Sue Lawrence
Sue Lawrence

The Good Books, Sue Lawrence: ‘I read One Day in 2011 and it’s stayed with me ever since’

The leading food writer on being inspired by Maggie O’Farrell, how One Day by David Nicholls has stayed with her for more than a decade, and why she doesn’t rate Normal People. 


The first book I remember reading:

Heidi by Joanna Spyri. I was given it as a school prize in Primary 1 and though it’s about a 5 year old girl (the same age I was), it had some complex themes, but I remember absolutely loving it. It must have been a children’s version as it had beautiful illustrations, but it’s stayed with me ever since. Perhaps that’s a reason I still adore watching The Sound of Music.

A book I recommend to everyone:

Like Water for Hot Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This book transports the reader to early 20th century Mexico, where food is central to all that goes on at the dysfunctional family’s ranch. Tradition dictates the youngest daughter Tita must not marry, so her powerful emotions of repressed passions surface in fantastical ways through her cooking. It’s poignant and enchanting – magic realism at its best. And there’s the added bonus of a recipe with every chapter.

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

All the Broken Places by John Boyne, one of the most affecting novels I’ve read in the past year, with strong characters and a fantastic twist of an ending. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is another that’s hard to forget, with its unique plot and brilliant, witty dialogue. Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Take My Hand is a moving, illuminating and shocking novel about systemic racism in Alabama 50 years ago; yet amidst the heartbreak, there is hope.

A book I didn’t enjoy:

I’m possibly the only person who didn’t rave about Normal People, the novel by Sally Rooney about the relationship between two people over the years, from school days, through university and beyond. Is it sacrilege to say I felt it was rather boring? But so little actually happens and I felt the characters never developed much. Compare that to One Day by David Nicholls (with its not dissimilar plot) which is a funny, gripping, poignant novel where you care passionately about the characters: I read One Day in 2011 and it’s stayed with me ever since. Normal People I read in 2018 and I really would rather forget.

An author who has inspired me:

Maggie O’Farrell. From her early books such as The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox to Hamnet and The Marriage Portrait, she continues to be one of the finest novelists in the country, writing with such beautifully elegant language. The characters she develops are portrayed with an intensity that makes you engage with them whether they are good or bad. She has a clever knack of making us feel the deep emotions of her characters; we weep and smile with them.

My favourite place to read:

The most usual place is in bed at night; I read for at least half an hour before sleep. But favourite places are on holiday, perhaps in the tranquillity of the beach under a parasol as the sun blazes down. Or, during family holidays on Islay, on the sand again. But now trying to snatch ten minutes’ peace while the grandchildren build sandcastles nearby and the clouds part at last in the Hebridean sky; I look up from my book to see sunlight glinting off the top of the lighthouse across the bay and think how lucky I am. 

Sue Lawrence, Lady’s Rock (Saraband) can be bought here. Sue writes historical thrillers that cast light on the perils and injustice of women in Scotland through centuries.

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