Children's author Alison Murray.
Children's author Alison Murray.

The Good Books, Alison Murray: ‘I keep trying to read in bed but it doesn’t work for me, I just fall asleep’

Children’s author Alison Murray on falling in love with dogs after reading A Hundred and One Dalmatians, her passion for essays and why she can’t read in bed.


The first book I remember reading:

A very scarily illustrated compendium of fairy stories that was read to me at bedtime and would give me nightmares. The first book I remember reading myself was A Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith which probably sparked a lifelong love of dogs.

A book I recommend to everyone:

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is a series of essays that weaves western environment science and indigenous knowledge about land stewardship with more personal autobiographical accounts of Kimmerer’s own Potawatomi ancestry. Through the ceremony of planting, tending, picking, braiding and burning sweetgrass she imparts her knowledge with warmth and humour, and leaves you with a stronger sense of our kinship and co-existance with the world of plants and trees.

The three best books I have read in the last year:

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein. Klein starts out on a quest to differentiate herself from her real world doppelganger Naomi Wolf who has entered the shadowlands of conspiracy theories but she quickly detours into a contemplation our culture’s propensity for ‘othering’ then ends with an unravelling of the idea of self entirely. It’s a book with an afterlife. – I’m still thinking about it! I also recommend her two part interview on the podcast Between the Covers with David Naiman.

The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan is a comfort blanket of a book, a historical narrative set in early 19th century, enlightenment Edinburgh when the botanic gardens, trees, plants and all were moved from Leith Walk to it’s current site. Imagine a procession of mature trees on carts pulled by horses parading through the streets of Edinburgh! The story revolves around a plot to steal a very rare and valuable bloom from the agave americana plant but it’s also a story about two women seeking independence by very different means in a male dominated and rather unenlightened time.

Max Porter’s latest book Shy sits somewhere between fiction and poetry. Entering the mind of a troubled teenager living in a haunted home for badly behaved boys. Shy has a whole raft of misdemeanours under his belt already: drug taking, stabbing, stealing, trashing a friend’s house, crashing a car – to mention just a few.  Shy’s stream of consciousness and confused inner turmoil is spliced with voices from those trying to reach him and culminates in a crescendo of splintering glass release. It’s a satisfying wild ride for a short read.

A book that you didn’t finish:

I was half way through Art Monsters by Lauren Elkin and because she kept referring to Virginia Woolf – I went off on a detour to reread Woolf’s Three Guineas then after picking up Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger I have so far neglected to go back to it  – but I will!

An author that has inspired me:

Ursula K Le Guin. I came to Le Guin through her essays and her writing about writing. Dancing at the Edge of the World is a wonderful collection of essays, containing amongst others the magnificent Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Bryn Mawr Commencement Address and Disappearing Grandmothers. I’ve recently started reading her science fiction too. Her books are thought experiments that contemplate social justice, race and gender through the medium of science fiction. She is a fireball of a woman, a literary grandmother that can never be allowed to disappear.

My favourite place to read:

I keep trying to read in bed but it doesn’t work for me, I just fall asleep. My brain is at it’s most active first thing in the morning so I like to get up before everyone else. Make a nice coffee in my little stove-top mocha coffee pot then curl up on the settee and read for an hour or so before the dog gets up and nudges the book out of my hand looking for his walk. It’s my favourite way to start the day.

Alison Murray is a Scottish children’s author and illustrator, and winner of the Scottish Book Trust’s Scottish Children’s Book Award. Her new book Sharky McShark and the Shiny Shell Squabble is published on 25 April. Alison lives in Glasgow with her husband and their dog.


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