The Curated Shelf: Gaynor Arnold


What was the framework behind why you chose the books you did?
I didn’t have a framework; I just turned up and hoped there would be books I liked. I was amazed to find so much that was interesting. I was also surprised that I chose a lot of non-fiction. But I also realised when I collected them all together that a theme emerged: history, especially of the Victorian period. Surprise, surprise!

Being a curator is a bit different than writing, or is it?
Curating is very different from writing. A lot easier; all your research and ideas ready in front of you; just the choice element left – which is a bit like editing.

What do you like about The Curated Shelf idea?
I think the curated shelf is an excellent idea. It made me look at books I hadn’t read, and I hope my choices might influence readers to look at something they would not normally read… and all the profits to Oxfam!

About Gaynor Arnold

Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, but has lived in Birmingham for many years. She used to be a social worker but is now a full-time writer. Her first novel Girl in a Blue Dress (inspired by the marriage of Charles Dickens) was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2008 and the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 and has been published all over the world. Her short story collection, Lying Together, came out in February 2011, and she recently edited The Sea in Birmingham – an anthology of short stories by local authors. Her latest novel After Such Kindness is a fiction based on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his child muse, Alice Liddell.

Gaynor’s Picks

1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman

Wonderful fun! A humorous account of what many people remember about history. I first came across it at Oxford — and fell about.

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro

Scholarly — but very accessible — you really feel drawn in to Shakespeare’s world…

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Much lauded — and deserving the praise. A closely-observed novel of family disfunction — a great (if long) read.

David Cox: 1783-1859

I first came across the name of this artist when I regularly used to pass a house in Edgbaston where he lived. Inside there are some views of Birmingham and [accents?] of pictures now in Birmingham Art Gallery.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

I once worked in inter-country adoption so I was interested in this fictional account of two children of East Asian origin, brought up in USA. Fascinating!

The Elephant Man (DVD) directed by David Lynch

The Island by Andrea Levy

I loved this — great characters and a wonderful evocation of post war Britain.

Kilvert’s Diary: Selection from the Diary of the Reverend Francis Kilvert 1870-1879

Another Victorian writer — but not so well-known as Dickens, as he chronicles the lives of the poor parishioners in the Welsh borders. Kilvert comes across as such a sweet man — but with open admiration for little girls we might find surprising today…he was a source for After Such Kindness!

Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomlin

Life of an iconic woman, by an excellent biographer. If no-one else buys it, I will!

The Making of Charles Dickens by Christopher Hibbert

Well, I couldn’t not have a book about Dickens — and this one is excellent, concentrating on the early years of the Great Man! One of the many biographies I read before writing Girl in the Blue Dress!

The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

My first Drabble novel, and one that had the biggest effect on me. I was working in a hospital at the time — and the chapters dealing with the separation of mother and child on the ward really struck home. Drabble is rather overlooked these days, but I think she is an excellent writer.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Another book about words — and Bill Bryson, too.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Another ‘Victorian’ books. A literary thriller on two levels at least.

The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

I haven’t read this — but I want to — I love dictionaries, and this is a great story, too.

The Victorian Child by F. Gordon Roe

I should have had this book to hand when I wrote After Such Kindness so I could crib (!) some fact facts. But I didn’t. Could be interesting.

Victorian Working Women: Portraits from Life by Michael Hiley

Three things I like: stories of women, Victorian background — and old photographs!