yourself as an author is part of the magic. Irrespective of genre, Stephen King stands out on the shelf, as does Dr. Seuss. You can clearly pick out these authors in a sea of books.
Stamp your book cover with your name and style, be bold but be careful about naming your masterpiece as well as yourself. JK Rowling branded her name as well as her books. I’m still wondering whether it’s a good idea to separate my darker novels from my lighter ones. Should I use Emma Pullar for my picture books and lighter YA novels and then E Pullar for my darker YA/NA stuff? I’m still not sure, but I do know that having a name like Gertrude Picklebottom might be a plus as a pseudonym for my children’s books and fantasy novels but probably not so for my sci-fi, horror and dystopian novels, one of which has been described as “Beckett-esque in its nihilism.”
TOP TIP: Think hard about what you want to put across to readers. Self. Style. Story. Make sure your brand stands out.
You book’s cover is your shop window. An imaginative window display can mean the difference between customers walking straight by or walking onto the shop and even posting photos online of the gorgeous shop window for all their friends to see. It should be the same when presenting your books to potential readers.
PUT YOUR BEST COVER FORWARD!
Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children's books.
She supports Bang2write, The London Screenwriters' Festival, and Into the Script.
Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaStoryteller or Instagram @emmapullar_storyteller or fb Emma Pullar.
You also find her on Linkedin.